I confess I don't find the overarching concept of this year's Tom Ford Private Blend quartet as convincing as last year's. In 2012, the house released four scents under the umbrella title Jardin Noir; the idea was simple, but it worked. This latest set has been dubbed the Atelier D'Orient, a name to which you could justifiably react with a yawn. Still, the dubious label is easily ignored, because at least two of the perfumes are pretty impressive.
Shanghai Lily and Rive D'Ambre are unremarkable, if totally competent creations. The former is, as you might have predicted, a decent lily (Ford himself gave us a more dramatic one last year with Lys Fumé) and the latter is a vetivert-based cologne, apparently inspired by the Asian tradition of giving people citrus fruit as gifts. Solid, unexciting stuff.
The other two are more interesting. Plum Japonais follows a path very similar to that of Histoires De Parfums' 1740 (one of the most beautiful boozy leathers ever) in that it mixes davana wood, surypy, fermenting fruit and a sensual mix of cloves, nutmeg and pepper to convey an almost palpable sense of rakish danger. It isn't as dirty and skin-focussed as the Histoires - I suspect the cumin dose is lower here - but it's still pretty decadent.
Leather pops up in Fleur De Chine too, but in this case it's the 'well-worn handbag' variety, a la Aromatics Elixir, a scent to which this one clearly owes some allegiance. In fact, it owes allegiance to several others too, because it plays out very much like an homage to classic feminines of decades gone by. The aldehydic opening echoes White Linen, the mossy woodiness is reminiscent of Knowing and the richness of the floral elements could have come straight from Beautiful. In other words, it's a tribute to all things Lauder, which raises the question of precisely what makes it 'oriental'. One answer might stem from Ford's claim that the scent was inspired by In The Mood For Love, a movie which - amongst many other achievements - expertly challenges preconceived notions of western and eastern aesthetics. It is also very chic, as is Fleur De Chine. So whether you wish to approach the scent as an example of cross-cultural commentary or an object possessed of drop-dead gorgeousness, do make the time to check it out.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Tom Ford in 2013.]