One Thousand Scents

Monday, November 26, 2007

Up There: Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan

I have, predictably enough, a bunch of books about perfumes and perfumery which I like read, and also to refer to when I need to know something about a scent. What is it, exactly, about fragrance that sends so many writers completely over the top? Have they spent so much time sniffing that their limbic systems are in a continual state of hyper-excitation, rendering them unable to think and write straight?

This is from the description of Serge Lutens' Ambre Sultan, from Susan Irvine's "The Perfume Guide":

Every so often a scent is launched which is supposed to smell of the odorata sexualis of a woman. This actually does. Remarkably--to some, repugnantly--it reeks of a woman's sexual juices.

Now, the last time I was within sniffing distance of a lady's private region was the day I was born, and I had other things on my mind, so I can't say I remember what it might have smelled like, but I am fairly certain that this wasn't it. If Irvine is right, when I wear Ambre Sultan, I smell either like I've just done the deed with a lady, or I am in fact a lady myself, and I'm willing to bet that neither of these things is true.

According to Irvine, the scent is composed as follows:

Top: Oregano, bay leaf, coriander, myrtle.
Middle: Angelica, patchouli.
Base: Labdanum, styrax, Tolu balsam, benzoin, sandalwood.

One of the first things off the skin is the warm glow of vanilla-scented benzoin: it sets the stage for what's to come. (And since benzoin is such a tenacious base note, you know that if you smell it at the beginning, it's probably going to be around until the end, and it is.)

You can tell from that list of notes that you're looking at a classic amber-based oriental, and you are. The top is a crisp little fusillade of herbal notes, almost immediately swamped and overcome by that benzoin, and then begins the long, slow, sighing ascent into ambergris heaven. There's a lot more than ambergris: other notes seem to appear and disappear from time to time, including a dark wisp of incense.

As do all good Oriental scents, Ambre Sultan lasts forever. Twelve hours after putting it on, I can still smell it clearly if distantly, a haze of benzoin and amber. I don't put fragrance on clothing, but I'm pretty sure that if you did, you'd still be able to smell it in a day, or two, or three.

Ambre Sultan puts me in mind, naturally, of Maître Parfumeur et Gantier's Ambre Précieux, my Holy Grail of ambergris scents and, really, of all fragrances (it's the one I would save from a fire). Ambre Sultan is more complex: it has those little filigrees and curlicues of incense and patchouli and herbs, suggesting the tracery of Islamic art. Precisely because it's so busy, I don't find it as magical as the MPG scent, which seems purer, somehow. But make no mistake: they're both spectacular.



  • Great review Pyramus -

    I've been curious about Ambre Sultan for quite some time, but already have a bottle of Ambre Precieux. I think I will stick with what I've, the idea of ANYONE even remotely thinking I smell of a woman's cooch is disconcerting, to say the least.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:18 PM  

  • When I read Irvine's review for the first time, I immediately started digging through my decants for Ambre Sultan . . . and determined that a review like hers might sell the juice, but the perfume smells NOTHING like what's between my legs, at least. :-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:51 PM  

  • Thrilling to discover your astute blogs, fellow logophiliac! Thank you, thank you.
    I can't speak specifically about Ambre Sultan, but I can say that any fragrance with the enveloping warmth of vanilla signals "vagina" to me (I'm a girl). The two (can) smell very much alike during sexual arousal.
    And, given your linguistic proclivities, you probably know that the word vanilla is in fact derived from the Spanish word for sheath, vagina, pod. I recall reading somewhere that the conquistadores named it thus because the vanilla pods they encountered in the New World resembled vaginas.

    And, as a non-medical professional who works in a medical center, you should get your nose checked out--it could be something neurologically significant.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:09 PM  

  • Yes, folks, AMBRE SULTAN is all that and more!

    It is a deliciously sexy, warm, comforting romp in the hay, and then some.

    It is my go-to parfum of choice when I want to convey sensuality and warmth. Perfect for winter.

    Enough said. I'm off to score my third bottle.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 PM  

  • Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:54 AM  

  • I find this one very off- pudding at first sniff; the Myrtle, oregano and coriander to my nose are green, strange and don't go with amber. The dry down is much better.Still testing my sample. Nice review!

    By Blogger Kingpharroh, at 1:05 AM  

  • I really liked your Information. Keep up the good work. Smell alike fragrances

    By Blogger Micheal Alexander, at 6:59 AM  

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