So when I reviewed Tom Ford Violet Blonde last month, I said that I may be nearly alone among perfumistas in preferring Tom Ford’s Signature Collection to the Private Blends. I like Oud Wood, but I like Yves Saint Laurent M7 better, and I've never been more than lukewarm about the rest of them. If anything, my interest in the collection has decreased over the years, and it pretty much hit rock bottom with the release of the White Musk collection.
The Signature Collection fragrances strike me as generally better thought out and better executed — Tom Ford tends, in general, towards loud, but the polished elegance of the Signature Collection stands in stark contrast to the blunt force of some of the Private Blend scents, especially the early ones (I still remember wondering, when I first smelled the Private Blends, if some of them weren’t maybe unfinished mods for Black Orchid). The three Signature fragrances fit together nicely; they don’t smell the same but they have a similar style, and as such they lend a sense of cohesiveness to the Tom Ford Beauty line that is notably missing from most mainstream designer perfume houses.
The Private Blends, on the other hand, seem like a mishmash. There are the brash ones, as mentioned above. There are several nice but relatively plain summer-y citruses — and mind you, the collection as a whole strikes me as overpriced, but $195 for 50 ml of summer citrus (even a gorgeous one) strikes me as some serious aspirational pricing. Then there are the four White Musk scents, which likewise seem ludicrously priced given that clean and inoffensive is pretty easy to come by for a fraction of the cost.
And now we have the latest two, Jasmin Rouge and Santal Blush. They tend towards the lighter side, so much so that for a brief second smelling them on paper I thought they might belong with the White Musks — but no, they're not as bland as all that. Still, I had virtually no emotional reaction whatsoever to Jasmin Rouge, although it's pretty enough; it's now languishing in my purgatory basket. Santal Blush I liked right away, although weeks later I'm still not sure exactly how much I like it, or perhaps a better way to put it is that I'm not at all sure that I need it — a moot point, since I'm not likely to cough up $200 for it in any case.
But I do like it, and I like it more after multiple wearings. It's a dry sandalwood lightly decorated with Indian spices (cumin-o-phobes: it is noticeable on me, but not a sweat-fest. Your mileage may vary). For a minute or two after it hits skin, Santal Blush is strong and fruity, but it settles quickly into something soft and nearly sheer, more milky than creamy, with a darkish, almost-leathery (but still clean) undertone. The flowers soften the wood without being assertive; it's being marketed as unisex but it probably tips the scales a hair towards masculine.
I've seen it compared to quite a few sandalwood fragrances, but I do think Victoria at Bois de Jasmin comes closest to the mark; she calls it "an elegant twist on the woody theme reminiscent of Diptyque Tam Dao". As implied by the 'elegant twist', Santal Blush is more sophisticated than my dear old friend Tam Dao, and not as raw (or as meditative).
Verdict: Santal Blush joins Oud Wood in the short list of Private Collection fragrances that I like. It also joins the ever-expanding list of niche fragrances that I would have trouble resisting if they'd kept the price under $100. I am sorry it costs so much, but I don't think I'm going to lose any sleep over it. Time will tell.
Tom Ford Santal Blush was developed by perfumer Yann Vasnier; notes include sandalwood, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, carrot seed, jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, benzoin, agarbois (Givaudan captive molecule) and musk. It is available in 50 ($195) or 250 ($475) ml Eau de Parfum. The lasting power is quite good.