jtd's Blog
8 years ago - 19.05.2015

Tom Ford and the Pre-fab Line

I don't know Tom Ford from Adam, but I've had his image shoved down my throat by sheer demography for years. I have no interest in fashion, but I'm queer and live in an urban setting. In my world, Tom Ford: the Brand is on par with McDonald's in terms of ubiquity. Also, brands that express boredom with the lifestyle they espouse make me crazy. High-fashion world-weariness is ugly. I've been saturated with images of TF surrounded by stylish, hyper-contemporary extravagance as he manages to maintain his set-piece, bemused simplicity (a stand-in for an unaffected soul).

Tom Ford: the Brand would have you believe that Tom Ford, the man, is some sort of pinnacle of homosexuality. Hair in just the right places (and absolutely not in the wrong places.) Masculine, but fussy. Women, but as props. White, even when not visibly white. Unconsidered affluence. A botoxed serenity that if read closely, like reading lapels and shoes in TF ads, is intended to express a contemptuousness with the understyled masses. (btw, it doesn't. It reads as vapid.)

For those who would link homosexuality with the Ford brand, something I think the brands does explicitly and consciously, please think about the medium and the message. I'm queer, and Tom's not my fag. I don't blame straight people for Richard Nixon.

Tom Ford, the perfumes

Independent films at one time were simply films not produced by the mainstream studios. Over time, studios bought or formed production companies that would churn out 'indie' style movies, the studio system swallowed 'indie' whole, and the notion of the independent film has ceased to have any meaning. Has the same thing happened to niche perfumery?

Early niche lines, l'Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque, Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier still exist, but are they still niche perfumers? If so, how? Their names suggest the intent to be alternatives to mainstream sensibilities, ie. niche in character. They are also independent companies that make a focussed product range, fine fragrance. But they occupy a different place in the market than large producers of luxury commodities such as LVMH, and therfore are niche by virtue of their position in the market.

Independent became 'indie.' Has niche become 'nich-y'? Both in targeting of product design and sales, niche perfumery closely resembles the 'lifestyle' marketing trend of everything from paper towels to testosterone. Lifestyle marketing's purpose is to define its portion of the market and sell to it. Explicit in the concept and implicit in the advertising, lifestyle marketing is about growing its market, and aspiration is the key. Don't sell the exact lifestyle your market has, sell them an identifiable but better version of their lives, the one they'd have if they bought this perfume. Nothing particularly new here, it's just that the targeting ability granted by contemporary communication tech allows for a sniper's precision and a laser-precise manipulation of demography.

Why wouldn't big perfumery copy niche? And why wouldn't small new perfume companies clothe themselves in the nich-y style? In both cases, it's the perfect vehicle for aspirational marketing. Here is where Guerlain's 20 or so exclusive lines, Maison Kurkdjian, artisanal bread and the Orange County Housewives scrambling for their 15 minutes of branding become indistinguishable to me. All I can see is the sledgehammer of the motive, and desperation.

But each of the niche companies does attempt to define itself:

A few companies created a place for themselves by having a mission statement or founding concept and pursing it. Eg. The Finest, spare no expence (Amouage) or 'down with the old guard' (Etat Libre d'Orange).

Many grew like modern dance companies, formed to showcase the work of the founding artist. This strategy is an increasingly common and generally successful one. In historical terms, the perfumer being seen as an independent artist is a fairly recent phenomenon. Keiko Mechiri, Andy Tauer, Mona di Orio, Patricia de Nicolai, Gerald Ghislain (Histoire de Parfums), Pierre Guillame (Parfumerie Generale, Huitieme Art), James Heeley.

Some just have their schtick: Come des Garcons series 1-8, Juliette Has a Gun, le Labo, Blood Concept.

And of course, dear uncle Serge (Lutens) and the pursuit of a vision and esthetics.

The recent trend of simply launching a line, or building one at a rapid-fire pace is distressing. Marketing has always had precedence in perfumery. It is after all a luxury commodity, selling the fantasy is how it's done. But what is the artistic and creative virtue of launcing a line in one fell swoop? by Kilian launched a line, but to Kilian's credit, he commission work from a prolific perfumer, Calice Becker, who has a track record of having created a broad range of perfumes. Francis Kurkdjian has followed a similar strategy. What about companies following the strategy but without backing it up with the threat of actual talent/quality?

So, Tom Ford, the Smell Test

I'll distill the brand to its PR premise in a marketing haiku:

Tom is fashion made living.

You want to be Tom.

What he touches is gold. Buy.

Given his large-scale successes in the fashion industry, what's a few perfumes in matching bottles? Cake, huh?

I don't love every perfume in the Private Blend/Jardin Noir collections. But no collection should be designed to appeal to one individual's likes, which points to one of the smart decisions in the building and editing of this line. It doesn't just attempt to fill all the right slots. It's heavy on woods and florals and, thankfully, while there are gourmand notes, there are no full-on gourmand perfumes. It has rich florals for both men and women. The Jardin collection includes a hyacinth floral, a narcissus floral. Same for the woods. Interesting combinations, some more predictable than others, but it's not leathers A, B & C or ouds 1-4.

The three that make an interesting point are Lavender Palm, Neroli Portofino, and Azure Lime. Neroli and Azure are spins on an Eau de Cologne and Lavender Palm is a simple, smart take on lavender. Despite their breezier, lighter natures these three are given equal footing with brick-houses Tuscan Leather, Tobacco Vanille and Italian Cypress in the line. Exotic notes sound glamorous, but well designed simplicity is its own luxury.

Tom Ford Arabian Wood

Tom Ford Azure Lime

Tom Ford Black Violet

Tom Ford Cafe Rose

Tom Ford Champaca Absolute

Tom Ford Fleur de Chine

Tom Ford Italian Cypress

Tom Ford Jasmine Musk

Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge

Tom Ford Jonquille de Nuit

Tom Ford Lavender Palm

Tom Ford Lys Fume

Tom Ford Ombre de Hyacinth

Tom Ford Oud Wood

Tom Ford Neroli Portofino

Tom Ford Noir de Noir

Tom Ford Plum Japonais

Tom Ford Santal Blush

Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille

Tom Ford Tuscan Leather

Tom Ford Urban Musk

Tom Ford White Suede

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