I think I have perhaps been unfairly snidey about Tom Ford. Perhaps from my own personal irritations and issues with the (justly maligned), “1%”, I have been either overly dismissive, or else a bit sarcastic, on anything to do with the master of suave and  tuxedoed ‘refinement’  – and there I go again.


I suppose it is all to do with ‘luxury. On the one hand, I write about perfume, which by definition would be considered by most people to be something luxurious and superfluous, even though you and I know that it is in fact something quite essential. Still, were a person to truly live the Tom Ford Life, the Gucci Life, the Saint Laurent Life –  that rarified, super-rich, tax-free, more moneyed-than-you-will-ever-even-dream-of-life, with all the condos and the security guarded holiday duplexes, the private pools, the Panamanian tax haven off shore accounts; the clothes, the jewellery, the makeup, and the extravagantly expensive perfumes, it would surely be like being hermetically sealed off from all known-to-human reality. These contradictions with my own life philosophies, and ways of thinking and living, as a perfume writer, sometimes do really actually trouble me.


No. Yesterday I was in the wrong mood for Ginza. For the pretentious, and snobbish, Tokyo high life. I just really didn’t at all feel like it at all once I got there. The rainy season is setting in, so it is grey and humid, we have both been unwell with colds and I can also hardly walk normally with my knee issues either, so it was perhaps inappropriate and ill advised of me to travel up to Tokyo, on my day off, to ‘saunter’ about the richest neighbourhood – no you cant even call it that it is practically a jewelled citadel, in this city, peruse the latest fumes at Hankyu Department store and the brand new, glitteringly swanky Tokyu Plaza. No. Yesterday it just all felt like too much. I felt alienated. There are some days in my life when not only the branded, hyperexpensive goods on display, but also all the things to buy buy buy, in any shop, in any kiosk, even, from the food in the convenience stores to toiletries in pharmacy windows down to even the most meaningless trinket just threaten to overwhelm my brain and senses and I just feel like hiding away in some mountainous, silent, Buddhist, retreat. I hated Tokyo yesterday. It felt artificial, crudely capitalistic, and verging on inhuman.











Yet despite all this, and my own peculiar inner turmoil, the moment I smelled Neroli Portofino Forte, the latest flanker in the very successful Neroli Portofino series, I was transported.  It was like actually being part of that luxury: theoretically sealed from damage: from harm: from life. A strange hush came over my brain as the impossibly handsome Japanese man sprayed this new summer perfume on a card, as though I were being undressed in a beautiful white hotel room after a long, but uber-smooth journey between destinations, and this was the only scent that would guide me through to my next, hassle-free, chapter. On the terrace, by the pool, a refreshing and captivating cocktail just looking at the sunset, as the fears of the real world fade away and you look into your beautiful partner’s eyes with a deep look of smug satisfaction, sorry I mean love; and appreciation.




It is perfect. Somehow rich and dense with orange blossom, neroli, bergamot and blood orange, but also fresh, clear, and nipped with tartness with the addition of galbanum, plus a soupçon of basil and lavender for the required tautness, this feels natural, exhilarating, yet tranquillizing all at the same time. Naturally there are some ‘woodsy’ and musk notes somewhere in the base notes for anchoring and endurance, to make the perfume last longer through the day, and admittedly I didn’t try this perfume on my skin, but my instinctive reaction was that here was perhaps the ultimate neroli. At four hundred dollars, it is certainly much more expensive than buying some old bottle of 4711 or the like, but I would say that probably, if you want a immediate, and sense-ecstacizing orange blossom scent,  it is worth it. Neroli Portofino Forte put me, for a solitary moment, into a state of serene, luxurized, calm.











As, it has to be said, did the calmly hypnotic new entry into the Tom Ford Private Collection stable, Soleil Blanc. With notes of ylang ylang, tuberose, Egyptian jasmine, benzoin, bitter almond,  tonka bean and coconut milk, along with some cardamom and the ubiquitous pink pepper in the head accord (the only note of all these that I am not especially bothered about), the perfume would have to go very wrong indeed for me not to like it, and indeed I did. A lot. Immediately recognizable as pure summer, and beach, and suntan cream and that warm, carefree, dreamy feeling, the composition is far more muted (for me, in a good way) than you might expect (again: surely, an unshakeable sense of self, and one’s own refinement and ‘good taste’ is one desirable symptom of luxe).






And Soleil Blanc is definitely not a perfume that screams or plies its considerable charms to get attention. Rather, it sinks into the skin like a bed of cotton sheets on a hot, summer afternoon, smooth as a pebble and seamless as a wave. What’s clever about the execution of this perfume is the way that it immaculately does actually capture the name that it has been given: undoubtedly a ‘solar’ perfume in its cream of fleurs blancs and softely undulating coconut milk, it is also, simultaneously, very white, with a shimmer of white light and the lazing, sleepful hush of a private cove. While a synthetic element at the heart of the perfume did jar on my senses for a short duration of the perfume’s skin life (probably, in fact that very ‘white’ component which put me in mind, a little, of Creed’s own Love In White, and Armani White She), as the perfume dries down, it is so tender and calming, the smell of tiare flowers and monoï fused with sunmilk and sun-kissed skin, that I couldn’t help feeling that I perhaps actually really wanted it (not that I can afford it, mind you). No: on me, it would probably smell quite nice, in its own, immutable, way, but what it really needs in fact is something like a stunning, Barbadian Bond girl, sashaying past in some exclusive hotel bar resort complex in white dress and accessories, fresh from the poolside, clad dreamily in this scent: a smooth-skinned, unperturbable vision of  sexual luminosity.








Serenity flows from white orchids







Hypocritically, I wandered around the streets of Ginza a little more, happy, now, in my usual nose-driven way, smelling these two perfumes along with some other new discoveries that I had made; then got a series of very crowded, stressful, trains at the rush hour back down to where we live in Kamakura, where, as luck would have it, a package had just arrived from my professional perfume writer friend in England – Bethan, containing, quite coincidentally, among other new exclusives, the (as yet unreleased) new perfume from Tom Ford in his mainstream (read pleb) collection – Orchid Soleil.













Now I have been very unkind about both Black Orchid and Velvet Orchid in the past. I don’t know. Perhaps I just don’t understand them. Maybe I am totally wrong. And I am perfectly open to suggestion and never close-minded enough not to appreciate a perfume that I have formerly not ‘got’, or one which simply just smelled wrong on me:  in fact I love it when I am wrong about a scent and someone is wearing that very same smell and it is fantastic on them for whatever skin chemistry related reasons as it shows you just how complex and intricate this invisible, unsung art form really is. I am certain (well, kind of) that on some people these thick, slick and glitzy perfumes smell ‘glam’ and ‘luxurious’ and ‘sexy’, or whatever (ooh, listen to the snob in him coming out here despite his aforementioned class warfare objections.) But I personally, so far, in this ‘Black Orchid’ series, have just found the perfumes to be nasty, illegible, and worse, utterly indigestible. And at around four times cheaper than the perfumes I have just been discussing above, they really smell it. Gone is the clarity and the high riding, velour lubricity, and in its place is a cauldron of lewd chemicals to be orchestrated and stirred greedily into an olfactory monster ( I exaggerate, yes of course I realize that, but this is how I personally experience these perfumes – I withdraw immediately, instinctively from them, a nasal recoiling that comes from a sense of sheer malcomprehension and dismay at my inability to understand why they are so popular, or win Fragrance awards, or ‘Beauty Editor’ top picks or whatever: I wonder, in essence (though not really): what the hell is wrong with me?)




In any case, then,  Orchid Soleil, surely, is an opportunity for me to rectify my defiency. It already has ‘soleil’ in the name, which bodes well for me, because I adore summer, the sea, and the beach (as if you didn’t know that already). And I like the smell of orchids in perfumes as well – I remember L’Artisan Parfumeur’s lovely Orchidée Blanche from many moons ago: powdery, sweet and vanillic, romantic and so very very plush, as well as the rave review I gave recently of Oriza Le Grand’s delirious Jardins D’Amide, so as an orchid-liker, I am ready, now,  with a relatively open mind, to be dissuaded from my Velvet Orchid (pass the sick bowl) prejudices.
















But no. 




I am sorry.





With notes of ‘red spider lily’, ‘chestnut cream’, orchid, vanilla, cypress, pink pepper, tuberose and bitter orange, the perfume is not the sun-lit beach flower I was hoping that it might be, but rather a glossy, deep-throated throwback to the powerhouse florientals of the late eighties and nineties, a gross amalgam of Lancôme’s unfortunate Poȇme, and the powdery, cone-bra’d Jean Paul Gaultier (which I quite like): all orange blossomy (but so different to the exquisite Neroli Portofino Forte!) and dense and pushed up décolletage, along with those familiar and always unwelcome ‘chocolatey’ notes (and it is these I can never get along with in such a blend : I need Alka Seltzers just sniffing this perfume from the bottle: I am certainly not going to go for another spray, I can tell you), along with some extraneous metallics and sweet, thigh-enhancing gourmands. While nowhere near as awful as Marc Jacob’s unforgivable Decadence, I have to confess that I find this kind of perfume slightly nauseating. While part of me (the vulgar side, the Dynasty and Dallas loving side, the party animal side, the sexy lady side) approves of a move back to the big personality perfumes of the past, when perfume was exciting and heady and gorgeous and unforgettable (and in the base notes of this scent, some form of congruity finally appears and it does,  I will admit, have some kind of booze-soaked, erotic, beach club appeal, and is also, undeniably, an improvement on the other two ‘Orchids’ ( that entire genus of flora should actually sue Tom Ford for defamation)); but at the same time, I am afraid to say, the release of this latest Black Orchid flanker just confirms my suspicions.





At the beginning of this piece I chastised myself for not giving Mr Ford a fair deal: in always, despite the very fine selection of perfumes available in his stable, being a touch too sneering and cynical, in always focusing on the moneyed aspect of his perfumery rather than the compositions themselves. But how can I help it? Today’s perfumes prove my point about this label (and about much of the way that the world itself is going in these unfair times), precisely. In presenting us with these perfumes –  lovely creations such as Neroli Portofino Forte and Soleil Blanc, as well as others than I love from the extortionately expensive Private Collection range such as Mandarino d’Amalfi, Jasmin Rouge, Champaca Absolute, Ombre De Hyacinthe and several others, the master of sleek chic and red velvet social distinctions is, in my view, expressly, not just in the price of the perfumes but in the smell of them as well, deliberately making a clear social divide between those people that smell effortlessly beautiful, fresh and stylish,as they glide past you in their haute couture creations and their private limousines, and those that smell – the poor things, so excited to be clutching a bottle of ‘Tom Ford’and imagining they are a part of the ‘high life’-like a garish, eager, over-dressed-up dog’s dinner.


Filed under Flowers


  1. datura5750

    Wonderful writing again, thanks.

    • Is it? Thank you. I wonder if it’s too strong, but then I just had to write what I had to write and it’s all mixed up and contradictory anyway. Thank you for reading!

  2. bella ciao

    I don’t get the Tom Fords either, I have to admit. So I am with you and relieved to be out of that closet. The “cheaper” line is illegible. That is exactly the word for it, thank you for putting that tag on them. And the expensive line… Really??? The one exception being Noir de Noir, a dark yet shining rose with saffron, beautifully composed. In fact, I may just have to put it on today:)-
    The discontinued Fleur de Chine was also interesting.
    But the Neroli and assorted expensive riviera resorts smell like detergents to me, the super bacteria killing mega efficient ones… Like the ones used in schools in the 70ies and 80ies. So no projection of luxury for me:)-

    • I know what you mean, and I don’t necessarily think I would buy them. They are certainly harsh, in one sense, but truly luxurious, in another. For me, citruses and colognes of that ilk are decadent and wasteful because you just spray them on with abandon, and I think this new Portofino really captures that cruel lack of financial anxiety. So different from just dabbing on a favoured extrait and trying to eke it out. And so much more expensive, as well. Just think; all the classics, from Arpege to Shalimar, to whatever else, were relatively expensive but essentially affordable, and there were no social distinctions. It really has changed.

  3. Tuskanny

    How meaningful and acurate, and beautifully written… this is ! Not too strong at all Neil, you made yourself very clear in this seemingly contradictory piece, contradictions by the way which could be largely shared among the rest of us ! Nevertheless after reading your powerful account I really want to smell the NP Forte and the Soleil Blanc… thanks. X.

  4. Katy

    I own three Tom Ford perfumes. Black Orchid, the scent of a Valkyrie, to my nose, Sahara Noir, a lovely frankincense and myrrh, and Lys Fume, gorgeous Ylang perfume with some lily. I do not get that indigestible chocolate from Black Orchid at all. I have amazing fragrance absorbing skin so we zip right through that phase and end up with a sweet cedar perfume. Yes, cedar! I love Hinoki incense and I grow an orchid called a Chocolate orchid, but it really smells like sweet cedar to me. Let there be no doubt, it is a power perfume and most are not bold enough to wear it. A light hand and the depths of winter can cure Black Orchid’s worse excesses. There is no other perfume quite like it and I am still enchanted. I did not purchase Sahara Noir or Lys Fume until they we’re discontinued, I simply could not afford them.

    • Katy

      It is interesting, I think I understand your moral and soulful conundrum. Thought provoking writing, beautifully rendered.

    • I love this. And that is why I actually wrote in the review that it was perhaps ME who just couldn’t understand Black Orchid. If it is as possible as it is, there must be something about it that works, and I hadn’t even picked up on any cedarwood notes! ( I adore hinoki). I quite like Lys Fume, actually, I reviewed it once, and I remember sniffing Sahara and thinking it was pretty nice too. He is good. I can’t deny it. And yet…

  5. There are a few fragrance lines that I avoid on principle, and Tom Ford is one of them, although in the very early days of this second-tier launch I did like several scents, including the radical, mushroomy and fated-to-be-axed Velvet Gardenia. Mostly, his ads were really shitty, his persona smarmy, the bottom tier generally abysmal and offensive (as in “you think so little of my ability to discern quality that you actually expect me to want this dreck) just as you say, and there are so many other lines to explore – so little time, so little money – I’m happy to have his off my radar. I trust your nose and can concede that he’s capable of good things, although at those prices . . . Whew.
    For different reasons, I also have removed Jo Malone and Byredo from my list: the former because I think it’s insipid and overpriced; the second because it seems soulless and in it for the money (more than most, I mean). Again, there may or many not be some good stuff there, but on principle – and for practical reasons, I guess – I ignore them. If a bottle of one of the Tom Fords you love were to drop in my lap, I’d happily wear it, though.
    But I never will buy into anybody’s luxury hype. Ick. What you say:
    “Still, were a person to truly live the Tom Ford Life, the Gucci Life, the Saint Laurent Life – that rarified, super-rich, tax-free, more moneyed-than-you-will-ever-even-dream-of-life, with all the condos and the security guarded holiday duplexes, the private pools, the Panamanian tax haven off shore accounts; the clothes, the jewellery, the makeup, and the extravagantly expensive perfumes, it would surely be like being hermetically sealed off from all known-to-human reality. These contradictions with my own life philosophies, and ways of thinking and living, as a perfume writer, sometimes do really actually trouble me”
    YES. Reading that was so good. Really reassuring.
    I want to thank you for another bloody brilliant piece. Keenly observed. I love that there may be contradictions. That’s accurate. I like how you perceive things moment-to-moment, and I like the journeys you take us on, the “real” external world juxtaposed with your inner world. The real-er world, to my own way of experiencing it. You’ve got a lot of soul, Neil. Thanks for wanting to write.

    • Thanks for getting what I am trying to say.Yes, I do have soul – too much probably for the world that I am writing about. I am too honest, and too philosophical! None of which deters from my enjoyment and pleasure of scent though, it just complicates it….I know that you know what I am talking about. I have never in my life actually desired that ‘luxury life’: it just doesn’t appeal to me on any level. Well, I mean being wealthy might be nice of course and not having to work (though that might not be good for my decadent psyche: I think I need work to keep me on an even keel), but I can’t imagine the top to toe designer life – it just seems EXHAUSTING.

      • I hope that reaching and being understood by your readers makes writing even more satisfying for you.
        You know, being a food and wine writer, I was on the high-end gravy train for a long time. Trade commissions sent us journalists on crazy junkets to fancy chateaux in the hopes of getting some favourable ink. We all used to say the same thing as we finished one more in a long string of decadent meals washed down with top-flight Bordeaux: wouldn’t it be nice to be at home with our feet up eating a grilled cheese sandwich? The older I get, the simpler and more modest my outer world becomes and the richer my inner life. All that other crap is over-rated. And as you say, so much work. The maintenance of it all.

      • P.S. Two other names I avoid because of “luxury”/aspirational branding: Creed (although I understand they’ve got some good masculines – or at least that’s the word) and the derivative Bond No 9.

  6. Tom Ford leaves me cold. But you have given me hope. I love your mood and shape-shifting post.

  7. You have summed up Tom Ford perfectly in this beautifully written piece. I adore his Plum Japonais and a few others in his ultra high end line, yet I find the mainstream line to be rather cheap and just downright unpleasant. It all just makes me so sad, as it does you also, to think of the days when one could wear Opium, No 5, Miss Dior, etc…and know you really were able to share in a small piece of the luxury world. These days there is most definitely a class divide in fragrances and Tom Ford sums it up. Those who have the money will be able to smell lovely, those who don’t will have to settle. I personally find it rather revolting; of course I do, I came from that era where rich or modest means alike could indulge in Poison. So, contradictions aside, you really expressed it perfectly. Do I ever think it will go back to the way it once was, sadly no…it never will. Every designer line seems to have their exclusive range, which is usually significantly pricier and usually a bit more luxe smelling. We are the sadly part of the last group that will know what it was like to smell of luxury, while not having to decide between the rent or a fragrance.

  8. Veritas

    No….. Not too strong at all…thank you for giving a voice to the “poor peasants” that really cannot afford these (that would be me!!!) even if we wanted them…..

    Rumor has it that the Chanel exclusives are going to be EDP strength in 2017 along with a hefty hike in price….making them even further out of reach for me as I am currently unable and unwilling to spend the current price of $280 for an EDT full bottle…..

    and when you get around to it do read the comment I left in the “about section”…

  9. David

    I remember saving up to buy a bottle of Tuscan Leather. I loved everything about that perfume. It was the perfume that got me interested in fragrance. It was the perfume I wore when I first moved to São Paulo. I loved the lore that it smelled like cocaine. It does. It smells like the best night in the world, actually. But running out of the perfume coincided with me burning out. No regrets at all, though. I had a blast. But no new bottle for me. I wedged the nozzle off and use the bottle as a vase for flowers. Saved by gardening.
    I just don’t see myself spending a lot of money on a niche or luxury brand ever again. That ship has sailed way out of the harbor…. I’m lucky that São Paulo has flea markets. I’m lucky that my mom saved bottles from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. And lucky the good people at the Tom Ford counters in the USA are pretty generous with samples should I get that longing.

  10. Larkin

    Wow. The snobbery is amazing on this one! “deliberately making a clear social divide between those people that smell effortlessly beautiful, fresh and stylish, as they glide past you in their haute couture creations and their private limousines, and those that smell – the poor things, so excited to be clutching a bottle of ‘Tom Ford ’and imagining they are a part of the ‘high life’-like a garish, eager, over-dressed-up dog’s dinner.”


    I find the Private Label TF line to be pretty soulless and lacking in that glowing ember of life, that certain spark. They smell pretty, and nice, on first acquaintance, but they fail to come to life on the skin. Perhaps, if they are truly for scenting the skin of the 1%, it is appropriate, as we all know that money does not buy love or passion, but privilege and insulation from the problems of the 99%… aka “real life.”

    As to ALL of the Tom Ford creations – they are THINGS for people to spend their money on, just material crap. No matter how upmarket and aspirational the branding is, buying these perfumes does a really good job of draining the bank account of the plebe, whether they’ve got the so-called good taste to purchase the more expensive stuff or not. So it really comes down to the question: what do you love, and what smells good on you? And quite frankly, I’d take Orchid Soleil over Soleil Blank or Neroli Portofino any day, as it’s got some spunk, lasts more than 30 minutes, and is quite fun. But thanks for reminding me that constantly doling out my money to corporations who don’t give a fuck about me doesn’t serve me, it serves the elite, and that money is power, and I’d rather have my money anyway.

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