Just like Tom Ford Noir, Sahara Noir is a perfect cross-over perfume and a good case for disregarding arbitrary gender marketing. In the case of Sahara Noir, you only need to love incense and amber. And love them a lot, because this perfume is incense and amber to the power of 10. A part of Tom Ford’s Signature Collection, along with Violet Blonde, White Patchouli, Black Orchid and Grey Vetiver, this is a dramatic and dark blend that delivers on its noir promise.
With Sahara Noir Tom Ford is courting Middle Eastern perfume consumers, whose tastes gravitate towards opulent. “A perfume can’t be rich enough,” says a friend who works for a fragrance company in Dubai. Incense is used to perfume homes and public spaces, and a splash of rosewater and a cloud of oud smoke begins and ends any auspicious function. Sahara Noir would fit right into this scented environment and even hold its own. Depending on your tastes for heavy perfumes, consider yourself warned.
When I first apply Sahara Noir, I feel like a walking incense burner. It starts out peppery and warm, precisely recalling the spicy and biting scent of incense. The incense here is frankincense, a resinous material derived from trees native to Africa and the Middle East (hence, the reference to Sahara in the title). It’s the incense of religious ceremonies, and it smells like crushed black pepper and grated lemon zest.
The interesting part of Sahara Noir is not the incense, but how it’s used to create a layered effect. Frankincense is available in several different grades and varieties, and the combination of cool, crisp essence with heavier, smokier oil gives an opulent effect. It also helps that the quality of incense and everything else in this perfume is excellent.
The second part of Sahara Noir is amber. Although cistus ladanifer sounds like an ancient Roman senator, it’s a small shrub that grows around the Mediterranean (and all over the California coast). A sticky resin covers its stems, and if you rub your fingers against them, they will smell of bitter caramel and amber for hours. The material derived from cistus gives the rich, dense sensation to Sahara Noir. But like frankincense, it appears in different guises to create a complex effect.
All of these interesting nuances of Sahara Noir may be lost when you apply it full strength. It starts out as incense and maintains the same tune all the way. After several hours of this, even incense fans might crave a flash of white petal or a glimmer of green leaf. I enjoyed the details, but I didn’t find the perfume exciting to wear until I tried applying it on my scarf, the way I would use Middle Eastern attars. Suddenly it sang, and I could even notice a sweet layer of jasmine and rose and a soft touch of vanilla in the drydown. Either way, the tenacity of Sahara Noir has few rivals.
For a more understated incense, I would recommend Serge Lutens Serge Noire, Armani Privé Bois D’Encens, or L’Artisan Fragrances Passage d’Enfer. But if you’re a fan of Tauer L’Air du Desert Marocain, Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, Annick Goutal Encens Flamboyant or Tom Ford’s own Amber Absolute, Sahara Noir is going to hit the spot. All in all, a well-crafted perfume for those whose perfumes can’t be dark and smoky enough.
Tom Ford Sahara Noir Eau de Parfum lists notes of frankincense, cistus essence, bitter orange, Jordanian calamus (an oasis sweet grass), cypress, cinnamon, papyrus extract, jasmine, beeswax absolute, amber, ambreinol, benzoin, vanilla, cedar, agarwood, and balsam. Available at Tom Ford boutiques, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Nordstrom and other retailers. The Eau de Parfum–£100 (50ml).