Plum Japonais by Tom Ford

When smelling Plum Japonais, a magical occurrence takes place: I envisage location and taste. I love these moments in perfumery, namely because as someone that drives the ‘perfume is art’ dogma with a great passion, I feel that if scent evokes another sense, it satisfies one of the functions of art.

The opening of Plum Japonais mimics the epicurean delight of eating a plum very closely. This stuff is sticky sweet as the rush of sugar goes straight from tongue to the brain, and a glistening juicy residue remains around the mouth and on the chin. Naturally wipe this off, and now experience the taste. The sweetness of the juice, the sour slap from the flesh, and the light bitter resistance from the purple skin. I am mad for plums, most likely due to the fact that my grandfather is the proud owner of a plum tree and obtains a dependable picking every summer for us to lavish over, and so Plum Japonais was an automatic must for me to try.

However! The plum here is an augmented fantasy, a note pulled and stretched in a direction that creates its own category of metamorphosis. I smell closely with heightened focus honed in on the plum and swear that there is a salty aspect present. Even so, it’s like a fragrant sort of umami – a ‘self-saucing’ and self-sufficient sort of feature that is complex on its own. But of course, this is improved upon here in the perfuming medium.

Further, just as an aside, it is impossible to talk about plum and fruits, and not talk about Feminite du Bois. I feel that perfumer responsible Yann Vasnier treated the perfume as an homage to the legendary Feminite du Bois (Shiseido, now Serge Lutens). In Feminite du Bois the plum clashes with woods. In Plum Japonais, the woods are instead steeped in a marvellously nectarous and sticky sweet plum jam – A Japanese Umeboshi plum to be exact, evoking an exotic Oriental mood.

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Photo by Tom Ford


Plum Japonais is delightfully warm and spicy, with the plums diverging from hyperrealistic in the opening quickly steeped into a pot over wood set alight outside. To create this, these gorgeous plums are macerated in a spicy mixture of saffron, cinnamon, amber, and vanilla. As these stew into amalgam, some of the wood smoke is captured in the pot, in the form of cedar and oud. If my imagination is allowed to further wander, I imagine this fictitious pot located in a clearing of a forest with crisp morning air. I can smell the conifers and the space between them and the subtle flowers and blossoms. So bringing this all together, a balance between the tensions of hot and cold is found in Plum Japonais, like a hairy chested fellow with a cold gaze on a bear skin rug situated next to a fire.

This is an amber-coloured jam with some spikes in it. The balance is there as sweetness, unctuosity and oriental density become one, and much like caramel, it turns from lightly coloured and sweet to a darker, semi-burnt creature. The woodiness of this perfume is solid like a vertical beam, varnished with the plum, and decorated with the faintest level of cardamon, leather, and florals. Nevertheless, the equilibrium is at times challenged by an underlying acerbic quality, slightly rough with a hint of phenols and tannins – however, the fragrance proves to be forever valiant as the balance remains. In fact, I am inclined to say that this adds to the realism of the plum and the enjoyable dryness of the coniferous base, which arises in the dry down in the most pleasurable way possible.

It’s grand to experience a fragrance that goes through great shifts, from sticky sweet to almost dusty and dry redolent of vast evergreens and smoke. The synthetic oud note too is fascinating, and acts more functional than anything. This is a very happy departure from the (now receding) oud trend. Oud adds smoke and depth when it is treated as secondary; another creature lending itself to metamorphosis.

Smoked boozy plum liqueur with a solid backbone. A contemporary play on the legendary Feminite du Bois – this time conifer is the subject.

Subjective rating : 4.5/5

Objective rating: 4/5

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