Tom Ford‘s new Velvet Orchid feels like a mirror image of his famous, Black Orchid. Their contrasting essences are: light and dark; day and night; an easy, approachable purring, versus bold, overtly seductive growling. One reason why is that the creamy, velvety florals at their core are infused either with bright citruses, boozy vanilla and caramel amber, or by a multi-faceted bouquet of bitter-sweet chocolate, patchouli, and earthy black truffles. Both fragrances are very enjoyable to wear, even compulsively sniffable at times, but which one you prefer will probably depend primarily on your personal style. Some might find Velvet Orchid to be a de-fanged version of its older sibling, while others may think it’s a considerably easier, softer fragrance.
Black Orchid is an eau de parfum that was created by the Givaudan perfumers and released in 2006. The Tom Ford website describes it as a “luxurious and sensual fragrance … with its rich dark accords and alluring potion of black orchids and spice,” but you should know that both its “black orchid” note and its famous “truffle” undertone are really just fantasy accords, more like imaginary replications than actual essences. Black Orchid’s notes, as compiled from Fragrantica and Now Smell This, include:
black truffle, jasmine, ylang ylang, bergamot, effervescent citrus, black currant, Tom Ford black orchid, “spicy floral and fruit accords”, dark chocolate, patchouli, incense, vetiver, vanilla, balsam and sandalwood.
Black Orchid opens on my skin with overlapping layers of rich, cocoa-dusted florals, musky earthiness, woody notes, and slightly boozy ambered warmth. It’s hard to pull apart some of the notes, especially the florals which are mostly that fantasy “black orchid” accord lightly flecked with jasmine. The most noticeable thing is the musky darkness which consists of an earthy funk, dusted with chocolate powder, patchouli, and a hint of smoky incense. What was interesting to me was that the more Black Orchid I applied, the stronger the earthy, dark notes were right from the start. At a lower, lighter dosage, the perfume’s opening minutes were slightly different: the jasmine shone more overtly; there as much of the fantasy “orchid” note; there weren’t even faint tendrils of smoke; and the earthy funk was merely a light dusting of cocoa powder.
In all cases, regardless of quantity, Black Orchid begins to reflect a few more layers after 10 minutes. A subtle wave of woodiness seeps up from the base. It is nebulous and abstract, but its dryness and touch of synthetic pepperiness add a counterbalance to the sweeter notes, especially the chocolate-patchouli earthiness which grows increasingly prominent. The latter is interesting. The chocolate sometimes feels like actual semi-sweet, dark chocolate. At other times, however, it’s merely a dusting of cocoa that is underscored by my favorite sort of patchouli — the true, brown variety with its natural undertones of spiciness, chocolate, woods, and earthiness. All of it is perfectly complemented by a tiny flicker of creamy vanilla in the background and, in the forefront, the “truffle” note. The latter is earthy but sweet, lightly spiced but also a touch foody, and has an incredibly sexy muskiness about it. There is none of the true funk of a black truffle, thank God, as that has a very ripe aroma, but whatever fantasy element has been used here has a perfect touch of mysteriousness about it.
The core essence of Black Orchid on my skin for the first 7 hours can be summed up as: an earthy, musky floral infused with black cocoa and multi-faceted elements of darkness. All the notes overlap, moving from one into another. From time to time, you can pull out the woods in the base, the smoky incense, or the spicy, refined patchouli that is so inexorably intertwined with the cocoa. Once in a while, there is a tiny pop of bright citrus in the background, but it is heavily muted and very minor. In the base, there is a streak of vanilla that is slowly starting to wake up and stir.
The interesting thing is the black currant or cassis. In the opening minutes, there is only a wisp of abstract “fruitiness,” but that changes roughly 20 minutes into Black Orchid’s evolution. There is now a tiny pop of tartness with a bit of fruited muskiness that is a little hard to describe. In essence, it’s like another form of earthiness, only this one has tartness underlying it as well. Thankfully, the note is nothing like what I experienced with Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, the discontinued flanker to the original that had a huge amount of black currant absolute in the top notes. There, the fruit went terribly wrong on my skin, creating a musky sourness that I found very unpleasant. The Perfume Shrine has a good explanation about the note, as well as its occasional tendency to take on almost urine-like, “cat piss” “ammoniac” undertones on some people’s skin:
[c]ompared to the artificial berry bases defined as ‘cassis,’ the natural black currant bud absolute comes off as greener and lighter with a characteristic touch of cat. Specifically the ammoniac feel of a feline’s urinary tract, controversial though that may seem.
Thankfully, none of that happens here on my skin. Here, the cassis is merely a another form of muskiness. More importantly, it’s incredibly minor as compared to the amount in Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, heavily muffled to boot, and only lasts about 20 minutes. Nonetheless, I did want to mention it. The earthy, musky, or dark notes in Black Orchid seem to be especially polarizing or challenging for some people, so if you have ever detected any sourness that you have struggled with, blame the cassis.
At the end of the first hour, Black Orchid turns creamier, deeper, and more velvety in feel. It’s due, in large part, to the indirect effects of the ylang-ylang. While the majority of the florals still can’t be easily separated, there is enough of the ylang-ylang’s custardy, semi-tropical lushness for its presence to be very evident. It also serves to diffuse or weaken the earthiness of the opening, pulling it back, while also making the woods seem richer. At the same time, the chocolate turns more fully into dark “cocoa,” and fuses fully with the patchouli. The latter feels even more refined now, and is subtly backed with vanilla in a way that is really lovely. Still, from afar, especially at the 90-minute mark, Black Orchid is mainly a seamless, almost hazy blend of creamy, earthy florals dusted with cocoa powder, then flecked by various forms of musky, earthy or dark elements.
The whole thing is a rich, strong bouquet, especially in the first hour, but airier than I had expected. Using roughly 2.5 spritzes from my wonky, dribbling Sephora atomizer, Black Orchid opened with a lush cloud that had moderate sillage of about 4-5 inches at first. None of it felt as dense or opaque as reports had led me to believe, but every person has a different baseline yardstick for such calculations. All I can say is that Black Orchid doesn’t have the heft of Private Blends like Tobacco Vanille, and most definitely not Amber Absolute. The sillage is also not as massive on my skin as another Tom Ford floral, Champaca Absolute. However, Black Orchid is a richer, deeper scent than the florals that I’ve tried in the regular Tom Ford Signature line, like Violet Blonde.
For the next few hours, Black Orchid remains largely unchanged. It is an earthy, dusky “orchid” scent with cocoa-patchouli, ylang-ylang derived creaminess, muskiness, tiny tendrils of incense, and a touch of vanilla, all atop a base whose woodiness fluctuates in strength. At the start of the 3rd hour, Black Orchid hovers half an inch above my skin. The florals turn even more velvety, creamy, and abstract, while the cocoa, patchouli and vanilla slowly start to take over. By the end of the 4th hour, Black Orchid is a skin scent.
Black Orchid continues to change by slow degrees. At the start of the 6th hour, it is a plush, deep, abstract floral whose velvety petals are heavily dusted with chocolate, then cocooned in a refined vanilla-patchouli cloud. The musky earthiness and black truffles have long since vanished, and the incense has retreated to the sidelines. A slightly resinous, balsamic streak stirs in the base, adding to the golden glow, but all of this is really just a short transitional bridge to Black Orchid’s final phase which begins at the start of the 7th hour and lasts until its very end.
Now, the perfume is really nothing more than a mix of dark cocoa powder, woodiness, and spicy patchouli, all beautifully flecked by slivers of vanilla and abstract, floral creaminess. For those of you who have issues with true, brown patchouli, take comfort in knowing that the end result is worlds apart in its refinement from the hippie, black patchoulis of the ’70s. I found the whole thing wholly addictive, but then I am a patch-head. All in all, Black Orchid consistently lasted over 11 hours on my skin, and close to 13 when I applied a greater quantity.
Earlier this year, Tom Ford released another flanker to his famous Black Orchid, called Velvet Orchid. It is an eau de parfum that was created by a team of Givaudan perfumers, namely Yann Vasnier, Calice Becker, Shyamala Maisondieu, and Antoine Maisondieu. The press release quoted at In My Bag has Tom Ford saying:
Velvet Orchid retains Black Orchid’s instantly recognizable elements: a fresh, lush petal facet; animalic notes and skin-lacquering warmth, and re-imagines these elements into a fragrance with a uniquely compelling nature.
On his website, Tom Ford adds a bit more detail:
Lavished with cool freshness, dramatic petals and honey and rum, Tom Ford’s Velvet Orchid is an oriental floral fragrance that teases and caresses with enveloping warmth.
Top: Bergamot, Mandarin, Succan absolute (purified rum extract) and honey.
Middle: Jasmine, Turkish Rose, Moroccan Rose, Magnolia, Hyacinth, Orange Blossom, Narcissus, Heliotrope, and Tom Ford’s imaginary “Black Orchid” accord (Black Orchid and Cattleva Leopoldii Orchid).
Base: Peru Balsam, Myrrh, Labdanum [Amber], Sandalwood, Suede, and Comoro Island vanilla.
Velvet Orchid opens on my skin with a heavy dose of bright, sparkling, almost effervescent citruses infused with jasmine. Trailing in their dust, far behind, are orange blossoms that smell slightly indolic, followed by rum, juicy mandarin oranges, a few drizzles of honey, and a sliver of woodiness in the base. Initially, all these secondary notes are extremely minimal on my skin, and far overshadowed by the bright, crisp bergamot with its slightly fresh, green jasmine.
I’m underwhelmed by Velvet Orchid’s opening. Ignoring the fact that it is worlds’ apart from Black Orchid, the tired pairing of citric bergamot with jasmine and a drop of honey is something I’ve encountered at least 5 times this year alone (including from Calice Becker). Plus, I find the bergamot to be a little shrill in the opening minutes, and it bullies the florals that are meant to be the star of the show. As for the “orchid” note, it doesn’t show up in the opening and is barely perceptible on my skin later on. I’ve tested Velvet Orchid three times now, and there is a wisp of the namesake note which eventually shows up, but it is more of a subtle suggestion, at best, and barely lasts. Even then, its muted, ghostly presence feels wholly overwhelmed by the jasmine.
For almost the entire first hour, Velvet Orchid is primarily just a really bright yellow, lemon chiffon mousse infused with jasmine. The orange blossom quickly fades, but the honey grows stronger while the rum fades to a generalized booziness. At the start of the 2nd hour, however, Velvet Orchid begins to transition towards a jasmine vanilla scent. There are hints of a hay-like note from the narcissus, wisps of orange blossom, and that nebulous, vague “orchid” nuance, but Velvet Orchid is mainly a blur of vanilla-infused florals drizzled with raisin-y booziness. The flowers sit atop a base of woodiness that occasionally has a tiny streak of underlying dryness, but the citruses and honey have retreated to the sidelines.
Velvet Orchid feels as though Black Orchid was run through a filter to remove every possible dark, earthy, or musky tonalities, then placed in Photoshop to have every remaining note completely blurred out. All the layers, edges, or lines separating the individual notes fuse into a smear. A pretty smear, I grant you — especially now that the citrus blast has faded away and the vanilla has taken its place — but it’s such a blur that it makes my job much more difficult in terms of telling you exactly what it smells like. The florals, in particular, are wholly without definition, except for the fact that none of them smell like orchids on my skin.
Roughly 90 minutes into its development, Velvet Orchid shifts a little. There is a definite streak of suede in the base which feels like a velvet plushness that has been lightly dusted with white cocoa powder. The heliotrope appears and adds a quiet touch of vanillic, powdery sweetness, but the honey, citrus, and hay undertones have faded away completely. In contrast, the boozy rum grows stronger and adds a syrupy streak to the scent. There is no rose, no myrrh, or incense on my skin, though the amber stirs in the base to add a golden warmth to the fragrance now. As a whole, Velvet Orchid now feels smoother and deeper than the opening minutes with its brisk citric sunniness and green jasmine.
Slowly, very slowly, the woods emerge. By the end of the 3rd hour, Velvet Orchid is a haze of jasmine lightly flecked by creamy vanilla mousse over a base of equally creamy woods and suede. All of them have been lightly dusted with heliotrope’s sweetened dessert powder, then dipped into boozy, syrupy rum.
Other elements lurk quietly in the shadows. Once in a blue moon, there is a sense of something cocoa-like that pops up at the edges, but the nebulous note is nothing like that in Black Orchid. It’s more like a hint of white chocolate powder, but I suspect it’s really due to the heliotrope interacting with one of the other elements. In the base, the woods occasionally demonstrate a subtle wisp of dryness, but generally, they are merely one more form of creaminess that underlies the jasmine.
From afar, Velvet Orchid smells primarily of a woody jasmine with vanilla creaminess and raisin-like booziness. It’s pretty and appealing, but it’s also quite sweet. In fact, on my skin, several notes in Velvet Orchid are far sweeter than anything in Black Orchid, and the perfume sometimes has a foody, gourmand vibe that wasn’t a big part of the original, despite its chocolate or black truffles.
Velvet Orchid transitions by fractional degrees into a very different scent during its drydown. At the end of the 6th hour, the jasmine finally starts to fade away, but a heavily caramelized labdanum amber emerges to take its place next to the vanilla, rum, and woods. An hour later, there is virtually nothing left of the jasmine. The heliotrope continues to provide a touch of sweetness, but Velvet Orchid is increasingly just a blur of creamy vanilla, creamy woods, and sticky, ambered caramel. It eventually dies away that same way.
As a whole, Velvet Orchid is lighter, softer, gentler, and much sweeter than Black Orchid. In fact, even the colour of the liquid differs. My samples came from Sephora, and their clear atomizers enabled me to see the juice, something which is normally impossible in Tom Ford’s opaque black and purple bottles. Velvet Orchid is a clear in colour; Black Orchid is brown-gold. One is considerably richer, deeper, and earthier than the other, and it’s not Velvet Orchid. The latter initially opens with moderate projection of about 3 inches when I applied 2 decent spritzes from my little vial, but the sillage drops quickly to an inch above my skin after 40 minutes, and to half-an-inch after 90 minutes. Velvet Orchid turns into a skin scent by the middle of the 3rd hour, and lasted just over 11 hours all in all.
BLACK ORCHID vs. VELVET ORCHID:
Tom Ford’s two Orchid scents feel as though they were made for different people or occasions. Since Mr. Ford is a designer, perhaps the best way to convey their differences is in terms of clothing. Black Orchid would be a low-cut, bold, extremely smoking, black dress that you’d wear above racy lingerie with sky-high Louboutins to a hot date with your lover at a restaurant whose speciality is black truffle linguine followed by chocolate mousse on a plate decorated with actual orchids and spicy, brown patchouli. The light is low, a little incense burns in the corner, and your date can’t take his eyes off the musky skin and cleavage shown by your dress.
In contrast, Velvet Orchid feels like a sunny day dress that you’d wear to a lunch in a jasmine bower located at the end of a tunnel made from citrus trees. You’d eat bowls of vanilla custard and drink too much rum, while sitting on a suede cushion atop a platform made of creamy woods. A river made of caramel amber lies a fingertip away, while a soft wind blows an occasional wisp of powder from a heliotrope bush upstream. Your date is your husband, and he thinks you look like the epitome of soft, sweet femininity.
It’s day versus night, with very different vibes to boot. Velvet Orchid feels fresher, brighter, and more casual. It is easy and soft, but also much more indistinct after its very loud blast of citruses in the opening and significantly sweeter when taken as a whole. While Velvet Orchid’s rich vanilla and almost caramel-like labdanum amber in the middle and end phases were wonderful, I thought that the Black Version had even better creaminess, thanks to the ylang-ylang. The orchid note was far deeper and richer than the jasmine in Velvet Orchid, while the chocolate and brown patchouli added great spicy darkness without ever turning the scent into something too “foody” or sweet.
For me, Black Orchid’s va-va-voom factor wins out, but that is wholly a matter of individual style and personal tastes. I have consistently found myself more drawn to Black Orchid when I’ve smelt the two side-by-side, because I tend to favour very bold, dark, spicy fragrances as a whole. I also appreciate the greater weight and complexity of Black Orchid, while finding its earthy undertones to ooze sex appeal. Plus, I love both orchids and patchouli. Yet, if I hadn’t tried Black Orchid, I think I would be happy with Velvet Orchid, primarily because of the booziness and drydown.
As a whole, I think most people will find Velvet Orchid to be easier to wear than its more complex predecessor, and it’s definitely more versatile and feminine as well. One reason is because the muskiness in Black Orchid’s opening won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and some may find it to be difficult or unpleasant, depending on what happens with their skin chemistry. Another issue is that brown patchouli isn’t the most popular of notes, but I’m a little more concerned with the black truffle, to be honest. In terms of versatility, I’ve read a few comments saying that Black Orchid is too bold, heavy, or dark a scent for everyday use, let alone the office, so Velvet Orchid steps in to fits that niche. Ultimately, however, your feelings about Velvet Orchid may come down to whether you love or hate the original version.
On Velvet Orchid‘s Fragrantica page, the two scents are constantly being compared. Most people seem to like the latest creation, even those who find Velvet Orchid to be “de-clawed.” For example:
Tom Ford took my badass Black Orchid to the vet and had her declawed! She’s still a tigress, but now she purrs when she use to prowl!
The notes are very distinctive….so rich to my senses. The rum is intoxicating, almost a coconut rum. The vanilla is warm, sweeter, certainly more approachable. The suede note so comfortable, or maybe that’s comforting? It mutes the edges of the original, just a bit. The orchid? No longer a gender bender, she’s very feminine.
Black Orchid was made to wear with stilettos. I’m not sure Velvet Orchid was made to wear with anything at all.
A few people find Velvet Orchid to be indistinct and without the uniqueness of Black Orchid, while others complain of excess sweetness, flatness, syrup, or a lack of opulence. However, they are generally outnumbered by those who find the new fragrance to be gorgeous, “elegant,” or “fabulous.” A sampling of views with a lot of comparisons to Black Orchid:
- Much like the original Black Orchid, the composition of Velvet Orchid is very thick and opaque, but it is not nearly as well-done. This fragrance starts off with a very cloying, thick vanilla-floral sensation. The extremely dominating vanilla note is very flat, without any of the sumptuous richness of good vanilla. The honey really clashes against the rum here, as they bring out the worst syrupy, thick tones of each other instead of harmonizing gracefully. The myrrh and peru balsam add a balsamic-resinous aspect that really pushes the accord into the territory of nonsensicality. [¶][…] As someone who absolutely adores Black Orchid and its flanker, Voile de Fleur, this is highly disappointing to me.
- There’s a lot of rum in the opening with a touch of myrrh that stays close by throughout. There’s plenty of vanilla and honey. The orchid, however, disappoints a little; it smells kind of raisin-y. The drydown has a lovely dry touch of sandalwood and balsam. […] The drydown is exquisite. Powdery and sweet but also a little sharp and woody. This is like the TF equivalent of Coco Mademoiselle in the drydown and I really like it.
- Where TFBO notes greet my nose and evokes images of a dark, mysterious and oh so alluring woman. The new “Velvet” is just that an elegant lady with a velvet touch and pure class! Orchid, honey and magnolia announce her presence as she arrives in her evening gown and modest tasteful jewelry of rose and jasmine. Her designer high heels are those of a long lingering vanilla and sandlewood. She has come to charm and her longevity remains well past midnight at the formal ball in the sweet floral sillage of feminine beauty!
- Orchid + rum + vanilla = heavenly on me! This is a deliciously sexy grown-up fragrance — it separates the women from the girls. You can tell it comes from the same family as Black Orchid, but it is sweeter and a bit less ferocious.
- After initial spray, VO is sweeter from the honey and boozy from the rum (about an hour). Then the vanilla and florals dominate for the next hour. In the drydown, I get woods and hint of florals. If I had unlimited funds, I would have swooped that large bottle after the initial spray. To me, VO is the most wearable over Black Orchid and White Patchouli which both are too woodsy, spicy and novel for a conservative office. The current trend is sweetness and VO fits but still delivers that spiciness and woodsy notes to satisfy some scent hounds like me. […] Update: After several wearings, I find the cola note too cloying for such a spendy fume – will change Rating from 4/5 to 3/5. I’ve bought the Black Orchid.
- The lovely notes are all there rum honey vanilla and flowers and yet it turns out it’s not so special after all, when you first spray you can feel Black Orchid instantely then the fragrance carries on rather sweet but not so opulent as I expexted.
- If there was a little something about Black Orchid that you sort of liked, but you found it to be too dark or too deep or too unisex or too dark chocolate, then you might want to test out Velvet Orchid. Velvet Orchid is much sweeter, less unisex and more girly than Black Orchid. […] I do think Velvet Orchid will be more popular with most, but I feel that it lost what makes Black Orchid so unique (and polarizing). [Emphasis to names added by me.]
On Black Orchid‘s own Fragrantica page, the comments are generally split into love and hate. People all talk about its darkness, even its “wildness” which is a term that you’d never see in descriptions of the new Velvet version. To give you a sense of just how much the fragrances diverge in their olfactory bouquets, the very latest Black Orchid comment describes it as a: “Thick and rich opening that smells like incensy leather (tuber maybe) and non tooth aching sweet base of amber, chocolate, incense, vanilla, sandalwood.” Others call it “sex in a bottle,” “feisty,” or “Rich, dark, opulent, gothic, mysterious, oriental, sweet, woody, gourmand, sexy, sultry, sumptuous, delicious!!” And even a handful of men seem to love Black Orchid, waxing poetic about its mix of masculine and feminine notes. I share their views, and definitely plan to buy a bottle for myself.
Speaking of bottles, I wanted to briefly digress to talk about price and sizing. Black Orchid comes in 3 sizes, including a very affordable 30 ml/1 oz bottle that retails for $75. The perfume is also available at discount retailers in the larger sizes, often reduced by about 30% off. (See the lengthy Details section at the end.) In contrast, the new Velvet Orchid is not available at this time in the more affordable cheaper 30 ml size, nor is the perfume available as a whole on discount sites. Still, it is an enjoyable scent that is reasonably priced, starting at $112, €94, or £72 for a 50 ml bottle.
Ultimately, Velvet Orchid and Black Orchid are mirror images, and will probably suit different audiences. The original is not for everyone, and may be one of the most polarizing of all the Tom Ford fragrances (which tend to be Love It/Hate It things in general). Now, women have a second option with the more heavily feminine, crowd-pleasing, soft, and approachable Velvet Orchid. If either one sounds appealing, stop by your local department store to give it a sniff.