It's generally believed that when Tom Ford left his post at YSL, he wanted to have another stab at M7 and create a version of it that would be more successful commercially. The result was Oud Wood. It's loved by many, but I've never been won over, probably because I find the sweaty, lactonic aspect of its personality (patchouli? synthetic sandalwood?) too crude and far too voluminous. The fragrance has now been reissued as part of an oud trio, a development which didn't excite me until I had a chance to try one of its accompanying products: a bar of soap. I brought it to my nose and I experienced the very same shock that marked my initial encounter with M7 way back in 2002, as well as an echo of the aforementioned body lotion. Authoritative and tender, virile and decorous, it shows how truly exceptional the eau de parfum could be, if only a few of its elements were dialled down. And guess what, Oud Wood now comes as a Body Moisturizer as well, but that version doesn't wield quite the same force as the soap.
The other members of the aforementioned trio are brand new creations. Oud Fleur is an interesting, Western-style take on the type of agar wood perfume often neglected by non-Asian perfumers: the sweet oud. Thankfully, its floral element isn't a rose (I detect something sharper, angrier, more carnation-like) and it opens with an intriguing ozonic, nail varnish remover note, but it loses its way as it develops, and dwindles into less compelling territory. That said, it's not a write-off by any means.
Tobacco Oud is a more overtly Ford-esque creation. With several nods to the brand's own Sahara Noir from earlier this year, it takes enough frankincense to give the Magi an inferiority complex, and links it up with the tangy, leathery, smokiness that makes Tuscan Leather so irresistible. Is there any real oud in it? I'll be damned if I know, but there are certainly sufficient woods and spices (sesame and mustard seeds) to convince the wearer that TO has spent at least a few hours in transit at Dubai Airport. Then again, Madame Persolaise reads it as a kind of 'Dad sitting by the fire at Christmas' concoction, and her Dad is as English as they come, so the provenance of the scent's testosterone is perhaps difficult to ascertain.
As it happens, my favourite of the new Ford releases has nothing to do with the ouds and is fairly low-profile. London is currently exclusive to the new Sloane Street boutique, but I'm pleased that it's going to be granted wider distribution in a few months, as its cheekiness deserves a wide audience. It purports to evoke the city of overpriced hotels, cigarette smokers huddled outside pubs and crowded escalators on the Underground, and yet its official notes list features saffron, cumin and labdanum, amongst other decidedly non-Anglo Saxon goodies. Surely, Mr Ford couldn't be suggesting that our august capital is a playground for gentlemen and ladies clothed in dishdashas and abayas? Well, yes and no. There's definitely a fair amount of cross-cultural facetiousness at play here, but it's been juxtaposed with a thoroughly London-like, quasi-Victorian, mysterious, flinty note, as well as a powerful suggestion of sage, a bitter herb whose complexity is well suited to the eccentric temperament of one of the most cosmopolitan spots on the planet. Combine this with a beautiful cardamom top note and you get an endearing statement on urban diversity, 21st-century style. Sherlock Holmes: fire up the hookah!
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Tom Ford in 2013.]