Ever since its debut in 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection has been one of the most successful expansions of luxury niche perfumery into the marketplace. They represent one of the defining brands of that style. They were the first perfumes I would review where I would be asked, “Are they worth it?” The answer to that is always an individual choice. What was undeniable was the collection was representing some of the best-known ingredients in high quality forms where the difference was noticeable.
Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury creatively directed each perfume to provide a singular luxurious experience. That so many of them are on “best of” lists show their success. They have been so successful that there is debate to whether they should even be referred to as niche anymore. I think they still retain a niche aesthetic while having a wider distribution than most other fragrances referred to with that adjective. Over the first three years of existence they cemented their style over 21 releases. Then 2011 happened.
This is conjecture on my part, but it seems like they had tired of hearing how “safe” they were. If you were to try the three releases from 2011 it feels like they wanted to have the word contemporary be part of the lexicon when describing Tom Ford Private Blends. Jasmin Rouge, Santal Blush, and this month’s Dead Letter Office entry Lavender Palm succeeded. What separated them from the rest of the collection was they took the keynote in their name off in very different new directions. All three have been among my favorites within the entire line. For some reason Lavender Palm was discontinued after only two years. I’ll provide my hypothesis for that later.
Lavender Palm was released early in 2011 as an exclusive to the new Beverly Hills Tom Ford boutique followed by wider release a year later. Perfumer Yann Vasnier was asked to capture a Southern California luxury vibe. He chose to use two sources of lavender wrapped in a host of green ingredients.
The top accord uses the more common lavandin where M. Vasnier adds citrus to it. The whole opening gets twisted using lime blossom which teases out the floral nature of the lavender while complementing the citrus. This is an opening with snap. The heart coalesces around lavender absolute. Here is where things take that contemporary turn. M. Vasnier uses clary sage, aldehydes, moss, and palm leaves to form a lavender accord that is at turns salty and creamy. It seemingly transforms minute-by-minute. It remains one of the most unique lavender accords I have experienced. A soft resinous base is where this ends.
Lavender Palm has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Lavender Palm became widely available in the beginning of 2012 and was discontinued by the end of 2014. I think the reason might be this was the only one of the three 2011 releases which unabashedly altered the previous style of the collection. There aren’t many Tom Ford Private Blend releases to be found in the Dead Letter Office; Lavender Palm might have got there by being too contemporary.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I suspect it is quite difficult to maintain a consistent state of enthusiasm for any endeavor. Perfume is unlikely to escape that. Eleven years ago, Tom Ford released one of the boldest collections at the time as he popularized luxury perfume with his Tom Ford Private Blend collection. In 2007 it was unheard of to release ten new perfumes into the luxury market at the same time. Working with creative director Karyn Khoury these perfumes stood out for their unique quality. I own all the first ten and I still think about what they would change in the niche market. It was another groundbreaking fragrance move from Mr. Ford.
Over the past few years I have been wondering if the brand is working a bit on autopilot. My recent favorites have been obvious riffs on some of the originals. It was understandable as it seemed like the naming of the perfumes were meant to be the innovation now. After Fucking Fabulous I rolled my eyes when I received the press release for the latest entry, Tom Ford Private Blend Lost Cherry. I was worried the name was all I would remember.
Lost Cherry is unique in the Private Blend collection for being the first intentionally gourmand entry. Noir de Noir is my favorite of the Private Blends because it is a chocolate-red wine-rose stunner on me. That is all achieved through clever perfumery creating that accord. The perfumer for Lost Cherry, Louise Turner, moves in a more direct fashion as she combines some different sources of cherry.
One cherry comes in the form of the cherry liqueur known as Cherry Heering. The other is the rich fruitiness of black cherry itself. The third is the most interesting as it is the result of headspace analysis of the filling of a cherry cordial. Known as griotte syrup, I use it in cocktails often. Ms. Turner has found a way to re-create it as the third piece of the cherry trio.
Ms. Turner opens with the black cherry fruit on top. It is combined with slivers of bitter almond. It is added to a glass of cherry liqueur as a slightly alcoholic quality begins to appear. It intensifies with a jammy rose inserting itself. If you’re looking for a lost cherry it doesn’t take long to find it as this top accord assembles itself. The rose adds a metaphorical viscosity which is enhanced when the griotte syrup accord oozes onto the scene. Ms. Turner adds in pistachio as a nutty foil to the bitter almond from the top. This is a perfume equivalent of a cherry cordial; if you start at the center first. The remainder of Lost Cherry is building the chocolate casing as an accord of sandalwood, tolu balsam, tonka bean, and vanilla. It is a guess, but I think there might be some of the tonka resinoid used in Fucking Fabulous because the tonka has more of a presence that I expected.
Lost Cherry has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is as good as it gets with a gourmand style of perfume. The only caveat is the same with any of them; if you’re not fond of cherry Lost Cherry isn’t going to find you changing your mind. If you’re looking for something new from Tom Ford Private Blend this is definitely that. It has been a long time since I couldn’t stop thinking about a Private Blend release. Lost Cherry has helped me find my enthusiasm for the brand, again.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample from Tom Ford.
In 2007 when the first dozen Tom Ford Private blend perfumes arrived they were a sensation. Tom Ford working with Karyn Khoury would create something unique within the niche perfume sector. So many of those originals were such groundbreaking constructs it was maybe too much to expect the Private Blend collection to keep up that kind of creativity over the long run. As we begin 2018 and a second decade of Private Blends it is fair to say the collection has become an elder statesman of the luxury fragrance sector. You might notice I left off niche because as the brand has matured it has also become less adventurous. Particularly over the past year or so there has been an emphasis on using top notch ingredients within familiar constructs. The latest release, Vanille Fatale, is a good example.
As the collection becomes safer the PR copy becomes ever more impenetrable. Here is a bit from the press materials for Vanille Fatale:
“Vanille Fatale is a force of nature personified. A beguiling tempest that takes over like a rush of blood to the head. The impossible becomes real, too good to be true becomes true. Her – or his – unrelenting hold is fixed, refined yet raw, polished yet primal.”
All of that for a fragrance which is a nicely formed vanilla perfume using a great source of the titular note.
Perfumer Yann Vasnier uses saffron as an exotic opener which might give you the idea something more unique is coming. It isn’t. What is coming is one of the Givaudan proprietary Orpur ingredients. The Orpur version of Madagascar vanilla is as good as raw materials get. It has power and nuance. The green nature of the orchid runs through the sweetness like stringy veins. M. Vasnier chooses olibanum and myrrh to provide resinous contrast and depth. It all rests on a soft suede accord in the base. There are some floral notes and coffee listed in the ingredient list but over a couple days of wearing this none of those came through. This is primarily saffron-vanilla-incense-leather.
Vanille Fatale has 16-18 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
It is hard to not try a new Tom Ford Private Blend containing vanilla and not be reminded of one of those early trendsetters in the debut collection; Tobacco Vanille. I’ve heard many tell me the tobacco is too much in that one. For those, Vanille Fatale is Tobacco Vanille avec tobacco. This is a very luxurious high-quality vanilla perfume for which I think vanilla lovers will die for because of the Orpur vanilla. I fall in between wanting there to be some of the adventurousness of the early Private Blends but accepting an elder statesman needs to show some decorum. Vanille Fatale is a decorous vanilla perfume.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
A year ago, designer Tom Ford began pairing a perfume with his debut of the spring/summer fashion collection. Last year’s Ombre Leather 16 was a standout within the Private Blend collection. I wore it quite a bit during the fall and winter last year. I was excited to hear the same thing was happening this year with a new Private Blend tied to last week’s debut of the spring/summer 2018 collection called Fucking Fabulous. With a name like that the first question becomes, “is it?”
Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2018
The name itself has generated the typical buzz Mr. Ford revels in as he forced every beauty publication and reporter into figuring out how they were going to mention it. I have always had mixed feelings on Mr. Ford’s marketing style. It seems to work for him and just as with other aspects of other brands I’d rather focus on the perfume.
Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2018
For Fucking Fabulous if you look at the fashion collection which accompanied it you see Mr. Ford reaching back to the 1990’s for inspiration. There were padded shoulders, the return of a maillot paired with leather cargo pants, and millennial pink just so you know he knows what year it is. That shows through with Fucking Fabulous it is a luxury version of a department store powerhouse of the 90’s. The main difference is instead of relying on the synthetic version of the ubiquitous notes of the 90’s the perfumer, Shyamala Maisondieu, chose the more expensive options. For the most part, it works.
Tom Ford Spring/Summer 2018
It opens on a bitter almond oil. This carries a bit of a sting to it which is smoothed away by using tonka resinoid. In this version, the tonka pushes its warmer toastier aspects forward. These take that sharp nutty first few minutes and cover them in a jacket with big shoulders. The leather cargo pants show up carrying some clary sage in their pockets. The sage roughs the leather accord up a bit. This is also a lighter leather than in most Private Blends. A powdery orris adds that millennial pink shading. Cashmeran is that sleek woody maillot tying it all together.
Fucking Fabulous has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Is It? Not really. Within the Private Blend collection it isn’t close to being the most fucking fabulous of the line. What it is, is another clever comingling of Mr. Ford’s fashion and fragrance aesthetic along with his provocative PR. I like the luxury take on the powerhouse perfumes of the past but it’s not what it says it is.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle supplied by Tom Ford Beauty.
2017 sees the tenth anniversary of the Tom Ford Private Blend collection. It has been one of the most important perfume collections of recent times. In May of 2007 I remember seeing this group of brown square bottles in my local Neiman-Marcus. It was an audacious attempt to capture this new thing known as a “niche perfume” market. Ten years on it is easy to say under the creative direction of Tom Ford and Karyn Khoury they hit every target, and then some, they probably aspired to. They’ve been so successful it has become an arguable point that Tom Ford Private Blend is no longer even “niche”.
One of the best-selling entries in that first group was Neroli Portofino. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux presented a luxurious version of the lowly drugstore cologne. It made Neroli Portofino a standard bearer for the vibe the Private Blend collection was aspiring to. Neroli Portofino was so successful Mr. Ford and Ms. Khoury decided to create a sub-collection named after it, in 2014. They also changed the bottle color from brown to blue so to make it visually evident when there are new entries. Since 2014 there have been five more releases each continuing the examination of the Mediterranean Hesperidic style of perfume. The latest release is called Sole di Positano.
Ms. Khoury invited perfumers Aurelien Guichard and Olivier Gillotin to compose this latest entry. It is based on a quote from John Steinbeck Mr. Ford admires, “Positano is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone”. The challenge is to create a very light version of the Neroli Portofino aesthetic.
Sole di Positano opens on the twinkling of sunlight off the Mediterranean represented by lemon and petitgrain. To keep it from being too tart the perfumers use mandarin to smooth out that character. The green of the petitgrain is then connected with shiso to add a couple shades of verdancy to the citrus. Jasmine and ylang-ylang provide the floral heart. These are cleaner lighter versions of both of those notes. No indoles in the jasmine along with no oiliness in the ylang-ylang. The green returns with moss, along with sandalwood, in the base.
Sole di Positano has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
In the past year, there has been a lightening up of the Private Blend releases. I wonder if it is a calculation for the collection to transition to appealing to a younger consumer. Sole di Positano is the most floral of the Neroli Portofino collection since Fleur de Portofino. If you like your Mediterranean perfumes on the lighter side Sole di Positano is going to please you.
Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
I have long been an admirer of Tom Ford and his approach to fashion. Over the last few years he has moved to take back fashion from the madding crowd in the way he does his runway shows. He shows during New York Fashion Week but it is always on his own terms. Last night Mr. Ford had his Autumn Winter 2016 runway show at the recently closed The Four Seasons restaurant allowing it to go out with a bang. For those familiar with the fashion calendar the September shows are usually for next Spring’s fashion. Mr. Ford believes that in the age of the internet nobody wants to wait. So he has joined a few other designers in debuting a collection which you can buy immediately. So this morning anything you saw on the runway last night was available online and in store. One other special part of the evening was the space was scented with the newest Tom Ford Private Blend, Ombre Leather 16 which like the fashion is also available as of today.
Ombre Leather 16 translates to shaded leather 2016. It is a fitting accompaniment to what was presented on the runway as the Autumn Winter 2016 collection was full of contrasting textures of which leather was one of the stars. Visually the leather showed up in details and as contrasts with things like tweed. Ombre Leather 16 is also like that. I’ve had my press sample for a few weeks and I’ve really been impressed at how much this leather is in flux displaying different shades depending on what other notes have stepped up. I have not found out which Givaudan perfumer(s) worked on this. (UPDATE: The perfumer is Sonia Constant) I do have a suspicion though. (UPDATE: I was wrong) Whomever did this work the leather accord at the heart of Ombre Leather 16 is absolutely fantastic.
That leather accord is front and center as you spray on Ombre Leather 16. This is a supple leather but early on it has a dry quality to it. The first note which interacts with it does little to that quality as violet leaves cut across the leather like silvery green razor blades. To go with this is a breeze of green cardamom adding a bit of brightness to the overall effect. I like almost everything about this perfume but these opening moments are amazing for me. I have always liked the sharp qualities violet leaf can impart and the perfumer(s) here lets them fly like a knife thrower as they thunk into the rich leather. Then the next shadow is cast across the leather as jasmine sambac steps up. This is an indolic version and so it enhances the animalic qualities of the leather. It also begins to relieve the aridness of the early going. A very restrained patchouli comes next which pretty much completely transforms the leather into something much fleshier. It does this by using the earthy qualities of patchouli to tame the beast and allow the gorgeous leather a platform from which to preen a bit. Finally, it marches off the runway on the arm of what is called white moss but which smells like typical low atranol oakmoss to me.
Ombre Leather 16 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
This, by far, is my favorite leather in the Tom Ford Private Blend collection. It is much more to my taste than Tuscan Leather because the raspberry in that fragrance always jars me a bit. Ombre Leather 16 is true to its name as every shadow in the fragrance blends together as it moves through its paces. It is the best Tom Ford Private Blend since Shanghai Lily.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Tom Ford Beauty.
On the surface if you tell me that there are flankers within the Tom Ford Private Blend collection I would be against it. In an already voluminous line of perfumes taking up space with flankers seems wasteful. Except when it comes to Neroli Portofino; creative directors Karyn Khoury and Tom Ford have found a way to do it thoughtfully. That starts with using perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux who composed the original to also be the nose behind the flankers. The first flanker was last year’s Fleur de Portofino which was much more floral than its parent. Now that is followed up by two more flankers Neroli Portofino Acqua and Neroli Portofino Forte.
When it comes to the names of these it is exactly what it promises on the label. Neroli Portofino Acqua is a very light eau de cologne version. Neroli Portofino Forte is a fortified version a little heavier than the original. What it seems like to me is they have now created a Neroli Portofino for all seasons.
Neroli Portofino Acqua is constructed with the same framework of orange and orange blossom on top combined with a warm amber base. It is the middle accord that imparts the sense of airiness which gives Neroli Portofino Acqua its style. The opening is the same citrus mélange of orange, lemon and orange blossom. It is in these opening moments where Neroli Portofino Acqua is the most similar to Neroli Portofino. Then, where the original gets more floral, Acqua rises on a fresh breeze from the sea. It picks up the citrus accord and carries it to the amber base. This again is much lighter in feel than it was in the original. If there was anything you disliked about the original Neroli Portofino because of concentration I think Neroli Portofino might be the right concentration for you. Neroli Portofino Acqua has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sr. Flores-Roux makes many more changes to Neroli Portofino Forte. The similarity to Neroli Portofino is definitely there but is feels much more like Fleur de Portofino did in its ability to stand apart. The first change is to switch the orange out for blood orange. This adds a contrasting tartness which is then shaded green with an herbal chord of basil, rosemary, and tarragon. Forte stays much more herbal and green as the orange blossom shows up as a much less influential note than in any of the other three flankers. Sr. Flores-Roux then adds in a smooth refined leather accord along with sandalwood. This is where the warm amber accord of Neroli Portofino again arises but as with the orange blossom it is other notes which are in the foreground. Some muscone in the final phase of development turns the last moments more animalic. Neroli Portofino Forte is a version to be worn in those chilly shoulder seasons around summer. I have been wearing it during these days of chilly mornings and temperate days and it is perfect. Neroli Portofino Forte has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
When a set of flankers is reimagined with the flair that Sr. Flores-Roux brings to this collection it is hard not to be impressed. I know Neroli Portofino Forte has definitely replaced the original as my favorite of the four. If you’ve ever wanted a blue bottle Tom Ford Private Blend on your dresser one of these four should definitely do the trick.
Disclosure: This review was based on press samples provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
Header photo from groomingguru.co.uk
As the calendar changed over to 2000 as a society we were warned of doomsday prophecies along with the collective meltdown of our computer infrastructure’s inability to deal with the changeover to Y2K. As we look back from the safety of fifteen years later without having lost the ability to look up Nostradamus via Google it is clear that the fin de siècle also had effects on different creative pursuits. It encouraged risk taking because there might not be another chance. At this time there was no bigger risk taker than Tom Ford.
Mr. Ford had made a leap of faith when he joined Gucci in 1990 as the women’s ready-to-wear designer. That would be the start of meteoric rise as Gucci went from has-been to have-to-have all under Mr. Ford’s savvy direction. He dramatically expanded the brand into every sector of fashion and style. It is also where he would begin his fragrance career. In 1997 he would release Gucci Envy followed a year later by Gucci Envy for Men. They were typical Floral and Oriental fragrances of the time period and there was little of the signature style Mr. Ford would bring to fragrance. That would come with the next set of releases.
Gucci Rush Advertisement
In 1999 with the release of Gucci Rush Mr. Ford used his trademark mix of danger and sexuality for the first time in fragrance. The sexuality came courtesy of model Liberty Ross tinted red with a look of open-mouthed pleasure underneath the crimson. The danger came from the bottle which looked like an anonymous VHS rental tape box which would most commonly hold a pornographic movie. All of this is tame compared to what Mr. Ford has evolved into but it is all on display in its earliest incarnation. With Gucci Rush for Men the other thing Mr. Ford will become known for also displays itself for the first time; the use of an ingredient which would set the standard for fragrance from that point on. That ingredient in Gucci Rush for Men was incense.
Incense? Really incense hasn’t always been a thing? Incense had been used in perfumery as an accent note but very rarely as the focal point. In a mainstream designer fragrance? Not at all. Mr. Ford worked with perfumers Antoine Maisondieu and Daniela Andrier to create a typical masculine woody structure infused with a significant amount of incense.
Rush for Men opens with the light woodiness of cypress matched up with lavender. Cedar makes the woody quality cleaner while a very light application of patchouli tries to mar those sterile lines. This all transitions quite rapidly into the foundation of sandalwood, cade wood, and incense. The sandalwood is boosted with a suite of milky lactones so that it provides a creamier woody foil. I am guessing this was to allow the incense to not become too astringent in this first use of it. The result is the incense comes in with a translucent quality while also becoming the focal point.
Rush for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
When you smell Rush for Men now it seems like a child’s version of an incense perfume. It is similar to what Mr. Ford would do with oud when he used it in YSL M7. You have to dole out the unusual in small doses before really letting them have it. Just as M7 would launch a thousand ouds; Rush for Men paved the way for the incense prominent perfumes, especially on the masculine side.
Based on the research I was able to do I was unable to find a reason for the discontinuation. Rush for Men sold quite well especially in the first couple of years. It was a viable alternative for the other styles of the time on the masculine side. The only reason I have found in a couple of places is purely anecdotal and sort of tin-foil hat conspiracy theory. The idea is Gucci was decisively cleaving itself from the Tom Ford era by discontinuing as much of it as they could after he left in 2004. Of course there is no hard evidence of this. Over time many have come to realize what a trailblazer perfume Rush for Men was and the price of a bottle has climbed pretty steeply over the past few years.
If you get the opportunity to try some it is really a time capsule capturing the early influences of Mr. Ford as well as showing the Y2K era as well.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
I am always pleasantly surprised when I get a new release from a brand I think I know well to find that there is something different. The most recent release in the Tom Ford Private Blend collection did that. Fleur de Portofino is part of the Neroli Portofino sub-collection signified by the blue glass bottles. When you look at them you are almost drawn to expect something aquatic or cologne-like. Through the first three releases that has definitely been the case. Fleur de Portofino is something entirely different a summer-weight floral.
The longtime creative team of Karen Khoury and Tom Ford collaborated with perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux for this perfume. What I like very much about this is when we think of Mediterranean inspired perfumes we usually expect herbal facets, a bit of citrus, and some florals; usually in the back seat. Sr. Flores-Roux puts the floral notes firmly in the driving seat for Fleur de Portofino.
Fleur de Portofino does start off with the expected citrus mélange of tangerine and bitter orange. Right away Sr. Flores-Roux is working the flowers in as a bit of lilac and violet leaves begin the transition. The lilac lilts very transparently as the violet leaves provide a bit of green earthy contrast. Then the florals start coming with a flourish. Acacia, jasmine, magnolia, orange blossom, rose; it is like having a fabulous florist’s arrangement for my nose. Sr. Flores-Roux balances this so amazingly well it stays at a moderate volume throughout even though there is so much to experience. It heads into a light honey and woody base. The honey adds a golden patina over the florals capturing them in a slightly sticky matrix. Tolu balsam provides the woody aspects. Very late on there is a touch of animalic musk as the final notes.
Fleur de Portofino has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
I am very pleased that the decision was made to go for something less aquatic and cologne-like with this latest release. It makes me look forward to the next blue bottle to be released. Until that time I will content myself by wearing Sr. Flores Roux’s olfactory summer garland while the sun is shining.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Tom Ford Beauty.
For all of the series I have on Colognoisseur there is a long list of potential subjects which I choose from when I am ready to write a new entry. For the series called Dead Letter Office which is about discontinued perfumes which I think are incredible pieces of olfactory art I recently noticed an interesting thing. When I started the blog in February of 2014 I made up a list of discontinued perfumes and the perfumer for each. When I look over the list of about thirty there is one perfumer who is responsible for five of the entries. All of them were released from 1998-2004. All of them were composed by perfumer Jacques Cavallier who I now dub the Postmaster General of the Dead Letter Office.
Those five perfumes are Issey Miyake Le Feu D’Issey, Yves St. Laurent Nu, Yves St. Laurent M7 (co-created with Alberto Morillas), Alexander McQueen Kingdom, and Boucheron Trouble. If there is any similarity between the perfumes it is that they failed for being out of step with the prevailing perfume trends at the time of “fresh and clean” or fruity floral. None of these followed those trends and thus the marketplace rejected them to eventually be discontinued. If you think M. Cavallier himself was out of step that also isn’t the case as he is the perfumer behind Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey which could be said to be the standard bearer for “fresh and clean”.
The reason M. Cavallier is associated with these discontinued perfumes is because the Creative Directors for each of them was willing to take a big risk. These are all perfumes which flew in the face of the market forces attempting to shift the trends onto something different. Those two visionary Creative Directors were Chantal Roos and Tom Ford who are responsible, in part or together, for the creative direction of all five. If there is anything I repeat over and over is I want a brand to take a chance on breaking away from convention; these perfumes do that.
M. Cavallier has provided truly unique aspects to each. The raw coconut milk accord of Le Feu D’Issey. The cumin based human musk of Alexander McQueen Kingdom. The fantastic green cardamom of YSL Nu. The contrast from lemon meringue to wood infused vanilla in Boucheron Trouble. Finally, most famously, the first prominent use of oud in western perfumery in YSL M7.
This is the soul of creativity and what turns a perfume from fragrance to olfactory art. That M. Cavallier can seamlessly create mega-hits like L’Eau D’Issey and any of these five perfumes mentioned above shows how talented he is. Even if he does spend an inordinate amount of time in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances which I purchased.