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Friday, November 18, 2005

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


Blogger katiedid said...

I've not tried this one, but you've inspired me to get off my duff and try my little decant of Eau de Gloire.

I do like the idea of perfumes with an inherent sense of humor.

It'll be interesting to see what folks at large here think of the line when/if it ever becomes available here in the States.

8:30 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Tell me what you think about Eau de Glorie when you try it. That one seems to be taking its subject a little more seriously. :-)

I hope with all my heart they start exporting to the US!

9:25 AM EST  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

M, Did you try the other two in the line? Have been lusting after that little coffret set on the French Sephora site!

10:51 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

R, I briefly sniffed Eau de Glorie a while ago, not Eau Suave..

*with baited breath* Does French Sephora deliver internationally? I am sure it does not. arrgh!

10:54 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

V, I was very very surprised at how much I liked this scent. And I forgot to the review how long-lasting it is, basically from 9am to midnight.

Love Ivan Vasilyevich movie, especially that scene...mmm...kabachkovaya ikra

11:23 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What exactly is the smell of vodka in this fragrance? I have some vodka here, and it smells for all the world exactly like my perfumer's alcohol, since it is practically the same thing. ;) In fact, some amateur perfumers use vodka to make colognes.

6:31 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amber Russe is fabulous, been tryingto find somewhere in the uk that sells it!

1:04 PM EDT  
Blogger air.ocean said...

Stumbled upon this entry while researching amber-ish fragrances for a friend.

The reference to the movie about Иван Васильевич is hilarious and yet... appropriate. And we here have kabachkovaya ikra available at any supermarket. Ah, the decadence! Now we only need to get Ambre Russe to appear magically in Kyiv...

6:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Joan said...

What an awesome, packed review! I didn't catch a lot of those notes; to me Ambre Russe is a full ambergris, a one-note-wonder with accents. But I love it as much as you do.

Your notes about Russian tzars cracked me up!

3:20 PM EST  

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