As soon as I see “noir” in the name of a fragrance I have learned to temper my expectations. I feel much like Inigo Montoya saying “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”. If there was one offender I would consistently point at, it was the Tom Ford Noir collection. It was something which was a pleasant perfume but in no way “noir”. If I was to define “noir” I would want it to be a shifting style of perfume, innocent and dark, throughout its development. The literary and cinematic form which spawned the word are tales of moral ambiguity often accompanied by the corruption of innocence. So, imagine my surprise when the new flanker Tom Ford Noir Anthracite gets it correct.
The time-tested creative direction of Karyn Khoury is combined with perfumer Honorine Blanc. This is the first Tom Ford fragrance by Mme Blanc. The concept on the website is to explore the “light in the dark”. I would say Noir Anthracite explores the struggle of light within the dark.
Mme Blanc opens with the first bit of light as bergamot sparks Noir Anthracite to life. Then she uses Szechuan pepper to add in the dark. It would have been so easy to just use black pepper here. Szechuan pepper carries a different piquancy along with a kind of subtle muskiness. It works especially well here because Mme Blanc also uses ginger as a foil to the sunny bergamot too. This is a very different top accord from most of the other mainstream offerings which this will be next to on the fragrance counter. I enjoyed it a lot but I am curious if this is going to be generally accepted at the mall. The heart is another unique accord as galbanum acts as an overarching green presence to which a light application of jasmine and tuberose are used to provide some lift to it. The galbanum is so powerful you might not notice the florals. This is what I mean as the scrubbed clean white florals never really overcome the green of the galbanum. The base is a straightforward sandalwood and cedar.
Noir Anthracite has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Noir Anthracite is quite different from the other Tom Ford Noir releases. I think if you are a fan of those you might not find Noir Anthracite as nice as I did. Although if you are looking for a perfume which calls itself noir, and means it; Noir Anthracite seems to know what the word means.
Disclosure: this review was based on a press sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
If there is anything which is going to harm perfumery in the long term it is not going to be the usual suspects of draconian regulations or astronomical prices. The death of perfume is going to come with the incessant homogenization going on in the mass-market sector. The perfume business which is making new perfumes in this sector has shunted aside creativity and promoted the focus group. By gathering average perfume wearers and letting them in to the creative process they end up creating perfume afraid to be anything but not to offend any sensibility. It also has the effect of making all of them smell the same by recycling older tropes from more ambitious earlier releases. The final decision on what goes in the bottle is not coming from a creative director with a specific vision. It is instead coming from averaging the results of questionnaires and picking the one which appeals most broadly. Except every great perfume which has ever existed has always made a bold statement about what it was and dared an audience to come to it instead of the other way around. One of the first perfumes I can remember doing that was 1977’s Yves St. Laurent Opium. If there was a perfume of the disco era Opium was it. Because so many women wore it there were many mornings following a night out where I could easily pick up the sweet vanilla laden base notes on my clothes. Opium was a trendsetter for years.
Now in 2015 there is a new flanker of Opium called Black Opium. The press release claims it is an Opium for a contemporary Rock Chick. The ad campaign features model Edie Campbell looking very Joan Jett while spraying on Black Opium. Except while I know the younger generation makes a habit of looking unimpressed about anything the look on Ms. Campbell’s face borders on apathy. It’s almost like there should be a thought bubble above her head going, “This is a quick buck.” When I received the press materials prior to receiving my sample I found it all very incongruous. Within days something even more ominous would create more concern. Creative Director of Yves St. Laurent Hedi Slimane posted on Twitter, followed up with a press release, disavowing any involvement in the creation of Black Opium. Who was minding the store? I am not sure but after wearing Black Opium it feels solidly like the product of a thousand focus groups.
The Creative Directors? (Photo: From the TV Series "Mad Men")
A group of four perfumers are credited with Black Opium, Honorine Blanc, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson, and Marie Salamagne. That is a great team of artists who if left to their own devices under appropriate creative direction could make a great “Rock Chick” perfume. What they have produced is something generic with aspects of hundreds of fruity florals and gourmands of the past all smooshed together into something afraid to take a stand on anything for fear of offending.
Black Opium opens with pink pepper, very sweet manadarin, and crisp pear matched with mimosa. It is modern fruity floral territory being trod upon for the umpteenth time. It eventually evolves towards a bland attempt at coffee, vanilla, and patchouli over cedar. Clean woody gourmand territory, encountered many times previously.
Black Opium has 10-12 hour longevity and prodigious sillage, probably the only thing it shares with the original.
Black Opium is not a bad perfume. It is a safe perfume. It is a perfume engineered through social means to appeal to many. It is devoid of character and as boring as Ms. Campbell looks in the advert. If the creative directors for the designers don’t have the opportunity to apply their brand vision to the perfumes which carry that designer name this will work like Continental Drift, in reverse, and every new release will eventually smell the same creating an olfactory Pangea. As one who loved the way the original Opium defined a moment in time via scent it is sad to see an opportunity for Black Opium squandered for safety’s sake.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Yves St. Laurent Beaute.
There are times I am just too stubborn. If there is anything which makes me dig my fragrant heels in it is celebrity perfume or as they are called, celebuscents. Too often they are quick creations heavily influenced by focus groups who are asked inane questions like, “Which one of these do you think smells like the name on the bottle?” This is not to say celebuscents are completely devoid of quality just 99% of them. You might glean from this why when I receive a new celebuscent it very quickly gets buried. I think when Elizabeth and James Nirvana White and Nirvana Black appeared in the spring I should have given them more than a cursory sniff. While cleaning up the pile of perfumes I came across my samples again. I guess I was in a more receptive mood and this time they connected.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
The template for a successful celebuscent was laid out by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, in 2005, as she collaborated closely with the perfumers behind her fist perfume for Coty, Lovely. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen did the same with perfumer Pierre Negrin. It took over two years for them to arrive at a final version which would become Nirvana Black. I would guess that process was a learning experience; because as they were putting the finishing touches on Nirvana Black they decided they wanted a second fragrance to go with it. This time the collaboration with perfumer Honorine Blanc went much quicker and Nirvana Black and Nirvana White were released in January of 2014.
What I like about both of these perfumes is that they are very simple and that simplicity captures the goth boho chic design aesthetic of the Elizabeth and James clothing and accessories. The three note structure of both makes it difficult; for the perfumer needs to make sure those three notes harmonize well together and in this case M. Negrin and Mme Blanc did a tremendous job.
Nirvana White is the more boho of the two as it works with two fresh florals before ending on a beautiful soft musk. The top floral is peony and the peony source Mme Blanc employs is that spring garden fresh floral version. It is uplifting until the other floral, muguet, adds a significant green aspect. Together this is an elementary vernal floral accord. What is not elementary is the cocktail of musks Mme Blanc uses in the base. With white in the name you might expect the laundry-fresh musks but Mme Blanc decides to create an accord that runs the spectrum of synthetic musks. At the end this musk accord has a soft authenticity to it that feels like a bit of an illusion.
Nirvana Black is that boho girl heading out to her favorite Goth club in the evening. M. Negrin also uses primarily three notes for his fragrance but I can see why they took so long to find the right balance. The top note is violet and there are a variety of violets they could have chosen. The one which makes it into the bottle is a rich slightly candied version. It segues smoothly into a sandalwood heart and the synergy they hit is perfect as the candied facets are bolstered by the sweeter nature of sandalwood. Nirvana Black comes to an end with an austere less sweet vanilla.
Nirvana White and Nirvana Black have 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are to be commended for taking their time and being uncompromising in getting what they wanted. That dedication shows and it is why Nirvana White and Nirvana Black stand out from the rest of the celebuscent pack.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Elizabeth and James.