Sahara Noir is the latest addition to Tom Ford’s women’s collection. Evoking the untamed beauty of the Arabian Peninsula, Sahara Noir pays tribute to frankincense, the ancient desert resin valued for its perfume. Tom Ford describes Sahara Noir as “rich and exotic; it wraps the balsamic, incense-touched notes of frankincense in gold and honey-coloured light. It is a deep and substantial perfume that caresses the senses.”
Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, who is no stranger to the Tom Ford brand, having created other fragrances for the house including Jasmin Rouge, Neroli Portofino and Jonquille de Nuit is the author of Sahara Noir. Last month I had the pleasure of meeting Rodrigo in New York and we discussed the Senior Perfumer’s work at Givaudan, one of the world’s leading producers of fine fragrances. Rodrigo invited me to smell Sahara Noir with him. As the scent of crystallised incense filled my senses, Rodrigo talked about his personal journey creating this exotic fragrance for Tom Ford.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux: “Sahara Noir started with a concept. Frankincense is one of the three gifts of the Maji, the Three Kings that visited Jesus when he was born. I read the Song of Songs written by Solomon in the bible. It goes into profound concepts about a couple in love and metaphors of gardens and animals. It is basically a metaphor of the love between someone and God. Solomon makes many references to botanicals. I read the book several times; I noted down every plant that is mentioned in the Song of Songs and every plant that is mentioned, is inside this perfume. So we are talking about jasmine and rose, which is evident. We are talking about papyrus, cedarwood, frankincense and myrrh. We are talking about styrax, leather, which is not a botanical but still we went there. Cyprus is important, calamus, which is a strange raw material, labdanum and aloe, which I translated into rosewood. So this perfume had a very specific starting point and it became Sahara Noir. Funnily, Sahara Noir is the name of a very rare and expensive quality of marble that comes from Northern Africa. It is the darkest of marbles you will see in Baroque churches. In the Vatican it was used to decorate the Basilica of St Peters so the whole thing has a bit of a mystical, elevated, religious thing happening.”
In the same way the grand design of St Peters Basilica, which inspires awe and reverence, provides a place for worshippers to offer personal prayers; Sahara Noir’s luxurious metallised glass flacon unlocks for its wearers a personal audience with one of the world’s oldest perfume ingredients associated with spirituality.
I asked Rodrigo if his intention was to steer clear of adding an obvious oud/agarwood note to this perfume.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux: “I wish the whole oud thing would pass like Hurricane Sandy even if oud is perfectly nice and it is a theme of perfumery that was neglected for some time. But I contest when a mass-market and very well reputed lingerie brand or a ready-to-wear brand for children decides to launch into the oud territory; I find that strange and contrived. So the approach of Sahara Noir was not to do the anti-oud but it became the anti-oud because voluntarily we avoided the oud structure even if there is a little bit of an agarwood smell to it. Sahara Noir is all about frankincense; it is all about another Middle Eastern scent besides oud.”
Sahara Noir is a deeply rich, resinous experience. The fragrance is tipped with notes of bitter orange, Egyptian jasmine templar and rose absolute from Morocco, which bring vibrancy to this golden orb of resins and spices. Levantine cypress, Jordanian calamus and papyrus extract provide a small oasis of greenery against a backdrop of sweet spices such as Laotian cinnamon and a list of resins, of which, frankincense is King. Sahara Noir utilizes Givaudan’s highest quality of frankincense, which carries the Orpur trademark. Another of Givaudan’s Orpur specialties used in Sahara Noir is a cistus labdanum essence, which adds its resinous charm to the perfume’s opening. Labdanum absolute and ambreinol, a natural fraction of labdanum bring a deep golden-balsamic feel to Sahara Noir’s base. Adding to this sensation are sweeter notes of Laotian benzoin, Peru balsam and vanilla from Madagascar. Whilst labdanum brings a slightly animalic connotation to Sahara Noir, beeswax from Burma adds another, along with a warm honey tone.
I love to travel. Alongside perfume, travel is one of my biggest passions. Perfume offers me that escape. Sahara Noir takes you from Northern Africa to the Middle East, exotic locations in Asia and across to South America. It is pure olfactory escapism, a round-the-world fare at the push of Tom Ford’s golden atomiser. The perfume’s warm scent is proving to be one of my favourites this Australian winter.
Alternatives: Lubin Akkad, Keiko Mecheri Oliban, Comme des Garcon Avignon, Robert Piguet Casbah, Miller Harris La Fumee, Gucci Pour Homme
Perfumer: Rodrigo Flores-Roux
Release Date: 2013
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody oriental