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A New Noir: Tom Ford Touts Latest Fragrance and Big Plans for Beauty

The designer hosted a dinner and performance to mark the launch of Noir Anthracite.

MILAN — It was one steamy summer’s night, but Tom Ford kept it cool at a dinner where the vino bianco flowed, and the American soul musician Leon Bridges sang about New Orleans for the crowd at Giacomo Bistrot.

Ford was in Milan earlier this week to showcase his spring 2018 men’s collection and to unveil the third fragrance in his award-winning Noir franchise, Noir Anthracite, a chypre with lots of woody notes. Among the dinner guests was Jon Kortajarena, who appears in the ad campaign alongside Yasmin Wijnaldum.

“He’s the one sprawled out naked in the campaign — but he’s not going to sing for you tonight,” Ford told guests before introducing fellow Texan Bridges, and his backup singer Brittni Jessie, who performed an acoustic set by the bar.

Noir Anthracite, part of Ford’s Signature collection, will land on shelves in September, and the designer said it’s different from Noir and Noir Extreme, which have become bestsellers.

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“Although the heart is still quite warm, this particular fragrance is a chypre, which really hasn’t been in fashion since the late Seventies,” said the designer, describing the juice with its notes of cedar wood, Indonesian macassar and santal Sri Lanka.

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“It’s those woody notes that make this one quite different than the other Noirs, which use amber, patchouli and some floral — although this also has a floral core. But, really, it’s a chypre, and wood has a warmth to it. I tend to like warm fragrances more than cold fragrances,” said Ford from his slick showroom in Milan’s Brera district.

The macassar note is synthetic and the first of its kind, made by putting shavings of the wood in water and then heating the mix. Synthetic notes are often created when it’s too expensive — or too damaging to the environment — to extract a natural fragrance.

Top notes include bergamot, cool pepper sichuan and warm ginger. The fragrance, priced at $122 for a 50.-ml bottle and $171 for a 100 ml.-one, will roll out internationally to 5,500 doors, with 833 of them in the U.S., including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

U.K. stockists will include Harrods, Selfridges and John Lewis, while the juice will also sell at La Rinascente, Coin and Douglas in Italy. Noir Anthracite will launch in China in spring 2018. While the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. declined to comment on first-year sales projections, industry sources estimate that Noir Anthracite will achieve global retail sales of $30 million.

Ford said he wears all of his fragrances as he develops them. “I have to love them, and they have to have an addictive quality where I want to smell them again, and again. I’m basically like potpourri, because I just lay there and spray them on,” said Ford of his highly scientific testing methods.

Asked why this was the moment for a chypre, Ford said it just felt right. “If you’re going to introduce a third Noir, it had better be different than the others, but still linked, although I hate to think [of the new fragrances] as just flankers. I really want each one to live on its own, to have its own personality.”

Ford has big aspirations for the overall beauty business, which is generating about $750 million at retail, and said his goal is to be among the top three or four biggest cosmetics and fragrance houses. “I mean, why would you not want to be there?” he asked.

The business, which has nearly 70 fragrances, is seeing 52 percent growth year-over-year, evenly split between fragrance and cosmetics. Half of the fragrance business comes from the Signature collection, which operates in the prestige space, while the other half comes from Private Blend, Ford’s higher-end lineup. Fifty percent of the cosmetics business comes from lipstick, with the balance from makeup and skin care.

Ford said a substantial chunk of the Private Blend business comes from the Middle East, with clients tending to sweep up multiples in one shopping trip. “It’s hot, they take showers quite often and buy four bottles instead of one,” he said.

The unisex appeal of nearly all Ford’s fragrances has also been a big sales driver. About 40 percent of consumers wearing Black Orchid are men, according to Guillaume Jesel, global president of Tom Ford Beauty at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.

“Most of my Private Blends are unisex, too. I never understood why, if something smells great, you can only wear it as a woman. If it smells great, it smells great, and if you like it, put it on,” said Ford.

He believes Black Orchid, which is part of the Signature collection, “is going to be one of those long-living classics, because it’s so original — although this is me saying it. I can smell it always, it’s very strong like Estée Lauder Youth Dew, which was my favorite fragrance growing up,” and which he recalls his grandmother wearing.

Ford believes Noir Anthracite is more classically masculine, and the bottle, packaging and campaign certainly reflect that. Shot by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott in a Los Angeles studio, the campaign image shows a bare-chested Kortajarena lying on his back, full lips parted and eyes half-open. Wijnaldum rests her head on his chest, facing the camera.

The squat, rectangular bottle is a dark metallic gray that’s meant to mimic the color of anthracite, and there’s a T embossed on one side and an F on the other.

Ford’s approach to fragrance is fluid, with some juices dropping out of the mix to make room for new ones, or because they’ve proved unpopular with customers. He and the Lauder team will also swap notes and fragrance inspirations between Signature and Private Blend when they’re coming up with new formulas.

He said he’s often disappointed when some of his favorite scents are discontinued, but he’s come up with a solution for that: Private Blend Reserve. “Every year we look at what private blends are not selling as much, or not performing as well and we take those away. But some of the ones that we’ve taken away have actually been my favorites and caused such strong customer reaction, so now we’ve got Private Blend Reserve,” a limited collection.

Ford said he did something similar with his eyewear, creating a limited number of some of his favorite frames refabricated in different materials, such as horn.

There is much more to come: Ford is already itching to unveil the next Signature fragrance. It was supposed to launch for fall 2018, “but I think we are going to move it to spring 2018. I’m pushing it to be launched faster because I always think if we have something good, why hold it back, why would you do that?”

Although the ad campaign for the 2018 fragrance was shot last week in a Los Angeles studio (film director Ford said he rarely shoots outdoors anymore, because he likes the control of a studio) he won’t let his enthusiasm carry him away. “We have a master timetable,” he said, adding that factories, distribution, shelf space, and points of sale can’t be compromised by too many launches in a short space of time.