Although it’s a bold assertion, there is truth in the thinking that there isn’t anything Tom Ford can’t turn his stylish hand to, be it fashion, films or, in this case, colognes.
While many designers have successfully established a presence in the world of scents – Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Dior among them – few have had the same impact in such a short space of time as the designer-turned-director-turned-all-round-modern-Renaissance-Man.
Far from a flash-, or rather a splash-, in-the-pan, Tom Ford’s fragrance collection is as impeccably edited as his own wardrobe, not to mention equally sharp, uncompromising and luxurious.
The History Of Tom Ford Fragrances
The first fragrance under the Tom Ford umbrella came in 2006, with the launch of Black Orchid – a scent that was aimed at women, but whose customers grew to be 30 per cent men. A little over 10 years on, the immaculately-dressed Texan now has over 40 individual, predominantly genderless, eau de parfums to his name.
Many were surprised that fragrance was one of Ford’s first proper solo ventures (his first menswear collection didn’t come until a year later, in 2007), but it turned out to be an inspired move and one that revealed his genuine love of the art form. He even once admitted during an interview that he believes cologne to be more important than clothes.
Much of the success of his bestselling scents like Black Orchid, Noir and Oud Wood comes down to their sheer quality. “They’re distinctive, powerful and made to last,” says Marcus Jay, author of The Chic Geek’s: Fashion, Grooming and Style Guide for Men.
The fact that Tom Ford has never been afraid to play with unexpected combinations is important, too, whether that’s teaming raspberry with leather for Tuscan Leather, or smoky oud wood with a salty sea accord, as he did for Oud Minérale.
“As well as a common sense of opulence and richness, there’s a boldness to all his fragrances,” says Josephine Fairley, an award-winning journalist and co-founder of The Perfume Society. “There’s not a shrinking violet amongst them.”
The key ingredient in these fragrances, however, isn’t vetiver or vanilla, it’s Tom Ford’s own designer DNA. “He’s the absolute master of seduction and really understands the attraction and sex appeal of fragrance,” says Jaye.
The 56-year-old’s legendary perfectionism and eye for detail, meanwhile, ensures quality control. “It’s well known in the industry that he is incredibly hands-on with the development of his colognes, and I think that shows,” says Fairley. “At the end of the day, that’s why they’re considered ‘cool in a bottle’ and why Tom Ford isn’t just a style icon but a ‘scent icon’, too.”
In an effort to cater to both luxury fragrance connoisseurs and casual buyers (not to mention all pocket depths), Tom Ford’s fragrances are split into two distinct ranges: a premium Private Blend collection and a more accessible Signature line, in addition to several mini-groups within them.
Luxurious and experimental, Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection launched in 2007 and, in the designer’s own words, is his very own “personal scent laboratory”, where he can create original fragrances that are unconstrained by the conventions of mainstream scent-making.
“These fragrances are a little edgier, a little more challenging and generally more thought-provoking,” says Fairley. “Each fragrance begins with the extract from a single note such as amber, tobacco, black violet, leather or gardenia.”
If the Private Blend collection is a laboratory for Tom Ford’s wilder olfactory experiments, then his Signature collection is where the most successful of those experiments are honed and presented to the wider market.
Although more affordable than Private Blend colognes, fragrances like Tom Ford Extreme, Velvet Orchid and Grey Vetiver still have the integrity and complexity of their higher-priced counterparts. “Regardless of the collection, Tom Ford’s taste in fragrance is really good,” says Nick Gilbert from perfume consultancy firm Olfiction. “Every fragrance is well-constructed and perfectly polished.”
Bound by a common, evening-appropriate sensuality, the Noir collection currently features four key colognes: Noir, Noir Eau de Toilette, Noir Extreme and Noir Anthracite. Unusually, given that they share a name, these fragrances are distant cousins rather than brothers, with each one a different composition bearing little relation to each other.
The original Noir released in 2012 is warm and powdery, while the eau de toilette version is lighter and more citrusy. Noir Extreme is sweet, spicy and cakey, while the most recent, Noir Anthracite, is smoky and woody. To confuse things further, there’s also Noir de Noir – an earthy, spicy, rose fragrance that falls under the Private Blend collection.
Like Doctor Who, Tom Ford’s take on the classic eau de cologne, Neroli Portofino, exists in many incarnations and everyone has their favourite.
Neroli Portofino Acqua has a bitter, almost sporty edge, while Fleur de Portofino is more honeyed and floral. The original, however, should be every fragrance lover’s starting point. Comprising citrus fruits and aromatic herbs, it’s one of the best summer scents available and ideal for guys who like their colognes light, fresh and unobtrusive.
“The number of Tom Ford fragrances now available has expanded massively, but it’s the woods and oud fragrances that men most associate with him,” says Jaye.
Oud Wood, the star of the collection, has become so successful that it’s one of the few Ford colognes to boast its own ancillaries, including a body moisturiser, shower gel and beard oil. Also worth a sniff are Tobacco Oud (spicier and, as the name suggests, with a tobacco edge), Oud Fleur (floral, with plenty of rose) and the shouldn’t-work-but-does Oud Minérale, which combines the smoky wood with a salty marine accord.
The 10 Best Tom Ford Colognes
Patchouli has long been a mainstay of men’s fragrances thanks to its earthy aroma, but Tom Ford’s Private Blend interpretation rounds things out with touches of amber, musk and leather, so you don’t smell like someone who’s just attended Woodstock.
“Like all of Ford’s fragrances, Patchouli Absolu is essentially genderless, but it smells particularly good on a man’s skin,” says Fairley. “On a woman, the creamy, suede-like notes emerge, but when men wear it, it’s the woodsiness that comes out.”
With inspiration taken from the sparkling blue waters, cool breezes and lush foliage of the Mediterranean, it’s little wonder Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino has become one of the designer’s best-selling creations.
A wonderfully fresh blend of Sicilian lemon, neroli, bergamot, lavender and amber, the scent’s emphasis on uplifting citrus notes means it’s the perfect pick-me-up for travel, sport or those disappointing summer days when all you see are clouds. Think of it as sunshine in a bottle.
Built around a whopping big violet floral note, this fragrance from 2012 starts off smelling powdery and spicy, owing to a combination of iris and black pepper, before maturing on the skin into something warm and creamy, thanks to its use of vanilla and amber.
As well as offering good longevity on the skin, the notes in Tom Ford Noir add up to an evening scent that’s worth having in any fragrance collection.
“The original Black Orchid was a fragrance marketed at women, but men have fully embraced it,” says Gilbert. And it’s easy to see why with this summer version, which fuses floral notes of tuberose, lily and orchid with pink pepper, vanilla and patchouli.
Borrowing from or sharing fragrances with the fairer sex is nothing new, but it’s fair to say Tom Ford has made it not only acceptable but desirable. “I think that men could embrace any Tom Ford fragrance, but in I’m a particular fan of this one, which smells like a suntan.”
One of the standout colognes from the Private Blend Collection, Oud Wood takes one of perfumery’s most recognisable, yet polarising, ingredients – oud – and makes it accessible to all.
Exotic and sensual without being overly rich or strong, its smokiness is tempered by citrus notes, cedarwood and patchouli. “Already something of a classic, Oud Wood is rich, lush and warm – everything you want from a men’s fragrance,” says Jaye.
Warm, spicy and, thanks to a huge dose of incense, Bois Morocain was originally launched in 2009 before vanishing off shelves only to reappear for a second shot at success in 2017.
With cypress, cedar and thuya (a wood found in Morocco), it smells like a cross between a hot, dry sauna and an old church pew. Quirky and demanding rather than straightforwardly appealing, but well worth a go.
Based around one of Tom Ford’s favourite notes, this contemporary interpretation of a classic vetiver cologne benefits from a tart, fresh, citrusy opening, which means it works just as well during the daytime as it does in the evening.
“I absolutely love Grey Vetiver,” says Gilbert. “It’s zingy, clean, perfectly woodsy and very well-balanced.”
Loved by both men and women, Tom Ford’s punchy take on a traditional leather fragrance oozes sensuality with notes of saffron, black pepper, jasmine, tobacco and amber wood.
But it’s the unexpected addition of raspberry – a move that takes it in an unexpected direction and one that’s very ‘Tom Ford’ – that prevents Tuscan Leather from being just another animalic number. It’s potent stuff though, so be careful not to overspray.
Tom Ford For Men
Already 10 years old (which practically makes it a modern classic) this woody, spicy signature cologne is everything a Tom Ford fragrance should be – sensual, heady and complex – but comes at a price most fans can afford.
The twist comes with the addition of Moroccan grapefruit flower – a precious ingredient hand-harvested from blossoms just three weeks a year – to top notes of ginger, tobacco leaf and bergamot.
Released at the end of 2017, this deliciously creamy, almost edible blend of almond oil, tonka bean and clary sage provoked the kind of publicity most brands can only dream of.
“The fragrance isn’t as quite as fabulous as the name suggests,” says Jaye, “but it’s worth wearing just so you can say ‘Fucking Fabulous’ when somebody asks what scent you have on.” Somehow, we suspect nobody would love the reaction you’ll get more than Tom Ford himself.