Sometimes I’m silver blonde. Urbane and aloof. Sometimes platinum. Harlow stark. Sometimes I crave the darkening roots and mucky Cobain style peroxide corolla. The thing is the shift and change in mood the colour brings. I catch myself in the mirror occasionally and stare, wondering who the hell I am.
This weird and transformative new take on violet by Mr Ford is barely a violet at all, more a luscious lick of jasmine sambac rolled in a Hollywood glaze of powdered mauve dream. It is an unpredictable blonde and rather magnificent.
Violet Blonde was created for Ford by Antoine Lie at Givaudan. It is enigmatic and mercurial and for me, superior to the latest additions to his over-hyped and underwhelming Private Blend. I must admit their success puzzles me. Some are good. Some are okay. Some are dreadful (Neroli Portofino is a blandly metallic and bloodless attempt to out-citrus Acqua di Parma). Tuscan Leather and Tobacco Vanille are rather arrestingly 70s in execution and body, but the notes have been done better elsewhere: Aramis, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Amouage, Stetson...
The two latest Private Blend offerings, Santal Blush and Jasmin Rouge are a little mediocre. As always, well presented, glossily smug, if a little porny. The whimper of captive jasmine struggling to breathe in Jasmin Rouge amid a cacophony of musks and woods is rather sad. I wanted so much to love the Santal Blush. The name is great (Hi…! My name is Santal Blush, I used to be big in the 80s….) and I love rich creamy sandalwood. But it dies away to a synthetic whisper, like someone shouting for help in the dark and no one comes. A beautiful voice fades to a scratch in the night.
As usual, the campaigns and shine of everything is inextricably linked to the hirsute Texan himself and it’s hard to see past the lacquered Halstonesque vibe Tom Ford loves so much. I have always preferred his mainline scents. I wore Black Orchid to death, long before it became the Giorgio Beverly Hills of our times, sweeping in on crashing waves through every room in every bar, every night, in every town, on any over-tanned, slapped up skin. I loved the mysterious truffly dirt of the perfume, the danger, the transgression of dark plummy florals on masculine skin; all this was killed by relentless ubiquity.
I was a passionate fan of White Patchouli too, Ford’s divisive follow up to Black Orchid. Great hot white plastic smell, freshly turned earth, new copy paper, indoles and spices. Loved it. It had a sweet, nutty drydown, crisp and clean with a tenacity that could stun horses. It didn’t get the recognition it deserved. It had tremendous verve and personality, again, that touch of seventies glam Tom Ford loves so much, the echo of Studio 54. The scent of Bianca Jagger on her white birthday horse. A Helmut Newton woman in a white tux, cigarette ash tumbling onto a wet Parisian street.
His mainline men’s scents have bored me. Nothing particularly original. Both Black Orchid and White Patchouli were awesome on guys, trangressively sexual. Grey Vetiver was dull and insipid. A washed out paper-thin scent with a barely discernable semblance of vetiver. His signature men’s scent was spices, sweat and tobacco by numbers. Only the distilled extracted version came anywhere near originality, but even then it just echoed classic Aramis and Azzaro.
I had no real idea what to expect from Violet Blonde. I was however expecting some violet at least. Since the discovery of ionones (an natural isolate of orris) in 1893, the distinctive powdery, fin de siècle scent of violets has become one of the most widely used effects in aromachemistry. I find the smell of violets haunting and melancholy, a scent of soft gothic suffering. A friend of mine compared experiencing a particular violet fragrance to an imagined sense of drowning; such was the overwhelming sense of sadness she felt on smelling it.
Dramatic perhaps, but violet scents are very particular. There have been some very beautiful interpretations of this complex, challenging note. Creed’s Jackie Kennedy inspired Love in Black was dramatically funereal and strong, with a sugared and reverential tone, violet as survivor in the glare of flashbulbs. Penhaligon’s Violetta is a Grimm’s fairytale flower, nestling deep in the forest, velveteen and boldly romantic. Galliano’s debut fragrance was a portrait of the couture atelier, patisserie notes, steam and violet tinted memories. Guerlain’s divine Après L’Ondeé, a glittering thing of almost near scented translucent perfection. 7 Violette by Prada; art as scent, suffocatingly lovely. Balenciaga’s Paris L’Essence, this years more experimental and greener reworking of 2010’s woody violet Paris, this time more spiritual, the forest as church. The original Dior Fahrenheit, with dangerous levels (14%.....) of viole(n)t aromachemistry, sadly murdered by reformulation. Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel chypre reeked of oakmoss and violet, like lavender coloured tweed. And Lolita Lempicka’s Eau Masculin, aniseed and violet, man candy and floral ambiguity.
So my love of violets is complicated and unpredictable. I have a volatile relationship to the molecules and can quite as easily walk away as wear them for months. Violet Blonde opens with violence, an incredible blast of shimmering aircraft fuel. A quite amazing intensity and urgency of violet leaf absolute that completely threw me. It rolled off my wrist and throat like mauve tinted flames. This massive dose of kid glove soft absolutes was a total rush. Then the powder, the rounding, the edges falling away to reveal a fabulous Ellnett halo of iris and Tuscan orris. The luxury texture of the ingredients is evident in the melting way Violet Blonde drops onto the skin. The violet note deepens and darkens like a stain, as a beautifully rendered jasmine sambac note opens and unfurls its indolic wings. It is this slow moving erotic play of jasmine and violet wrapped in creamy benzoin and cedar wood that makes the fragrance so special. The leather/suede accord lies over the notes like varnish, lightening the tones, deepening the shadows, lifting the highlights. When you pull back a little the overall effect moves into shimmering focus, while the details retain a moving clarity.
The androgyny of Ford’s female scents is striking. I love the jasmine blond glistening beneath the platinum violet. Suggestive of alter egos and closeted fragranced lives. Violet Blond is head-turning drag queen suede and indolic jasmine, a shocking flirt of milky woods and a powerful whiff of homme fatale. It had me sniffing my skin and closing my eyes all day, wondering if I smelt like Jean Harlow laid out on fur. (probably not….)The journey from fuel and hairspray to creamy musks, jasmine and sueded leather is a compelling one.
Some reviews have loved it, some hated. But haters are gonna hate. Tom Ford riles folk. Some reviews have wanted more oomph, more violet, more personality, less Tom Ford. It has been constantly compared to the showy Private Blend. I prefer it. It is subtler, more private paradoxically. His private blend is only private due to the price tag. Violet Blonde glows with a private passion, the fire of Liz Taylor’s eyes, determined and sensual.
Violet leaf and flower can be mournful, melancholy notes. They can seem sensual, woody and powdery like skin, yet sometimes overwhelmingly sad and poignant. Mr Ford’s occasionally violent jasmine/violet is a beautiful dip into an inky mauve sea, contemplative and yet enticingly sensual. I love it on my skin. It works magnificently. Harlow, Monroe, Cobain. Suicidal blondes. But oh the fame, the glamour, the frozen Hollywood moment.