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)