The humble amber accord is to fragrance what Sade is to music. It’s the ‘easy-listening’ and laid-back jazz of the fragrance world, and much like the sonic tones of such recordings, amber is always entirely enjoyable to experience. That said, my only little niggle with the familiar blend of labdanum, vanilla and benzoin, is that it can, on occasions, be a bit samey, and often one finds that one amber, isn’t much different from many of the others. There are notable exceptions however, and I would point you in the direction of Serge Lutens’ defining Ambre Sultan (a trip to a heady souk), L’Artisan’s L’Eau de Ambre (one of the original and very best) and Byredo’s 1996 (a sepia-toned amber with a vintage feel) for tremendous ambers of note.
So yes, amber fragrances can be very similar, but they can also be bold and entertaining too, and the latest fragrance to join Van Cleef & Arpels’ Collection Extraordinaire, ‘Ambre Impérial’ definitely falls into the latter of the amber camps. Composed by the up and coming, and super-talented perfumer, Quentin Bisch (the nose behind the apopcornalyptic La Fin du Monde by Etat Libre d’Orange), Ambre Impérial takes the familiar amber accord and accents its natural deliciousness with decadent gourmand materials such as pillowy vanilla and irresistible salted caramel. Ambre Impérial is an amber good enough to eat.
Bergamot, Pink Pepper, Amber Accord, Tonka Bean, Vanilla, Benzoin and Woods
How Does it Smell?
Van Cleef & Arpels work with extraordinarily gifted perfumers and exceptional materials to fashion their Collection Extraordinaire, and this shows in the quality of the fragrances within the capsule collection. Ambre Impérial is no exception and it feels utterly luxurious right from the very first spritz. The top notes are zesty and ever-so-slightly spicy unveiling a fresh and zingy breeze of bergamot and pepper that shimmers softly with warm daylight. This breezy opening merely hints at the gourmand decadence that lies in wait, patiently leading one to think that Ambre Impérial is an overtly transparent scent with just a tiny touch of warmth.
The buffet cart comes out in fall force once the aerial bergamot and pepper settle. Silver bowls filled with vanilla cream, salted caramel, and tonka bean panacotta are offered up without hesitation, and a blanket of soft, plush, and completely enveloping texture is created. Wearing Ambre Impérial, one wants to curl up inside its delectable fabric and nuzzle into its gourmand warmth. Of course, ‘foody’ fragrances can be great fun at first, but can easily leave one feeling nauseous after a while – Ambre Impérial is not one such scent, and that’s down to the clever use of that salted caramel I mentioned earlier. This note appears as a briny, and almost biscuit-like dry facet that cuts straight through all of the sugar to add contrast. It allows Ambre Impérial to appear as edible, without actually causing tummy aches or even worse, feelings of regret.
As the base comes into play, Ambre Impérial starts to take on a woodier and darker character. Cedar wood and sandalwood ensure that the sharpness of the salt and the softness of the vanilla and caramel extend fully into the dry down, but do so in a way that feels drier and more grainy. This acts as a pleasing juxtaposition to the impeccable smoothness of the first few hours and gives the fragrance, not only a sense of development, but also a rugged quality that leads it just outside of the gourmand as its life span on the skin wains. From bright bergamot to amber caramel and then salted woods, Ambre Impérial most definitely makes for an intriguing journey.
Ambre Impérial is a very well pieced together fragrance, and it contains all of the requisite parts for a good amber scent, specifically; warm, comforting vanilla, fuzzy benzoin, resinous labdanum, and a taste enhancer of something unique, i.e. the salted caramel. Most remarkably though, is not the fragrance’s divergent nature from the genre, but its masterful ability to remain utterly, lip-smackingly delicious, without being thick, heavy or cloying. The overt transparency in the opening acts as a veil to soften the edible materials into something silken, giving the impression of a fragrance that could be gorged upon without any consequences. So, in summation, and as I mentioned at the top of this review, Ambre Impérial is an amber good enough to eat, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it smells a heck of a lot better than it tastes. I recommend you simply spray a good dollop on instead.