The last in my series of Dior reviews will be for Tobacolor, the ambered fruited tobacco entry in Dior’s exclusive, high-end, and quasi-niche Privée Collection (now sometimes referred to as the “Maison Christian Dior” Collection).
Tobacolor is an eau de parfum that was created by François Demachy and released in 2021. In Tobacolor’s official description here, Dior scatters its references to the notes here and there but there is no succinct note list:
Strong, generous and rich in aromas, the Tobacolor fragrance unfurls a beautifully ambery trail. The bewitching scent evokes travel and freedom.
Tobacolor is a contrasting fragrance, a hot-cold blend that combines the scent of hookah embers with fresh, fruity notes.
From the blonde tobacco leaves, to the ‘gris’ tabacco, and dark tobacco blends… Tobacco, with its rich colors and pungent aromas, has inspired joyful new hues for Tobacolor by Maison Christian Dior. The fragrance opens up like a rainbow of colors and senses: the brown nuances of tobacco and shimmering shades of plum and peach blend with the golden tones of honeyed notes.
Warm. The Tobacolor fragrance is a fruity tobacco with a mix of pungent smoky notes and delectably juicy, syrupy notes.
Fragrantica doesn’t have a succinctly compiled note list either, only the notes for which people have voted.
What I experienced on my skin went beyond either Dior or Fragrantica’s vote list, so I’m going to give my guess for what’s in there:
Peach, plum, blonde tobacco, “gris” tobacco, dark tobacco, honey, Ambroxan amber, vanilla, patchouli, woody notes, sweet myrrh or opoponax incense, woody or woody-amber aromachemicals, and “pungent smoky notes.”
I tested Tobacolor twice, sorta, and I need to explain what happened in order for you to have a context for this review. The basic gist of things is that the Ambroxan was much too strong for me to tolerate. If you’ve read me for any amount of time, you know that I have a serious physical impediment when it comes to certain aromachemicals and that they impact me badly. In the case of Tobacolor, from the moment I took the little stick thingy out of the sample vial and sniffed it, I was hit by a wave of ethyl maltol and Ambroxan.
I can take the former but not the latter, so I decided to test Tobacolor on a scent strip. 5 to 10 min. in, sniffing Tobacolor made my throat scratchy and raspy; 15 minutes in, I had a migraine and my throat was scratchier than ever; after that point, every sniff sent a sharp shooting pain either through my head, through my eye, or both. I stopped sniffing the scent strip on a constant basis at that point, returning to it every 30 minutes or so during the first two hours, then every hour thereafter, eventually giving up after 6 hours and sniffing it only occasionally to see what the drydown was like. Tobacolor lasted a long, long time on the scent strip, almost up to 36 hours, but didn’t seem to change much in scent beyond the 4th hour.
I have strong opinions about testing on a scent strip or mouillette. I respect and admire those who can get the full picture of a scent from one. In my own case, however, and from the experience of my nose, I truly believe that paper flattens the nuances and/or complexity of a scent. As a result, I believe that it doesn’t give you a full or accurate sense of the bouquet. It also gives, I think, a distorted sense of longevity since some things, especially those with powerful aromachemicals, last seemingly forever on paper.
To my memory, I have never written a review based solely on what develops on a scent strip. It would bother me to do so. Whenever I’ve tried something on paper, then later applied the scent to my skin, my experiences have been quite different. Again, maybe it’s just my nose, but I detect far, far more when testing a fragrance on skin.
It didn’t feel right or accurate to give you my scent description of Tobacolor on paper, particularly as the scent was so simplistic, so excruciatingly linear, so terribly dull, and so synthetic that there would essentially be little to write about. Plus, I would feel guilty because, as I said, I’m firmly convinced that the paper strips flatten a composition — again, to my nose, at least. I was extremely reluctant, however, to apply this blasted fragrance anywhere near me. The shooting pains through my head were not something I wanted to relive.
My personal reviewing code or ethics won out in the end and I settled on a compromise: apply the fragrance to my skin and write as much about the specifics of Tobacolor as I could before I was overwhelmed and overcome. For the parts that I couldn’t experience on skin, I’d reference what I could detect under the cloud of Ambroxan on paper in the later hours.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised that what appeared on my skin in the opening hour was quite different from the unbearable, migraine-inducing, overly simplified, and totally hazy blur that was Tobacolor on paper. Furthermore, the scent was significantly softer, more muted, airier, rounder, and far, far more nuanced on skin than on the scent strip. It was, all around, a better fragrance in the early hours and with more solid bits; I could see why it was popular with a number of people, though I’m assuming none of them have Ambroxan or aromachemical sensitivities on par with my own. (Then again, not a lot of people do.) The morale of this story – or one of them – is don’t rely solely on a scent strip if you want to get an accurate portrayal of a fragrance and of all its subtler facts. Try it on skin as well.
Tobacolor opens on my skin with ethyl maltol candied sugared sweetness followed by a dusty but also candied, cooked peach note, then sticky honey and last, but most definitely not least, tobacco which smells like raw, dark, somewhat dirty tobacco leaves just pulled from the field.
The whole thing is set upon a base of sheer, translucent Ambroxan amber. Wisps of incense (sweet myrrh?) smoke and patchouli-ish chocolate dart around, catching my nose every now and then when I smell Tobacolor on my arm. They are not apparent, however, on the scent trail which is all honeyed, candied peach caramel with sweet pipe tobacco fused within.
Tobacolor’s nuances shift quite rapidly in the first hour. The tobacco is a particularly complex accord, as you will see momentarily. 5 minutes in, a burnt note appears, smelling both like charred singed cotton candy and like caramel that’s been burnt to a shade of dark brown. The honey becomes stronger. There is also a cigarette-like note circulating amidst the peach hookah/shisha tobacco. 10 minutes in, the Ambroxan grows stronger and less translucent in body.
In addition, I would swear that there is a woody amber synthetic in the base as well because I definitely detect a woodiness that goes beyond patchouli (which I’m equally convinced is in there). The woody note smells like something darker, drier, smokier than anything previously detected in Tobacolor. At first, I thought it might be one of the smoky sandalwood synths but I’m starting to wonder if it could be something like guaiac. Either way, I’m convinced that there is something there which Demachy has used to add to the tobacco accord’s facets and complexity. I appreciate that. This sort of layering upon layering is something which I missed seeing in the other recent Dior’s that I’ve tried.
Whatever is going on in Tobacolor’s largely unspecified note list, the dark, woody, and occasionally even a bit earthy base imparts heft and grittiness to the tobacco accord and, in conjunction with the Ambroxan amber, serve to amplify it further. The result, at least when I smell my arm up close, is a tripartite tobacco complexity: Tobacco Vanille-style sweetened pipe tobacco; raw, dark, uncured tobacco leaves; and a gritty, strangely resinous, woody tobacco with an almost leathery undertone.
Smoke transfuses all three. There is the sweet myrrh/opoponax-like incense note I mentioned earlier; smoke like that from a burning cigarette; and, now, 15 minutes in, the sort of arid, burnt wood smoke that comes from a woody or woody-amber aromachemical.
On Fragrantica, people have written about the deluge of honey, of sweetness, and of sweet peach shisha/hookah tobacco. Those elements occur much later in Tobacolor’s development on my skin and on paper. For me, Tobacolor’s opening is much drier, smokier, woodier, and darker than I had expected. To be clear, the ethyl maltol is still there smelling of cotton candy sugar and caramel, only now the caramel is quite burnt and not necessarily in a pleasant way. As for the peach, it’s joined by a plum jam note about 20 minutes in, but both fruits are overshadowed on my skin by the sweeter and the darker elements.
Interestingly, things are a little different when I’m outside. There, if I wave my arm around my nose (due to low sillage), what appears on the scent trail is, in order of prominence and appearance: sweet, gourmand, vanilla-infused crème brûlée (that isn’t unpleasantly burnt); earthy, occasionally leathery and occasionally resinous tobacco; a generous slug of honey; and fleeting whispers of amorphous candied or jammy fruits.
To be clear, the dry or drier base elements keep the sweetness from turning, on me at least, into full-on, cloying gourmandise on my skin. Though others frequently describe Tobacolor as a gourmand scent, on me, I would characterize it as a semi-gourmand tobacco in its early stage and then, much later, judging by the scent on paper, a boozy, rum-like, vanilla-soaked Ambroxan amber with lesser amounts of pipe tobacco and amber-woodiness subsumed within.
Other small changes occur in Tobacolor’s development as the first hour draws to a close and the second begins. 40 minutes in, vanilla awakens in the base and starts to seep up, adding to the crème brûlée vibes and moving the ethyl maltol sugariness away from the annoying cotton candy aroma that I hate. (I have a very, very low tolerance for sweetness and I can’t stand aromas of actual sugar and of fairground cotton candy.) The crème caramel vanilla is a definite improvement over the initial blast, especially the blast I experienced on paper that was unbearably excessive and cloying. Later, it becomes quite nice in its silky smoothness.
45 minutes in, I experience the first scratchiness and roughness in my throat from the Ambroxan.
65 minutes in, the Ambroxan swells up. At times, it feels as though it is almost swallowing up the tobacco; at other times, it entwines itself around the tobacco, sweetening it, turning it more like hookah tobacco and much less like raw tobacco leaves. 65 minutes in is also when I start to cough uncomfortably from the Ambroxan’s effect on my throat and when I start to get slight twinges in my head whenever I sniff my arm.
80 minutes in: the plum jam disappears; the peach becomes a background note; the honey grows stronger as do the vanilla and the incense-like smoke; there is a subtle, – very subtle – ashy undertone to the tobacco that reminds of pipe tobacco ash; and Tobacolor turns significantly more ambered.
Like many of the other recent Dior’s that I’ve tried, Tobacolor has the greatest sillage on me during the first two hour. Using 3 or 4 generous smears from a vial, Tobacolor opens on me with about 6 inches of sillage. After 80 minutes, that number drops about 4 inches. At the end of the second hour and start of the third, the sillage is extremely intimate, maybe 2-3 inches at most, and I need to move my arm around for Tobacolor to float – softly, diaphanously – around me. However, when I bring my arm to my arm, the scent is moderately strong up close.
Returning to the fragrance’s scent evolution, Tobacolor continues to change in the prominence and order of its notes. At the 90-minute mark, the peach largely disappears from my skin and the surge in Ambroxan, smoke, and the woody-ambers in the base dry out the tobacco quite significantly.
It’s still somewhat sweetened, if I sniff hard up close, but there is an ashier quality about it. Unlike others, I didn’t experience stale cigarette ash so much as the sort of woody ash you get when a fire is going and starting to die down. It’s difficult to describe because, at this point, sniffing my arm deeply and thoroughly was getting harder: the 90 minute mark was when my throat felt so scratchy that I was coughing continuously and the twinges through my head were growing more frequent.
At the end of the 2nd hour and start of the 3rd, Tobacolor on my skin is nothing like the version of the scent strip. On paper, it was an increasingly boozy, ethyl maltol caramel, and peachy-ish pipe tobacco bouquet engulfed within a mammoth cloud of dry-sweet Ambroxan amber and vanilla.
On my skin, 70% of Tobacolor is arid, smoky, woody-amber synths and Ambroxan. The remaining 30% consists of: burnt caramel, honeyed pipe tobacco, and creamy vanilla. When I wave my arm around, the Kleenex-thin scent in the air is primarily smoky woody-amber synths.
On skin, Tobacolor doesn’t change in bouquet from this point until the 4th hour when I finally gave up and had to scrub the scent. I had such a massive migraine, I couldn’t think too clearly and my throat felt as though someone had taken a cheese grater to it.
On paper, from the 4th hour until roughly the 18th or 19th hour, Tobacolor is a blurry, muddy haze dominated by rum-like booziness, intense caramel sweetness, silky vanilla, and Ambroxan amber, all enveloping an increasingly muted, amorphous tobacco-ish scent.
The bouquet is powerful and rich, thanks to the synthetics. Sniffing the scent strip up close, Tobacolor is thick, sweet, but also dry, smoky, and quietly woody. From the 19h hour until about the 36th, all that’s left is smoky, slightly dry-sweet Ambroxan amber infused with vanilla.
Given that my aromachemical sensitivities are far more acute than the vast majority of people out there, it wouldn’t be right for me to truly judge Tobacolor or to guess what it might be like on normal people. I will make a few subjective observations, though.
First, as should be obvious by now, if you, like me, suffer from aromachemical sensitivities or migraines from woody-amber, smoky, or Ambroxan synths, then you may want to avoid Tobacolor.
Second, from what I did experience on skin, I agree with others on Fragrantica that Tobacolor shares a lot of similarities with other ambered, vanillic, and/or boozy tobacco fragrances already on the market. As I sniffed it, I kept thinking that Dior was trying to have a tobacco entry to compete with Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, Hermès‘ Ambre Narguilé, Phaedon‘s Tabac Rouge, not by making an exact clone but by taking aspects of each and mixing them all up, then adding loads of the Ambroxan (and vanilla) that makes MFK fragrances like Grand Soir or Baccarat Rouge 540 so popular.
I also kept thinking that, as far as boozy, alcoholic, ambered hookah tobacco scents go, it’s a shame that so few people know about Naomi Goodsir‘s Or du Sérail, created by Bertrand Duchaufour. Let me give you an idea of what that fragrance is like by quoting my introduction here:
An alcoholic harem master lies drunk in a pool of Calvados brandy in a seraglio made of amber, tobacco, and gold. A hookah lies next to a vat of booze, and wafts a fragrant fruitiness that mixes with the smell of musky cedar from the swamp which circles the harem like a moat and fortress barricade. Within the palace’s high walls is a small apple orchard dotted with bales of hay that are lightly coated with honey. In the lush gardens, exotic Indian davana flowers emit a tiny apricot scent, next to the custardy richness of ylang-ylang. At the palace’s heart is a courtyard where nubile concubines lounge on aromatic woody divans, dressed in thin silks made from vanilla. They dust their bodies with a light sprinkling of cocoa, as they nibble on toasted nuts and puff on a hookah. The sultan’s favorite, Leila, watches with a smile, glowing like a jewel in red and gold fabrics that match the stream of fruited liqueur pouring from a nearby fountain. The air is indolent, warm, musky, sweet, and filled with the smell of decadence, but darkness lies just around the corner. Slowly, shadows of tobacco and dry woods sweep over the ambered gold, covering it like an eclipse does the sun, until night finally falls over the harem. And, still, no-one bothers to help the drunken man collapsed in their midst. They all know what happens when you overindulge in the delights of the seraglio, or l’Or du Sérail.
Now THAT was a striking, bold, interesting, and evocative fragrance in the genre of hookahs, booziness, fruitiness, amber, woods, smoke, and darkness. It wasn’t muddy in feel nor was it over-saturated by inexpensive aromachemicals, though there are definite aromachemicals in Or du Sérail. But putting those compositional elements aside and considering something more important, Or du Sérail didn’t feel humdrum, repetitive, or overly commercial somehow. I sat up when I sniffed it; it engaged me throughout; and it made me excited to write about it. None of that has been the case with Tobacolor.
Dior offers Tobacolor in two sizes: a 4.25 oz bottle for $260 and an 8.5 oz bottle for $350. To test and assess Tobacolor for yourself, you can order samples from a number of decant sites. Surrender to Chance has Tobacolor for $2.99 for a 1/2 ml vial with sizes and prices going up from there. Fragrance Line has Tobacolor for $6.99 for a 1 ml vial, with prices and sizes going up from there. Perfumes and Decants (which ships only to the US and Canada) sells a 3 ml glass atomiser for $13.70.