Tom Ford Black Orchid : Fragrance Review

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Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

The promise of beguiling black orchid scent, the suggestion of classical glamour, the retro advertisement reminiscent of George Hurrell’s famous shot of Veronica Lake–and Tom Ford’s solo debut, Black Orchid became my most anticipated 2006 launch. When I finally held the gorgeous black glass bottle in my hand and sprayed the perfume on my skin, I envisioned something along the lines of Rochas Femme, the radiant sweetness wrapped into the rich animalic warmth. …

Black Orchid certainly weaves some retro elements into its composition, yet it remains a modern oriental, where the animalic growl is replaced by the murmur of luscious woody vanilla. The best features of Black Orchid are revealed upfront—the promised seductive darkness of patchouli and the savory earthiness of truffle shimmer through the sheer citrusy top notes. An indolic whisper of white flowers lends its characteristic narcotic breath. It is the femme fatale entrance—one may not be attracted to what one sees, but one cannot but notice it.

After the initial sizzling impression, Black Orchid slowly begins to settle into the spicy floral underpinned by the base of woods and vanilla. Givaudan’s Roman Kaiser, the expert both on orchids and headspace technology, did in fact capture the elusive scent of black orchid which was especially bred for Tom Ford. The spicy carnation like warmth rises up before Black Orchid finally settles in its sandalwood rich oriental base.

Although this might seem unlikely, but as Black Orchid develops, it reminds me of Ralph Lauren’s Ralph Hot, a fragrance by perfumer Pierre Negrin. I would hasten to add that the main overlap is in the layering of sensations, rather in the specific olfactive impressions, although both fragrances fall into the woody oriental family. Much like Black Orchid, Ralph Hot contrasts its rich woody and vanilla notes with the crisp freshness that is threaded delicately through the arrangement. What could have been a dense and heavy composition instead is rendered as radiant and soaring.

Black Orchid is certainly a beautiful fragrance, fulfilling all of its promises of seduction and intrigue. Yet, as I have been wearing the Eau de Parfum almost every day for the past week, I found myself wishing that its initial effervescent and daring impression was preserved rather than flattened by the woods and vanilla. Nevertheless, its charm is difficult to resist, and perhaps it is the reason I keep reaching for my bottle to smell the perfume again and again.

Black Orchid was created for Tom Ford by the perfumers of Givaudan. It includes the top notes of French jasmine, black gardenia, ylang ylang, bergamot, mandarin and effervescent citrus; a heart notes of Tom Ford black orchid, spicy floral orchid accords and lotus wood, and a drydown of patchouli, incense, amber, sandalwood and vanilla. It is currently available at Neiman Marcus. For another opinion please see the review by Robin of Now Smell This.

Some other fragrance created under Tom Ford’s creative direction: Yves Saint Laurent Nu, M7, Rive Gauche Pour Homme; Gucci Eau de Parfum, Pour Homme, Rush, Envy; Estée Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude, Azurée oil spray.

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50 Comments

  • March: It’s a very pretty fragrance, and I may well end up with some; but I felt (I guess as you did) that all the thrill was front-loaded, and after half an hour it was strangely flat… I have now run into two women who were returning their purchases because they were so disappointed in the result — a testament to letting things dry down well before purchase (although of course perfumers know so many people buy based on, what, the first 45 seconds?)

    Your reference to Hot makes total sense. Also (try this on!) there is something about its feel that reminded me of the new Double Black — a deep, velvety richness at the base, a slightly gourmand smell that isn’t at all “foody.” November 8, 2006 at 7:40am Reply

  • newproducts: This is the third review in a row that I have read on Bllack Orchid, and yours, though still positive, is the most reservedly so. I have yet to try it, but the comparisons to RL Hot, which I have seen in another review also, gives me pause. Hot was way too gourmand for me, and though the comparison may be more in the structure, the gourmand notes in Black Orchid do not bode well for my loving it. I am, however, intrigued by the “femme fatale entrance” that you speak of. Thank you for yet another wonderful and thoughtful review. November 8, 2006 at 8:17am Reply

  • Judith: Well, the beginning sounds good to me. . . and it certainly seems worth trying. . .but I’m not thinking I will ultimately love it. Could be wrong, though (hope so). Will be trying that (and Double Black) soon. November 8, 2006 at 8:17am Reply

  • Patty: I do like it, and I think it will probably run the test of time for me as being one I like to put on regularly, but I still wish for something darker to have stayed throughout. Maybe it’s just the bottle that suggested darker, more sinister things inside, and then I was disappointed that it didn’t quite live up to the bottle.

    But it is beautiful November 8, 2006 at 9:25am Reply

  • Marina: I keep reaching for my bottle too, and yet I’ve never expected to like it at all. I wonder who exactly from GIvaudan is responsible for Black Orchid… November 8, 2006 at 10:11am Reply

  • violetnoir: I won’t be running to NM to test it, but I will when it finally arrives at my favorite Nordstrom location.

    Hugs! November 8, 2006 at 12:59pm Reply

  • cynthia: It sounds very nice but I am afrad that it might be too sweet for me. Did you try the parfum? November 8, 2006 at 1:11pm Reply

  • cynthia: Oh, and thank you for another great review, V! November 8, 2006 at 1:12pm Reply

  • CindyN: Victoria,
    An incredible and evocative review, as always. I was one of those that purchased it a couple of weeks ago, and have been enthralled ever since. I fully agree about the impact of the opening, and find it almost narcotic in its impact. For me personally, I like the fact that it does calm sown to a beautifully rich sandalwood. For those who are fearing the overly sweet, gourmand note–I find it absent. For me, it is mellow, nor sweet or candied. I have also layered it with JM Blue Agava, (guess I can’t get enuf of a good thing) and loved the combination as well. I think Black Orchid is a great cool weather scent. However, it may be also be a divisive, love it hate it fragrance. November 8, 2006 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: March, I love the top notes of Black Orchid. The first time I smelled it, I was completely taken by their unconventional richness. Yet, as the fragrance develops it takes a turn for a tamer composition. There is something about it that keeps me guessing, that I find a bit disconcerting.

    I can see what you mean about similarity with Double Black. There is a big peppery note in Black Orchid juxtaposed with the sweetness, much like that peppered mango accord in Double Black. November 8, 2006 at 1:29pm Reply

  • anna77anna: Thank you for a great review. V November 8, 2006 at 1:29pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Newproducts, I do not find it either overly gourmand or sugary sweet. There is plenty to offset the sweetness, which to me is more floral than fruity. I find it ravishing for the first 40 minutes-1 hour. The main issue that I have is the woody base, which strikes me as flat. Overall, it has the same idiosyncratic character as other fragrances under Ford’s direction, but it is perhaps less iconoclastic. November 8, 2006 at 1:34pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Judith, I am guess that it might elicit the same reaction in you as it did in me. The top notes are just gorgeous, especially when one is tired of the conventional prettiness in other feminine fragrances. November 8, 2006 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Patty, that is a very good point. I suppose that I also expected something more sinister given the bottle and the ad. November 8, 2006 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Marina, it is much more likely that it was created by the New York team (since it is a Lauder brief), rather than the Paris team. November 8, 2006 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: R, it is a beautiful fragrance, definitely worth testing. I still say that it is one of the best releases this year. November 8, 2006 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Cynthia, no, I have not tried the parfum yet. However, I would love to. I wonder if that spicy carnation like floral is emphasized in the parfum. November 8, 2006 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Cynthia, you are most welcome! November 8, 2006 at 1:48pm Reply

  • violetnoir: Yes, but did you like as much as we both loved Carnal Flower when it was released last year?

    Thanks, V!

    Hugs! November 8, 2006 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Cindy, thank you very much! I rather vacillated on what I thought of it. At first, when I got a brief impression from a card at Neimans a few weeks ago, I was disappointed. Then I got to try it on my skin, and I loved it immediately. As I have been wearing it longer, I found myself less taken by the subsequent development. Yet, overall, I love the idea of a statement fragrance, and Black Orchid fulfills that promise. I am sure that I shall return to it often. November 8, 2006 at 2:20pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Anna, thank you very much! November 8, 2006 at 2:20pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: R, no, not as much. Carnal Flower has few rivals for me. November 8, 2006 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Christina: V, I was reading Robin’s review earlier and she mentioned that Black Orchid was a chypre. What makes it a chypre? November 8, 2006 at 2:24pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Christina, chypre is a fragrance that combines 5 facets–citrus, floral, woody, mossy, musky and/or ambery. This is a rather wide category, which is why now you see all sorts of things being classified as chypre. Black Orchid contains oakmoss, but to me, the prominence of vanilla, amber and sandalwood makes it fit better in the oriental family. Oriental chypre sounds rather like a marketing term. When it comes down to it, sampling oneself is the best thing to do, rather than to rely on this categories. November 8, 2006 at 2:50pm Reply

  • minette: two weeks ago, on POL, i used exactly the same words as march to describe this – “frontloaded” and then “flat.” if it held its initial, hypnotic quality through to the finish, it would be interesting enough to own. but the intrigue goes poof within 15 minutes, and then it’s something you’ve already smelled a million times before – pleasant but dull.

    i predicted then that it would do well with those women who don’t know to wait for the drydown before buying – the impulse buyers. we’ll see. November 8, 2006 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Christina: Thank you for your explanation, V! What is a true chypre in your opinion? I hope that I am not bothering you with these questions. November 8, 2006 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Minette, that is quite true, the top notes are the most interesting to me, but I also think that they might strike some women as strange and uncomfortable. The drydown has more of the familiar elements. I cannot even guess as to the success or failure of this fragance commercially. November 8, 2006 at 3:20pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Christina, not at all! The classical chypre would Guerlain Mitsouko, Gres Cabochard, Eau du Soir by Sisley, Carven Ma Griffe, Dior Miss Dior, to name a few. Some modern chypres are Agent Provocateur (inspired by the famous 80s chypre Paloma Picasso), Soir de Lune, Perles de Lalique. Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Lovely are classified as chypres, but I am not that comfortable with that classification. I love chypre, and it is an interesting topic to discuss. :) November 8, 2006 at 3:25pm Reply

  • minette: you’re right – it could go that way, too. but with all of the hype, and that “article” at the very back of the Neimans catalog – which you just HAVE to read, if you have any interest in fragrance marketing – i think it will probably do well. the bottle is cool, too, and makes me wish i liked the juice more! November 8, 2006 at 4:22pm Reply

  • Ina: I really think it’s gorgeous and definitely on of the best new releases, if not the best, but I get an aquatic note that seems to be a bit pesky on my skin. I wish I got more earthiness. However, I need to keep testing. November 8, 2006 at 5:54pm Reply

  • Elle: Gorgeous review. I like seriously femme scents for cooler weather and this sounds like it fits the bill. Although all my money right now is being siphoned into a Mandarine Mandarin fund since I have fallen head over heels for it…opulent and beautiful to the extreme. And it *so* fits the mood of that LE bottle you had posted a picture of. But I suspect I’ll need Black Orchid as well (can’t do initials w/ this scent…not fortunate). I *really* want the parfum bottle. November 8, 2006 at 9:34pm Reply

  • nattygold: Hi,
    I enjoyed reading your lovely reveiw. I know a man can wear, whatever he wants but what’s your opinion of Black Orchid on a man? Do you think it would too provacative? November 8, 2006 at 9:58pm Reply

  • Nick: Dear Victoria,

    Missed you unbearably those few short days you were not with us.

    What is your opinion on the Dior classics – Miss Dior, Diorella, Diorrisimo, and Dioressence? Since we are taliking retro a bit here, and some featured in your last list of classics. I had avoided them due to the reports of reformulation, but finally relented recently and purchased Miss Dior – which is impossibly sexy, haughty, brilliant and 40s. It was the next step in my current 40s/50s perfume obsession.

    Should I take the next step and explore the others. Have not even smelled a couple of them! What do you say? Overaltered or worth a try?

    Best, November 9, 2006 at 1:03am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Minette, now, I certainly have to look up the story. Thank you for mentioning it. Things like that do interest me very much. November 9, 2006 at 10:24pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Ina, I wish the earthiness would persist longer. It would make it perfect. November 9, 2006 at 10:25pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Elle, the limited edition bottle for Mandarine Mandarin is just stunning. I wish I had a chance to see it in person. Then again, I do not want to–I am sure that it would be the case of temptation I would not be able to resist. November 9, 2006 at 10:26pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Nattygold, I think that Black Orchid might be too sweet and too floral for most men’s tastes, but you should try it on your skin and see it how it works. You might find it that it suits you perfectly. It is certainly a striking fragrance. November 9, 2006 at 10:27pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Dear Nick, thank you for your nice words! :)

    I love Miss Dior, Diorella, Diorrisimo, and Dioressence (and I would add the sadly discontinued Diorama and Diorling to list). Out of these, Dioressences and Miss Dior have been changed the most, but Diorella and Diorrisimo are still quite beautiful (even though they too have been altered). Diorella is perhaps my most favourite of these–it combined the seductive edge of Rochas Femme with the lucidity of Eau Sauvage, and it is just amazing. I can never tired of it. Must write a review of it soon. November 9, 2006 at 10:29pm Reply

  • Nick: Dear Victoria,

    Thanks for your Dior tips. Your Diorella description is beautiful – it sounds luscious. I still can’t believe that I haven’t explored them. Diorella will be the first I’ll look at. A sudden interest in Chanel’s Cristalle has me wanting to visit the early 70s.

    Best, November 11, 2006 at 3:33am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Dear Nick, Cristalle is amazing, and even the EDP is beautiful. However, nothing can rival the verdant crispness of the EDT. I find it along the same lines as Diorella, but much more transparent. It lacks the smouldering seduction of Diorella. November 11, 2006 at 2:44pm Reply

  • cynthia: Ok, V, it is all your fault! I ended up buying a bottle. :) November 13, 2006 at 10:54pm Reply

  • cynthia: Oops, I typed too quickly. I forgot to add that I sniffed the parfum at the counter and it was even more beautiful than the EDP. Have you tried it already? November 13, 2006 at 10:55pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Cynthia, do not blame me! :) I am glad that it works perfectly for you. November 14, 2006 at 2:29pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Lucky you! No, I have not tried it yet. I would imagine that it is quite stunning. November 14, 2006 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Leoness: I wanted to like this one, but for some reason all I smell is licorice. March 25, 2007 at 8:13pm Reply

  • MajaWiggins: First try:it smells like vomit or bad morning breath after too much to champaigne mixed with unprotected sex with men of passionate origin.
    I can see a woman (in last nights outfit)entering “not so clean” bathroom in the house where she woke up,quick check in the mirror:she is not sure if the reflection is her own,but she sure can smell it, while trying to leave without saying anything.
    My reaction to this perfume was directly linked to something “one shouldn’t do,but does it anyway!” It made me feel heavy feelings and took me for a ride through dark amber,dusty black,deep purple,dirty blood red and fragments of yellow colors.It also looked like entering into the home of an old lady and looking for her,since her friends haven’t seen her in a week and they fear she might have died.
    Second try:I am able to see more colors and breaking away from unknown.
    Still, the impact of odor makes me enter a certain space.That is the part of Black Orchid I like.I can call it my own dirty secret and it is not a joke,this secret is real.Woman with the past!
    This is a self involved perfume,so I guess one should’t care about general reaction.
    My reaction to fragrance is always with an elemet of visual-story,image,life situation…and colors.Comment is based on my imagination not personal experience.
    And then the closing act:It does go flat!!That is the part where “Woman with the past” is having a quiet evening,thinking of early morning hours…After a long shower,she is still trying to wash off lingering feelings,images,flash backs…she is ready to put it in a box,lock it up and loose the key!
    She goes to bed and thinks of tomorrow,still sniffing for the remains of last night, that is fading away.. May 16, 2007 at 7:23am Reply

  • Roshunda Dorris: I love this fragrance. It is bold, but yet suttle. As it lingers it leaves a hint of sophistication. July 13, 2007 at 2:37pm Reply

  • richard boardman: I have heard this fragrance does not have long legs. any suggestion for one of similar base that does. It is for a christmas present. December 11, 2007 at 9:33pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Richard, I would say that it is the opposite–it lasts and lasts and lasts! December 12, 2007 at 8:46am Reply

  • Edith Read: I just “googled” orchid (a personal favorite flower of mine) and tripped up on Black Orchid, followed the link to the NM website. I was hesitant at first to order, but boy am I glad I did. I love this perfume.
    My husband and I went out one night to a concert. We were walking on the sidewalk to get to the venue, and a total stranger caught a whiff of it and said to my husband “I hope you don’t think I am strange, but I love the smell of your wife’s perfume”. Not even two weeks later, I had it on at church, and one of my husbands friends said “Your wife always smells so good”….
    If that isn’t testament enough to how great it smells I don’t know what is.

    Thanks Tom Ford! January 15, 2008 at 2:41pm Reply

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