The world of Black is one of darkness where the throbbing blues of Miles Davis might sound against tempestuous storms and dangerous passions. But the world of Tom Ford‘s “black” in his new Noir Pour Femme is one filled with the golden light of floral frothiness and custardy confections where Katy Perry might play a catchy pop anthem highlighted by the strains of a spicy Bollywood chorus. Much like one of her songs, Noir Pour Femme has a certain (earwig?) allure from afar, but it doesn’t necessarily bear up to closer inspection. Still, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little lighthearted glitz, loudness, and excessively sugary fun from time to time, if that is what suits you. There are some parts of Noir Pour Femme that are very appealing, and I can completely see why some might find it to be wholly addictive.
Noir Pour Femme is a new eau de parfum in Tom Ford’s regular line and, according to Fragrantica, was created by Sophia Constant. Tom Ford’s website gives only the most cursory description for the fragrance and no notes, but Sephora has the full details for both:
Tom Ford Noir Pour Femme captures the fascinating paradox of the Tom Ford woman—the powerful assuredness she uses to turn heads and the vulnerable romanticism she keeps fiercely private. The feminine complement to Tom Ford Noir and its theme of masculine duality, Noir Pour Femme evokes the twin facets of this woman, capturing the feminine play of exposure and intimacy in a floral-oriental fragrance of extravagant and alluring accords.
Mandarin Oil, Bitter Orange Oil, Ginger Extract, Rose Absolute, Jasmine Accord, Orange Flower, Indian Kulfi Accord, Vanilla Madagascar, Amber, Australian Sandal Wood, Lentisque Resinoid.
I want to talk about that list for a moment because some of the ingredients are significant in terms of what shows up on my skin, while other noticeable elements are not mentioned at all. First, you may not be familiar with Lentisque (also known as Mastic). It’s a Mediterranean shrub whose resin Fragrantica says smells like cedar, pine, or frankincense. Here, it is responsible for a distinct incense-like note that appears for much of the perfume’s lifetime. Also, based on what appears on my skin, I strongly believe that the “jasmine accord” listed here actually consists predominantly (if not entirely) of ylang-ylang. That flower is often called “the poor man’s jasmine,” and its buttery, custardy, vanillic and banana-ish aromas are the sole floral tonalities I detect on my skin, not those of either jasmine sambac or jasmine grandiflora.
Furthermore, I am utterly convinced that Noir Pour Femme contains patchouli. It’s not the dreaded, awful, purple-skewing patchouli that is found in so many commercial and designer fragrances with its gooey, syrupy, jammy fruitiness. No, this is the brown, original sort with spicy, chocolate-y, smoky, and tobacco-ish facets, the sort that was such a strong part of Tom Ford‘s Black Orchid. In fact, Noir Pour Femme shares a few similar accords to Black Orchid. The brown patchouli is one of them, but both I and many other commentators detected a noticeable amount of chocolate in Noir Pour Femme. There is also tobacco, though it was far less pronounced on me than on others. Both the chocolate and tobacco aromas may stem from the patchouli, but it’s equally possible that they are separate elements which have simply been left off the note list. That’s odd given that they’re strong enough for a huge amount of people to detect them, but perhaps they make up the imaginary “Kulfi accord.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the latter, Kulfi is a creamy, cold, Southeast Asian and Indian dessert which traditionally includes some combination of saffron, pistachios, cardamom, sugar, rose (or rose water), and/or mango. In Noir Pour Femme, the relevant elements on my skin would be the saffron, cardamom, sugar, and cream, albeit not in the same or equal proportions.
Noir Pour Femme opens on my skin with billowing gusts of candied, crystallized ginger that envelop an equally candied orange layered with dense vanilla custard and unctuously creamy ylang-ylang. An amorphous, usually indeterminate spice mix (that occasionally hints at saffron) is sprinkled on top, along with a slug of ambery booziness and a few drops of fresh, juicy oranges. The whole thing lies on a base of even more vanilla that has been laced with a smidgeon of synthetic sandalwood. As a final flourish, thin ribbons of incense from the mastic/lentisque weave their way around the bouquet, lacing it up as tightly as a corset, before the entire spicy, floral, sweet, fruity, vanillic melange is placed within a very ambery cocoon.
A few latecomers join the party 10 minutes into Noir Pour Femme’s development. Small slivers of something distinctly resembling pipe tobacco pop up at the edges, followed by wisps of chocolate that smells simultaneously like hot chocolate powder and a semi-sweet, semi-dark chocolate bar. Trailing behind them is a clean musk. The three new arrivals grow stronger with the passing minutes, and start to inch their way onto center stage. The incense soon joins them in their determined march towards the heart of Noir Pour Femme, the layered, ginger-covered confection of vanilla custard, candied orange, and creamy, floral ylang-ylang. Actually, that gourmand dessert changes a little itself, as the vanilla slowly takes on the excessively sugared, caramelized aspects of the crust on a creamy creme brulée. While all of this is happening, Noir Pour Femme seems to grow in sillage as the various elements melt into the warmth of the skin. It’s as though Tom Ford had decided, “Let’s get this party started!,” and cranked up the volume.
It’s a loud, sometimes messy, swirl of elements. For some reason, it keeps conjuring up the mental image of a women’s WWE wrestling competition where all the notes are jostling on stage, pulling each other back by the hair in a fight for supremacy. The ginger, orange (both fresh and candied), ylang-ylang, creme brulée vanilla custard, spiced, lightly boozy ambered accords, and sugary sweetness are all loudly seeking the spotlight, followed closely by the incense, tobacco, and cocoa. Up close, it’s a sloppy free-for-all. It’s also increasingly sweet, so sweet that it reaches the point of excess for me personally, though I freely admit that I have a low threshold of tolerance for vanillic sugariness and gourmands in general.
Yet, from afar, when smelt on the sillage scent wind, Noir Pour Femme is exceedingly pretty, and its strong, bold opening turned my head for a few reasons. First, I’m a sucker for rich, spicy, intense florientals, and almost all the notes here are big favorites of mine. Second, from a distance, Noir Pour Femme’s opening smelt astonishingly like a fragrance I love passionately, LM Parfums‘ seductive, addictive Sensual Orchid. There are notable differences between the two scents even from afar (like coconut instead of chocolate, for example), and the resemblance doesn’t last, but I did a side-by-side test and Noir Pour Femme is very similar to Sensual Orchid in its overall feel and bouquet in the opening 30 minutes. Both are heady florientals with ylang-ylang and jasmine, juicy mandarin, custardy vanilla, sweetness, and varying degrees of booziness, woodiness, and smokiness within an ambered cocoon. Both are also warm, sweet, feminine, and sexy.
The difference is that, to me, Sensual Orchid feels like the sophisticated, grown-up, luxury version of Noir Pour Femme. It is beautifully balanced, and never cloying, loud, suffocatingly sweet, or synthetic. Its creaminess is more multi-faceted; the floralcy is significantly headier, richer, and more complex; its booziness is more distinct and clearly emanates a cognac aroma; the spiciness is subtle and carefully modulated; the clean white musk and vanilla are neither excessively shrill nor synthetic (both of which occurs later on for me with Noir Pour Femme); and the whole thing feels smoother, more opulent, more sensual, and more sophisticated. In contrast, Noir Pour Femme is brasher, louder, sweeter, and younger in feel; the materials at its heart don’t smell so beautifully lush and natural; and they don’t ripple seamlessly in an elegantly polished, pitch-perfect fashion. Tom Ford’s floriental bouquet thrusts its bosom in your face as unapologetically as Miley Cyrus might stick out her tongue while twerking. Miley Cyrus is a beautiful young woman, but she isn’t (and doesn’t want to be) Haute Couture in the way that Sensual Orchid is for me. There is simply a difference in style, volume, and quality — and one of them suits me better.
Noir Pour Femme’s notes continue to wrestle for dominance. 30 minutes in, the candied orange, fresh orange, and ginger all melt into one. I really love the custardy richness of the vanilla which I am convinced stems in large part from the creamy, velvety strains of the ylang-ylang. The “kulfi accord” finally starts to awaken at the same time, wafting the first echoes of a more complex spice mix at play. Most of the time, it’s an indistinct, amorphous blend, but once in a while the saffron peeks out its head. The cardamom is far less common. By the way, regardless of what the note list may say, the rose does not show up at any point on my skin, not as part of the “kulfi accord” nor as a separate element.
The difficult thing to explain is the behavior of the cocoa and tobacco during the first two hours. They often seem like one accord that is tightly woven together but, once in a while, they separate to remind me of other fragrances. For example, the tobacco sometimes smells like the sort in Serge Lutens‘ Chergui; the cocoa resembles that in Black Orchid; and sometimes both things happen simultaneously. However, as the 1st hour draws to a close and the 2nd begins, the cocoa-tobacco accord increasingly smells like different manifestations of spicy patchouli, right down to its subtle smokiness. Separate or apart, I’m a big fan of all three notes in perfumery, so I appreciate all the permutations.
Various permutations are noticeable in Noir Pour Femme’s core bouquet, too. From afar, it is primarily a gourmand-floral, ylang-vanilla bouquet covered with candied ginger. Yet, sometimes, it is a generically spiced ylang-vanilla scent that is laced with incense in a definite amber haze; at other times, it is just a simple vanilla custard smudged with darkness that, up close, reveals itself to be tobacco, smokiness, cocoa, or some combination thereof. Sometimes, there is a boozy touch wafting on the scent trail in the air; at other times, the orange is noticeable. Up close, all these individual layers are distinct and clear, particularly the incense, the sugar that envelops the vanilla custard like a thick blanket, and even the occasional pop of saffron from the Kulfi accord.
I appreciate the complexity of the nuances, but what I cannot bear is the Pink Sugar aspect of the vanilla which just grows louder and louder as the perfume develops. Its merger into the clean musk only seems to aggravate the sweetness. Each time I’ve worn Noir Pour Femme, the sugar-vanilla-musk accord consistently enters the “cloying” stage (for me) after 90 minutes, and then heads downhill from there. When I smell my arm up close, it’s unbearably sweet. Then again, all of Noir Pour Femme is better for me from a distance where its scent is sexily lush rather than a hot mess.
Noir Pour Femme’s middle or heart phase begins at the start of the 3rd hour. The smokiness grows stronger, while the other notes start to blur into one. The chocolate, tobacco, and orange retreat significantly, though the patchouli and incense continue to give the scent a thin layer of darkness. The incense, in particular, tries to counter Noir Pour Femme’s great sweetness with some dryness, but barely manages to put a dent into it. As for the vanilla, it now feels airier and lighter, and is no longer a thick custard. The floral accord is growing abstract, and only barely suggests ylang-ylang. In the base, the woods start to rise up to the top, and they now actually do smell of sandalwood, largely because of the way the smokiness, spices, and patchouli have recreated its various facets. Speaking of the spices, the candied ginger continues to dominate, while the ones in the “Kulfi accord” are barely noticeable. In the background, the “amber” feels like a mixed accord comprised of cinnamon-y Peru Balsam, benzoin, and a few drops of labdanum.
The long drydown phase begins roughly at the start of the 6th hour. Noir Pour Femme is now primarily just a soft, ginger-dusted vanilla wrapped up with patchouli and smokiness, then shrouded with a golden warmth. The clean musk is barely visible, while the vanilla has piped down to calm levels and is no longer covered by a blanket of crystallized sugar. The floral note lurks in the distant background, and is not part of the main story. When it does appear, it is abstract and faceless. As for the patchouli, it continues to be spicy and slightly smoky, but it no longer wafts chocolate or tobacco facets. The possibly separate, additional tobacco has been swallowed up by the smoky accords. So has the sandalwood. Once in a blue moon, the orange pops up, but it’s a ghostly, fleeting thing.
Over the next few hours, Noir Pour Femme simply turns softer and more ambered. The incense and patchouli both wax and wane, but they are losing their dominance. The candied ginger has more endurance, still holding firm as the 9th hour rolls around, though it is only the lightest veil atop the ambery vanilla. In its final moments, all that’s left is a hushed breath of warm, vaguely spiced, golden sweetness.
Noir Pour Femme had excellent longevity, moderate projection, and initially strong sillage. Using 2 big, wide smears equal to roughly 2 very good, large sprays from a bottle, the fragrance initially opened with 3-4 inches of projection and about 4 inches of sillage. However, those numbers quickly grew, once the materials melted onto the warmth of the skin. Within 20 minutes, Noir Pour Femme wafted about 5 to 6 inches in projection, while the scent trail shot up to a bit under a foot, no doubt thanks to the vanilla and musk’s expanding volume. After 3 hours when the fragrance turned airier and lighter, the numbers dropped to roughly 2 inches of projection, and 5 inches of sillage. Noir Pour Femme hovered just above the skin at the start of the 5th hour, but only turned into a skin scent after 6.75 hours, though it was still easy to smell up close without much effort for a while to come. In total, Noir Pour Femme lasted just a hair over 14 hours.
Noir Pour Femme generally receives extremely positive reviews. On Fragrantica, there is the usual diversity of opinions, but they don’t seem to be heavily split or polarized the way they usually are for a Tom Ford scent. The vast majority of people seem really taken with Noir Pour Femme, and rave about its creamy vanillic sweetness which, for most of them, was accompanied by either chocolate, tobacco, or smokiness. One person describes it “a decadent orange spicy vanilla,” while another compares it to “hot cocoa in the snow.” A review from “MuskyMoi” made me smile with a Mae West comparison:
Chocolate, ginger, and flowers. best first 15 minutes of any top notes I’ve smelled in a year. Settles into a delicious vanilla. It’s lush and voluptuous. It’s Mae West with dark hair. It’s a love bite from Tom, that handsome minx.
However, there are some exceptions to the groundswell of admiration. A few people find the scent “too suffocating,” while a number of others think it is too similar to Tom Ford‘s Noir Pour Homme Extreme. I haven’t tried the latter to know how it compares.
Other fragrances are mentioned as well. Some people think Noir Pour Femme bears a similarity to Hermes‘ Ambre Narguilé, while a lot of people bring up either Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, Plum Japonais, or both. There wasn’t enough tobacco on my skin for my experience to resemble Tobacco Vanille, and I don’t think the candied ginger or smokiness is sufficient to bring up Plum Japonais. To me, the latter is a poorly done, unbalanced facsimile of Serge Lutens‘ Fille en Aiguilles, which Noir Pour Femme definitely does not resemble, in my opinion. I can see the Ambre Narguilé comparison a bit better, simply because of the marriage of smokiness with ambered, foodie sweetness.
Each of those fragrances may have one or two dominant notes which corresponds to those in Noir Pour Femme, but it’s important to note that none of them are floral orientals. On my skin, Noir Pour Femme definitely is one, even if its floralcy is heavily drenched in vanilla custard and the fragrance ultimately ends up being a floriental-gourmand hybrid. So, for me, the closest similarity would be to LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid during the first two hours, and then it simply becomes its own creature, one which merely happens to share strands of Tom Ford DNA with the drydown of Black Orchid, as well as some passing, fleeting similarities to accords in things like Ambre Narguilé, Tobacco Vanille, or Plum Japonais.
I’ll let you look up the range of opinions on Fragrantica if you’re interested, because I’d like to talk about the comments on Sephora instead. There, the reviews are positive by a landslide: 32 out of 35 people gave Noir Pour Five the highest rating, 5 stars. There is one 4 star review, but only 2 people chose something lower (2 stars). Out of the latter, one person found Noir Pour Femme to be “just too strong for my taste and very heavy” in nature, but she said she felt that way about all Tom Ford’s fragrances as a whole. (The 2nd negative review didn’t make a lot of sense to me because the person just said, “this stuff smells a lot like a gas station quick mart,” and didn’t elaborate on what that meant or what she thought the fragrance smelt like.) In terms of the positive reviews, they largely echoed the descriptions on Fragrantica with raves about “smokey chocolate vanilla goodness,” or “warm spicy vanilla and tobacco.” What I found most interesting was the 5 star review of the person who said that she normally “cannot stand Tom Ford” or his fragrances. Yet, she said she had “to admit, he won me over with this one. Can’t believe it. Well done.”
Women are not the only ones who like Noir Pour Femme, which brings me to the issue of gender versatility and just how unisex the scent might be. On Basenotes, a thread in the men’s discussion section is entitled, in subpart, “a GEM fully suitable for men.” (Caps in the original.) “AntonPan” began the thread by noting that he’s actually not a fan of a man wearing a scent marketed for women, but he found Noir Pour Femme to be “Magnificent both for men and for women!” His review reads, in full, as follows:
I’m not a fan of the situation when a man is wearing perfume marketed for a woman, but Noir Pour Femme is the fragrance I feel comfortable in. It smells 80% similar to Noir Pour Homme Extreme but without a cheap “1 million” note of dirty leather. Thus, Noir Pour Femme is deeper and more “niche” variation of Noir Extreme.
To me Noir Pour Femme is a mix of TF Tobacco Vanille and TF Plum Japonais: ambery sweet, gingery sour with a prominent tobacco note on my skin (though it is not listed). Magnificent both for men and for women! And yes, it is closer to Private Blend line in terms of quality. [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
Another chap agreed regarding Plum Japonais, before adding “this is far superior to the mens version. One of the better Tom Ford releases in a while.” A third commentator detected a Plum Japonais resemblance as well, along with something like Sahara Noir, undoubtedly due to the incense and amber in Noir Pour Femme.
Two other comments may also be helpful to you on the issue of gender versatility, in addition to providing further fragrance comparisons:
- I tried this one and also really, really liked it. But it was just a tad too sweet for me. I mean, anyone who feels comfortable wearing DHI [Dior Homme Intense] should feel comfortable wearing this one. But nevertheless the sweetness was a bit too much for me; I’m going to buy this one for my wife though
- IMO, it does push the traditional “masculin” fragrance envelope a bit – but I’m personally loving it. I never tested TF Noir Extreme so, I can’t compare the two. I don’t personally get any tobacco or plum association and I have both Tabacco Vanille and Plum Japonais. [¶] The opening has a prominant rose note – similar to Noir de Noir – but it quickly fades. Then it becomes a straight-up gourmand w/ the most pronounced note being the “Kulfi” dessert accord. So, IMO, the drydown is much closer to unisex than the opening. As a comparison, I think its drydown is a tad more masculin than Black Orchid. [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
While some men find the fragrance is comfortably unisex, I think the greater issue for everyone — regardless of gender — will be the fragrance’s sweetness. In my opinion, you must like gourmands to enjoy this scent. On my skin, it is substantially sweeter than Black Orchid, not to mention Plum Japonais. While I find both Velvet Orchid and Tobacco Vanille to be more syrupy than Black Orchid, Noir Pour Femme exceeded even those ones on my skin. It’s too much for me. No matter how heady, lush, and sexy NPF may be from afar, up close I thought it verged on the cloying at a number of points. I also couldn’t handle the shrill, sometimes synthetic sugariness of the vanilla as the perfume progressed. Custard is wonderful; Aquolina Pink Sugar is not. So, I’ll stick to LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid which I find to be a luxurious, high-end, sophisticated interpretation of the gourmand floriental genre whose sweetness is pitch-perfect.
Nevertheless, as I said earlier, my threshold for sweetness is low, and I think Noir Pour Femme will be hugely popular with those who love gourmands, so long as they enjoy Tom Ford’s general aesthetic. If you find his scents to be too heavy and loud, I’m not sure Noir Pour Femme will be for you. However, if you really love vanilla layered with chocolate, tobacco, smokiness, amber or some combination thereof, then you may want to give it a shot anyway. After all, some people have found Noir Pour Femme to be an exception to their usual Tom Ford issues. As a side note, if you’re someone who hated Black Orchid’s truffle “funk,” you’ll be happy to hear NPF has no earthiness or dirtiness, as well as a more straightforward style. Obviously, if you loved any of the other Tom Ford fragrances mentioned here (Tobacco Vanille, et al.) and don’t mind sweetness, you should also give Noir Pour Femme a chance, regardless of your gender and the perfume’s name. You might be pleasantly surprised.