Tom Ford‘s Orchid Soleil is meant to be a new sibling to his popular Black Orchid and Velvet Orchid series of fragrances, but it doesn’t feel like it to me. The choice of the word “Soleil” in the new fragrance’s title is no mere coincidence, in my opinion, because Orchid Soleil has far more in common with Tom Ford’s recent Soleil Blanc for much of the first half of its life than anything redolent of Black Orchid. There is a token nod to the latter when a highly modified, toned-down version of its black truffle and chocolate accord appears via “chestnut cream” (or, to be precise, patchouli vanilla) late in Orchid Soleil’s development, but the connection between the two fragrances is attenuated. If that’s the reason why you’re interested in Orchid Soleil, you’d do better to lower your expectations, if not put it out of your mind entirely. Actually, I don’t think you should have high expectations for Orchid Soleil at all.
Orchid Soleil is an eau de parfum that was released in July as part of Tom Ford’s more affordable Signature Collection. On his website, he describes the fragrance as: “the solar side of the elusive Tom Ford Orchid. A radiant and sensual force of nature, the new scent captures the seductive warmth and reflective bare skin of the Tom Ford woman.” The note list, according to the press release quoted in a Fragrantica article, is:
Top notes: pink pepper, bitter orange, cypress
Heart: tuberose, red spider lily
Base: vanilla, patchouli, chestnut cream, orchid.
Orchid Soleil opens on my skin with a clean, watery, green-tinged, synthetic white floralcy that is half lily and half tuberose in scent. Both are imbued with a vanillic sweetness, then enveloped in the exact same warm, beachy, abstractly ambered, quasi-coconut and salty clean musk that constituted the “solar accord” in Soleil Blanc. Moments later, a dry, very scratchy cedar is added to the mix. Once in a while, the fragrance bears a strange chemical undertone that reminds me of bug spray, but I can’t figure out if it’s coming from the highly synthetic flowers, the woods, or both.
Something is definitely off here, both in terms of the individual notes and the overall quality of the scent, which is a little surprising because Tom Ford’s Signature fragrances don’t typically smell quite as cheap as this one does. Some of them can be almost as nice as the Private Blends, and occasionally can be either better or more interesting. For instance, I personally preferred Sahara Noir to Amber Absolute, finding it better balanced and more refined, and I liked Black Orchid more than a number of the Private Blend Atelier d’Orient releases, not to mention Patchouli Absolu or Santal Blush.
Orchid Soleil is also bizarrely thin in body and weight in its opening hour for a Tom Ford fragrance. Perhaps it’s the inherent nature of lily with its floral wateriness, or perhaps the Givaudan perfumers sought to emphasize a post-beach, tropical, salt-and-sun-kissed skin feel with its typically lingering closeness, but whatever the actual reason(s), Orchid Soleil doesn’t feel like a typical Tom Ford scent.
On Fragrantica and a few other places, I’ve seen people compare Orchid Soleil to an Estee Lauder fragrance and I agree with them. Orchid Soleil feels very much like an Estee Lauder release in olfactory composition and in its general vibe. Yes, Tom Ford is owned by the giant conglomerate, but it always staked out its own path, identity, and aesthetic, even in the Signature Line. Or at least, it did, once upon a time. Over the last two or three years, that no longer seems to be the case as the brand has begun issuing a slew of flankers each year, the Private Blends have lost their niche-like character and distinctiveness, the quality of the materials has dropped across all lines, and everything — Private Blend or otherwise — now feels imbued with a mainstream, department store aesthetic. I’m hardly the only one to have noticed or remarked on the changes, but Orchid Soleil really made me blink.
Among the many reasons why is the truly terrible quality of the wood accord in the first two hours. Frequently chemical in scent, occasionally medicinal, and always rasping in its dry scratchiness, it grows louder a mere 20 minutes into Orchid Soleil’s development, and then louder still. I’ve smelt natural cypress essence oils and, believe me, they don’t smell anything like the aromas wafting here (or like the “burnt chemical” odor that some people report in their Sephora reviews of Orchid Soleil). But one doesn’t have to turn to naturals to get a decent and semi-authentic cypress note; there are smoother, more pleasant synthetic versions out there than whatever sub-par crap was used in Orchid Soleil.
Around the same time, the floral bouquet starts to turn abstract and blurry, smelling primarily lily-ish with some amorphous, shapeless tuberose, rather than a purely tuberose-oriented bouquet as other people have recounted. It feels like a 70:30 split between lily and tuberose on my skin. Tuberose is my absolute favourite flower, both in real life and in perfumery, so I’d expected far more than this heavily diluted, synthetic aroma. Natural tuberose essential oils or absolutes may be amongst the most expensive raw materials out there, but I’ve smelt far more authentic, richer, and more clearly delineated tuberose synthetics than whatever cheap, low-rent version was used in Orchid Soleil.
The third and final leg consists of overly clean white musk, smelling laundry fresh and occasionally like floral-scented hairspray that’s been combined with laundry dryer sheets. As it grows stronger, it cuts through some of the “solar” accord which ends up eventually receding to the background 40 minutes in, wafting mere passing wisps of coconut-tinged tropics. They float by from a distance, creating an impressionistic aura of “beachiness” rather than a concrete, solid layer of either saltiness, coconut, or “solar”-like, sun-kissed, musky warmth. (I’d bet the perfumers used cheap Cetalox, Ambrox’s more laundry-like and cleaner musk/amber sibling.)
Roughly 90 minutes into its development, Orchid Soleil settles into its long heart or main stage. The vanilla seeps up from the base to become the flowers’ main companion, pushing aside the woods. They, in turn, grow fractionally softer, lose some (but not all) of their screechy chemical quality, and become less dominant. The floral bouquet is now composed mostly of fresh, clean, watery, sweet, and vanilla-laced lilies drizzled with only a drop or two of tuberose. The musk smells less beachy and tropical, but also less abrasively laundry-clean. As compared to the terribly unpleasant opening, and purely on a relative basis, everything feels better balanced now, and each main component is blended together in equal parts.
So long as one doesn’t smell it up close and sticks to sniffing it on the scent trail from afar, Orchid Soleil is quite pretty at times, a hyper-feminized haze of sweet, somewhat dewy, white flowers lightly coated with sugared vanilla atop a woody and clean musk base. It’s pretty in the most inoffensive, generic, and unremarkable way possible, the sort of thing that would be hard to pull out of a line-up of department store fragrances. I’m reminded in particular of the highly overpriced Robert Piguet Gardenia (which is actually not a gardenia scent at all but a lily-white-flowers-vanillic-woody musk, albeit without any “beachy” influences). Still, at least I no longer yearn to scrub Orchid Soleil and the wood note has stopped being so painful for my throat. There’s that, at least. Having said that, when smelt up close, each of Orchid Soleil’s individual parts still feel screechy and of poor quality, and I continue to think it’s a shoddy scent when taken as a whole.
Orchid Soleil doesn’t change dramatically in scent for the next few hours, but it does alter its weight and body. As the vanilla becomes more powerful, it cuts through the watery dewiness of the lily, deepening the fragrance as a whole with a creamy quality, and also expanding its sillage. Its increased sweetness dilutes the floralcy up close. There, Orchid Soleil is a blur of synthetic sweet and sugary musk, laundry freshness, sugary vanilla, and wholly indeterminate, faceless white flowers. Things dissolve in such a way that, at the end of the 5th hour and start of the 6th, Orchid Soleil is merely super clean, heavily sugared vanilla musk with a light, abstract white floral finish, a headache-inducing synthetic sharpness, and, once in a blue moon, a ghostly whisper of something nebulously “beachy” about it.
The composition was so simplistic that it seemed unlikely to develop any further nuances but, to my surprise, it did when Orchid Soleil’s drydown begins around the middle of the 7th hour. It’s marked by the patchouli’s arrival, followed by a quiet nuttiness that occasionally resembles a praline-vanilla cream. The former is a sort of idealized, hyper-clean, amorphous patchouli that wafts a demure spiciness; the latter is a vaguely Guerlainesque sort of sugared nuttiness that is cut through with tonka and caramelized nuances.
None of it resembles the dark, earthy, slightly smoky, slightly chocolate-y, strongly resinous, and occasionally leathery, black truffle “funk” that rendered Black Orchid so distinctive. The elements here nod to Black Orchid but it’s only the slightest nod, an attenuated thread that’s been cleaned up of Black Orchid’s grit and, thereby, of its compelling character as well. Then again, since Tom Ford’s fragrances tred the safest path possible these days, this approach feels fully in line with his aesthetic, since the very thing that made Black Orchid stand out also made it a polarizing scent for many. And Orchid Soleil wouldn’t offend anyone — except perhaps those who actually expect something interesting and good quality from Tom Ford. If that sounds snide, you have no idea how much I’m controlling myself from saying something much sharper.
Orchid Soleil doesn’t change much as the drydown progresses. The patchouli and the quasi-praline-vanilla accords basically engulf what little is left of the abstract floralcy, resulting in a scent that is predominantly warm, spicy, sugary vanilla layered with faintly nutty caramel and laundry clean musk. Around the 11th hour, the patchouli-chestnut begins to weaken, gradually fading away and leaving a scent that is merely hyper-clean, fresh and sugary musk with faint vestiges of something nebulously floral at its edges. In its dying moments, all that’s left is a sugary sweetness.
Orchid Soleil had enormous longevity, slightly low projection, and initially moderate sillage that slowly extended in reach. Using several generous smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with 3-4 inches of projection and about 3-4 inches of sillage that expanded to about 5-6 inches after 40 minutes, then eventually to about 7-8 inches after 90 minutes when the vanilla kicked in. The projection dropped a hair after 2 hours to roughly 2-3 inches. At the end of the 4th hour, the sillage lessened to about 4 inches. About 5.25 hours, the projection hovered just above the skin, but it took 7.5 hours in total for Orchid Soleil to turn into a skin scent. All in all, the fragrance lasted just over 14 hours. The numbers were lower when I applied a smaller quantity, roughly equal to 1 spray from a bottle. However, that reduced dosage brought out the wood’s raspy, chemical sides to such a degree, turned the sugariness so acrid, and made the laundry musk so sharp that I scrubbed the scent after 3 hours.
Reviews for Orchid Soleil are highly mixed. On Sephora, reviews are split between 12 one-star negative reviews (some of which are pretty brutal), and 13 five-star reviews, along with a few votes for the other categories in-between. One person calls it “vile,” compared it to the scent of a “public beach bathroom,” and said it was the first time she “actually felt nauseated from a smell.” For “Salmakeupsalon,” a hardcore Tom Ford fan who collects all his fragrances, Orchid Soleil was a “fail” because it smelt like “burnt rubber.” Another commentator loved Orchid Soleil in the store but, as the fragrance developed, she found it smelt like vanilla with “burned synthetic chemicals.” Someone else felt that the “indoles have been ramped up to 10 in this fragrance, recalling dusty mothballs and harsh medicinal flowers.” Those indoles may be why a number of more youthful commentators used the words “old lady” or “grandma” to describe the scent.
A separate but large group of Sephora commentators actually like Orchid Soleil’s aroma, but think that it has terrible longevity and body. To give merely a few examples out of many: three women wrote that the fragrance died despite generous applications after 2 hours, 1.5 hours, or 30 minutes, respectively; a fourth said it acted like a body spray, and that friends couldn’t detect it an hour after application. There are many other similar accounts. If you want my opinion, it’s the large size of the synthetic molecules (especially if something like Cetalox has been used in the “solar” accord as I suspect) which is blocking out the nose’s receptors and thereby creating a temporary anosymia (or hyposmia) to the scent.
On Fragrantica, reviews are more positive and a large number of people call Orchid Soleil “classy.” It appears to be a great hit with tuberose lovers in particular. Posters find similarities to a number of mainstream scents, whether Soleil Blanc, Madonna’s Truth or Dare, Dior’s Pure Poison mixed with Hypnotic Poison, Chantecaille‘s Frangipani, Estee Lauder‘s Tuberose Gardenia, and Guerlain‘s Terracotta. One Orchid Soleil fan, “Nat001” wrote:
This is definitely my next perfume purchase. It is in line with the creme brûlée perfumes. Before I read the notes in it I immediately thought this is what Guerlain Terracota wanted to be. A cheap version of this category would be Aquolina Gold Sugar. You can definitely smell white flowers and to me it has that suntan lotion vibe. It is creamy and sweet but not too sweet. It is perfectly balanced. The gold bottle matches the fragrance 100%. It is definitely a gold perfume. Longevity 8+ hours and sillage is strong. My first Tom Ford love! [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
What you think of Orchid Soleil will undoubtedly depend on the sorts of fragrances you enjoy and what your expectations are for Tom Ford. The fragrance certainly seems to be netting fans who never liked his earlier releases, and I’ve seen a number of people write on various sites that this is their “first” Tom Ford “love.” I find that telling and a sign of how the fragrances have changed, but take it as you will.
Still, if you’re accustomed to something like the aforementioned Aquolina Gold Sugar or if you’ve struggled with the original Tom Ford aesthetic, then chances are that you may enjoy this new, easy, wholly mainstream direction. So, if you like tuberose, Soleil Blanc, quasi-beachy scents, the heavily sugared “creme brulée” approach to feminine florals, or immensely fresh, clean, and sweet vanillic florals, then you should try Orchid Soleil for yourself. In all cases, though, keep in mind that your individual skin profile will impact which notes are emphasized and whether they bear the acrid, “burnt rubber,” “burned synthetic chemicals,” “medicinal” cypress, or laundry-fresh aromas that some people have mentioned.
If you’re a man who is a fan of the original Tom Ford aesthetic, the earlier niche-like Private Blends, their more distinctive or challenging vibe, or even Black Orchid itself, I can’t see you being enthused about Orchid Soleil, not unless you’re absolutely crazy about tuberose, beachy fragrances, and/or hyper-feminized, gourmand white florals.
If you’re accustomed to niche fragrances, then, regardless of gender, I would advise you to lower your expectations and not to expect either niche quality or distinctiveness. Give Orchid Sniff a passing test sniff if you have to and for curiosity’s sake, but I do not advise blindly buying Orchid Soleil. Really, don’t. I think it makes Black Orchid look like a luxury masterpiece from Serge Lutens or Roja Dove, and I say that as someone who actually owns and likes Black Orchid. Orchid Soleil is simply not a good perfume, in my opinion; moderately bearable in scent, wholly mediocre to shoddy in quality, I think it’s a huge disappointment. A while back, someone told me that Tom Ford appears to be far more engaged with or interested in the complicated and extensive renovations on his London mansion than he is with his perfume line, and I’m now starting to think that may be true, that he’s lost all interest in his fragrances, and that he’s abdicated control over their composition or quality because each new release is more disappointing than the last. Orchid Soleil continues the downward trend for me.