In 2012, Tom Ford released his Jardin Noir collection for his Private Blend line of fragrances. The collection consisted of four supposedly dark, twisted, “bewitching” takes on traditionally sweet, innocent flowers: narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily. The fragrances are: Café Rose, Jonquille de Nuit, Ombre de Hyacinth and Lys Fume. I have three of the fragrances (Café Rose, Lys Fumé and Ombre de Hyacinth) and have tested two of them but, for reasons of length, this review is solely for Ombre de Hyacinth.
According to Now Smell This, Tom Ford had the following perspective and goal for the line:
When you showcase their darker and less innocent aspects, flowers can become so thrilling and beautiful, they could almost ruin you. That was the sensation I was after.
Bergdorf Goodman appears to have the full press release description for the Jardin Noir collection:
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.
I had extremely high hopes for Ombre de Hyacinth as an ideal Spring fragrance with a slight edge. For one thing, I adore the scent of the flower which I always associate with March and certain cultural festivities in my family. For another, the description of the scent was beautiful:
Sophisticated. Voluptuous. Passionate. Ombre de Hyacinth creates bewitching tension as hyacinth cloaks its voluptuous beauty behind cool, aristocratic finery.
Ombre de Hyacinth was created by Calice Becker and, according to Fragrantica, the notes are:
Top notes are galbanum, violet leaf, magnolia petals and olibanum [frankincense]; middle notes are hyacinth, pink pepper and jasmine; base notes are galbanum, benzoin and musk.
The very first impression I had of Ombre de Hyacinth was soap. Light, airy, aldehydic, floral soap bubbles with an underlying note of powder. Mere seconds later, there was a strong note of zesty, fresh lemon and lime. The zesty lemon soap image was replaced after ten minutes by galbanum’s bitter greenness atop a woody element.
Galbanum is the bracingly bitter, distilled oil from a Persian shrub and it has a definite greenness; sometimes, it also has an earthy or slightly resinous undertone. Here, it was mostly just sharp, mossy,bitter, and fresh. On occasion, it faintly resembled the dark soil of a freshly tilled garden, but I had a much less earthy experience than some. There was also some sharp black pepper which added an even greater bite to the fragrance.
The peppered wood notes continued to increase in prominence, though the scent was still very green and dark. Thirty minutes in, there was a hint of musky jasmine. For those who struggle with jasmine, you might be relieved to know that it only lasted about twenty minutes on my skin before vanishing, and that it was always very sheer and light. All that was left was that impression of black pepper and wood with some amorphous “floral” notes, soap, and a hint of powder. There was the mere suggestion of hyacinth but, at this point, it was far from strong. It most certainly feels nothing like the actual flower to my nose and it’s a definite disappointment.
There was an odd aspect to the florals that I couldn’t pinpoint, so I looked up one of the ingredients that I was not familiar with — “Violet leaf” — on Fragrantica, and bingo! According to their description, violet leaf is a
metallic smelling, green and aqueous note that is common in modern masculine and unisex fragrances, providing a fresher and non-retro note compared to traditional sweet violet.
Yes, metallic, green and simultaneously aqueous was exactly what the florals smelled like. That mélange of notes, when combined with the bitter greenness of the galbanum and the soapy aspect of the aldehydes, was quite an odd twist on the typical fresh, Spring-like floral fragrance. And I can’t say I was crazy about it.
After about ninety minutes, the scent softened further becoming just some vaguely amorphous impression of freshness: lightly powdered, lightly soapy, lightly woody, lightly aquatic, fresh florals with a hint of greenness. Ombre de Hyacinth remains that way until shortly before the fifth hour when — finally — the hyacinth arrives on the scene. On par with the rest of the perfume, it is extremely light, airy, tinged by soap (again), endlessly fresh, and very redolent of Spring. I feel as though I’m repeating myself ad nauseam, but I can’t help it. This is not a complicated scent. And it’s about as “dark” and twisted as a poodle.
Personally, I would have much preferred a more concentrated essence of hyacinth instead of something that is really akin to a generic, fresh floral which just merely happens to have some quiet hyacinth touches. I would also have preferred something far less soapy and aquatic. However, for those who like fresh, clean florals that are sheer (bordering on translucent), Ombre de Hyacinth may be perfect.
This is not a strong floral or even a strong hyacinth fragrance. Everything about the scent is light — right down to its sillage. In the opening hour, the perfume’s projection is moderate and, thereafter, it drops to become very close to the skin. Its gauziness makes it extremely office-friendly. Yet, it has surprising tenacity for something so airy and translucent. All in all, Ombre de Hyacinth lasted just under ten hours on my perfume-consuming skin.
Nonetheless, I think it’s hugely overpriced for what it is. $205 at the low end of the scale seems very high for a light, fresh, soapy floral scent. It’s not exactly an uncommon category of fragrances, after all.
The Non-Blonde reached the exact same conclusion. She had a slightly similar experience to mine which she boiled down to four words: “nice French hyacinth soap.” But at least she was lucky enough to have a heavy hyacinth start at all! I quite envy her, especially as she initially felt as though she were in a Monet painting. (Lucky devil.)
After about fifteen minutes of walking around inside a Monet painting, the fantasy starts to fray at the hem and disintegrate. The abstract floral heart becomes very soapy and loses its best characteristics. There’s nothing narcotic or illicit in a rental vacation cottage out in the country, as clean and quaint as it might be. It smells good, but the composition flattens in front of my eyes (or nose) and loses any depth, shadows, and “decadence” that Ford aspired to have there. [¶] The dry-down remains bathroomy.
I experienced a lot more woody, peppery notes than she seems to have done — not to mention that disconcerting violet leaf metallic, aquatic accord — but, yes, it does really evoke a cottage out in the British countryside, especially once the more peppery notes subside. A less charitable person might just say it epitomizes expensive hotel soap. Or, as one poor sod on Fragrantica wrote, “This on me smells just like Carpet Fresh and Irish Spring soap – for hours”….
Nonetheless, I would be tempted to recommend it to those who like extremely fresh, clean, soapy scents. Except for one thing. To quote the Non-Blonde: “this Tom Ford fragrance is grossly overpriced for what it is.”