Friday, 17 February 2017

Persolaise Review: Bois Marocain from Tom Ford (2009/2016)

The soundbites
If Bois Marocain were a colour, it would be a rich, iridescent mustard, somewhere between yellow and brown.
If it were an item of food, it would be a lemon smoked in a cedar cabinet.
If it were a sculpture, it would be this piece of work by Jaehyo Lee.

The review
Now that Tom Ford has brought Bois Marocain out of retirement for a limited time, I've found myself wondering why some fragrances are on what we might call the 'discontinuation cusp'. I'm sure the main reason is clear to everyone: the scents that get killed off are the ones that don't sell. But - the motivation for brands to make profits notwithstanding - there may be other factors too, related to the cost and availability of raw materials, or the need to stop a collection from growing too large, or the difficulty of reformulating a composition in response to anti-allergen recommendations. However, if we just focus on the cash question for a moment, I think it's worth trying to speculate why some perfumes sell sufficiently poorly to be taken off the shelves, but are not quite unpopular enough to be relegated to the great vat in the sky forever. In other words, what was it about Bois Marocain that didn't resonate with the great buying public in 2009?

Eight years ago, the scented landscape wasn't radically different from today's. Take a look at a list of still-going scents released then (Ambre Nuit, Aqua Universalis, Epic Man, Guerlain Homme edp, the parfum version of Terre D'Hermès) and you'll find as wide a range of aesthetics as you might in any year. Perhaps now there is a marginally more pronounced leaning towards transparency and 'naturalness', even in our beloved sugar bombs. Maybe these days we're slightly more intent on finding instant legibility. Quite possibly, our interest with retro styles has grown a tiny bit stronger. But by and large, what we smelt then is what we smell now. So why didn't Bois Marocain work, seeing as a few other Tom Ford creations with which it shared the 2009 release slot fared very well indeed?

For what it's worth, I'd say the answer is: it doesn't know whether it's bitter or sour. Taken individually, those two attributes challenge modern consumers at the best of times, but when they're paired together, they seem to be completely unbearable. Yet that's such a shame, because in olfactory terms, they're so downright fascinating. What's more, they offer compelling contrasts with each other. Where does the line between the two of them lie? Is it a question of colour? Is 'bitter' olive-green, autumn-brown, whilst 'sour' is neon-yellow? Is it texture: 'bitter' is dry and planed, 'sour' is sharp and pointy? Or is it association: 'bitter' = coffee/woody/herbal whereas 'sour' = citrus/acidic/floral?

Those are the kinds of musings with which you can have a geek-fest when you wear Bois Marocain. Essentially a play on the parched aspects of woods - there's a lot of cypress and cedar in here - it uses incense, pepper and patchouli to heighten its unfashionable rejection of sugar. And of course there are citruses in there too - notably bergamot - balanced against the woods with great dexterity, emphasising their attractiveness. In short, the scent represents the very best attributes of Tom Ford's Private Blend range: civility, distinctiveness and striking, high-cheekboned elegance.

It's a pity it didn't do better. Perhaps this re-release will help it find a few new fans. But maybe, with its constant invitation to be thought about and 'worked out', it's just a little too demanding. Maybe it's just for the geeks. And maybe that's why I've thoroughly enjoyed wearing it.

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Tom Ford in 2017.]


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