Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Café Rose (The Jardin Noir Collection)

Subversive. Forbidden. IntoxicatingBewitching. Darkness that is so thrillingly beautiful it “could almost ruin you.”

That was Tom Ford’s goal for his 2012 Jardin Noir collection, a subset of his prestige “Private Blend” line of fragrances. His twist on traditionally innocent flowers encompassed roses, narcissus, hyacinths, and lilies with Café Rose, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth and Lys Fume. I have three of fragrances and have already reviewed Ombre de Hyacinth.

This review is focused solely on Café Rose, a scent that triggered a wide array of emotions, but which ultimately left me feeling cold. To be honest, it was quite overwhelming at times. By the end, I felt simply tired out and beaten over the head. I am admittedly not a huge worshipper of rose fragrances, but there is something almost bullying, cloying, and deeply exhausting about Café Rose.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. According to Tom Ford’s full press release description for the Jardin Noir collection on Bergdorf Goodman’s site, his vision for the Jardin Noir collection is as follows:

Jardin Noir explores the forbidden sides of four of perfumery’s most treasured blooms: narcissus, hyancinth [sic], rose, and lily.

Convention is abandoned and unexpected ingredients converge with bewitching and intoxicating results. Iconic flowers fall open, dropping their innocent facades to reveal the subversive beauty and fierce elegance they normally keep hidden.

The specific description of Café Rose is quite beautiful:

Enticing. Exotic. Seductive. Cafe Rose descends into a hidden labyrinth, where roses’ fine breeding gives way to darker pleasures.

Café Rose was created by Antoine Liu and, according to Fragrantica, the notes are:

Top notes are saffron, black pepper and may rose; middle notes are turkish rose, bulgarian rose and coffee; base notes are incense, amber, sandalwood and patchouli.

Tom Ford fragrances are the oddest thing on my skin because how they smell can vary substantially with how much you put on. Café Rose is no exception. I tried it on three times, each with slightly varying results for the opening stage. On each occasion, I put on less of the perfume with the third time having the very smallest amount. That time, the perfume opened with a faintly soapy musk note that was sweet with an almost vanilla-like undertone to the roses. It was definitely a plethora of white musk, which I am not particularly keen on, I must say.

With that outcome being a slight exception, my overall first impression of Café Rose has always been fruited roses — with only the concentration or degree of the note varying. There is an explosively sweet impression of roses — blood-red and tea-rose pink — with jammy notes that definitely evoke fruit. There is a dark grape, almost like Welch’s, as well as something that smells surprisingly a little like canned peaches.

I suspect the patchouli is responsible for that very “purple patchouli” fruited note; those who dislike it may want to want to steer clear of Café Rose because there really is no escaping it. It’s there almost from start to finish. It also adds a very thick, almost gooey and unctuous feel to the roses which, at times, can feel spectacularly sweet. That sweetness almost verges on “tea rose” territory, and those of you who were around for the infamous ’80s Tea Rose fragrance from Perfumer’s Workshop may shudder in response.

Despite the headiness and painful sweetness of Café Rose, the perfume is never oppressively heavy. Ten minutes after applying it in even a concentrated dose (2 good sprays), it becomes a much lighter, sheerer scent. The sillage drops as well, though this is one very persistent perfume. I don’t detect any saffron in its own right but there is a vague sense of creamy sandalwood underneath all that jammy fruit.

Two hours in, Café Rose turns darker with the presence of black pepper and coffee. The black pepper adds a slightly fiery, peppery bite to the sweetness of the floral note, though at times it feels more like pink peppercorns in a combination that is all too familiar these days. The coffee note is far more interesting. If you’re expecting the aroma of Starbucks or roasted coffee beans, you will be disappointed. Here, it’s more like the wet, black coffee grounds that you empty out of your filter after you’ve brewed a cup. It adds a faintly bitter, nutty, earthy note to that heavily jammy, very fruited rose note.

The fiery pepper and the bitter coffee make a valiant (though not wholly successful) effort at diluting the jamminess of the roses. Thank God for small favours, because, by the two-hour benchmark, my nose was quite oppressed by just how sweet this perfume is. Plus, to be quite frank, there is almost an artificial, synthetic aspect to things where it doesn’t smell wholly natural but, rather, just…. painful. It’s hard to explain, but there is something in this perfume that — no matter how much or how little you put on — simply feels cloying. And, really, there seems to be no escape from it.

That overwhelmed feeling probably explains why I couldn’t detect a plethora of notes in Café Rose. Over the course of its development, the degree of the black pepper and black coffee grinds rose and waned in differing degrees, but the oppressive presence of that very purple patchouli note dulled everything else to a large degree. There was some creamy sandalwood and, I suppose, faint smoke from the incense, but did I mention purple patchouli?

It did fade away, eventually, leaving me gasping like a stranded seal on a beach. At that point, about seven hours later, all that remained was the rose note, accompanied simply by vanilla and powder. Then, in the eighth and final hour, there was merely some vague, amorphous sense of a powdery soapy musk.

Oddly, on the third test, when I wore very little of the fragrance, the painful purpleness was much less. Instead, now, there was just that soapy white musk accord which I cannot stand. It felt clean and fresh, I suppose. If that’s damning with faint praise, it’s because it’s meant to be. 

Café Rose does have its fans, many of whom seem to find it a purely rose and coffee fragrance. However, a good number of people on Fragrantica find it to be a substantially poorer cousin to Tom Ford‘s Noir de Noir. I agree with that assessment. I liked a good portion of Noir de Noir (which I reviewed here) and, though I didn’t like its powdered violet finish, I think it’s a much better, more complex treatment of roses.

On Fragrantica, a number of others keep talking about Café Rose having an oud note — which frankly leaves me utterly bewildered. If I didn’t have a manufacturer’s sample with the card and labeling on the vial, I’d wonder if I tried the wrong perfume. There is absolutely no agarwood in this cloying sweet, peppered aberration.

I’m sure there is more to say on Café Rose — more talk of sillage and longevity, or some positive reviews I could link to, as well as other negative ones. To be honest, I simply lack the energy for that. After living with this bloody thing for two days, and making every effort possible to be fair, I find myself just wanting to be rid of it. I’m tired of Café Rose — on every possible level. I want it gone from my life forever. In fact, since I cannot bear another moment thinking of, discussing, or even wearing this blasted thing, I’m ending this here and now.

For some odd reason, none of the Jardin Noir fragrances are listed anywhere on Tom Ford’s website. They are, however, available at numerous high-end department stores where its price is just like that of other Tom Ford fragrances: $205 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, or $495 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. In UK pricing, they sell for £135.00 or £195.00, depending on size. In the US, you can find Café Rose at Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and many others. In the UK, you can find it at Harrods and Selfridges.
Samples: If you are intrigued, but are also sane enough not to want to spend such a large amount without testing it out first, I suggest stopping by one of the stores listed above for a free sniff. However, you can also find samples of Café Rose starting at $3 on Surrender to Chance, or on other decant/sample sites like The Perfumed Court. I think Surrender to Chance has the best shipping: $2.95 for any order, no matter the size, within the U.S., and $12.95 for most orders going overseas. (It’s a wee bit higher if your order is over $150.) International shipping has leaped up in price (from $5.95) due to the U.S. Postal Service’s recently increased prices.

29 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Tom Ford Private Blend Café Rose (The Jardin Noir Collection)

  1. Hmmmm, I may check this out at Nordstrom next time I’m there, but I won’t be rushing to pay for a sample, I don’t think. I usually steer away from coffee as a note in perfume. I love coffee, but I am not particularly interested in wearing it. I suppose I am semi-interested in giving it a try at some point, but this really makes me feel pretty ambivalent toward it. Some elements seem appealing, others not so much.

    • It’s definitely not coffee, coffee. Absolutely nothing like what one would drink, imo. Instead, it’s like those dark, wet, left-over grinds and it’s an undercurrent to the roses — though it gets stronger depending on how much of the scent one applies. I find the whole thing deeply exhausting to my nose. For you, as someone who ADORES and owns Noir de Noir, I think you’d find this one to be quite lacking in comparison.

    • Hahaha, no, it just further proves that you’re Wonder Woman, Portia! Either that, or you luuuuuuuuurve your purple patchouli! 😉 Teasing aside, I think you seem to quite like white musk, so depending on how much you like really jammy, super sweet roses with patchouli, you may like this one. I think your magical skin may wipe out any of the stuff that I found too cloying. 😀

        • Have you tried Tom Ford’s Noir de Noir, Portia? Regardless of whether or not you end up liking this one, that one is a definite must sniff! Especially for one who loves roses. If haven’t tried it and are curious, there is a link to my review within the Cafe Rose post. Noir de Noir is a very baroque rose. A definite Henry VIII Tudor Rose, imo. xoxoxo

  2. It’s funny how people say that there’s Oud in Cafe Rose. I don’t get any either! I wish there was a bit of Oud though to take that “jaminess” out of Cafe Rose. To me it’s roses, roses, and some more roses with added wood notes and a tad bit of coffee. I was hoping for more from this scent to be honest. And its not near as beautiful and unique as Noir de Noir which I LOVE. Looking forward to your Lys Fume review, Kafka!(if you are not tired of the Jardin Noir scents yet) 🙂

    • I’m relieved to hear that the oud is nonexistent for you too, Ross. It’s nowhere in the notes and I can’t think of any possible combination which would give rise to it, either. But people’s skin chemistry can do all sorts of things, so who knows. Did you get a lot of black pepper with the rose, or no? As for Noir de Noir, a *much* better fragrance — no question. You, Kevin and Ferris all adore it with a passion, so it’s clearly a very unisex scent. Oddly, a female friend of mine whose favorite scent is TF’s Oud Wood finds Noir de Noir a bit too masculine for her!

      As for Lys Fumé, I think I may need a little break from the Jardin Noir collection…. ;P LOL

  3. I’ve only sniffed this on paper and I remember thinking it was okay. I can’t imagine on skin it would wow me enough to want a bottle.

    • It’s not one I would recommend, especially at those prices, unless one *really* loved jammy roses and purple patchouli. Noir de Noir is a significantly better rose scent, though, and much more complex, interesting and sophisticated, imo.

  4. Noir de Noir is one of a very few Tom Ford’s fragrances that I actively didn’t like: too much agarwood and too sweetfor my taste. Cafe Rose, on the other hand, was quite nice… and forgettable. I do not mind it, I’ll try it a couple more times from my sample but I wish it would have been more interesting. Well, I’d say: for that price it should have been more interesting. Or it could be a nice part of the Signature collection, next to Black Orchid.

    • It’s funny about the oud in Noir de Noir. On my skin, it was hardly there. I know you found the agarwood in Mohur to be very noticeable too, when I (and some others too) found it quite sheer. So I wonder if my skin dilutes it out quite a bit? And perhaps yours emphasizes it to a sharp degree? The oddities of skin chemistry. 🙂 As for Café Rose, it sounds like you had a much more pleasant experience with it. For me, the overwhelming sweetness and purple patchouli never seemed to end. Urrrrghh! I think purple patchouli may be my version of agarwood for you. VERY low tolerance! LOL. But, yes, either way, the scent should be significantly more interesting and complex for $205 at the low end!

  5. Oh, I have to say that all of Tom Ford’s fragrances leave me cold . . . and then pissed off that he can get away with Amouage prices. Out of what I have tried, I did like Café Rose best. Rose is tricky for me, but I think that I have finally found my rose in SL’s La Fille de Berlin. I want to give it a few more wearings before committing, but as Michael Jackson once said, “The girl is mine.” 🙂

    • Well, he’s cheaper than the Amouage things I’ve seen but I definitely get your point! He’s hardly giving it away. I’m so glad you’ve finally found your one true rose love and am not surprised that it wasn’t with a Tom Ford but with a Lutens. 🙂

  6. Cafe Rose was my SOTD yesterday! Thank you, dear Kafka! For something supposedly “subversive, forbidden, intoxicating, bewitching” and “dark,” well . . . I didn’t really find it to be any of those things. Elegant, yes. Well-made? Yes. But just not distinct enough for me to want a bottle. Nope, my heart belongs to either JHAG Lady Vengeance and SL La Fille de Berlin.

    I, like you, also was exhausted by Cafe Rose by the end of the day! And I was quite happy to shower and not smell like it anymore.

    • Ha! It’s SOOO not dark, subversive, or forbidden, is it? How was the ground coffee aspect of it on you? And how funny that it wore you down and exhausted you too! It’s odd, because this wasn’t the sort of scent where I expected olfactory fatigue and to be just so fed up of the scent by the end — but it definitely happened.

      • The ground coffee contributed to a kind of gourmand feel, but all in all, I didn’t find it to be terribly noticeable.

        Once it settled down into a pretty straightforward rose, it just chugged unrelentingly to the end on my skin!

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  9. So, let me get this right. You don’t like Cafe Rose? 😉 The first time I tried it I wasn’t a fan but somewhere down the perfume pike I have become a white musk fan and this scent is a straight up rosy, white musk and white sandalwood for me. I do get the peaches in the opening that you mentioned but I don’t mind sweet peaches if it’s just for a moment. What I like about Cafe Rose as opposed to La Fille de Berlin is that it stays clean. La Fille gets dirty and I just don’t get paying for dirty. I can bring my own dirty to the party for free. And coffee? That note totally eludes me in this one. I need to try Noir de Noir next.

    • LOL! No, I don’t. My skin seems to amplify certain base notes, like labdanum and fruited, purple patchouli, and I don’t like the latter very much. At all! So, that explains part of it. I’m afraid that we part ways from our earlier agreement on Chanels when it comes to the issue of white, clean musk. I’m afraid, it’s really not for me, either. But I’m glad it works for you, and that you find the combination in Café Rose to be exactly what you were looking for, Lila. 🙂

      • Weell, I’m not sure it’s exactly what I’m looking for but I do like it. There has to be true love and not just “like” to be FB worthy. Besides, I was just discussing Cafe Rose over on Bois de Jasmin and we’re going to try layering Sa Majeste la Rose with Santal Majuscule or Santal Blanc which might work just as well for me. As for white musks, I think I like them because they seem to cleanse my palate, so to speak, after continually wearing some heavy hitters.

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