Tom Ford explores new territory with his Vert d’Encens, transporting you to forest landscapes where mighty pines and fragrant fir trees drop their aromatic pine needles and sweet sap over a leafy greenness. Yet, there is a twist: smoky incense, heliotrope vanilla, and dusty, dark chocolate are layered within, resulting in one of the more interesting and appealing Tom Ford releases in a while. In fact, I found its opening to be so appealing that I pondered buying Vert d’Encens for myself. It’s the first time that a Tom Ford fragrance has tempted me in a number of years.
Vert d’Encens is another one of Tom Ford’s new Les Extraits Verts in his Private Blend Collection, and it was released alongside the Vert Boheme that we looked at last time. What’s interesting, though, is that the way Tom Ford describes Vert d’Encens on his website is quite different from the fragrance that I (and seemingly many others) experienced. He emphasizes seas, shadows, smoke, wild mountainous peaks, and the rugged, salty Corsican Coast in a way that isn’t really the feel and vibe of Vert d’Encens on my skin. Yes, Vert d’Encens can be quite a smoky, dark, and dry fragrance, but it also has a cozy, sweet, sappy, sunny, Christmas-y, faintly floral, and almost semi-gourmand aspects to it at times as well, and those are the parts that make the fragrance different, in my opinion. Plus, I have to say, I’ve vacationed in Corsica, and nothing in Vert d’Encens transported me back there. Pine simply was not the dominant olfactory characteristic of the place, at least not to me.
Nevertheless, this is how Tom Ford describes the scent:
The unbridled nature of the Corsican Coast, known as “The Perfumed Isle”, inspires a distinguished scent at once sophisticated, aromatic and wild. Smoky incense, pine resin and fir balsam evoke the dense forest and rugged peaks, while delectable heliotrope and woods heighten the grand atmosphere of sea and shadow.
Luckyscent provides the following note list:
Pine resin, tree sap accord, fir balsam, incense, heliotrope, boxtree oil.
However, a GQ Magazine article on the four new Verts says that Vert d’Encens includes more than that. It asserts: the “[r]ich, woody notes of incense, pine resin and fir balsam are both lightened with fresh lavender and lemon, and spiced up with a hit of cardamom.” I would assume that they obtained the information from Tom Ford’s marketing department, but I noticed the lavender and lemon myself. I can’t say that I noticed any cardamom but I definitely detected quite a bit of dark chocolate, as did a number of people on Fragrantica. Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were tonka or some vanilla note mixed in the chocolate accord as well, because there is something that feels quite separate from any of the heliotrope’s meringue or vanillic facets.
If we compile the GQ note additions with everything else, then the complete list might look something more like this:
Pine resin, tree sap accord, fir balsam, incense, heliotrope, boxtree oil, lavender, lemon oil, cardamom, chocolate, and possibly vanilla or tonka.
Vert d’Encens opens on my skin with a really stunning green, cool, crisp, liquidy, aromatic, and fresh bouquet. There is a sweet, clean, transparent floralcy that feels almost like hyacinths that have been mixed with something more dewy, sappy, and ethereal, but it’s also not properly or purely floral at the same time. The note is nestled amidst a green leafiness that is also wet, cool, and fresh, then splattered with a few drops of crisp lemon and sprinkled lightly with aromatic lavender.
The whole thing is then swaddled in layer upon layer of beautiful, enticing, and addictive pine sap, pine, and fir. They’re fresh in the best and most naturalistic way possible, evoking pine needles and cones oozing green sap between your fingers as you walk through the aromatic woodiness of a forest where the wind carries the scent of the surrounding trees and blows it all around you. There is a surprising leafiness and grassiness to the green accords, almost as if one were walking on a well-manicured British lawn and its carpet of springy, fresh grass. That lawn simply happens to lie adjacent to a pine forest. The box-tree note might be responsible. It’s not something which I’m familiar with, but my research pulled up a description comparing its scent to that of a British garden. Whatever the source of the grassy leafiness here, it works beautiful with the main foresty accords and with their naturalistic freshness.
Contrary to Vert d’Encens’ name and description, nothing in the opening is rugged, dark, earthy, or smoky. The incense doesn’t become a significant player until later and, for much of the first hour, there are only fleeting, elusive, and tiny flickers that weave around the distant horizon. What makes Vert d’Encens so appealing and so different to me in its opening phase is how it evokes a crisp, sunny day in December (or even in early Spring) rather than a dark, brooding, smoky, or snowy forest like some other fragrances.
Vert d’Encens shifts quickly. Less than 10 minutes in, a touch of dark, semi-bitter, semi-sweet chocolate appears. It’s accompanied by a vanillic sweetness, half smelling like floral heliotrope, half smelling like a separate vanilla note that is laced with pine. It may stem from the interaction of the fir balsam with the heliotrope or perhaps its something separate but, whatever the source, both the chocolate and the vanilla-like notes are initially soft, small, and quiet touches as compared to the rich, beautiful waves of aromatic pine, its fresh sap, and the leafy, grassy greenness that tie the two together. Having said that, the chocolate and the vanillic heliotrope were more prominent when I applied a smaller quantity of fragrance (several smears equal to 1 light spray from a bottle). They were more muted, muffled, and minor with my larger standard baseline dose of a 2-spray equivalent. In both instances, however, they never turned Vert d’Encens into a gourmand composition. They merely added another nuance to the strong pine sap note that ripples over everything.
That sap note is one of my favourite things about Vert d’Encens. I loved how green it is in the opening and closing phases of the fragrance. It’s such a fresh and liquidy aroma, laced with enough green and leafy bitterness to smell authentic but also with enough sweetness from prevent it from being unpleasant. It’s never smells like the honeyed, syrupy, immensely sweet resin which is what normally finds in fragrances such as, for example, Profumum‘s Arso or Sultan Pasha‘s Encens Royale. This is the fresher, more aromatically green sort that skews more towards the heavily coniferous side of the spectrum than the sweet. It’s as though one had just cut into the pine’s bark as opposed to the richer, sweeter, golden sap which has been seeping out for a while. When combined with the heliotrope and chocolate, the result was so addictive that, each time I tested Vert d’Encens, I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm at this point, entranced by the perfect mix of authentic, naturalistic piney freshness and aromatic greenness layered with cozy sweetness.
Speaking of Arso and Encens Royale, I don’t think either one resembles Vert d’Encens in its opening phase beyond their mutually shared coniferous notes. That changes later when the incense and smokiness become major elements in Vert d’Encens but, even so, I don’t think the three fragrances are identical. Arso and Encens Royale are not only stronger, richer, denser, and more powerful, but their sweetness is the honeyed variety. In Vert d’Encens, it’s simply vanillic and not honeyed at all. In addition, it has chocolate, floral, and grassy notes that the other two fragrances lack. They, in contrast, have an ambered side that isn’t present here. Finally, Sultan Pasha’s Encens Royale has a more complex, somewhat liturgical, meditative, and completely non-synthetic frankincense accord, in addition to a variety of wood notes that go beyond just the pine sort.
Vert d’Encens continue to shift as time passes. Roughly 30 minutes in, the heliotrope grows stronger and seep over the edges of the central aromatic, sappy, leafy, and coniferous accord. For those of you unfamiliar with the flower, it has a variety of aromas that range from sweet, lightly powdered, feminine floralcy to a lightly powdered vanilla meringue. On occasion and depending on what it’s paired with, heliotrope can even smell like Play-Doh. Here, in Vert d’Encens, the latter doesn’t show up until the very end of Vert d’Encens and the heliotrope smells primarily of meringue on my skin with fluctuating, varied levels of floralcy. Its floweriness is strongest at this stage in the fragrance’s development. At the same time as the heliotrope asserts itself, the citrus and lavender retreat to the background where they flicker faintly before dying away at the 90-minute mark. That’s when the incense rears its head and appears on the sidelines, its soft tendrils rippling out towards the main notes on center stage. The smokiness is purely synthetic, but it’s a nice counterbalance to the grassy, vanillic, and floral elements.
The overall effect midway during the 2nd hour is a fresh, aromatic, foresty pine greenness coated with gorgeous green sap, then streaked at its edges with heliotrope flowers, balsamic or heliotropine vanilla, green bitterness, fresh grasses, dewiness, burgeoning incense smokiness, and just a touch of dusty, dark chocolate.
As the incense asserts itself, it impacts the strength of the other notes, and changes the scent quite significantly. The best way to explain the changes is to compare the smokiness to the sea tides. Whenever the incense wave hits the shores, it cuts through and lessens the other elements, particularly the chocolate, the leafy and grassy accord, the sap, and the fragrance’s overall sweetness. As soon as the incense recedes, they re-emerge (and the wonderful sap in particular comes out with a bang), but then the smokiness surges forth again and Vert d’Encens turns drier, darker, more synthetic, harsher, and much more impressionistic in its notes. This process impacted Vert d’Encens for almost the entirety of its first 9 hours.
The power and impact of the incense really isn’t a positive one, in my opinion. At the end of the second hour and the start of the third, the clarity, crispness, and clearness of even the main pine notes dissolve into something simpler and more impressionistic. They become a diffuse, sheerer, and lighter piney-ness rather than the previously solid, robust, and nuanced layers than they had been previously.
This was particularly noticeable during the 4th and 5th hour when Vert d’Encens was basically an immensely smoky scent with a modicum of aromatic pine folded into it, then smudged at the edges with a touch of lightly powdered, vanillic sweetness. It wasn’t particularly interesting, nuanced, well-balanced, or appealing. When I smelt my arm up close, the bouquet was far too amorphous and the piney-ness was even more muffled. Things were better when I smelt Vert d’Encens from a distance and on the scent trail, but, even there, the incense and its raspy twang blanketed everything to the point where the other notes emit only a strangled cry.
I didn’t enjoy Vert d’Encens for most of the period spanning the 2nd hour until the 7th one. It was far too dry for my personal tastes; the synthetic quality of the incense felt harsh and irritated the back of my throat; but, most of all, the fragrance was too hazy and indeterminate to be interesting. All the things that had made it so appealing and that made me strongly consider buying a bottle in the first two hours had become mere passing glimmers, too elusive or insubstantial to make a major difference. It wasn’t a bad fragrance, but it was no longer a compelling, vibrant, and multi-faceted one.
One thing I should mention is that the quantity of fragrance that I applied played a small role in the prominence or nuances of the secondary notes. Not a major one, but a role nonetheless. With a 1-spray dose, the incense was softer and weaker during the first 3 hours than it was with a 2-spray equivalent. With a smaller application, the ratios were almost equal but, at a larger dose, the smokiness rapidly surpassed everything but the coniferous pine. Regardless of quantity, though, Vert d’Encens turns drier as the second hour draws to a close, then drier still, and my impression of chocolate, floral heliotrope, grassy lawns, and even vanilla rapidly died away.
Vert d’Encens begins to improve as the 7th hour draws to a close. The fragrance is still centered primarily on pine-ish smokiness and vanilla, but what’s significant are the first signs of changes appear on the horizon, suggesting a shift in focus may occur. For the first time in a long time, hints of chocolate appear at the edges, followed by ghostly pops of that lovely green tree sap.
When the Vert d’Encens’ long drydown phase begins midway during the 9th hour, things change even more dramatically. The incense wave is recedes for longer and longer stretches of time, letting the other notes re-emerge from its shadow. The chocolate, in particular, becomes a major element. For the next four hours, Vert d’Encens starts to veer between three different bouquets, each with a different focal point:
- smoky, coniferous pine trees (instead of vaguely pine-ish smoke) smudged at the corners with vanilla;
- dark, dusty, semi-bitter chocolate infused with strong, powerful black smokiness, then wrapped up with light, small threads of something vaguely vanillic and bearing an elusive, ghostly, ephemeral suggestion of pine deep, deep below; and
- Dark, dusty, semi-bitter chocolate layered with strong smokiness, beautifully fresh and green pine sap, leafiness, heliotrope vanilla meringue, and the tiniest whisper of lightly powdered, heliotrope Play-Doh.
Vert d’Encens switched so often between these three styles that my notes are a mess. Every time I thought that Vert d’Encens had lost either its chocolate, its vanilla, or its pine, the note came back. The pine sap was the most ghostly and fleeting of the three, then the vanilla, while the incense was the strongest and most consistent note.
It really only weakened about 13.5 hours into Vert d’Encens’ development, at which point, to my surprise, the pine sap not only returned but actually took over. The chocolate retreated to the background, while the vanilla became soft, almost creamy at times, before eventually turning into a simple textural plushness. In its final hours, all that was left was a slightly aromatic and very sap-centered plushness.
Vert d’Encens had enormous longevity on my skin, generally soft projection, but strong to moderate. Using several wide smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3 inches of projection and 4 inches of sillage that grew to about 6 inches after about 40 minutes. At the 90 minute mark, the projection dropped to about 2 to 2.5 inches, but the sillage stayed the same. Vert d’Encens became a skin scent 6.25 hours into its development, and was easy to detect up close without major effort until the 11th hour. It only became really soft and discreet at that time. From that point onwards, it was a light coating on the skin but it didn’t die away until late in the 16th hour.
On Fragrantica, reviews for Vert d’Encens are generally positive. For “Landshark321,” the incense was the star of the show “but the fragrance is still quite sweet, due in all likelihood to the heliotrope and sap, with the pine and fir balsam giving it a green woody character.” For “Lmuradian,” however, Vert d’Encens was the “Smoothest Christmas tree fragrance ive ever smelled.”
For a number of people, the mix of chocolate with the Christmas-y tree vibe was not only a powerful touch, but something that made the fragrance special. “InSanfrancisco” certainly loved it and also received a lot of compliments as a result:
The pine notes are vivid, and there’s a spicy chocolatey incense warmth. I call this my “sexy summer camp” / “Christmas” fragrance because it evokes memories of middle school crushes, campfire kissing and late night visits to the lake. […][¶] I’ve never loved a fragrance so much and gotten as many compliments from male and female friends (comments from the group: “it smells like waking up on Christmas Day at my parent’s house” “ooooh that’s going to be your winter go-to” “i want that…”).
“WildDove” also got “a lot of chocolate with Vert D’Encens, a bit of incense, sometimes a hint of mint,” and called it “[o]ne of the better Tom Fords.” For “Oudy,” Vert d’Encens was a “somewhat green gourmand” that evoked Christmas from the pine cones on the tree to sipping peppermint hot chocolate while opening presents. While they enjoyed the nostalgia factor, they weren’t sure that they wanted to walk around smelling like Christmas all the time.
For “Bambu,” Vert d’Encens was similar to Imaginary Authors‘ Cape Heartache, except with heliotrope in lieu of strawberry, and it was wearable all year round. Their post also includes a helpful comparison with Verts de Bois, another new Tom Ford Extraits Verts release:
I found the strawberry note in Cape Heartache far too synthetic and I get a tiny bit of that with Vert D’Ecens, but I am really digging this juice nonetheless and will likely buy a full bottle when I can get my hands on it.
Vert D’Encens starts off far more green to my nose than Vert Des Bois. After a short period the green notes mellow out and you are left with a incense, woods, and the sweet note.
A really delicious scent. Not as heavy on the incense and green notes as you would expect given the name. This might disappoint some people, but I think this makes Vert D’Encens wearable year round. [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
One of the more ambivalent reviews comes from “Arabian Night” who thought Vert d’Encens was pleasant, not very distinctive, and dominated mostly by the sweetness from the feminine heliotrope on his skin. He didn’t experience much incense at any point. He writes, in full:
The opening certainly smelled like a heap of conifer branches -dark, piney, forest green- but then a warm, almond-like sweetness emerged, with some smoky tonka/vanilla pervading a thick resinous, indiscernible woody fog. About five hours later, I thought I could detect the grey, ashen, powderiness of oak moss imparting a dusty dullness to what remained of the tonka. I didn’t really get much in the way of incense as a dominant note, at any stage.
I was expecting this to smell more like “Bois de Marocain”, which is very incensey and green, but overall the tone of “Vert d’Incense” to me is dark, sweet and rich. Not for daytime and probably not that suitable for guys either; That syrupy sweet almond/tonka note is quite pronounced and rather feminine. I can only assume it is down to the heliotrope?
I can’t say I found it that special. There are many designer fragrances hopping on the syrupy incense bandwagon now and honestly, this didn’t stand out, but it’s at least pleasant to wear.
I think how you feel about Vert d’Encens will depend entirely on how you feel about whichever note is the dominant one on your skin. Heliotrope is a personal favourite, and if there had been as much or more of it as the incense, I would probably have bought a bottle of Vert d’Encens. I found the incense was too synthetic for me to enjoy its central role on my skin. However, if you’re someone who loves dry and darker fragrances, that may be precisely what you want. In contrast, if you view heliotrope as being too sweet, too vanillic, or too feminine, or if it turns to Play-Doh on your skin, then your feelings about Vert d’Encens will probably mirror those of “Arabian Night” that I quoted above. If neither of those two elements dominate Vert d’Encens’ various stages, and it’s all about the Christmas tree, then the question becomes how much pine do you love?
Whichever way it goes, I think Vert d’Encens is definitely worth trying if you love green, aromatic, foresty, and Christmas-y fragrances. I think it’s one of the more interesting Tom Fords in a while.