Monthly Archives: September 2012










Any half-decent release in the dire world of commercial men’s fragrance is cause for celebration. And Noir, the latest Tom Ford release from his mainstream collection (his Private Blends are about four times the price), is really rather nice. The louche, airbrushed seductor has come up with a convincing men’s oriental for the twenty first century that will hopefully catch on with modern males and start a new trend for smells that attract rather than repel, bringing some softening and intelligence to the ghastly, weapon-like woody-citruses that usually dominate this market and club you on the head with their heavy-set, meat-head preposterone. I would happily snuggle up to someone wearing this blend and I am sure that there are many others out there who will feel the same.

Tom Ford is a savvy fashion genius who single-handedly resurrected Gucci from the ashes of irrelevance with his Studio 54 background and modern take on the 1970’s night-orchid aesthetic, transforming the company into a behemoth of urbanite cool and sex, the sheen of his bi-sexual decadence unwaning for nearly two decades.  With his own eponymous brand and its extension of this glossy-luxe, the clothes, the perfumes, similarly speak of the night; of the finest clubs and restaurants; of nocturnal A-listers who rarely see the light -vampiric trendsetters living the life and rarely leaving the hotel.

So it is easy to see why the Tom Ford fragrance collection has proven so successful. The perfumes are well-made, rich and provocative blends that scream ‘exclusivity’ and (prescribed) good taste in their simple, sturdy design-perfect flacons. True, I have yet to smell a fragrance in the line that I desperately want to own myself, but they are highly regarded by many and deservedly so. For me, though, when I smell any scent from the range, I feel I am sensing arch, elegant, but artificial fumes rising up from the bottlesrather than notes. I think of his scents as exotic poisons crafted in airless rooms – often hypnotic, undeniably sensual and luxuriant confections that sit on the skin like heavy garments, but not those that I can inhale with ease. It is fashion asphyxiating nature; yet this is possibly the whole point. The Tom Ford fragrances really are for dressing up for nights out in the city, and in this regard they work perfectly.

The list of notes in Noir, particularly those in the base (opoponax, amber, vetiver, patchouli, civet and vanilla) reads like an old Guerlain, and Mr Ford has clearly been spending some time doing his homework with plush masterpieces from the house such as Shalimar and Habit Rouge and deciding to revamp them for the modern market. But despite the appearance of Shalimar’s key natural (opoponax, a sweet resin similar to myrrh), Noir is in fact more like a reworking of that house’s best kept men’s secret – the original eau de parfum of Héritage (1992), an aromatic, peppered oriental that shouted ‘hot man in silk robe’ like no other (the edt was always slicker, thinner, sharper – it was the delicious depth of the sadly discontinued edp with its tonka and animal dry down that I always fell in love with).

Yes, Héritage was powdered suavité, a scent that drew you in to its conceited, self-loving  swagger, and Noir manages to capture some of this tactile, soft animality with a gently musked and bearded patchouli dry-down that is very sensual – unusual in the current climes of overdone, plastic banality.

That the scent is based on Héritage becomes even more evident if we look at the first and middle stages of the fragrance . The Guerlain began with a sharp blast of black pepper and bergamot; clary sage, violet, and a pinch of nutmeg, developing to a subtle rose and geranium heart before the lustful orientalia began to make themselves known and you realized you were in the presence of a full-blown male odalisque (this could be a great women’s scent as well, by the way). Noir, which isn’t really dark or black in any sense but is clinging, still, to the dull trend of calling everything and anything noir whether the smell merits that description or not, has all the above ingredients and develops in exactly the same way as Héritage, but has added notes of lemon verbena, caraway seed and pink pepper, all of which I find somewhat superfluous. It is less rich and poudré than the Guerlain, as if the icing sugar had been sucked off from the bonbon, and rather than the swiftly dissipating Guerlain bergamot that begins most of the house’s scents, in Noir there is a citronella-like roof to which the others notes rise and stick, rasping and a touch too synthetic for my comfort, a citric pillar thrust down through the downy ambers to keep the oriental alert and emboldened and prevent it from becoming too vieux beau, too Casanova in silk slippers.

This accord eventually attenuates, however, and it really is the base in this scent that works best, with its classic oriental finish : a retro-sassy take on old themes that is worth the wait.  Despite a certain throat-tickling insistency from the verbena-geranium accord in the heart, Noir is a scent that may lack poetry but not romance, and it could prove to be another  huge hit in Tom Ford’s annals of seduction.

(‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ is the title of an early album by Dead Or Alive: a question I often ask myself about fragrances from this house)


Filed under Masculines, Opoponax, Orientals, Patchouli, Perfume Reviews, Vanilla






A very long while ago – in the blog scheme of things at least –  I wrote, half-jokingly, about my grave disappointment over Fame, Lady Gaga’s woeful entry into the arena of fragranced celebrity. My instincts were borne out by the reactions of other reviewers and also personal experience when I took Fame, and Madonna’s Truth or Dare, to an excited Japanese friend’s house and got her to guess, eyes shut, which one was which. And, naturally, tell me which one she preferred.

Madonna’s plastic tuberose won out – just – but Aiko was really shocked by the banality of the Gaga (“really? really?”) reminding her as it did of Shibuya teenage trash in the mid-nineties. Its cheapness truly astounded her.  My observation that Fame was not much above the level of Toilet Duck also bore interesting fruit during my summer travels: even on my first morning at Tokyo’s Narita airport I was astonished by how much the gap between personal and antimicrobial perfumery had closed. In other words, where once a woman may have smelled exquisitely, mysteriously- alluringly, for God’s sake –  of an inspired orchestration of high quality essences of flowers and fruit, mosses, woods resins spices – and any toilet she may have alighted upon would probably have smelled neutral, or else of disinfectants and pine, lemon soap or bleach –  a place to do one’s business in, but not to linger perchance –  right now, in this current age of cheap, functional perfumery, she and her throne might blend as one. An uncanny marriage of human and water closet, where the scents we give off are almost interchangeable. A whole new angle to eau de toilette.

The scents I experienced in airport lavatories – Tokyo,  Barcelona and Amsterdam, were all high grade – very pleasant as these things go, to let you dream and fend off the inevitable anxiety of flying in a metal tube across the world, to make the whole process just that little bit easier. The Narita ‘restrooms’ had a sweet, inviting little floriental smell very similar to Lady Gaga; Barcelona a rich, enveloping honey, and Amsterdam a pretty, if a touch harsh, serotonin-enhancing orange blossom that really wasn’t that far from  Palazzo by Fendi.

To clarify, I am not one of those who believe in basking in the scents of nature: as far as I am concerned toilets in all homes should be equipped with fine incense to dispel smells that no-one should ever have to be exposed to, and when it comes to public conveniences I favour the strongest aromachemicals in existence, rather than the collective stench that can arise in such places (some train stations in Japan take relieving oneself on a daily basis to the level of trauma ):  if they can actually smell pleasant to boot then that is great. And this functional perfumery I came across, where you almost sigh like a pervert at the urinal, really had developed in leaps and bounds.

The problem arose when I emerged from these places and I realized that the people around me, waiting with their trolleys and suitcases, smelled almost the same. Whether it is the fault of the big fragrance houses making those toilet scents just that little bit too expensive- smelling, or those same houses making their ‘high end’ commercial products smell a touch too piss-cheap, the effect was quite disturbing. When the two merge in your mind – person and toilet bowl –  you desperately just want to inhale fields of grass, forests, or natural air to escape – those sweet, noxious clouds in the context of a glass-sealed, airless airport can be almost sickening.

Judging from the women round me, thick, jaunty vanillic florientals à la Flowerbomb, Dior Addict, and their ilk are obviously the standard for the Europeans: pleasant, easy-sexy, if ultimately very vulgar, and as people wafted about me in the queue through immigration I realized to what extent these in-your-face formulae lack mystery (especially at 7am, when travellers are at their most stomach-churned and sleep deprived – a full on nightclub cleavage in your grill just as you have been trying to nibble on a piece of dry toast and coffee).

Coming into Duty Free the feeling was compounded by the stench of the trite and shallow ‘fragrances’ on offer by the main houses, those market-tested nasty-smelling things that can never elicit in me much more than irritated snarls. The new releases were so banal, or down right nasty – Ralph Lauren’s ‘Big Pony’ (idiot!!) series for ‘men’ and ‘women’ winning the prize for worst value for money –  such antagonizingly ugly rubbish – Christ I’d genuinely rather smell of the honeyed water closets of Barcelona.

Which brings me again to travel.

I had such a wonderful summer back in Europe (hence my rude and lengthy silence – apologies if you wondered if I had been swallowed up by a black hole, or, like some tragic ‘Little Monster’ taken my own life in despair over the abysmal quality of the Lady Gaga perfume. I didn’t  – in fact I have to confess that I was watching Almodovar’s trashy High Heels on Saturday night and as the pink and red melodrama hotted up I did find myself clamouring out for Fame  – something to match the cloy – and almost enjoyed it on my left arm, right during those tumultuous moments of high camp Spanish excess…I may still come round:  I am trying )

.. I must say though that despite all the aforementioned cheapness I also have many quality olfactory tales to tell. I did not, in fact, spend the whole time sniffing  toilets, but came across some beautiful creations, old and new, that really stimulated the palette; had some great perfume experiences, like meeting the creator of the Parfums de Rosine series, the lovely Francois Robert, and hearing the fascinating stories of his perfumed heritage (his father created one of my favourite perfumes of all time, Calèche – see my review – and Madame Rochas among many others;  his great uncle was the author one of my holy grails, the original Chanel 19…I sat listening to him quite rapt at Les Senteurs): interviewing Mark Buxton of Comme des Garçons about his new eponymous collection (to be published online in Aesop magazine very soon): treasures discovered in the troves of London perfumeries and the perfumerias of Barcelona, as well as things that had been lost at my parents’ house in Solihull (vintage Diorella!)

But what I realized for sure is this: with a few notable exceptions, in the current state of perfumery, if you want to smell more inspiring than a newly scrubbed bathroom, you will either have to trawl the flea markets or e-bay for vintage treasure, or else spend over 100 pounds for a good niche scent, of which there are many (although having said that I did buy Agua Fresca by Adolfo Dominguez(1993), a gorgeous, and very reasonably priced Spanish citrus men’s cologne that perfectly suited the hot city I was in while I was there, so economical purchases obviously still can be made if you look hard enough).

However, the general releases are, on the whole, getting more and more crass; less and less artistic and quality, and it seems that I was wrong to be overly harsh on my bleached muses, Madonna and Gaga for their sickly ‘creations’ – they are obviously, as always, just going along with the trends.




Filed under Flowers