Tom Ford is having a cracker of a year with new fragrance launches. Ombré Leather 16 brings this year’s tally to nine. The only year to exceed this number is 2007, which is when the Private Blend Collection first launched. What makes Ombré Leather 16 unique compared to every preceding Tom Ford fragrance is that it is the first time the American designer has created a fragrance inspired by his seasonal ready-to-wear collection; Tom Ford’s Fall Winter 2016 collection was unveiled during New York Fashion Week last month.
Tom Ford is a fashion designer with the Midas touch. After rebuilding Gucci in the late 1990s, Ford came out of early retirement with a concatenation of successful projects that included his directorial debut in Hollywood. Critics couldn’t be blamed for expecting the movie to flop, after all, directing a film and designing clothes seem to be worlds apart. To the surprise of many, Ford’s debut film was brilliant and his leading man, Colin Firth, was awarded an Oscar for his performance as George in The Single Man. At the same time Tom Ford eyewear with its retro-inspired shapes and genius branding had gained a cult following and Tom Ford fragrances, now three years old, were quickly gathering momentum. A decade on, the fragrances are revered in every part of the world and they also appeal to niche fragrance audiences who are notoriously fastidious. Very few brands have been able to master this balancing act between commerciality and polarising creativity like Tom Ford has.
Designing a fragrance in sync with a seasonal runway collection is (strangely) an innovation that no designer in recent history has done but Tom Ford is never one to shy away from calculated experimentation. Even the designer’s full return to fashion was unconventional and much to the dismay of media and fashion bloggers, Tom Ford’s Spring Summer 2011 fashion show was a highly secretive and intimate runway presentation staged in his Madison Avenue store. It was quite the opposite of the big-budget, highly produced shows Ford’s counterparts like Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren were making. Tom Ford continued to avoid the status quo of New York Fashion Week by relocating his Fall Winter 2015 show to Los Angeles and the Spring Summer 2016 collection that followed wasn’t shown to a live audience at all. Instead Ford collaborated with photographer Nick Knight and Lady Gaga to produce a music video that showcased the season’s collection.
Ford’s latest Fall Winter 2016 collection is the designer’s most controversial yet but not for any tactical “please look at me” theatrics sometimes used in the fashion industry to draw media attention. There has been plenty of talk in the media about a new “see now, buy now” approach to designer fashion and Ford has spoken out in support of the idea for years. For consumers it means they can immediately buy what they see on a runway instead of waiting four months for the season to arrive in store. Most luxury-brand designers have debunked this new approach and fashion media also have their concerns. Traditionally the months that follow Fashion Week are extremely important. Brands use those months to distil ideas the designer has presented, to edit, to study how the media, buyers and the public reacted to the show so that what ends up in stores has the best chance of commercial success. Burberry and Tom Ford are the first high-profile designers to move to this way of working. Fall Winter 2016 is the first Tom Ford runway show that customers could watch and then buy in store the following day.
The collection features a number of dark ombré leather looks from which the fragrance takes its inspiration. Givaudan perfumer Sonia Constant is credited with the creation of Ombré Leather 16. Constant has a volume of perfumes credited to her name, including another recent Tom Ford release, Orchid Soleil and 2015’s Tom Ford Noir Extreme and Noir Pour Femme. Since the launch of the Private Blend Collection in 2007, leather is a note that has come to epitomise the Tom Ford fragrance aesthetic. From glorified Tuscan Leather to its more left-field White Suede, it feels natural that the designer’s first runway-inspired fragrance would headline with leather, a note Tom Ford has explored in detail, and which the brand clearly understands well.
The leather accord made for Ombré Leather 16 is strikingly beautiful. It is meticulously detailed and perfectly balanced between the stark cold touch of unworn leather and the sensual feeling of leather that has been warmed by human skin. The fragrance begins with a classic leather note of bitter quinolene. This note is enhanced with violet leaf, a purple-green note perfumers often pair with leather. Unlike the confronting petrol note of (Dior) Fahrenheit’s violet-leather combo, Ombré Leather 16 goes for a more subtle, feather-light approach, which makes me think of dark plums wrapped in fine lambskin leather. Notes of saffron and cardamom give the fragrance a modern, spicy appeal and jasmine sambac adds radiance and floralcy. Visually, an ombré effect is a tonal gradient that changes from light to dark. In this olfactory analogy, the fragrance’s top notes are the lighter side of the gradient. As Ombré Leather 16 steps through its paces from top to base notes, the fragrance becomes cloaked in shadows and a darker, more textured leather note takes form. Woody oriental notes of patchouli, vetiver, styrax and olibanum add complexity and depth to this rich leather accord. Finally the fragrance settles on a bed of white moss laced with animalic civet. Although dark, the entire fragrance glows with a golden amber hue. There is creaminess in the dry down that helps balance the arid notes of woods, resins and dried spices. What fascinates me most about this fragrance is its ability to appear intense and weighty but on application (provided you don’t over apply) it breathes well and offers an unexpected element of transparency.
It’s unsurprising that Ombré Leather 16 smells great in cool weather. Its enveloping scent is like a light leather jacket that magically cocoons the body with insulation. When it comes to following designer fashion, this is one of the challenges that comes with living in the Southern Hemisphere. What is shown on the runways of Europe and New York is always out of sync with the Australian seasons. Coincidentally the see now-buy now approach to fashion brings Australia closer towards alignment with access to new fashion at the end of the same season, just a year behind. I was wearing Ombré Leather 16 in early spring when the weather still had a winter chill and it was amazing. That said, intense leather fragrances like this are hugely popular in places like Dubai, which are very warm all year round. Even if I prefer wearing Ombré Leather 16 in cool weather (it’s perfect for a snowy winter in New Zealand’s Queenstown) I still see myself wearing it occasionally over the coming summer months. I hope Tom Ford continues to create these seasonal fragrances. I’m eager to see what he creates for summer 2017.
Further recommendations: Christian Dior – Fahrenheit Parfum, Christian Dior – Dior Homme Parfum, CoSTUME NATIONAL – Soul
Perfumer: Sonia Constant (Givaudan)
Creative Direction: Tom Ford, Karyn Khoury
Release Date: 2016
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry Woods