Tom Ford Plum Japonais, 2013

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Perfumer Yann Vasnier

Fortunately, you don’t spritz on a marketing campaign. You spritz perfume. Set aside the nouvelle orientalism of the Ford ‘Atelier d’Orient’ collection. But do smell Plum Japonais if you get the chance.

More than most fruits, the plum is about the relationship of the skin and the flesh of the fruit. A thin, intensely acidic skin layer is the first taste of the plum as you pierce the skin with your teeth, but the rush of sweet flesh quickly overwhelms the tartness. The experience reverses and the sweetness washes away as the meat of the fruit gets swallowed, leaving the skin and its sharpness. Tart, sweet, tart. Each bite is a little opera.

The salty, acidic slap of the pickled umeboshi plum is one of my favorite tastes. The experience is huge and invigorating. It’s the gustatory equivalent of jumping out of a sauna and into the snow. Plum Japonais plays with these fluctuating facets of the plum and makes a woody-plum perfume that is both bold and nuanced. Plum can be a thorny note. Edmond Roudnitska claimed the plum as his own with the brilliant Rochas Femme and Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake used the plum as the starting place for new fruited-wood amber genre with Feminité du Bois. Any perfumer hoping to make a principally plum-scented fragrance cannot help but see some big shoes.

Perfumer Yann Vasnier takes the plum into new territory with Plum Japonais. The previous pairings, plum/moss in Femme and plum/cedar in Feminité du Bois, were enormously successful and so is Vanier’s. He matches plum with a fir note, making a sweet and syrupy perfume that doesn’t fall into the gourmand trap. I’ve seen oud, spices and all sorts of things listed in the notes for Plum Japonais, but the overall effect is a sweet, cool woody tone similar to that in Fille en Aiguilles. (Take that, Sheldrake!) In both cases you can embrace the sweetness without reservation and never fear falling into a dessert. Even with notes of cardamom and cinnamon, the perfume still leans more toward the Christmas tree than the dessert table.

Vasnier creates a dynamic similar to the tart-sweetness of eating a plum by focussing on the tensions between spiced sweetness and cold balsamic resinousness. And he manages to do it without stealing from either Roudnitska or Sheldrake. This alone is remarkable. Plum Japonais has an unrestrained opening that is appropriate for a fruity fragrance, but settles comfortably into a dusty wooded-fruit balance that remains strong but close to the skin. The drydown is spectacular, more poised than tempting, and is would be a great treat to reconsider on your wrist at the end of a long day.

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