Tom Ford White Suede, 2009

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Perfumer not cited by Tom Ford.

Suede is usually conjured with references to tea, dried leaves, birch, violet and the like. ‘Leather’ notes might more precisely be called ‘tannery’ notes and leather perfumes can often have a chemical tinge. White Suede goes for broke—the chemistry is undisguised and brutal. As the topnotes singe my nose hairs I go into fight or flight mode and have to make certain not to shit myself as I try to escape. White Suede grows quieter, but never less shrill and gives the nerve-wracking sensation of a siren passing you, fading in the distance, but always sounding too sharp in pitch.

By chemical I mean unnatural. “Natural” is the verbal equivalent of zero in mathematics. Strictly defined, imaginary, entirely conceptual. We make a point of never defining it and hope nobody else will either. It carries enormous significance, principally judgement–good and worthy–but has little meaning in fact. I find it hard to use the word in a sentence.

‘Unnatural’ is another bird entirely. It’s campy though not obviously humorous. Even more than “natural”, though, “unnatural” connotes judgement more than fact.

So, White Suede is as unnatural and chemical as they come. It’s a reminder that an imbalanced perfume made with mostly aromachemicals has a higher risk of flying out of control than one made of mostly botanicals. White Suede isn’t just a little off, like the person humming a vague ditty out of tune. It’s the forgotten, screaming tea kettle that you hope will soon run dry and burn the house down.

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