In writing a review of Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe, I felt I should consider the overall impact of amber (ambergris, ambrette) and how it influences the fragrance experience. I’ve reviewed a couple of Amber-keynote scents — Tom Ford Amber Absolute, Bond No 9 New York Amber — and there are several derivative scents that tend to use the element in a variety of ways. While it’s in vogue to talk about Oud (agarwood) as a niche element, amber has always been around to influence the outcome of a scent and appears to now be taking a more pivotal role. It begs some questions:
- Is Amber the next Oud?
- If one were to describe the ‘Holy Grail’ of amber scents, what would that be?
In our end of year review of Bond No 9 New York Amber, we acknowledged that the fragrance was somewhat derivative in nature (the base was equivalent to Harrods Amber), and there are several parallels to their New York Oud. So while not quite the Holy Grail, it’s certainly in the same cathedral.
Speaking of which, Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute (recently discontinued) defines that cathedral through its use of incenses reminiscent of Catholic High Mass. As a fragrance, it’s wonderful though that depends on your appreciation of how the amber is augmented. As a pure amber, the element is a bit lost in the composition despite the warmth that note characteristically imbues. Two very different interpretations, but neither are quite the purist’s vision of a warm yet powdery-soft amber.
Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe (2003): This brings us to Marc-Antoine Corticchiato’s interpretation of Amber as viewed from a much different lens, a lens that views the warmth of amber as core to a very unique series of elements that work in very good harmony. Picture a series of elements very similar to Cuir Ottoman, much borrowed from the 19th century scents of the Russian Empire, and including the juxtaposition of vodka and champagne, leather and deeply smoked tea, spices and honey, vanilla and incense, all working in unison to provide a transformative experience of those notes as they surround the amber core without becoming overpowering in themselves.
The result is very opulent, bubbly, rich and warm, yet sharp and intriguing. Had this simply been “warm-powdery amber”, it would lack something to provide additional character to the experience. Ergo, New York Amber’s infusion of rose, spices, woods and saffron (among other elements), and Amber Absolute’s liberal use of incense. Each adds something else to the ensemble cast, each changes or weaves a unqiueness around the fragrance.
As for Ambre Russe…
Given the search for perfection itself is an imperfect quest, Ambre Russe demonstrates what can be done around the warmth of an amber element while creating an inviting, engaging and sparkling experience. This would be the champagne and caviar of the amber set. The elements harmonize in such a unique way that once the vodka is added to the mixture, the result against the warmth of the amber, tea, honey, leather, incense, vanilla, spices and rum, it simply creates a very sparkling chemistry. The rest is is simply a wonderful experience. Neither cloying, nor heavy, definitely not as musky and sometimes suffocating as New York Amber can become, and balanced in its execution of sillage, projection and longevity. Ambre Russe is a very intimate experience in that its subtlety is its most appealing trait. The EdP strength is somewhat above average, longevity is excellent, and even over-application doesn’t result in an olfactory disaster.
Rating: 5/5. Highly recommended.
Bottom-line: I began this review expressing a search for the ‘Holy Grail’ of ambers, and asking the open question of whether amber is the next Oud. I believe I’ve answered one of those questions very clearly, the other…
Amber as an unaccompanied note will feel incomplete. Oud, without augmentation, will also not present as much other than a somewhat sour and medicinal resin. Neither would be complete without the correct accents in the proper proportion. It’s for that reason I won’t immediately agree that “Amber will be the next Oud”, although I won’t rule out that possibility. As for finding the Holy Grail, Ambre Russe is about as close to the intoxication of that experience as I’d dare want to come. It is exquisite.