One Thousand Scents

Friday, July 10, 2009

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.


  • I completely agree with you. This is such a fabulous, intense, complex, lovely scent. It truly has all the connotations of Rita Moreno as Anita in West Side Story preparing for her night with her Bernardo(she also either wears a perfume or takes a bubble bath in something called black orchid)

    When I got a sample, I thought right off the bat that I didn't like it one bit. I'm more into fresh, light scents and hate smelling like anything related to cooking (vanilla, etc)--my boyfriend calls it smelling like a cookie, which he likes, and I don't. But the complexity and depth of this scent really drew me in--it feels very old school, like when you're wearing it, you know very well that you're wearing perfume--you're not just kidding around. The bottle is beautiful, too.

    Your review has sorely tempted me to go out and buy some . . . the perfumed court has a sale this month, might be a good idea.

    By Blogger Isabelle, at 1:28 PM  

  • I know what you mean about Rita Moreno: orchids have a long association with sensuality, and it's dreadfully stereotyped but she does have a certain sloe-eyed exoticism that makes you think she ought to be wearing something orchidaceous and seductive.

    "Not kidding around" is absolutely right: if perfumes had subtitles, that would suit Black Orchid perfectly. Nothing light or fresh or pretty: it gets right down to business.

    As for The Perfumed Court, I say go for it. I placed an order with them, a big order at that, not even two months ago and I find I'm very, very tempted to place another. 15% off! A great deal! I love them far too much, and I have no self-control. And you could get yourself a quarter ounce of Black Orchid (an 8-mL spray) for $27 less 15%, or $22.95, a bargain. Do it!

    By Blogger pyramus, at 7:37 PM  

  • As for the Perfumed Court, I say go for it.

    Which I did . . . $50 later, I have an 8-oz. spray coming my way, as well as a few more samples of scents either you or Chandler Burr mention, as well as some Herm├Ęs Bel Ami.I can't wait!

    By Blogger Isabelle, at 1:44 PM  

  • Oh, lucky you! The Perfumed Court has so many great things and their customer service is terrific. My last order with them was a mind-warping $249 U.S., but I got about ninety samples, as opposed to the two or three or four full bottles I would have gotten for the same price.

    If you get poleaxed looking at all the possibilities, I recommend buying their sample sets, which are usually a slightly better deal than individual samples and have the added benefit of introducing you to things you hadn't heard of or might not have thought to try. I've bought the leather sampler, the osmanthus sampler, the vanilla, the ambergris, the Etat Libre D'Orange, the roses-for-men, the Chanel Exclusifs, and some others I can't even call to mind.

    I love a full bottle as much as anyone, but you get to the point that you realize you'll never use it all up, and decants and samples let you try a whole lot more scents for the same amount of money. And then if you get to the end of the sample and realize you can't live without it, you can get a bigger decant, or say the heck with it and splurge on a full bottle.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 2:14 PM  

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