Tom Ford Noir (2012): A Fougere, Reinvented {Perfume Review & Musings} {Men's Cologne}

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 Photo ©The Scented Salamander


A Tom Ford fragrance is always eagerly awaited because we know that we can expect something not lacking in character from this brand which usually likes to make statements {see also Violet Blonde}. This is one of those perfume labels that remain strongholds not only of beautiful perfumery but character perfumery. What we mean by this is think Bette Davis or James Cagney, well perhaps not the latter. Think a character actor but with smooth and suave angles. This perfume brand is called "Tom Ford Beauty", after all. A little harmony and glamor are in order. 

Tom Ford Noir was launched in the fall of 2012 and combines several interesting characteristics that make it a noticeable fragrance for men - and why not for women, despite its firm anchoring in the history of masculine fragrances...

It is dark as its name indicates. It is also pretty whiplashilly intense when you smell it for the first time. With time, subtler features unfold turning it into an elegant gentlemanly fragrance with a precious trail. 

Its personality to my nose, is that of an oriental fougère, but Reinvented. In Noir, we find deep classicism but also uncover a curatorial effort that make it be both a particularly historical fragrance - coming back alive with a modern punch and heightened self-awareness - or perhaps better, said with a high level of critical mindfulness about its artistic roots and effects. 

Noir could not have been composed before the onset of the contemporary stage, not just because of the mix of materials which would have been unavailable in the past when the fougère genre of perfume was born, i.e., at the end of the 19th century but because it compresses in its midst several chronologically ensuing fragrance ideas that span more than a century, into one compendium. This is the select library of fragrances of a gentleman poured by magic inside the same bottle so that he could travel easily with them over time and space. In this precious concentrate there are the very powdery accents of a certain type of fougère, but also more literally the haystack nuances that allude to the plant origin of this idea of an abstract fern that smells of nothing, yet becomes the masculine perfumery genre by essence to this day. Talk about a blank olfactory canvas. Perfumery needs imagination more than anything else. The fact that some of the most enduring and famous perfumes of all time were supposed to smell of nothing in the beginning - think Fougère Royale, Chypre by Coty, Chanel No.5, FlowerbyKenzo - is a testament to the vital need for the ingredient called Imagination in perfumery for generations of people to weave freely their sensitivities around perfume. 

There are also floral and leafy whiffs of violet making you think of the benchmark Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel (1975), one of the best men fragrances under the sun which made that floral note newly popular in the 20th century among flower-shy men. Then in Noir there is also an Oriental facet; and here it becomes even more interesting. It is directly borrowed from Habit Rouge by Guerlain: if you smell closely enough you will recognize its famous signature and just behind it, its feminine forebear Shalimar with its lovely, delicious accents of bergamot, vanilla and leathery styrax. Even better and in a paradoxical manner, I can catch the spirit of Shalimar - however attenuated for the purposes of this composition - much better here than in the current incarnation of it, in this discreet sparkling quality of the high-quality Italian bergamot layered on a precious and rich animalic Oriental base.

It reminds me then of two things, that the original Shalimar bottle was designed in 1921 to evoke the idea of a fountain, which is echoed in the pearls of laughter of this Italian bergamot, its upward movement towards the sky of happiness, but also that Shalimar used to contain real civet, a note which is indicated in the formula here or rather its convincing synthetic substitute, Civetone, synthesized from the vegetal source of palm oil.

Tom Ford has managed to recreate this mythical contrast of perfumery even if it is in filigree. Nostalgics of the real Shalimar will catch a glimpse of the splendid, old Shalimar in the warm, animalic and fur-like accents of this hidden homage to one of the great classics of perfumery. It is not enough to say that it is a homage, it really is an attempt to recapture its fleeting existence and photograph it. 

At the same time, fresh violet accents remain. Later, some harder, lavender sudsy notes intervene calling to mind the clean, manly, barbershop variety of fougères. But there is also the fougère as a very powdery pomander for men - Canoe by Dana (1936) comes to mind -, a direction which was taken by the recreated Houbigant Fougère Royale (1882/2011), the ancestor in perfumery to all fougères.

There is also this uncanny sense about Tom Ford Noir that it managed to capture the personality of a 19th century fougère in an archeological manner. I am reminded of the pioneering historical effort put out by WienerBlut for their Viennese-born Klubwasser which made you time-travel back to the Belle Epoque with its poetical, well-researched, veristic atmospheric notes. In particular here, the mown-hay-like nuances transport you to an agri-pastoral society where those smells abounded even in an urban milieu populated by horse-drawn carriages.

The rather raw albeit subtle leather underpinnings of Noir reinforce the sensation of an authentic incursion into an era or in a place where man is closer to animal. Habit Rouge which profiles itself here, we cannot forget that it was composed by a competitive, Olympian equestrian, perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain. There is a sense of familiarity, of bodily contact between man, animal skin and leather saddle which makes the accord feel very sensual and alive, with memories of fresh forest rides. 

The Bulgarian rose and Florentine iris in the composition make the fragrance feel precious overtime. What started out like an oud-y black ink turns into a scented letter paper dusted with a fine powdery perfume. 

Tom Ford said about the fragrance when it came out that "Noir is enigmatic, complex and surprising [...] Noir is perhaps the most personal fragrance that I've created so far." I think that it is important to stress the difference between an original and deeply personal fragrance. The latter makes no claim to creativity per se or avant-garde incursions but rather to new shifts of olfactory meanings motivated by the person who rearranges them based on memory, taste, savvy, and personality.

Fragrance Notes: bergamot, verbena, caraway, violet flower, black pepper Orpur, nutmeg, iris resin, geranium, rose, clary sage, styrax, opoponax, amber, patchouli, vetiver, benzoin, civet, vanilla. 

Prices are 77€ and 115€ for 50 ml and 100 ml eau de parfum respectively.

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