Perfume Review: Parfum d'Empire Ambre Russe
When I first heard about Ambre Russe, I grumbled. Vodka note in a perfume with “Russian” in its title, how stereotypical is that?! Still I must admit that I was extremely curious. Ambre Russe is the second fragrance from Parfum d’Empire, company dedicated to the creation of olfactory equivalents of famous figures and/or the general ethos of various empires; their first perfume, Eau de Glorie is a homage to Napoleon, a citrus scent made interesting by the notes of tea, licorice, leather, tobacco and incense*. With Ambre Russe, the perfumer Marc Antoine Corticchiato apparently decided to go completely over the top, after all the scent was inspired by Tsarist Russia and we all know the way those tsars were, they ate too much, drank more and hated and loved intensely. Accordingly, the notes spell excess: vodka, champagne, tea, incense, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ambergris, vanilla, leather…
With notes this baroque and rich, the fragrance was seemingly destined to be cloying, perfumey, too intense, too…Too Much. Shockingly it is none of these things. Yes, it is a rich, robust, dark scent, but the notes are blended perfectly and, instead of being overwhelming and bizarre, like a dish with too many incompatible and flavorful ingredients combined in an attempt to create an exotic treat, Ambre Russe is warm, sensual and luxuriant, and I like it very much, vodka and all.
It starts with an almost physically hot blast of amber and incense, both notes hearty and sweet. There is a very pleasant honey-like accord in the top notes and a strange but no less enjoyable smell of beeswax. I must say that, after much eye rolling and grousing regarding the vodka note, I cannot actually smell it at all, though undoubtedly the note could not have been meant to be perceptible on its own, a pronounced alcoholic accord would have made the fragrance smell “turned”. Champagne is also not obvious to my nose, but there is a certain “boozyness” in the top notes, something feisty and exhilarating, and it lifts and lightens what otherwise might have been too dark, somber and heavy scent. I love the way the tea note is combined with spices making the scent smoky and sweet, very comforting and satisfying. For the cumin-wary, the note is there, but it is subdued. The leather note that enters the blend in the drydown is softened by vanilla; in its turn, the leather ensures that vanilla does not dominate the drydown. The smoky-spicy-full-bodied character of Ambre Russe is just as evident during that last stage of its development.
What I especially love about this fragrance is the fact that, in my opinion, luxurious and lavish that it is, it does not take itself seriously and does not glorify its in no way ideal subject. The Russian comedy Ivan Vasilyevich Changes His Profession (Иван Васильевич Меняет Профессию, 1973) is what comes to my mind when I smell Ambre Russe. Ivan the Terrible accidentally changes places with a Soviet upravdom (administrator, superintendent) and much hilarious chaos ensues. One of the best parts of it is the scene of the Tsar’s feast: “Pike heads, intestines, red caviar, black caviar, foreign caviar…” (In fact, I am surprised there is no caviar note in Ambre Russe, to make up for this regrettable omission, and to achieve the highest level of decadent extravagance, layer Ambre Russe with Guerlain’s Cuir Beluga :-)).
Ambre Russe is a nostalgic but humorous olfactory portrait of Imperial Russia. The immense wealth, the buckets of vodka and the rivers of champagne, the tea sweetened with lots and lots of honey, the leather note that may or may not have been meant as a kinky innuendo, the candles lit in front of golden icons and incense burned in desperate attempt to find forgiveness for all the sins and excesses…it is all there. But it is my belief that Marc Antoine Corticchiato wanted for his take on Tsarist times to be taken with a wink and an affectionate roll of the eyes and a resigned shrug of the shoulders: “Those Russians!”
Ambre Russe is not (yet?) available in the US. In France, it retails for 75 euros for 100ml.
* Another new scent from Parfum d’Empire is dedicated to Joséphine and is called Eau Suave.
**The "gastronomic" photo is from http://giotsar.free.fr/gastronomie/