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.
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.
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.