Black Orchid Eau de Parfum by Tom Ford Review
On me, Black Orchid has an absolutely bizarre, disjointed opening of many disparate fresh and fruity notes. It dries down to a pleasant-yet-banal chocolate cake sweet amber scent. There’s a certain staid mustiness about it, confident and mature. It is an interesting and complex composition, and it seems to be attempting some grand artistic vision, but I just don’t get some unified complex painting here.
The drydown is a nice department-store-perfume-counter gourmand, and I wonder whether this is the thing most people enjoy most about it, as it’s evident that enough people enjoy Tom Ford’s Black Orchid to make it near-ubiquitous. To those that love it for its sweetness, I say: there are cheaper and better chocolate cake scents out there (like Solstice Scents’ Black Forest Cake).
Of the others, I ask: what is the opening of Black Orchid trying to be?
Taking a whiff of the vial, my first impression of Black Orchid is a cherry or some other fruit in liquor wrapped in fine silky chocolate. There’s something warm and earthy, something spicy about the chocolate. But it’s not anything photorealistic: this is faux chocolate, chocolate flavoring, some concoction of warm, earthy sugar and molasses playing pretend, like a taffy or chewy candy flavored to suggest chocolate. Think Tootsie Rolls rather than Ghiradelli.
On skin, this cherry in chocolate persists for just an instant before an unexpected blast of calones blooms on my skin. At first it feels like artificial watermelon bubblegum flavor. Then it morphs to some sort of cucumber and abstract, generalized melon.
Inexplicably, the warmth, spiciness, and faintest earthiness of the faux chocolate flee to the background, and this unexpected display of unbelievably fresh, aquatic fruity notes takes center stage for the first two hours of Black Orchid on me.
I wasn’t remotely expecting this. I’ve only seen one other person referencing something like cucumber and melon in here. I’m guessing these are the ambiguous fruity notes.
On me, it’s overpowering, far more dominant than any chocolate, warmth, or spice, for the entire opening of the fragrance. This makes me so surprised not to see some cool, fresh, or aquatic accord listed in the top accords.
Perhaps my skin is simply amplifying some subtle hint of fruity calones, but, on me, it’s unmistakable: Black Orchid is a fresh, blue-and-green aquatic melon scent for the duration of the opening.
Underneath the fresh cucumber melon, I can still faintly sense the warm spicy chocolate-esque background, as well as some musk and a bit of scratchy, earthy patchouli in the base. These add some dimension and interest to the unrealistic but not one-dimensional illusion of chocolate, which is welcome. I’d much rather smell a multi-dimensional opus inspired by something like chocolate than the one-dimensional too-sweet chocolate-room-spray note I find in the late drydown of Guerlain’s Shalimar.
Regardless, all this is firmly in the background, with the fresh calone fruits front and center. It’s an odd and interesting combination, having fresh aquatic and warm spicy heavy scents interplay like this. I don’t find any intentional clever twists in here, but it’s an unusual and slightly bizarre combination of scents, and credit for originality is certainly due.
At some point in this phase, I had the passing thought that this could be made more interesting and strange by the addition of mint. Perhaps Tom Ford will come out with a limited winter holiday edition.
After the first two hours pass, some semblance of balance starts to return. The fruity notes are no longer a bright, aquatic, squeaky-clean scent reminiscent of an Olivia Giacobetti creation — well, actually, they are, but perhaps a different one than before. At first, the fresh cucumber of Frederic Malle’s En Passant was the fruit that this calone-y phase reminded me of, but now it’s gotten a little less aquatic, though still quite clean, and reminds me of the sweet-yet-sappy fig of Diptyque’s Philosykos.
Something like plum lounges in the background, blending into that hint of warmth, spice, and faintest earthiness suggesting chocolate. There’s nothing particularly like black currant anywhere in Black Orchid to me — but then, I grow black currants and can be picky about the realism of these notes. I can imagine some aroma molecule inspired by black currants adds a dimension to the cool, fresh fruity notes of the opening. By the middle of the fragrance, those cool fruity notes are slowly fading away, being replaced by the warmer purple shapes of plums and jammy figs.
Perhaps the tiniest hint of citruses, bergamot and lemon, pairs some freshness with the sweet earthy backdrop of unconvincing-but-pleasant-enough chocolate, keeping it from getting too heavy. On me, however, the citruses are rather faint, an afterthought of a sparkle on the edge of the fruity-fresh accord.
At this point in the fragrance, I become aware of the florals. At first, I have to sniff deeply for them: they make up a lilting, slightly indolic dimension of the sweet faux-chocolate, and connect this to the squeaky-clean fruit.
At first, I think orange blossom for second, and then realize it’s gardenia and jasmine. It’s a pretty white floral accord, if it does feel a bit odd and out of place — but then, everything in Black Orchid does. It sings with just a hint of white floral indoles, which float elegantly into the space of the chocolate accord.
The jasmine is a standard, rather unremarkable lurking white floral note filling the space in the middle of the fragrance. The gardenia is cool and fresh, blending well with the cool calone fruity notes. It’s bold and creamy, with just the faintest hint of green zest. Perhaps a hint of ylang-ylang hides at the edges of the jasmine, lending it just a hint more yellow zest.
I don’t smell what I’d definitively call lotus here. Perhaps what Tom Ford calls lotus here makes up the general fresh aquatic calone accord pumping the fruity phase of Black Orchid full of cucumber-melon-bubblegum smells. It’s not like the delicate lotus flower of Hermès‘ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, which feels oh-so-slightly aquatic in the spaces between its petals but maintains a light-watercolor-pink floral shape, airy and diluted and slightly herbaceous. No, what I get here is a wallop of aquatic fresh calone notes that might well be masquerading as lotus in the note pyramid, but on me it comes across as cool cucumber-melon lotion.
It is at this point that the chocolate starts to feel a tiny bit more real, and I become increasingly aware of some small trail of incense, something like a sweet stick of balsam of Peru, along with an increasingly apparent dose of sweet vanilla in the distance. Black Orchid becomes warmer and sweeter, more like the chocolate cake in Solstice Scents’ Black Forest.
Do I smell that famed truffle note? I don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with truffles to say. Perhaps it adds a tiny hint of earthiness or unctuousness to the composition, or perhaps it was that special sparkle of particular warmth in the first few seconds that I interpreted as liquor. Wherever it is, it doesn’t stand out to me as something prominent here.
In general, earthiness is not as prominent as I had hoped: it is reduced to a scratch of herbal patchouli in the background, and the slightest ambiguous groundedness in the chocolate, which may or may not be truffle. Both of these are most apparent to me faintly in the first few hours, after which the fragrance gets increasingly sweet and the earthiness increasingly negligible.
Black Orchid never becomes a realistic chocolate. It does become a progressively more tasty, sweet, cake-like experience. By three hours in, Black Orchid is almost entirely chocolate cake, enriched with vanilla and a hint of spice. Occasionally, I get a little whiff of warm florals or cool fruits, but, by and large, it’s chocolate cake all the way down.
At this point, I asked a friend what she thought. She took a whiff and remarked, “I like it! It’s like a department store but like in a good way. Like when you’re seven at the apartment store and it’s Christmas.” It really is a department store sort of scent, but it’s not perfume-y in some headachey overwhelming way. It’s department store comfort. Fruit chocolate holiday treat smells abound. A display of fruity-fresh shampoo is visible off in the distance. Everything smells clean and bright, polite and sweet and jolly.
Overall, Black Orchid takes a strange journey over the course of some ten hours, taking several detours I wasn’t expecting before suddenly sobering up and settling down into a sweet, semi-gourmand, chocolate-cake-like scent. In the last few hours, Black Orchid is little more than a sweet, vanilla-forward, faintly gourmand skin scent.
The earthiness of what might be the truffle provides just a touch of grounded texture, which is more prominent in cold weather. I wouldn’t call any part of Black Orchid especially earthy, however. The truffle texture is a tiny background detail on me, with the chocolate cake front and center. This phase of Black Orchid is pleasant enough: not overwhelming, not interesting, and not particularly unique. It’s the wafting scent of a slice of sweet chocolate cake.
In the final hours, the authentic cake begins to fade away, and the chocolate is left deconstructed into its constituent parts. A touch of sandalwood, with its warm spicy woody texture, is evident towards the very end, along with plenty of vanilla, amber, and musk, as well as the hint of incense-borne sweetness I suspect is balsam of Peru.
The spices are a nondescript, vaguely cinnamon-y mix, as notes merely called “spices” so often are. Some of this is doubtless the cinnamon-y dimension of the sandalwood, with an additional dose of background warm spice. The chocolate accord never leaves entirely, but it does decompose and fade gently into the background of the remaining amber skin scent.
Is anything about it black? Not particularly. The chocolate suggestion here is that of a baked good, perhaps a black forest cake at one point, which would be the only black thing about Black Orchid. It isn’t particularly dark, moody, broody, rebellious, angsty, mysterious, or seductive. It’s just a chocolate cake sort of scent with several odd other arcs happening in the first few hours.
Is anything about it orchid? Well, there’s certainly vanilla in here, although I don’t know that anything about it makes it particularly vanilla-orchid-like. Orchid is generally a fantasy note anyway, so I wasn’t expecting anything particularly literal here.
Figuratively speaking, is anything here like a blooming orchid? Delicate and rare, brightly colored, fragile and small, curious and alien in shape, reminiscent of particular human anatomy? Not really. Black Orchid isn’t particularly beautiful, bright, intricate, sexual, finnicky, or strange.
What is Black Orchid, then? An odd, eclectic mature scent in the first few hours, and then a sweet slice of chocolate cake in the drydown. The first two hours are extraordinarily strange to me, with the cool calone-y melon and cucumber transitioning to something like fig. The scratchy patchouli and musk in the opening are conventional enough but feel a bit shoehorned into this composition. The backing of slightly warm spicy faux chocolate that gets sweeter and more realistic with time makes the whole picture all the more disjointed and strange.
It’s certainly creative, but it doesn’t feel cohesive to me, and I’m not sure what the grand vision of it all is. This is a rather complex composition, but it feels like a mix of some disjointed different ideas and smells, which all eventually fade out to the gourmand chocolate cake base.
I don’t think I understand Black Orchid. I find its drydown moderately enjoyable, though without complexity or much of interest. The entangled chocolate-sweet and calone-fresh accords of the opening befuddle me. I might revisit this again later, but, for now, I’ll leave Black Orchid to the people who seem to understand what perfumers David Apel and Pierre Negrin were going for.
Where to Find Black Orchid Eau de Parfum by Tom Ford
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