I’ve been slowly testing the new Atelier d’Orient quarter, which was launched earlier this season in Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection. While I was enjoying Plum Japonais, Fleur de Chine and Rive d’Ambre well enough, Shanghai Lily stood out the most. I fell for it so hard that on any given day if I don’t have other perfume wearing plans it ends up on my skin. There are a few fragrances from Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection that hit the spot–Champaca Absolute, Velvet Gardenia, Cafe Rose, but Shanghai Lily is quickly becoming my favorite.
I like my flowers with a twist, and Shanghai Lily is a white floral with a dark mood. The jasmine and tuberose are warmed up and cossetted with plenty of spices and dark resins, which is already interesting. But the best part is that nothing about Shanghai Lily is heavy or oppressive. Instead, it sparkles from its gingery top notes to the incense accented drydown.
Shanghai Lily is, of course, Marlene Dietrich, who played this notorious role in the 1932 film Shanghai Express. But the woman I see behind Ford’s perfume is Anna May Wong. Wong had a smaller role, but whenever her character Hui Fei appeared on screen, she held her own. She had such a beguiling mix of innocence and sensuality that when I think of Shanghai Express, Wong comes to mind before Dietrich. I wonder if Tom Ford was thinking of her as well.
But let’s forget all the exotic motifs that the name contains. As much as it pains me to admit it, given Ford’s price tag, Shanghai Lily is beautiful. I love how it sizzles with pepper and clove, which are then toned down by orange. The promised lily is composed out of different floral notes, and its waxy white petals take shape slowly out of rose, violet, and jasmine. And then suddenly, you have on your skin a corsage of Madonna lilies powdered yellow with sweet pollen.
Later, the lilies wilt, leaving you with the scent of an antique rosewood box that not only smells of wood shavings, but also of incense, musk, and something earthy and smoky. The sweetness is mild, the darkness is tempered, and yet without being heady or dramatic, Shanghai Lily clings to the skin for hours. Even at the end of the day when I no longer notice my perfume, I get compliments on it as I’m kissed goodbye. A perfume that encourages others to lean in closer is a good thing in my book. (On the other hand, if you want something to announce your presence, this won’t fit the bill).
Compared to Serge Lutens’s femme fatale flowers like Fleurs d’Oranger or Tubéreuse Criminelle, this is mild stuff, but it’s also easier to carry. It has something of Caron Parfum Sacré‘s spice and in terms of dark flowers, it’s closer to the much missed Donna Karan Gold than Ford’s other lily, Lys Fume. Zesty and fiery at first, it becomes suave and velvety in the drydown. All of its stages are equally interesting, and this is one of the reasons I enjoy this perfume. That it makes me dream of carved boxes, old movies, and lilies in Renaissance paintings is another reason.
Tom Ford Private Blend Atelier d’Orient Shanghai Lily (Eau de Parfum) includes notes of bitter orange, clove, pepper, jasmine, rose, vetiver, guaiacwood, amber, benzoin, castoreum, frankincense, and vanilla. The price is the least appealing aspect of this perfume–50ml will set you back $210.
Image: Anna May Wong.