The Black Orchid Underground

There is something internally subversive about the productions of Tom Ford.  He is so charming and so practiced in the seduction techniques he uses on his public that it is almost camp.  Every Tom Ford perfume has something about its packaging and promotion that recalls a weekend in one of those resorts popular with swingers in the 1970’s; about equal parts chic and louche, all black toilets, black marble counters and black bidets, so much so that it sometimes tips over into (I hope) unintentional self-parody.

I know about this sort of bathroom because my father once booked us into a hilariously wrong hotel near Amalfi, and I had to use just such a facility, which, when you are twelve and really, really have to go, is a more Austin Powers experience than a than Tom Ford one.

Those bathrooms were nearly unusable then for the same reason that the perfumes sometimes are now: we are none of us sexy all the time.

None of us that is, except for Tom Ford.  He is sexy on a 24/7 basis, and therefore, sort of like a cross between Dracula and the street sweeper in Dickens’ Bleak House, immortally dressed in black, and stuck doing the same thing over and over.

His first perfume for his own label was Black Orchid – an instant classic, said Mr. Ford with characteristic immodesty.  He was right about one thing.  Black Orchid did hark back to classics, but it was difficult to say which ones, certainly not classic American oriental perfumes, being not much like Youth Dew, or even Tabu.  Black Orchid wasn’t very much like any of the usual suspects, but if BO did have a progenitor then it was Angel. Perhaps Black Orchid can be said to have been born on the wrong side of the blanket, since its resemblance to Angel is of an embarrassing sort. To BO, at any rate.

The Orchid is a vampy perfume, a proper perfume for a vampire in fact.  There is something quite sweet underlying its slightly green top notes.  The green is of a celadon crispy nature and I have run into it before sliced thinly on top of tea sandwiches.  We’re talking cucumber here, and the conjunction of dark, redolent of molasses sweetness and cucumber is a peculiar one.  The dry down, moreover, smells like chocolate to me.  There is not any cucumber listed in the notes by the way, but I still smell it, and the chocolate is definitely there.

So, is Black Orchid a gourmand?  But no, because too much of the perfume spends its time in front of the mirror posing and being a floral oriental, and stressing over whether or not it has a freckle on its dead white skin.  That is part of its problem, Black Orchid plays at sexiness, but is too much into artifice to be sincerely sensual.  Put another way, sexiness cannot be staged, but if the Black Orchid stood next to L’Air de Rien, I fancy it soon would  find itself upstaged.

However, to be fair, this perfume is not about natural femininity, this perfume is an attempt at updating what you might call the cult of cultivated femininity.  You know, the world bounded on one side by the skirts of the dressing table, and on the other, by the bed skirt, a reflected but unreflective world of mirrors, and silver-backed brushes, and pots of cold cream with half smoked cigarette butts protruding from them.  I doubt that anyone’s room has looked like that for about sixty years, but the setting is so foreign to us now, that it may regain appeal.  Everyone seems to enjoy mixed drinks again, so if cocktails are back, why not the boudoir as well? And what is right next to the boudoir, if not the bathroom?

It seems that to me at least this scent begins and ends with bathrooms, but no doubt Black Orchid’s bathroom is full of black marble and has a black bidet to keep the black toilet company.


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4 Responses to The Black Orchid Underground

  1. Undina says:

    I really enjoyed reading your review but for the life of me I can’t tell if you like the perfume. Do you?

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Hate to be wishy washy but I’m not sure about Black Orchid. It’s been worked on-a lot is my guess- and it’s nice that someone bothers to put time and effort into a release these days, but Black Orchid is a little sticky smelling to me. I’d rather that it were more animalic, or more oriental, or more floral. As it is, it’s not for me.

  2. Mals86 says:

    I would love to hear the story of the hilariously wrong hotel.

    I dislike Black Orchid very much – though I admit that it can seem pretty compelling on a certain kind of man. The dirt-cucumber-chocolate thing just Does Me In. I find it nauseating. However, the (discontinued) EdT version, Voile de Fleur, I absolutely adore. It’s very floral, with just a hint of darkness in the base keeping it from being all good-girl innocuousness.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Oh it was wrong alright. Black Orchid Voile de Fleur was very pretty, and why didn’t they come out with that one first? Less original than Black Orchid probably. Then there was Black Violet which was good too. Ever notice how many black flowers there are in Mr. Ford’s garden?

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