In Twelve Words Or Less

The weather´s warm and spring seems to have arrived at last. I grew up here, and I can rag D.C. for various things, but the spring flora, from the cherry blossoms onward, is tough to beat. This year, possibly as a result of the miserable cool weather early on, the blooming period is weirdly condensed – tulips, wisteria, late bulbs, flowering plums and other ornamental fruit trees, dogwood and, of course, the azaleas are all blooming simultaneously. Driving around yesterday in the sun, the palette was so hyper-saturated it had a little of that David-Lynch Blue-Velvet vibe. As I looked at yet another absurdly vivid tableau – blood-red, fuchsia and apricot-orange azaleas against a backdrop of tightly planted white dogwood — it came to me: Tom Ford. Tom Ford!!!

Do you know azaleas? Here’s a photo. They´re boring, crappy-looking shrubs (people use them here as foundation plantings) for 11 ½ months a year. Then for two weeks they´re all decked out like painted harlots. Nothing subtle about them. They don´t even smell (okay, they smell like plants, but they´re not fragrant.) They´re … lurid. Frequently they clash with their surroundings and seem not particularly well thought out. The Tom Ford Private Blend collection has some scents that are extremely wearable, and some that aren´t; several that are reminiscent of some aspect of Black Orchid (often in the base); some that are complex and some that are very simple. But when it comes to nuance, Tom Ford is tone-deaf. These fragrances are not cheap. God knows. Also, Ford wouldn´t know elegance if it waltzed up wearing Balenciaga couture and slapped him across the face with its elbow-length gloves, and I sort of wish it would. Honestly, I appreciate having a whole batch of fragrances that aren´t fruity-floral (although I´d like to cut back his access to vanilla.) I admire the overall ballsiness of these new releases (along with Black Orchid), and I´m grateful for fragrances with this heft. But I kept wishing Tom could have added a bit of subtlety and elegance to his retro-esque collection. Individually I admired several of them; together, though, dang it, it’s like looking at a yard full of azaleas. But maybe that’s just me.

So. I thought I´d leave you with my reviews. They´ve already gotten extensive blog coverage, and since you know how I yammer on and on and on, I reviewed these 12 scents in 12 words or less per scent. They are listed in my order of preference (favorite to least). The numbers at the end of each reflect my feeling about the scent (scaled from 1 to 10) at first application, followed by my revised feeling several hours later, to give you a sense of what I thought of the development.

The one stunning surprise was the Oud Wood. I don´t even like oud particularly, it often seems harsh to me, but this! It lasted a full 48 hours on me, no joke, through a bath, and I still got dim whispers, and I was grateful. If I could have one bottle, that would be it. Also, Velvet Gardenia is right up there with Fracas in office-ban sillage; you were warned.

Oud Wood – velvety oud, mouthwatering cardamom/pepper opening, vetiver ignites smoldering sandal/amber drydown. 8 – 9

Moss Breches – Statement chypre, like green Baghari? Decent sillage; alluring, arid spicy-earth drydown. 8 – 9

Noir de Noir – similar to Ta´if, less green. Languid, nuanced saffron-rose, gentle woods. 7 – 9

Velvet Gardenia – haunting, indolic gardenia, intense sillage — obscene, green, spiced, fleshy. What bleu cheese? 8 – 8.

Bois Rouge – hot mess of herbs n spices; four hours later, delicious cinnamon woods. 3 – 7.

Amber Absolute – perfect somber church incense meets thick amber, warm woods; too much vanilla. 8 – 6

Black Violet – candied buttcrack. Dark violet followed by Black Orchid skank, fades surprisingly fast. 5 – 5.

Japon Noir – spicy, hint of leather, armpit (vetiver? cedar?) didn´t knock my socks off. 5 – 5.

Tuscan Leather – suede gloves, peat, tart fruit and … is that vanilla again? Go away! 6 – 5.

Neroli Portofino – citrus, neroli, musk falls off the SMN truck, disappears. Worth $165? No. 5 – 4.

Purple Patchouli – interestingly ugly, no patch, just orchid and … drain cleaner? Chemical-seaweed drydown. 3 – 4.

Tobacco Vanille – cherry pipe tobacco becomes lousy Christmas potpourri; hint of vanilla, Play-Doh. 4 – 2.

Azalea image:

  • donanicola says:

    Totally late on this but I was thinking about it overnight and when I finally put on two TF’s this morning to try (NdN and MB) it finally hit me. This may sound a bit snobby or un pc but it isn’t meant in a bad way – I think the differences between the Chanels, (and old Diors and Hermes and Guerlains and Carons) is that they smell like Old Money and TF smells like New Money. Nothing wrong with that – hell as I’m not going to have old money I’ll take new money so as to continue with my ‘fume habit but does that make any sense at all to anybody? LOVE MB – sort of undergrowthy. Bon Voyage again March!

    • March says:

      That’s a point worth considering. I really wrestled with this. There are several of these I really like; they are beautifully packaged. Tom Ford himself and his ads annoy me, but so what? Maybe you’ve hit on the “flashiness” part that bothers me. I want to admire them because they’re assertive, but I kept deleting the word “cheap” from my review — because they *don’t* smell cheap. But if you roll the burrito up, with my issues with nuance, elegance, etc., your interpretation is a good one. Maybe I was too much of a coward to go there.

      • donanicola says:

        Ah, it was your wonderful comment about the Balenciaga gown and elbow length gloves which started my train of thought. TF’s don’t smell cheap and I am enjoying the ones I have tried/worn so far but they do not have the same indefinable quality of the others I mentioned. As I tossed a vest top into the laundry basket the other day I caught a whiff of 31 Cambon – it was stunning and so classy. oh dear I am digging a hole for myself!

  • tmp00 says:

    What do you mean we are going to miss March’s postings! It’s 2007! She can post from a Starbucks. Or Lee’s house?!? (starting to have withdrawl symptoms..)

    We had azaleas in my hometown. Awful, blowsy things, I thought. Camellias I can take or leave. Magnolias however are wonderful- the whole of Beverly Boulevard in my neighborhood is lined with big magnolias and when they bloom? Gorgeous!

    Marina sent me these, so you will all be subject to my ramblings about them soon. :d

    • March says:

      Oh, I’ll look forward to your ramblings! Big Cheese can’t believe I’m not taking my laptop. He’s mocking me about it regularly. I’m planning to check in via internet cafe, I think they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

      Hmmm… I’m totally going to guess for you. If you’re like 90% of the people, you’ll like the TV. I think you’ll like the Oud, and I’m going to give you an enthusiastic thumbs up for the Bois Rouge. I’m also going to crawl way out on a limb, decide you won’t get the cheese note in Gardenia, and will think it’s fabulous, even if not quite office-appropriate. There. Let’s see how I do!;)

      • tmp00 says:

        I will tell you that I understand how people are getting the cheese on Gardenia, but that I think it is completely divine…

  • Gina says:

    March, wanted to thank you for the Jules as well as the samples you threw in. Also, bon voyage! Have a great time across the pond, I’ve spent a month there, specifically, in Hastings and Brighton, and I loved it. You’ll have a blast with Lee, he sounds like a good time.

    As far as the Tom Fords…I completely agree with you. My favorites so far are Noir de Noir (I know, kind of predictable, it’s easy to wear)and Oud Wood. There’s a couple I haven’t tried yet, I needed a Tom Ford break. As for comparing to the azaleas, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I grew up in the south, and azaleas were everywhere, I barely noticed them after a point. They were common, glaringly in your face.

    • March says:

      Thanks! NdeN is lovely, really. If I were more of a rose lover it would be more appreciated by me. Please compare it sometime to Ormond Jayne Ta’if if you’ve never sniffed it, I think that’s a stunner. The Oud was a complete shock to me. I never would have picked it as my favorite judging by the notes. Never.

      • Gina says:

        I have a decant of T’aif, I find it lovely, and will definitely pull it out to compare to NdeN. The good thing about the Tom Fords is that I won’t need any full bottles. My credit cards thank me…I’ll do decants through Patty of the ones I like and be very happy with that.

  • Cheezwiz says:

    :d Safe travels March!

    Azaleas run rampant in Vancouver as well. They are usually garish hot pink or purple, and look ESPECIALLY hideous once the blooms start to wither and drop off. I was never able to tell the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons.

    I’m planning a trip to one of our city gardens to check out the new blooms (laburnums, hawthorne and hooray! LILACS!). Am doing the snoopy dance of joy over lilacs!

    • March says:

      I adore lilacs. They grow okay around here but are susceptible to mildew (unsurprisingly, around here.) One of the many pleasant surprises of Santa Fe was how well lilacs grew out there. You wouldn’t think they would, but if they got a little supplemental water, they bloomed like the dickens in the spring. There would be whole rows of old, thick-limbed bushes of them, huge, along the roadside. You could smell them a block away.

      • cheezwiz says:

        Re: Lilacs…
        I have been sneaking around the neighborhood casing the lilac bushes. Most of them are just starting to pop. I’m thinking about tiptoeing to those places that are a bit secluded and surreptitiously snipping a couple of branches with my wire-cutters.;))

        Wish they were more readily available to purchase!

  • MarkDavid says:

    Hahah! I love love love your rant on azaleas. So true. Painted Harlots – indeed.

    I like the orange ones but maybe thats because I dont see them very often – its all about the fuschia where I come from.

    • March says:

      What IS it with the hot pink?!?! With the possible exception of the deep red, I think I hate them most of all. They’re so garish.

      The orange ones, the pale orange ones, the apricot ones … those I’ll put up with. Within reason.:-w

  • Lee says:

    Azaleas – am I glad the soil is too neutral / alkaline here for those monsters to grow. I’ve never been partial to camellias either – somehow, those gaudy flowers don’t sit well with glossy evergreen leaves. Too gilded (there are one or two species camellias I tolerate).

    I loved the brevity of your reviews, even if the idea of a chemical seaweed drydown is making me feel faintly bilious.

    Safe trip honey, and see you soon. I’ll be in the raincoat, rose blossom tucked behind one ear, whistling the theme tune to ‘The Third Man’ as we planned. The code word is VERKLEMPT. Call me.

    • March says:

      Camellias. Ugh. I lived in an ugly house with ugly camellias, and I’ll hate them forever for it, unjustifiably, poor things.

      In general, I consider blooming plants with no enticing smell a complete waste of real estate.

      Oh, I’ll be all verklempt too! I’m assuming you’re meeting me at my hotel, correct? Leave a msg at the front desk? I’m small, pale and have totally artificial-looking red hair. No horns and tail, though.

  • Robin says:

    LOL — perfect comparison, M, I love it!

    One of the sad things about azaleas, IMHO, is that many of the more delicately colored (less lurid) varieties which were popular when I was growing up in Silver Spring are rarely seen anymore. Where I live now in PA, everyone seems to buy the same hot pink. It gets boring to see it massed everywhere, and in fact, I have 3 of them in my own yard leftover from the previous owner.

    • Louise says:

      Oh-it’s that pink I dislike-but the apricot ones-so lovely, I think!

      • March says:

        The apricot ones are nice, yes! I wish people would exercise some sense in their color combinations around here…:-w

    • March says:

      I had a general suspicion you would share my feelings. I also deleted a longer, meaner part of my screed.

      You’re right, almost no one plants the delicate-colored ones any more. There’s a large lilac and a faint apricot that are lovely (although not together!);)

      But my one true favorite, the one that pleases me intensely, is when people with larger, woodier lawns around here have a few white ones naturalized (unpruned) underneath their white dogwoods, some of which were lost to dogwood blight but not all. They bloom almost simultaneously most years, and the sight of them together on a lightly shaded yard, white on white, fills me with delight.

  • pitbull friend says:

    March, honey, that was delightful! Although they weren’t technically haiku, they had that spare, airy feeling.

    Thanks everso for the Jules. Something leaked in the bag, though — label ran – I assume the larger in the sprayer was Jules & the 1 ml was a mystery sample? Jules has a spicy/creamy note I also smell in Fissore Cashmere for women and in Rocabar. Lovely.

    We had azaleas with abandon in the Long Island microclimate. My mom was proud of the various shades of pink ones that burst forth from the front hedges (some kind of evergreen and rhododendron) this time of year. But purple? Feh! She said it like a curse word, a synonym for lack of taste, “Huh! Those people have PURPLE AZALEAS!”

    What I miss out here in the tundra is the sunshiny joy of forsythia everywhere. The U of MN recently hybridized azaleas & forsythia to survive here, but plants always lose something in the translation when they do that…. saw my first lilacs today, though! Beautiful, fragrant trip to you, March! –Ellen

    • Maria B. says:

      Oh, Ellen, isn’t Fissore Cashmere for Women lovely? I put some on last night and felt wonderfully comforted.

      You already have lilacs in MN? In Maine they only burst into bloom around the 15th of May. The few azaleas in Maine were runts. I know what you mean about losses in hybridizing.

      • March says:

        Yes, but Maine has those wild blueberries! I never liked blueberries until I sampled those. I can’t eat the Michigan ones at all. I make do with frozen (in my pancakes) but the amt of wild blueberries I was consuming when up there was disgusting.

    • March says:

      Lord, my labeling is terrible. Sorry about that. The big one should be Jules. If there’s a smaller unlabeled vial (I’m sorry, I was in a big hurry) it’s probably Yosh, the name of which would have been written on the plastic baggie they all were in. Good luck with that!:d:)>-

      I love your mom. I feel her pain. Also, I cannot BELIEVE I forgot to include the lilacs on my list. Ours are glorious this year.

      • pitbull friend says:

        Thanks, March! Yep, Sottile was written on the baggie, but I didn’t know it connected to the contents. (Duh?) Gots to know a person’s system.:d

        Ah, Maria, aren’t you glad in a way that hybridizing doesn’t work that well? I remember missing Northern Spy apples when I moved from Boston to MN — my favorite combo for apple strudel (yes, I tried many combos during the Apple Strudel Summer of 1984) was Northern Spy & Jonathan. Turns out they can’t grow Northern Spy in MN because they don’t handle the subsubfreezing weather well. There’s a hybrid called Prairie Spy which is not quite as good for my purposes. When I found it, I was a little sad, too, like this thing that had been special about the Northeast was no longer so special. –Ellen

  • Chrisitne says:

    My mother loves her some azaleas. But in Florida they never seem to go into full bloom, but rather a couple of blooms here and there through out the year.

    Me? Give me my English roses. LOVE them. Wish I had outdoor space. *weep*

    • March says:

      I hadn’t thought of that. Florida’s probably too hot? Oh, well, they have lots of other lurid plants to choose from.;)

      Sometimes when I’m bored with gardening I wish I had no outdoor area.

      • Christine says:

        You want to switch houses for a week? I’ll ship off the boyfriend, just feed the cat and he’s fine.

        Also? Did you admire how I misspelled my own name on the first comment? Endless class.

        • March says:

          I type Mrach all the time, so I’m comfortable with alternate spelling. Also I get mail to Marge, Madge and Marcia. I’m flexible.

          Um … are you sure you want to move in here with husband and four kids? Seriously, I’d think hard about that.:-?

  • Marina says:

    I agree, What Blue Cheese? 😀 I disagree about elegance, however. They are not subtle, oh no, but they, or most of them, are still elegant. Not understated (not in Ford’s vocabularly, this word :-)), not minimalist, Chanel kind of elegance, no, a luxurious kind, but still elegance.

    • March says:

      Marina — you know when the Rue Cambons came out, and there was a lot of squawking about how they were too weak? And I thought they were great. Well, with these, it was the opposite. I kept feeling: okay, okay, I GET IT. ENOUGH, already. Taken together, they’re so insistent. But I do think I’m more easily overwhelmed by that base, the TV is the perfect example. But I’m happy to know you share my love for the outre Gardenia!\:d/

  • Elle says:

    I’ve always thought that there are plant people and there are grass people. Even when I lived in Manhattan I still managed to have plants (roof gardens, basement areas…I always found places for plants), but grass? Yawn. DH is a grass person and azaleas fit in w/ grass people in my mind. I refuse to call them plants. And around here there are actually azalea festivals. Please! But, rhododendrons are actually potentially wonderful. There are scented varieties in our Botanical Gardens that are beyond delicious and where I go hiking, there is an area that is absolutely covered w/ wild rhododendrons – breathtakingly beautiful in the late spring. OK, the obsessive gardener will back off now and the obsessive perfume sl*t returns. 🙂 My top four pretty much match yours. But am definitely far more appreciative of TV than you are. 🙂 On my skin it’s all about good quality pipe tobacco – very CBesque.
    Have a wonderful trip!!

    • March says:

      Totally agree. Cheese is a grass people. If he had his way, it’d be a giant expanse of dandelion-free lawn and nothing else. Unfortunately he’s married to me, so instead out front we have what I lovingly refer to as my cottage garden and he thinks of as that gd mess[-(

      The TV — yeah, you and everyone else. Clearly you all are getting something a lot better than I am!

  • Judith says:

    Oh, I just read your comment to Patty more carefully (more coffee), and I think we are agreeing on the “cheese” note–it must be part of the gardenia indole, and some people (like me) process that as “cheese.” :d

  • Judith says:

    Well, we absolutely agree on our top two–the two I love, the two I bought! I would really like to smell the VG WITHOUT the roquefort, but I am not convinced this is entirely a chemistry issue; Jardenia smells EXACTLY like bleu cheese to me, straight from the JAR, um, the fancy glass sniffer in BG (I couldn’t bear to put it on). So I’m thinking it’s partially down to nose/associations. And I thought TobaccoVanille was OK, despite having too much vanilla at the beginning, and smelling like my father’s pipe at the end (though I wouldn’t buy it). But whatever–as long as you didn’t diss my two beloveds, MR and OW, I’m with ya! The rest, I don’t care about so much one way or another, except for the drain cleaner, PP, which is really an abomination.

    Have a wonderful trip–and bring back lots of goodies!:d

    • March says:

      I kept putting on the PP just to torment myself, like sniffing bad milk — thinking, can that be RIGHT?!?!

      I agree about the cheese/perception thing. I sometimes process vetiver as “feet” and cedar as “hell” (and this is obviously problematic in perfumery.) But Patty smelled some cedar trainwreck on me somewhere in NYC and said, What? It smells fine! So that’s obviously about my perception of the smell rather than any actual skin chemistry issue.

      That Oud. Man. Wearing some right now. That thing is stunning. One of the things that I think, I have NOTHING like that.

  • Patty says:

    How did VG wind up that high?!?!? And Tobacco Vanille — wow, you really didn’t like that. I think it smells different on me. :-<

    • March says:

      What, you didn’t like VG?!?!? Cheese note chafing you a little? Heh heh. You could use that stuff as Mace, couldn’t you? I guess I kicked it upstairs because it’s really interesting, and offhand I couldn’t even think of an ass-kicking gardenia besides JARdenia, and I didn’t get the cheese in this one… although I wish I knew some perfume chemistry, because I think that cheese smell is actually part of the indolic nose-hit, and JAR just emphasised it. There’s definitely something gamey in there.

      I think the TFs we should try in a group, because I have a feeling they smell pretty different on different people. I really bring out that vanilla, and that’s not a comfort zone for me — sort of like you and too much amber (or honey.)

  • Louise says:

    Thanks, March for continuing the great reviews up to boarding the plane. All under 12 word-I must admit, I counted. Mostly I am in line with your ratings, but what I find overall off with the Fords is not their gaudiness, but rather how plain they become on me. A lot go straight to vanilla, some to bad body smells. And you know how I burn through fragrance? Even the Oud goes away quickly. I still favor Japan Nior on me-it stays interesting, and plays around for a long while. But no big bottles for me.

    Azaleas-I still like their moment of glory. I guess the cheap thrill still works on me, especially at the Arboreteum.

    Goddess-speed to you on your trip!

    • March says:

      Hey, I counted too! And was waiting for the first person to tell me I was wrong, so I could be embarrassed that I couldn’t even count to 12… glad to hear your confirmation about the vanilla. I think for many people it’s just a nice creaminess, like a background floral, but Tom’s vanilla moves to the front on my skin.

      I leave tomorrow afternoon! Still not packed … sigh.:-w

    • Maria B. says:

      The National Arboretum in spring is really something. I went there at peak bloom time with my DH before he was my DH and couldn’t stay awake because of all the pollen. I felt like Rip Van Winkle. Fortunately, he’s charmed by that sort of thing. I vaguely remember multitudes of azaleas in bloom.

  • Solander says:

    Wow, you really don’t like Tobacco Vanille, do you? /:) I suspect I might agree with you, I’ve been very sensitive to sweetness lately. I was gifted a decant of Coromandel and while it’s a lovely amber/patchouli it’s also sweet enough to remind me of lemonade. Or is that limonade? I mean the sugary soft drink Brits are so keen on, not the real thing sold by kids in lemonade stands in the US…

    • March says:

      Hah! I wasn’t wild about the drain cleaner one, either. Or, to be honest, the amber one. They are awfully sweet.

      Hmmmm, will have to add limeade to my Brit To Try list…

      Really, Coromandel was sweet on you?:-? Huh. It’s pretty dry on me. Vanilla and amber are my difficult notes in quantity.

  • Maria B. says:

    Marchie, we’ll miss you. You’ll be eating haggis and steak and kidney pie, and we’ll be muddling by without you. I hope all of your travel conveyances are safe and that you return to us (not forgetting the Diorling from Roja Dove). 😡

    Azaleas–I lived in the DC area for twenty years and got to hate the damn things. You have perfectly described them: “hyper-saturated,” “lurid.” I would add “overdone by every gardener in the MD-DC-VA region.” However, I have seen some nice ones on the West Coast, especially in the Rhododendron Garden in Portland, OR. I have even smelled a very fragrant one. Not magenta.

    Bon voyage and give Lee a couple of hugs from me. He’s going to feel like an accordion from all the hugs we’re all sending him via you.

    • Louise says:

      Maria-you pull again at my heart-strings. I grew up in Portland, and attribute my dislike of roses in fragrance to a repeated forced march through the Rose Gardens in the City of Roses. But-oh, the Rhodie Gardens-I have such wonderful memories of their beauty, and yes, fragrance at times. I even accept the azaleas here as sad little cousins of the mighty Rhododendrons. Did you ever see the tree-sized ones in the mountains? Nothing like it!

      • March says:

        Louise — now THAT would be worth seeing. I also hate the way people prune them around here — like they weren’t ugly enough already, and so people cut them into box shapes and balls. Ugh.

      • Maria B. says:

        Louise, I saw tree-sized ones in the Rhodie Gardens in Portland. I even saw tree-sized ones in the Western Hills Nursery in Cal. They can be wonders to behold. One reason why I mentioned rhodies and azaleas in the same paragraph is that they actually belong to the same genus. Azaleas are actually in genus Rhododendron. What makes something an azalea versus a rhodie is something I’ve never understood.

        • Louise says:

          Maria-here’s my nerd-info: rhodies and azaleas were originally in seperate genera, but were collapsed in the 1800s ( I think). They are in the same genus as heath. The difference is in the foliage, flower structure, range, and whether March likes them or not.

          • March says:

            I like the rhodies better — around here anyway, they’re bigger and less lurid and the leaves are different. I don’t believe I’ve ever smelled a fragrant one … will have to go stick my nose in a few!

          • Maria B. says:

            Rhododendrons and azaleas are in the same *genus*: Rhododendron. But they are in the same *family* as heath: Ericaceae. Erica (heath) and Calluna (true heather) are two genera within the Ericaceae family. Big horticulture nerd here. :-b

    • March says:

      Maria — one of the worst domestic-related arguments I’ve ever gotten in was with the landscaper, who INSISTED we put azaleas in the yard, like it was a freaking state law. I said, I hate those ugly things!

      Rhodies we have here a bit later, and I like them better, but I have never seen a fragrant one.

      I’m almost packed!\:d/

      • Maria B. says:

        I hope you packed the umbrella. 😉 It’s remarkable that you are responding to our messages!

        The fragrant member of the Rhododendron genus I referred to was an azalea that looked nothing like DC azaleas. The flowers looked like watercolor orchids.

        • Lee says:

          It looks like the high pressure we’ve had for six weeks is going to bow out by Monday. You might well need that umbrella as much as my garden and allotment need the rain.

          • March says:

            I’ve packed for cold-ish and rainy(ish) so a heatwave will mean incorrect attire … although then I suppose I’ll just have to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe.:-“