Monday, April 11, 2011

Tom Ford Private Blend Japon Noir: fragrance review

The sexual ambiguity that surrounds Japon Noir , part of the exclusive & rather expensive Tom Ford Private Blend line, is reminiscent of Helmut Newton's photographs of androgyne figures, as if shot in midnight purple hues. There is an element of danger in it, like in the best of woody orientals or darkest leathery chypres; iron fists left out in the rain to rust slowly and booze & smoke smelt on the breath of muscle-for-hire. Unique and polarizingly perplexing, Japon Noir's enigmatic impression on me was palpable from the moment I first put it on my skin and brought its air of inkiness home to my significant other.

The inclusion of inky notes in Japon Noir points to a purposeful refinement, akin to the meticulous care of Japanese calligraphy on thick scrolls; much like the name would suggest. But that is not all, and this is its success: The ambery-patchouli mix suggests a sleek sensuality that hints at more carnal past-times. Indeed Japon Noir starts with a suave introduction that reminds one of sweeter ambery orientals while the fusion of spice and candied fruit notes is instant Lutensiana: the inspiration couldn't be far behind, surely. The inclusion of cumin, ginger, nutmeg and thyme is especially simpatico to those of a Moorish-loving sensibility. Although cumin isn't particularly "sweaty" in this one, body-odour-phobics are still advised to test it further before investing in a bottle; we all perceive levels of "dirtiness" differently and your threshold might be higher or lower than mine.

What makes Japon Noir unique is that those sweeter elements with the rather feminized jasmine heart, instead of petering out into a milky sandalwood impression, like in the best oriental tradition (Samsara, Obsession, Amouage Dia), raise themselves a notch into a wilder arpeggio, with the pungent warmth of leather and smoky-powdery incense (Incense in the eastern temple style like in Kyoto and possibly Ouazarzate, although in Japon Noir the combustion happening has a gasoline-like, synthetic impression). The base notes are not completely unlike the common leitmotif in many of the Private Blend fragrances, but Japon Noir stands alone in the combination and textural treatment of notes. In many ways a fragrance for connoisseurs, its individualistic streak makes it one to at least admire, if not outright love.

Japon Noir is advertised as a shared fragrance, pegged as a mossy-woods composition (according to the Michael Edwards taxonomy, corresponding roughly to the traditional chypre category). Yet my own classification would be someplace between woody oriental and leather chypre; a renegade in search of solace.

Notes for Tom Ford Private Blend Japon Noir
Patchouli, Vetiver, Amber, Jasmine, Porto, Leather, Spicy Note

The Tom Ford Private Blend line is available at select doors, such as Neiman Marcus and Harrods, but Japon Noir is reportedly discontinued as of January 2011 (like Moss Breches, Velvet Gardenia and Bois Rouge, other unique fragrances in the line-up, before it); which is an abject shame, but there you have it! (According to Tom Ford's interview on WWD in 2007, that was the plan all along: chop off a couple to make room for more every few seasons). If you're a fan, grab the last remaining bottles now.

Photo by Helmut Newton of women kissin, via


  1. this is one of the few TFPBs that I really loved!

  2. Hi there, thanks for stopping by!

    I like it very much myself (do you get the smokiness?), but apparently we're in the minority and it got chopped off :-(

  3. I love smokey paired with leather. Unfortunately my family will shoot me (husband AND daughter) if I wear anything like that! I love Chanel's Cuir de Russie, Knize 10 and many more...(sigh)

    Perhaps I should procure this frag just to have "on file" for "research" purposes!


  4. M,

    tell me about it....why do they always discontinued the ones we like???
    Seriously, it's not like we have such a weirdly wrapped taste.

  5. [I forgot to mention my annoyance of discontinuation above, hence the additional comment]

  6. TFC, The sacrifices we make for them.
    What, not even Cuir de Russie?That's quite floral-rooty in its iris way, I would expect it to be quite acceptable.
    Have you tried Gomma by Etro? It's a light leather done right. Also, Doblis and Diorling are leathers that can withstand harsh critique. But they're extremely hard to lay your hands on :/
    For smoky that can pass through difficult clouds try Passage d'Enfer: it's a light incense with a latheriness in it, quite "clean".

    On another note, I'd say grab what you like when you have the chance and wear it when you have some time alone. Life's too short! ;-)

  7. Thanks for the perfume recommendations, I will be sure to check them out. The Cuir de Russie I was wearing with wild abandon was a bottle purchased in the late 80's, early 90's--so I don't know if the formulation was has since changed. But in any case I absolutely loved it and wore it regularly during the very hot and humid New York City summers, HA! To be young and bold! I can still see my husband's face when I reached for the bottle for "just a touch more"!

    As as side note, I procured (ebay) a little, little bottle of K de Kriza. It was not the color you said it should be, but smells really wonderful nonetheless. When I get a full size I will make sure to get the juice with the right color!

  8. TFC,

    please do!

    I think the new Cuir de Russie is very attenuated. I wonder why more people don't say so. There is a kind of reverence around it and it's still a very nice smell, but the grandeur of what it was is rather lost. The current edt is fleeting and lacks backbone. The parfum is still delish, though. You were lucky to wear the vintage when you did.

    Love that you found some K de Krizia after my recommendation. Isn't it delightful? Very under the radar. But great. I'm glad to hear that your mini kept well despite the change in colour. I wasn't that lucky once with a bottle, but it might have been a one time only thing. If the perfume is boxed, usually it keeps its colour intact.

  9. I haven't tried this one but I must- it sounds like it has character and isn't afraid to be unusual.

    I think the Tom Ford line is getting really interesting now that they've obviously established some strong sellers they are getting more daring

  10. K,

    it's pretty unusual: a sweet smoky, woody oriental, mossy too, you just can't peg it.
    I like they do the dare, I would have hoped they wouldn't chop off some of the unique ones there, but seems like it was in the cards all along.
    At any rate, it's good that they try to come up with good stuff. So much out there doesn't even begin to try.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine