Tom Ford’s Fleur de Chine (2013)

Tom Ford Fleur de Chine, 50 mL
Tom Ford Fleur de Chine, 50 mL

I remember having dinner at my sister’s home when I was a kid (there’s a big age gap between us), and my brother-in-law brought out a very tiny dish of “something” from the kitchen and asked me to try it. I took a small piece, but immediately didn’t like the texture. I tried to be polite and said I liked it. He said, “it’s marinated duck tongues. If I had told you you would not eat it.” Really, they were not for me, and I thought I just had my lifetime quota of duck tongues filled.

I told my friend about this story and he definitely had a funny reaction. His sister owns a small “Chinese restaurant” mostly for take-outs in a small city next to Toronto, and a majority of her customers are white folks. The restaurant’s most popular dish is chicken balls, which basically are small pieces of chicken dipped in some batter and deep-fried to balloon-up the size. Of course, it is not chicken ball if it is not served with a heavy ladle of sweet “red sauce” poured on top. The red sauce is made with sugar, vinegar, corn starch, red food coloring and nothing else, and according to my friend, they drink it up.

Chicken ball is not really an authentic Chinese dish per se, but in the eyes of Westerners, I think it is now. In fact, I once suggested Chinese for dinner to a white friend and his first response was, “yeah, good idea, I haven’t had chicken balls for a long time.”

So what does this have to do with Tom Ford’s Fleur de Chine? Well, if Fleur de Chine were a Chinese dish, it’s chicken ball with an extra bowl of red sauce on the side – a scent for the Westerners. Really, I am not complaining, I dig this perfume. It does smell oriental to me (oriental as in Asian, not Middle Eastern or spicy), and even resembles a tiny-teeny bit of my favorite perfume, Arpege, but it is obviously a French interpretation of a Chinese perfume – if it exists. The scent is quite fleeting, and it’s the tea and mandarin orange note that tie the very light hyacinth, wisteria, magnolia, peonies and jasmine scents together in a small, intoxicating, smooth, floral package.

I sometimes wonder what American contestants would answer if they are asked to name the most common Chinese flowers in the game show “Family Feud.” I can name a few quite right off my head for I have seen countless generic watercolour paintings in Chinese restaurants with a flower subject – peonies, orchids, plum blossoms, chrysanthemum, lotus, rhododendron, etc. They are all pretty, but scent-wise, I think except peonies and lotus have a noticeable and distinct floral scent, not too many are particularly fragrant. If the perfumer of Fleur de Chine really sticks to using only “Chinese flowers”, the perfume might not be as good?

Yves Saint Laurent’s Nu EDP (2001)

Yves Saint Laurent's Nu EDP © Victor Wong
Yves Saint Laurent’s Nu EDP © Victor Wong

Guess what impresses me most about Yves Saint Laurent’s Nu? The bottle – wait, not the space age silver cylindrical box that belongs to the Men In Black movie, but the surface of the chrome box – it leaves no fingerprints. How crazy is that? Nowadays you have to pay more for kitchen appliances with no-fingerprint chrome surfaces, but Nu, a perfume released in 2001 is already doing that. Well thoughout little details, kudos to the packaging design team.

To me the name “Nu” suggests something new and radical; to a certain degree, the perfume does smell quite unconventional in 2001. (It smells like a niche perfume now.) Nu is a mildly creamy and sweet, cardamom-heavy, woody and incensey perfume that’s warm and slightly exotic. It wakes me up because the spice is quite strong, and that’s the ironic part. Rather than smelling cold and android, it uses some of the oldest perfumery ingredients (cardamon, incense, jasmine) to create a supposedly space age perfume to be worn by women in cool shades. Instead, it should be a candidate for a Opium flanker. The confusion is like slicing a spring roll diagonally in the middle and plate it vertically and call it an Asian Fusion dish.

As a perfume collector, I bought the vintage version of Nu because of the packaging. I became aware of it when a sales lady from the perfume shop that I visit all the time showed me the EDT version of Nu, which came in a simple blue bottle. (Mine is the EDP.) The scent didn’t leave a strong impression and neither did the bottle. She told me that she wished she could show me the sold-out first version (the one I have now) because it was so cool. A few months later I read about Nu in Roja Dove’s book “The Essence of Perfumes”, which has a big section dedicated to the most notable perfumes and bottles. Then one day, to my surprise, I saw a brand new bottle in a perfume shop that I rarely go to. The quasi-clueless owner sold it to me for an excellent price and the EDP version was definitely stronger and memorable than the EDT version the other shop had shown me.

Tom Ford’s Jonquille de Nuit (2012)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Tom Ford is a very busy business man, but each day he can still find time to christen each vat of perfume by taking a long bath in it – that is why despite the line has so many different scents, they somehow all share similarities. Jonquille de Nuit (2012), a narcissus themed perfume, should by default smell intoxicating, but Tom Ford definitely took his time washing his body in it with extra soap and shampoo to make it very manly, perverse and… soapy. The result is a scent that’s not most well-loved and it got discontinued in merely two years since its debut.

Narcissus is one of my most favourite flowers, because it is Chinese tradition to bring fresh flowers home during the Chinese New Year holidays and narcissus is the most fragrant flower among all. It really is a marvel that such tiny little trumpets can smell so fragrant and intense, and I associate narcissus with the happiest time of my childhood. (I think it’s similar to bringing a fresh pine tree home for Christmas in western culture.)

Tom Ford’s Jonquille de Nuit definitely caught my attention when it came out in the market, but I was very hesitant to buy it because while I could detect a big amount of narcissus in it, the other ingredients almost “polluted” it, making it very bitter and green. (Similar to Balmain’s Vent Vert but more intense and floral.) But it’s a supposed to be a sophisticated unisex perfume, so on that level, it’s a good dark green floral, or, in my opinion, a little evil springtime scent.

(P.S. In case you are curious, I bought this half-full flacon bottle on eBay at a price cheaper than a brand-new 50ml bottle – I don’t think I will ever buy a brand new flacon Tom Ford at full retail price.)