Sahara Noir by Tom Ford

Sahara Noir is an immediately tart fragrance, with a syrupy smooth richness that never compromises its grown up character. Be warned however, you must really love the resinous and smokey smell of incense and all of its reverent qualities.

Incense is an ancient fragrant material dating from long before biblical times – it could be an antediluvian material for all I know! The burning of shrubbery, herbs, gums and resins created an unintentional smell forming the first true use of incense. Incense, from the latin word incendere (meaning to burn), demonstrates how the burning process imparts a smell unobtainable any other way  – that is, a combination of aromatic materials and a heat source. It is rather addictive once you’ve gotten accustomed to it, and yes, I will admit it can smell slightly urinous, especially the first few moments in.

Sahara Noir has a richness to it that lifts the fragrance to the highest degree; calling to mind slick sikhs with an attitude to opulence on an overly grand scale. It is obvious from the get go the target clientele for this fragrance, evoking the grandeur and magnificence of the Middle East (granted, somewhat calmer than Amouage) and the untamed beauty of Arabia – an immediate ode to the enchanting nature of their style of luxury which can be strange from a foreign onlooker – but certainly more is never enough!

Tom Ford Sahara Noir  Photo by Tom Ford

Matisse 'Large Reclining Nude' 1935

Matisse, “Large Reclining Nude”, 1935


Sahara Noir opens with a sharp cutting sensation of smouldering incense with trickles of honey-like smoothness coming from cinnamon and a clear beeswax note, with the tiniest glimmer of vanilla so invisible that it exists primarily for the soothing effect it creates. Without vanilla, the choking sensation from incense would most likely take over and even so, this fragrance borderlines bonfire smoke and pure anger like Interlude Man.

In contemporary visual culture, when the naked body is not being presented as an object of desire, often in order to arouse desire for commercial products, it frequently presents a meditation on the human condition, connoting the vulnerability of flesh. The naked body serves as an indicator of skill and an embodiment of beauty. Sahara Noir is beauty shifted towards the Middle East

The fragrance is incredibly biblical, with the note list reading like a mystical shopping list or a Middle Eastern edenic garden. Beautiful treasured flowers such as rose and delicate lily of the valley are wrapped in the strength and posing danger of thorns, or more realistically, frankincense. These florals are most certainly gagging for air, and become so irrelevant in the blend you can almost hear them gagging whilst you wonder where the florals went.

Incredibly balsamic, the use of bitter orange gives a certain jump to Sahara Noir against the heaviness of amber and resin, but is ultimately engulfed quickly. The incense used in this fragrance boasts the fact that it comes from Givaudan, and also bares the ‘orpur’ labelling, denoting that is the highest quality available to use at Givaudan – with a specific and rigorous quality that is unmatched. Tom Ford however got his hands on two ‘orpur’ materials, with cistus smelling dirty and danke, with an ankles over shoulder smell. Yeah, it’s badass and provides a leathery yet hot quality perfect with the incense.

Sahara reeks of animalic suggestions, with a subdued agarwood note, which is equally exotic to the same degree that the frankincense is, however the frankincense obviously takes the spotlight for this one. The use of layers in Sahara Noir makes it equally complicated as it is dry, with layers of different types of incenses, resinoids and balsamic materials forming a burning fragrant heart  with peppercorn and musk connotations, and the sweet additions of cypress (a smooth sharpness, an oxymoronic note I find), papyrus (green woods), and calamus (a soft and spicy note) moulding into a spiritual journey.

An intense spicy oriental, it surely is addicting. Bold is the best word to describe Sahara Noir, with a mildly confrontational quality to it that requires much time to appreciate, and of course multiple wearings in the chill of winter and resultantly the lingering on a shirt or a scarf smelling of dusty amber and like the ash left on the bottom of an incense stick holder.

Alternatives: Avignon by Comme Des Garcon; Kyoto by Comme Des Garcon; Bois d’Encens by Armani Prive; and L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer.

For what it’s worth, Sahara Noir belongs in the Private Blend line rather than the Signature line. It’s niche without hesitation and from what I’ve observed has a niche line of loyal followers. 

Subjective rating : 4/5

Objective rating: 3/5

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