I believe that every perfume lover has gone through a stage where he or she becomes obsessed with the work of Serge Lutens, reading as much as possible about it and acquiring with impetus every attainable bottle, to smell the scents, study them and understand how virtuous Lutens and Sheldrake are when it comes to the idealization behind a fragrance and consecuential development of its formula.
Over the years Uncle Serge, as he is affectionately called, has produced fragrances so esteemed that they are often regarded as highly valued must-have scents which one cannot do without. If it’s a tuberose, it becomes an archetype of tuberose. If it’s about roses it turns into the embodiment of what a rose scent should be. If the fragrance is about vanilla it is regarded as a gold standard for vanillas. Do you get the picture?
Ambre Sultan has, too, become an archetypal amber scent. In perfumery, amber is not a note but an accord typical of oriental compositions (another one is the mellis accord, which is different). Amber must not be confused with ambergris either, that one is a note that comes from a secretion produced by sperm whales, with certain similarities but mostly unalike.
An amber accord is the combination of labdanum and benzoin/vanilla, conjuring the image of the fossilized tree resin known as amber gemstones but merely as an ideal –theoretically, fossilized amber has a scent that can be extracted, but the yield is tremendously low and the odor profile is very different. Burning it does not result in a comparable scent either. I have done it myself.
In other words, an amber accord seeks to evoke a sweet odor emanating from resionous materials, bigger than the sum of its parts and often imparting a comforting sensation. Amber fragrances are characteristically syrupy and thick, and Amber Sultan does not escape to this. What is interesting about this amber is that it is mixed with notes that do not have anything in common with it, keeping it far removed from being cloying. Actually, Amber Sultan can be aptly accused of being a savory amber.
The fragrance starts with a kick of oregano, myrtle and bay leaf –camphorous herbs with a bitter and medicinal profile; here the camphor effect is minimized. Oregano adds a slight smokiness too which highlights the labdanum. Serge Lutens is notorious for avoiding verdantly citruses as top notes, choosing instead herbs and/or spices. This practice more often than not produces interesting openings, albeit rather harsh. The base is perceived from the first atomization as well, comprised of the amber accord surrounded by an earthy patchouli distant from any chocolate facet, a faintly sweet and musky angelica root, and a dash of woods which smell like sandalwood glazed with a balsam.
The amber accord here has its balance tipped in favor of labdanum, keeping the bezoin and vanilla in control. Labdanum has a sticky, smoky, leathery and waxy profile with the last two nuances underlined here. It has an unctuous texture that is almost perceptible on the mouth. All the notes next to the amber accord produce a waxy, dusty and somewhat salty scent, with an underlying sweetness that is, to be honest, arrestingly enjoyable. It curiously reminds me of the smell of the modeling compound known as Play-Doh, and that makes sense, considering that it is manufactured primarily with flour, salt and water. It makes me wonder if I like Ambre Sultan because it tickles a memory from my childhood. Do we like things because they remind us of tender times?.
Ambre Sultan is linear and most of its aspects are revealed from the beginning. The fragrance has great endurance, a big projection and wears really well on cold days, but it is surprisingly appropriate for warm times as well. I don’t think Ambre Sultan is for everyone, but it is a great example of a carefully constructed amber and a great study on labdanum.
Name: Ambre Sultan
House: Serge Lutens
Concentration: Eau de parfum
Nose: Christopher Sheldrake
Release Year: 2000
Category: Aromatic oriental
Reviewed Batch: circa 2019
From personal colletion.