Elisa on Tom Ford Noir Extreme and olfactory desserts for men (and not only).
First there was Thierry Mugler Angel, widely credited with creating both the gourmand and “fruitchouli” categories; perfumer Olivier Cresp poured ethylmaltol – the smell of burnt sugar – into a patchouli-heavy oriental base, starting a craze for caramel in perfume that hasn’t much slowed in 20 years. Then came Angel’s counterpart A*Men, also released in 1996, making the world safe for gourmands for men. A*Men smelled shockingly like mint chocolate chip ice cream, but retained its masculinity thanks to lavender and plenty of that same earthy, mothball-like patchouli seen in Angel.
Since its release, it has spawned plenty of variations. In addition to all the A*Men flankers (including my favorite, A*Men Pure Malt), other gourmand-friendly lines like Hanae Mori and Viktor & Rolf have offered up sweet scents for men. Take HM (1997), a crazy but appealing mix of candy notes, lavender and lemon. Later, in 2000, came Lolita Lempicka au Masculin, a delicious licorice fougère. And the release of Spicebomb in 2012, with all its smoky, leathery tobacco goodness, felt like a masculine gourmand revival.
Tom Ford Noir Extreme is the latest dessert scent to hit the men’s shelves. It’s supposedly based on the idea of kulfi – an ice cream–like frozen dessert from India usually flavored with pistachio, rosewater, and spices like saffron and cardamom. Noir Extreme is not really as exotic as all that, but the overall impression is definitely gourmand. I don’t notice the particular character of pistachio so much as almond and tonka bean, with its hay or tobacco-like undertone. These combine with a little spice (I detect cinnamon) and a lot of balsams and end up smelling like a Coke float, or some kind of bastardized affogato – American coffee poured over Ben & Jerry’s. Fun!
But lurking behind this sweet, creamy, nutty mix – at first, you notice it most from a distance – is a surprising hit of menthol. Menthol as in Newport cigarettes, as in Vick’s VapoRub. This frosty, medicinal edge works like the patchouli in A*Men to say “Not so fast, you can’t eat me!” (It even made my arm feel cold.) With time, the foody effect wears off, and you’re left with an amber that is both lactonic and bracingly camphoraceous.
You can probably tell I was instantly fond of Noir Extreme, but it does have its drawbacks (I mean, aside from the name having nothing to do with anything; this perfume is not noir). The dissonance of the top notes doesn’t last very long, so you feel rushed along to the drydown. And while I like that drydown a lot, it’s not as rich and layered as my favorite gourmands pour homme – or the original Noir, for that matter. So this isn’t a rush-out-and-buy-now situation, but it did make me smile!
Tom Ford Noir Extreme includes notes of mandarin, saffron, nutmeg, cardamom, neroli, kulfi, mastic, rose, jasmine, orange blossom, amber, sandalwood, and vanilla. Available at major department stores.