The fashion industry had great expectations when Tom Ford announced his return to the realm of fashion. This was only one year on from his retirement in 2004, which saw the American designer leave his post as the Creative Director of Gucci. During his year long hiatus, Ford would prove the expanse of his talents following plans for the directorial debut of his movie, A Single Man and construction was well underway to release an exclusive line of fragrances; the first to bare the designer’s own name. The seed was planted with Ford’s involvement in Estee Lauder’s development of Youth Dew Amber Nude (2005), a modern interpretation of the 1953 classic. The following year Tom Ford the man became Tom Ford the brand and his first signature perfume was released. Tom Ford’s Black Orchid (2006) was a dark and daring scent. Daring in that it pushed away from other fashion designers making perfumes that were transparent, fresh and clean. Ford’s dark approach to scent is a common thread in his perfumes. Aside from the jet-black apothecary styled bottle of Black Orchid, a Tom Ford perfume can often feature the word black or noir in its title. Even his next men’s fragrance scheduled for release in October will be titled Tom Ford Noir. The designer explains, “ Well, that’s me, I am a nocturnal creature.” When Black Orchid launched, Ford commented “I wanted to immediately establish myself as a perfume company. I really wanted to cast the net as wide as possible; to have access to all of the world’s perfumery talents.” In 2007 the Tom Ford Private Blend collection was launched. Ford worked with leading perfumers at Givaudan, Firmenich and IFF to bring the collection to life. Within a short space of time over a dozen perfumes baring the Tom Ford name were on the market. If you have the chance, a visit to Tom Ford’s flagship boutique on New York’s exclusive Madison Avenue is a beautiful experience. The perfumes are towards the back of the boutique and are housed in an octagonal shaped marble and glass room. It is certainly one of the most luxurious spaces I have ever had the pleasure of sampling a perfume in. In terms of an olfactory theme, the chypre accord is a unifying thread throughout the first Private Blends and Black Orchid. “It’s a very 70s thing that’s coming back”, the designer forecast in 2007. “I tend to like heavier scents”. Patchouli is another TF signature that conjures visions of 1970s American life, Ford describes as his high school years. Black Orchid’s dark floral heart may have been designed with women in mind, however after its international launch, it was estimated 20 percent of those wearing the fragrance were men.
Wearing Black Orchid you can easily see why it attracts a large male following. Dark accords of black truffle, chocolate, sandalwood, patchouli and incense make for a powerful scent that works sultry wonders on both sexes. The black orchid note is interesting in that Givaudan used their patented Headspace technology to recreate the scent of the rare flower. Headspace involves the use of sophisticated technology to analyse the air around an object. This produces a three-dimensional report of all the scented molecules in the surrounding environment. This noninvasive method allows the perfumer to synthesize the scent of flowers that are either too rare or too fragile to have their scent extracted directly from their petals. Black Orchid’s opening has a melon/blackcurrant quality and a complex array of chocolaty lactones, muted spices and is that menthol I smell way way off in the distance? As the top notes come away, a heart of gardenia and jasmine is revealed. I wonder if this preference for a white floral bouquet was inspired by Tom Ford’s fondness for the white floral monster, Fracas (1948), a tuberose perfume Ford used to wear. Black Orchid is classified as an oriental chypre so you would expect some form of tree moss in the base, although notes of incense, wood and patchouli overshadow any mossy ties. Patchouli and incense can easily become a travel story, either to exotic destinations or time travel back to a pot-smoking hippy era. Ford’s handling of these darker woods and resins feels contemporary and expensive; the same feeling you get when you enter his Madison Avenue boutique.
I often feel a need to caution a guy before recommending a woman’s fragrance to him. Maybe this is due to my days in retail sales when occasionally I would need to advise a man that the reason why the jeans he wants to try on are displayed in small sizes is because they are women’s jeans. This usually results in him making a beeline for the door dragging his deflated male ego with him. Black Orchid is one fragrance I would not feel the need to discuss gender before recommending. Unless men read the marketing blurb, I highly doubt they would pick it as a feminine scent. Black Orchid works well on extroverted men in their mid 20s to late 30s. It can be worn in the office, in fact I know of one male and two females in my office who wear it. But I think the fragrance really comes alive as an evening scent.
Perfumer: David Arpel, Pierre Negrin (Givaudan)
Bottle designer: Lalique Creation Studio
Release date: 2006
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody Oriental