Night Blooming: Tom Ford Black Orchid
While in New York in May, I managed to limit myself to two scents, and it kind of figures that both of them would be potent, relatively dark things that I wouldn't be able to wear much in the impending summer: A*Men Pure Malt and Tom Ford Black Orchid. Luckily for me, it's been a cool, overcast, mostly wet summer this year, and I've gotten all kinds of wear out of the two of them.
Black Orchid starts out big and stays that way for quite a while: a twist of citrus peel and a rooty earthiness suggestive of anise garnishing a huge wallop of stewed fruit. Tom Ford's perfumer, I think, has been taking a page from the book of Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake. (That rootiness is supposedly black truffle. The full list of notes, if that sort of thing interests you:
Top notes: Black Truffle, Ylang, Bergamot, Black Currant
Middle notes: Florals, Fruit and Lotus Wood
Base notes: Noir Gourmand, Patchouli, Incense and Vetiver)
Eventually, the heady top settles down into an armload of ink-dark flowers dipped in vetiver (which becomes sharper and more piercing as the scent progresses). The stewed fruit hasn't quite vanished at this point, but it's a secondary player: the scent, after all, is called Black Orchid, not Rhubarb Compote.
At the bottom of Black Orchid is vanilla, presumably what the vendors are calling "Noir Gourmand", and by that they apparently mean the most beautiful vanilla imaginable: lush, silky, creamy, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, almost palpably three-dimensional. Even if I didn't love the rest of the composition, I would wear it, gladly, just to be able to smell this extraordinary vanilla.
One of the surprising things about Black Orchid is that there is no appreciable similarity between it and YSL Nu, which was also created by Tom Ford and which is also based on the orchid and its offspring, vanilla. Nu is loaded with incense and has just a spoonful of vanilla: Black Orchid reverses the proportions. Both have lots of dark florals and vetiver. And yet they could hardly be more different. It is this sort of thing that keeps perfume maniacs sniffing, sniffing, sniffing (not to mention buying, buying, buying).
You can't talk about Black Orchid and ignore the bottle, because it's spectacular, the kind of thing that will topple you over the edge into making a purchase if you were waffling. It's got a late-twenties Art Deco/Streamline feel to it: a flat little handful of black glass, round-shouldered, corrugated with shallow ribs that set the touch receptors in your fingertips vibrating when you run them along the surface, with an engraved gold plate on front and a gold cord wrapped around the neck, like a tiny lavaliere, bearing a little gold seal stamped with the initials TF. It is beyond a doubt a boudoir bottle: even before you've smelled the contents, it announces sensuality, luxury, exotic pleasures. The bottle and its contents are creatures of the night. (The one-ounce bottle is the most to my taste: I find the perfume bottle a bit squat and the 100-mL EDP bottle too massive, dwarfing the cap. The ounce seems to me to have gotten the proportions just right.)
Black Orchid is not cheap: $60 for the ounce, $140 for the 100-mL bottle, a startling $600 for a half-ounce of perfume. Though less pricey than Ford's Private Collection line (currently $180 for a 50-mL bottle), it is, like most niche perfumery, costlier than the average scent. It is entirely worth it.