Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile: Sweet intoxication?
One of my first exposures to Jean-Claude Ellena’s Hermessence line for Hermes was seeing the price-tag associated with an eau de toilette concentration scent. Each of the fragrances in the collection are a melding of two primary elements, potentially augmented by a background of other notes, but they all represent Ellena’s minimalist style. It can easily be said that any Hermes scent of recent heritage breaks down into only 2-4 major elements and act in a relatively linear fashion. Hermessence is no different.
So given the approaching winter and the search for a warm, rich and balmy amber to properly accent the season, I decided to revisit Hermessence Ambre Narguile with a couple of questions in mind:
- What makes Ambre Narguile compelling?
- And is it really worth the $235 price tag for an eau de toilette?
Fragrance Name: Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile
- Release Date: 2004
- Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena
- Concentration: Eau de Toilette
- Notes: Honey, Benzoin, Labdanum, musk, vanilla, white orchid, coumarin, tonka bean, caramel, sesame, rum, cinnamon
- Availability: Exclusive to Hermes Boutiques
The first item you’ll notice is what’s missing in the list of notes. There’s no mention of amber, ambergris, or anything that seems to resemble amber. In wearing, reviewing and reading through the development of Ambre Narguile, I feel like saying a variation of the line from the famous Clara Peller commercial: Where’s the amber? We’ll get there in a few moments.
What you notice is the development of a warm, sweet, semi-intoxicating confection, the substitutions performing admirably as understudies compensating for the absence of what one would expect in an amber scent. Compared to a warm-yet-sparkling amber, a la Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe (a rather champagne/vodka-infused take on a warm amber scent), Ambre Narguile is a definite departure from the norm. Would the average person note the lack of that amber element? Probably not, since they’ll be enveloped in the sweet caramel and honey trail of this scent. The musk in dry-down steps in where we might expect the powdery after-effect attributed to amber, and the other confectionary elements — the vanilla, tonka bean, cinnamon — simply add to a sense of spices that surround the aura of the scent as it forms and takes shape.
Hermessence Ambre Narguile is playing a game with us in simply exposing that ‘feel’ of warmth associated with amber, the comfort and coziness of a chilled day where we might enjoy such a fragrance wafting gently around us.
It’s said that Ellena’s inspiration included the sweet, smoke–filled aroma of a Hookah lounge to create the scent. But here again, that also doesn’t quite ring as authentic as I don’t get that incense or tobacco primarily because they too are missing from the creation. This is an artist’s rendering, though it seems as if Ellena came prepared with a blank canvas but not all the right colors. Granted, he nails the feel of amber, but Ambre Narguile doesn’t reach the same level as either the true element, nor does it dare to set foot in the hookah lounge for fear of being too close to the smoke.
The experience is linear. If you liked Ambre Narguile at first sniff, you’ll enjoy it at dry-down and all points along the journey. This is far from a transforming experience, typical of an Ellena work. Whether you like that is a matter of personal preference. Sillage is minimal, and longevity is fair given the eau de toilette concentration. Therein lies the downfall, though. Hermes is a luxury name and the price point follows suit. The boutique marketing of this scent doesn’t appear to equate to a strong value proposition when you consider Hermes’ mainstream offerings — Terre d’Hermes, for instance — offer a stronger concentration (EDP and EDT) at a far lower price point. Those scents are also more ubiquitous and recognizable and don’t come with a Hermes leather casing for the 100ml bottle. The result is a niche in a luxury goods line.
- What makes Ambre Narguile compelling? This really depends. It’s an intoxicatingly sweet and refined scent that’s likely a misnomer for the description assigned it. It’s spicy, warm, inviting, and every stroke an excellent effort, but it’s also a very intimate and personal scent unless you decide that marinating is in order. And you’ll likely be among a select few who wears it or any other Hermessence.
- And is it really worth the $235 price tag for an eau de toilette? Again, it depends. If you truly crave a well-crafted albeit misnamed fragrance that befits a cool winter day and are willing to make that leap into a very niche level for a somewhat under-powered essence, then it’s worth it. Want a scent decanted in a Hermes leather holster? Yes, that adds some panache. If you’re seeking a somewhat more remarkable experience, this might fall short.
Bottom-Line: 3.5/5. Hermessence Ambre Narguile is, without doubt, a refined and expertly crafted experience insofar as a linear, warm, confectionary journey might befit. But it is not an authentic amber no matter how close the confluence of elements comes to interpreting that experience. And the lackluster concentration and longevity of all scents in the Hermessence collection are key among its shortcomings.