Tom Ford Black Orchid & Velvet Orchid

"Black and Gold Yin Yang" by Dynamicz34 on (Website link embedded within.)

“Black and Gold Yin Yang” by Dynamicz34 on (Website link embedded within.)

Tom Ford‘s new Velvet Orchid feels like a mirror image of his famous, Black Orchid. Their contrasting essences are: light and dark; day and night; an easy, approachable purring, versus bold, overtly seductive growling. One reason why is that the creamy, velvety florals at their core are infused either with bright citruses, boozy vanilla and caramel amber, or by a multi-faceted bouquet of bitter-sweet chocolate, patchouli, and earthy black truffles. Both fragrances are very enjoyable to wear, even compulsively sniffable at times, but which one you prefer will probably depend primarily on your personal style. Some might find Velvet Orchid to be a de-fanged version of its older sibling, while others may think it’s a considerably easier, softer fragrance.




Black Orchid ad by photographers Mert  Marcus. Source:

Black Orchid ad by photographers Mert & Marcus. Source:

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Perfume Review: Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur For Women (VdF) appears to be nothing like Black Orchid. The original Black Orchid was apparently one of those “love it or hate it” scent that was intended to evoke carnal sensuality. Tom Ford actually said explicitly that Black Orchid was intended to evoke a “man’s crotch,” though it’s unclear whether it was washed or unwashed. I have not smelled it, but I am constantly seeing references to sweaty or unwashed testicles (a more polite word than that which is usually used) in comments TFabout Black Orchid. Its fans — and they are many — seem to adore it, though a large number confess they wear it only to bed for romantic purposes and would never dare wear it outside the house. In contrast, VdF is a light, safe, very floral fragrance. It is also boring as hell, but more on that later.

Tom Ford’s press release describes VdF as follows: “[t]he alluring potion of Black Orchid is given a warm effervescent modernity with this new entry.” Both fragrances are classified as floral orientals and both include black truffle, though to different degrees. (Honestly, I wonder if there is any in VdF! But I’m getting ahead of myself.) VdF seems to be a softer, more floral take on the dark, dense original, and not only because it is an eau de toilette while the original is eau de parfum. Fragrantica summed it up as: Black Orchid is “fatal and sexy, while Black Orchid Voile de Fleur is romantic, light and bubbly.”

The Perfumed Court has the fullest list of the notes that I have seen thus far:

black truffle, ylang ylang, bergamot, blackcurrant, honeysuckle, gardenia, spicy lily, black orchid, black plum, black pepper, lotus wood, succulent fruit, warm milk, cinnamon, vanilla tears, patchouli, balsam and sandalwood.

I should state at the outset that VdF was quietly discontinued around 2010 but I’m reviewing, in part, because it is easily available on Amazon and other e-retailers. On eBay, it ranges in price from around $30 to $90, depending on size and seller. It’s a scent that may be worth a shot for those of you who fear Black Orchid (original) may be too much, especially for places like the office. However, those of you who have issues with indolent white flower scents, especially gardenia, should stay far, far away.

VdF opens with a burst of bergamot, a scent that falls between orange and lemon, and gardenia. There is hint of honeysuckle and ylang-ylang, though it’s most definitely not the ylang-ylang in Téo Cabanel’s Alahine. This ylang-ylang is softer, creamier and lighter but, to be honest, it’s hard to detect at times under the onslaught of gardenia. Gardenia is a flower that often imparts an indolic nature to scents. It’s a frequent cohort of tuberose or jasmine, and has a very narcotic, heady scent that some people find similar to cat urine, a litter box, or moth balls. Not everyone, but some people definitely have a bad reaction to more indolic scents. (For more on the precise meaning and nature of “indolic,” please see the Glossary.)

The top notes for VdF also include black currant and, unfortunately, it creates a very sour, unpleasant note on me. The Perfume Shrine has a good explanation of the scent as well as the occasional tendency for some people to smell sour, almost urine-like ammoniac notes: “[c]ompared to the artificial berry bases defined as ‘cassis,’ the natural black currant bud absolute comes off as greener and lighter with a characteristic touch of cat. Specifically the ammoniac feel of a feline’s urinary tract, controversial though that may seem.” I’m really surprised that I actually smell that here. There are numerous scents which people occasionally feel resembles a “cat’s litter box” (usually feces, more than urine) and which makes them queasy. Fracas – that famous indolic tuberose powerhouse – is perhaps the best and most frequent example. I’ve never had that problem; in fact, Fracas is one of my old favorites and a scent that I truly think deserves its legendary status.

With VdF, for the first time in my life, I smell something sour that verges almost on cat urine. It must be the black currant. It doesn’t last and it does recede after about 20 minutes, but 20 minutes is too long given the huge sillage of the scent in its opening hour. The sour, almost ammonia-like, scent surprises me and I scour my brain to see if I saw any other comments to that effect. If I did, I don’t remember them now. So, perhaps, we should just chalk this one up to skin chemistry. Nonetheless, I must confess, the sourness leaves me unfortunately biased against the perfume. In fact, I’m not sure I can get past it.

But we must soldier on, so onward and upwards. Once that incredibly unfortunate note recedes, VdF is all soft ylang-ylang and gardenia, with jasmine following closely behind.  And, that’s about it. On me, there are no hints of leather that I’ve read about elsewhere, absolutely no earthiness (even in mild form) from the black truffle, no… nothing. One perfume blog, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, described VdF as a “femme fatale” scent:

[O]nly a tiny bit less robust than the sinfully opulent original Black Orchid, Voile de Fleur replaces the pungently earthy accord of black truffles with a leathery undertone, thus transforming from some (most probably evil) mythical creature of the night into somebody slightly less outlandish and more “urban”…a femme fatale.

Good lord. Really? I wish it smelled that way on me. I might have liked it if it did. Alas, on me, VdF is just a linear blast of gardenia and ylang-ylang. One big flat-line. And the patient dies shortly thereafter….

I wish I had more to say, but I don’t. I’m too underwhelmed and bored to even be verbose. (And you know how verbose I usually am!) This is not a scent I can recommend. White flower lovers may have issues with the linearity or the longevity of the scent. Non-white flower lovers who are sensitive to gardenia may recede gagging from the indoles or the sourness of the black currant notes. Everyone else will just be bored beyond belief. Spare yourself the money; take a nap instead.

-The sillage or projection is — like most Tom Ford scents — big in its opening before receding about an hour in to a softer, calmer level. VdF starts becoming close to the skin about 2.5 hours in and fades away completely after 3.5 hours in total. Once again, I need to emphasize that my body consumes perfume, but this is one of the shorter Tom Ford scents that I’ve tried.
– Availability: eBay and Amazon, as well as other e-retail sellers. Cost varies but I’ve seen bottles go for $29.95 on eBay. I don’t recommend that you waste your money.

Modern Trends in Perfume: Part II – Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay

Earlier, in Part I, I covered the super-sweet and gourmand categories of perfumes that are currently popular on the market. Perhaps as a backlash to those scents, some designers have sought to go in a polar opposite direction. I’m not quite sure how to characterize the varying scents in this group or groups, so I’ll simply call them the Extreme Eccentrics.

The perfumes range from scents which seek to replicate post-coitus … er… muskiness, to armpit body odor to (allegedly) unwashed female genitalia or semen. Even decay and decomposition. No, I’m not joking. I understand everyone’s body chemistry differs, but not when a perfume is *intentionally* made to smell like that. I also understand the interest in the scent of sex and the impact of pheromones. But when a scent’s after-effects have been compared to “canned tuna and urine,” and when you specifically tell your perfumer/composer that you want the smell of female genitalia (washed or unwashed is unknown), then perhaps you’re taking your brand’s famous eccentricity to really extreme levels. Vivienne Westwood’s famous (infamous?) Boudoir is one of the perfumes in question here. According to some, she specifically wanted the perfume to have a note resembling that of a woman’s private parts. And, it seems the perfumer succeeded. In fact, a large number of people seem to adore the scent – though almost all its fans admit they wouldn’t dare wear it to work and that it needs to be (as the name suggests) restricted to the boudoir. A proper, in-depth description of Boudoir can be found here.

Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom (discontinued after his death) is slightly different. Like Boudoir, descriptions of the perfume seem to imply that it too falls under the “sweatiest of skanky, dirty sex” category. But there is another added element: body odor. Kingdom has cumin in it and cumin has a tendency, in strong doses, to smell like bad B.O.  (Personally, I think cumin smells like revoltingly dirty socks combined with bad armpit sweat. No, I’m not a fan.)

Now, I haven’t smelled either of these two in person (Kingdom is not easy to find nowadays), but I’ve read plenty on both and find the whole concept behind them fascinating. Both scents come from designers known for being cutting-edge, unconventional, eccentric, and avant-garde. Both are clearly representative of their designer’s aesthetic and ethos. But they are also both perfect examples of the rebellion against the more mainstream modern scents with their predominantly sweet characteristics.  They are also not alone. There are numerous perfumes and colognes out there that seek to emulate sex and post-sex muskiness in different degrees. It’s just that few have pushed it to the extremes of Boudoir and Kingdom.

Or have they? A 2008 article in the British paper, The Guardian, points out the intention of some perfumers, going all the way back to Jacques Guerlain in the early 20th century:

Jacques Guerlain – begetter of the scents Jicky, Shalimar and Mitsouko – observed that his perfumes should recall “the underside” of his mistress, while Tom Ford declared that he wanted his Black Orchid to smell “like a man’s crotch”. Such flights of fancy are known as “knicker scents” and conjure the vagina, semen, even the anus. […] Still more notoriously, Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan comprises a ripely resinous vegetal amber suggestive of female arousal.

Sperm-wise, we have Alan Cumming’s aptly named Cumming; Thierry Mugler’s Cologne with its carnal “S note”; and Sécrétions Magnifique by Etat Libre d’Orange, its packaging emblazoned with a spurting penis. The truly fixated should embrace Orgie, a graphic aroma created by Christoph Hornetz and Christophe Laudamiel as part of a 15-scent tribute to Süskind’s novel. An evocation of a copulating crowd, it positively spews semen. Those of a rear-ended persuasion, meanwhile, should consult Eau de Hermès, which revels in a certain sweat-spiced, masculine intimacy, while Roja Dove is proud that his “Roja Dove No 3” has a salty sensuality about its nether regions.

You might wonder how perfumers achieve such results. The Guardian article (linked to up above) explains:

Many of perfumery’s most venerable creations owe their sensuality to the use of animal ingredients with a certain “spray” element: civet, a faecal paste extracted from the anal glands of the civet cat; castoreum, a leathery emission from the genital scent sacs of the castor beaver; ambergris, a briny and vomitous by-product of the digestive system of sperm whales; and musk secreted from the sheath gland of the musk deer have all been popular perfume ingredients. Then things become still more complex: civet may be cut with hair or – brace yourself – infant excrement.

So, if you always wondered why that one perfume of yours smelled …. unpalatable…. to put it politely, baby poo and feline anal glands may be to blame. Or perhaps it’s something else, like the smell of rotting decay which the U.S. Department of Defense allegedly researched as a weapon of mass olfactory destruction. Okay, perhaps it didn’t go THAT far, but they certainly tried! It was part of another sub-set of scents in this Extreme Eccentrics group: perfumes that smelled of death and decomposition! From that same, incredibly fascinating article:

An American department of defence collaboration to devise non-toxic olfactory weaponry found the stench of decay to be more intolerable even than that of vomit or burned hair. A forerunner of such tactics, a putridly flatulent stink called Who Me?, was devised during the second world war to be used by the French Resistance (who else?) to humiliate fastidious Nazis. […] But the ultimate paean to decomposition is Laudamiel and Hornetz’s [2007 scent] Human Existence, a robustly repellent reek smacking of oral abscesses and vegetal decay. Apply to your wrist and you will desire only to hack it off.

Laudamiel was specifically influenced by Patrick Suskind’s fabulous, infamous, legendary and brilliant novel Perfume and its anti-hero, the scentless, Grenouille. It is a book I highly, HIGHLY recommend for all perfume addicts. Those who lack the time to read it may be interested to know that Grenouille’s ultimate and final perfume creation leads to an orgiastic explosion of excess and was made from the essence of 25 virgins. Laudamiel expressly sought to recreate the pivotal scenes from Perfume and the murderer’s scents, one by one, starting in 2000. (Without murdering anyone, I should hasten to add!!!) According to an informative N.Y. Times article on Laudamiel, he was assisted in his endeavour by a perfume scientist who “recruited two young female virgins and, with their parents’ permission, recorded their aroma using a polymer needle. Laudamiel found this scent on I.F.F.’s shelves, then added the scents Süskind describes as clinging to the virgin’s skin: apricot, nuts, sea breeze.” (See, “Smellbound.”) There has been no indication as to whether Laudamiel succeeded in his efforts to replicate Grenouille’s infamous and orgy-inducing fragrance….

Thankfully, most perfumers don’t go to such extremes. But niche perfume houses are increasingly pushing the envelope in order (in my opinion) to counter the avalanche of mass-market, generic Sugar Bomb and Gourmand perfumes on the market. There are no limits, no even the smell of human decay!

If all this has left you with the strong urge to take a shower or to cleanse yourself, then you’re in luck. Part III of this article will focus on the Clean/Fresh category of perfumes, along with the latest, popular trend of Aoud/Oud scents. I’ll add that link here when it is up. Stay tuned!