Tom Ford Sahara Noir ~ fragrance review

Tom Ford Sahara Noir advert

Tom Ford just launched the latest fragrance in the Tom Ford Signature line — Sahara Noir. Judging from my recent experiences with Tom Ford perfumes, and the looks of Sahara Noir’s ingredients list*, I got more, and less, than I bargained for.

First, the “more.” Sahara Noir is a high-quality fragrance, easily besting recent Private Blend offerings. Sahara Noir goes on skin smelling of smoky (frank) incense, with sweet (but faint) undertones of cedar/cypress, cistus labdanum and cinnamon. Sahara Noir is a dense perfume, conjuring closed spaces, almost airless, where odors “congregate” and abide (think: tiny chapels or temples, saturated with incense smoke and candle soot). If you love incense-wood fragrances do try it, especially if your tastes run to “stark”/simple incense perfumes.

The "less"? Sahara Noir is not an unusual scent (incense perfumes abound) but what I found 'sad' about Sahara Noir was its simplicity given the listed fragrance notes. On skin, what you get is hours of smoky frankincense and not much else. At Nordstrom, when Sahara Noir was sprayed on a thick paper card for me to try, I got excited; I thought: “This smells like a Private Blend scent should smell — complex and rich.” When I got around to wearing the perfume, I was shocked that all the interesting moments I had smelled on the paper card were not noticeable on skin. Days after wearing Sahara Noir, I noticed how delicious my shirt smelled — the shirt I had worn when sampling the perfume. My shirt smelled so good I didn’t want it laundered.

On paper and cloth, Sahara Noir’s non-incense notes peek out and lighten the perfume’s character, the fragrance is brighter, sheerer, more buoyant: I smell zingy citrus, a note I would describe as “smoked plum” — nice! — and a sweet rose syrup note that’s accompanied by hazy jasmine, some "nutty" musk in the base. Why couldn’t the perfumer(s) make this complexity work on skin? (I tried Sahara Noir on two other people and, even sprayed lightly, the perfume on skin was frankincense, pure and simple.) If that’s enough for you to enjoy, fine, but I don’t have the time, or inclination, to spray my shirts with Sahara Noir a day or two before wearing them to bring out what I like most about the perfume.

Tom Ford Sahara Noir flacon

Sahara Noir is like an intriguing person, but one who shines and sparkles only under certain circumstances — perhaps in private, with only a few intimates as “witnesses.” I think a Sahara Gris version is in order: delete a good portion of Sahara Noir’s bombastic frankincense and let some of the other ingredients speak.

Tom Ford Sahara Noir Eau de Parfum is $150 for 50 ml.

*bitter orange, frankincense, cistus labdanum, calamus, cypress, cinnamon, papyrus, jasmine, rose, beeswax, amber, benzoin, vanilla, cedar, agarwood and Peru balsam.

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31 Comments

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  1. shifts says:

    I’ve tried this on paper only – and found it to be amazing. There was good oud vibe going too, which I hardly see any one mentioning. then I started to read more and more reviews and almost all talked about Sahara Noir as a straight forward frankincense fragrance. I didn’t recognise that at all.

    Maybe this one is a fragrance to be used in clothes more than skin and why not really?

    • Kevin says:

      Shifts: staining? Ha!

      • shifts says:

        I’m usually wearing clothes on the dark side of the monochrome scale. ^_^

    • JolieFleurs says:

      I think this is a really good point; don’t they perfume their clothes as much skin in this part of the world? And I believe Arabs will walk through clouds of incense for this very purpose, to scent their garments.

      I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of a perfume specifically for clothing…

      • Kevin says:

        Jolie: I would be interested too. But SURELY most major perfume brands test their juice on fabric to make sure it does not stain? Curious about that….

  2. Jared says:

    Given the good buzz about this one I was excited to smell it, and the first few moments were quite delightful (I love incense). But I felt it quickly turned thin and boring – an over-priced perfume that is found lacking compared to others in the genre. I return to Sonoma Scent Studio’s Incense Pure if I want something like this – a masterful incense at a fraction of the cost.

    • Kevin says:

      Jared: this is costly for sure…

  3. daruma says:

    I found the lasting power on the skin disappointing. Also it’s so similar (yet inferior) to Black Cashmere that I really don’t feel the need for it.

    • Kevin says:

      Daruma…the people I asked to test it also said it went away on their skin in about three-four hours. I power sprayed…which I feared was a MAJOR mistake…but the perfume calmed after the first hour.

  4. djron91 says:

    This is more proof that I have strange skin chemistry.. on me it wears as the opposite of Amber Absolute – incense with amber instead of vice versa. Some times I get more woods – other times more grass.

    It is definitely better than the recent Private Blends – and for a mainstream fragrance its good – but it shows that you have to test everything on skin – and not just go by what the card does.

    • Kevin says:

      djron91: true, wish that SAs in stores knew this! I see so many people buying perfume based on spraying it on a card. Crazy.

  5. egabbert says:

    I’ve had this experience with 3 or 4 fragrances in the past year — FB-worthy on paper, then kind of lackluster on skin. It’s like perfumers are engineering the fragrance for the blotter experience and spending less time on re-creating that effect on actual humans. Disappointing.

    I have only smelled this one on paper so far, and I agree it was great that way — reminiscent of a Tauer-style incense.

    • Kevin says:

      Egabbert: wonder what happened to all those focus-group guinea pigs? THEY need to test perfume…but it’s less expensive to test on paper for sure

  6. plume says:

    One of the best Tom Ford’s out there. Don’t overlook this incredible and opulent incense fragrance. It is the yin to Jubilation XXV’s yang. Essential for my collection.

  7. naomi77 says:

    Bah! This is disappointing to hear as I adored it on the blotter!

    I smelled it from the cap and on a blotter this past weekend. I have not been able to start thinking about it. The smell is complex and fascinating. I had planned on going back to try on my skin to see if it suited me. Now I’m going to have to lower my expectations!

    • Kevin says:

      naomi: I have saved so much gasoline by just going ahead and testing on skin from the first spritz (no return visits necessary) . I know you have to plan your excursions carefully for this…and have a great memory for where you spritzed what, but I rarely just sniff on a blotter anymore.

  8. jen says:

    does anyone know if this will be sold at Sephora? I don’t have a Nordstom near me!

    • Kevin says:

      Jen: I haven’t seen any Tom Fords at Sephora but you could check the website.

  9. sinnerman says:

    This was my first experience with a perfume that smelt and performed differently from paper to skin! Baffling :(
    On paper it was pungent and faceted , on skin it was on par with holy smoke by Demeter , I agree with your assessment Kevin.
    It’s a shame, it should have been better ! I wonder how it is selling here in Australia? And whom is buying M/F?
    I do like the bottle a lot , I’m not paying that much for it thou! WAY over priced.

    • Kevin says:

      Sinnerman: the guy at the Tom Ford counter here in Seattle said lots of men were buying it, but called them “hard core Tom Ford fans who buy it all.” I like the bottles too.

  10. I liked it a lot, BUT I totally agree with you, it’s ALL about the frank, and nothing more. I’ll stick to my beloved Amber Absolute ;)

    • Kevin says:

      C: why doesn’t TF do something to please me? HA! Like reissue Purple Patchouli???????

      • Omega says:

        OMGosh, this! I just got to try Purple Patch and loved it! It’s unique and good! Agree!

  11. anngd says:

    Thanks, Kevin! Tried it this weekend. The SA at Saks suggested it, (bought Violet Blond, a long journey), and I loved SN on paper. Was unwilling to mix scents and skipped the wrist test.

    Re: VB – cannot wear it every day but love it. Still need a summer frag, neroli – maybe the new PdN. Any thoughts on TF Neroli beyond the reviews? Seemed too linear on paper. And so pricey.

    IMO if you want an incense scent with edge go for POTL Luctor et Emergo. Love it.

    May have to go back and try the skin test for Sahara Noir.

    VB is, as Robin and others have observed, loud but well done. Sahara Noir seemed to be in that style but perhaps more one dimensional.

    • Kevin says:

      Anngd: the Neroli Portofino is nice…but for what it is, waaaay overpriced. You’ll have no problem finding a fabulous summer cologne at a better price. Or, get Chanel Pour Monsieur!

  12. nozknoz says:

    I used to coordinate some of my outfits to specific perfumes so that the scent left on the clothing would work. TF should throw in a GWP scarf!

    • Kevin says:

      Noz: yep…in black? or maybe a rich brown-red color….

  13. Joe says:

    Interesting review, Kevin. So many in perfume communities seem to be raving (or at least fairly positive) about Sahara Noir. However, I’m not in the mood for incense at this time of year and it hasn’t excited any strong desires in me to try it. Your review (and noting the price) had made my curiosity dip even further. Sure, I’ll sample (on SKIN) if I stumble across it, but until then, I’ll just observe all the buzz from my vantage.

    • Kevin says:

      Joe…I pull back on heavy-duty incense in summer too…even in cool Seattle. I envy your vantage; I’m missing California!

  14. saragozausedto says:

    Its super sweet! I love it!

  15. patuxxa says:

    I tried this recently on a trip to London and while I initially liked it very much, after a few seconds I realized the scent was incredibly familiar. As someone mentioned above, it’s very close to Black Cashmere and maybe even more to CdG’s Incense Series, Jaisalmer. I actually saved a blotter to try a comparison once I get home.

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