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.
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.