Ambre Nuit by Dior Privee
It’s no rarity in the niche world to have a fragrance name at odds with its contents. Le Labo is legendary for that, as both Rose 31 and Ylang 49 can attest to. Patricia de Nicolai’s recent Amber Oud was patently devoid of either amber or oud. And to many who have worn Ambre Nuit by Dior Privee, the same brush applies: where the hell is the amber? Well, it’s there, friends, you just have to be patient, and perhaps shift expectations of what an ‘amber’ fragrance is.
The “in” thing in amber these days seemed to be fossilized amber. But in spite of whatever tomfoolery Stephan Humbert Lucas is trying to pull with his laughably-priced labdanum meltdown, O Hira, fossilized amber has very little smell at all in the finished perfume, because it is such a bitter-smelling material that you can’t use more than a tiny drop of it or else it ruins the composition.
But what most people associate with an amber fragrance is either labdanum, benzoin, ambergris or an alchemic fusion of vanilla, powder, spice, and so on. Old favourites such as Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, MPG Ambre Precieux, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’Eau D’Ambre, Farmacia SS. Annunziata’s Ambra Nera – these are, well these are AMBERS! But not my kind of amber.
Ambre Nuit is my kind of amber. It’s also THE summer amber par excellence.
I lean towards amber fragrances that strive for subtlety, mystery and elegance. They develop into something different from what was first sprayed on. And they don’t scream “amber!” when you ponce about the neighbourhood. And they should transcend the seasons rather than get pigeonholed into fall-winter rotations. My kind of ambers allows other notes, often florals, to open for the main attraction. To wit: Ambre de Carthage by Isabey is all about the osmanthus for the first hour. And in its first hour, Ambre Nuit is all about the most charmingly shy Turkish rose you can imagine.
Ambre Nuit goes on with an ephemeral flush of soft red pepper, some high quality bergamot, a tart berry fruitiness, and that gorgeous wee rose, which has no relation to the fiery rose monster that Francois Demachy employs in his other ‘fancy’ Dior, Oud Ispahan. Ambre Nuit’s rose is juicy but demure, jammy but dry, assertive but yielding. It’s the finest rose note I’ve ever come across (granted, rose is not normally my ‘thing’, but I’ve tried one or two….). These elements create a dramatic prologue before settling down to the first chapter: La Petite Rose Turque.
The second chapter – Le Tango – eventually reveals a deliciously salty ambergris that always finds its appropriate place in the mix. From that point on, it is an impressively-balanced and sensual performance of rose and ambergris. Its throw is moderate and the longevity prodigious for such refinement. But never mistake its refined character as wussy or insignificant. From four sprays, Ambre Nuit lasts an impressive eight hours.
Ambre Nuit is a top summer fragrance because it moves far beyond the colognes, the citruses, the worn clichés of refreshment. On a hot, sultry summer night, heat-humidity-sweat literally unleash the über-refined, salty ambergris straight through that rosy composure and…. voila! Genuine sexiness. Without the heat, this crucial climax of the Ambre Nuit experience is somewhat lost. It’s a delight for the rest of the year, and is a really dependable source of instant bliss, but can stall a bit at the end of Chapter One if heat is not applied. Along with Tauer’s Incense Rosé, it might be the happiest™ fragrance I own. But in summer, Ambre Nuit really performs.
For the Epilogue, the rose is but a pleasant tangible memory, but the ambergris, the AMBER is there, bold and slightly gourmand. If it was sprayed on your date hours earlier, you may be tempted to ravage, as it is extremely provocative in its salty sensuality and plain yumminess. This story always ends on a positive note!
So, you see, Ambre Nuit is as much about amber as the more orthodox members of the family. You simply need to trust in Francois Demachy’s sense of restrained, elegant sexiness. And in the heat of summer nights…..
Eau du Sud by Annick Goutal
No list of masculine summer fragrances would be complete without a nod to classic cologne: the lemons, the bergamots, the nerolis and the petitgrains. Well, most dudes, especially Stateside, refer to all ‘masculine’ fragrances as “cologne”. We cognoscenti know better but there is of course a logical reason for this: cologne is the acceptable fragrance for all men to wear, with no ambiguity or feminine associations – safe, in other words. But wtf is cologne? I believe cologne, rather than Coca Cola, is “the pause that refreshes”. Its dynamic combo of freshness and cooling properties is a no-brainer for summer. Although my favourite eau de cologne, by Chanel Exclusives, is deeply gorgeous and relatively complex (the musk, oh the MUSK!), it is still just that; a cologne, and is by definition short-lived and quite basic. But colognes refresh.
But what if you want that refreshment with some real perfumery pizzazz?
Annick Goutal’s summertime masterpiece, Eau du Sud refreshes. And sparkles. And delights. For hours. It is no garden variety citrus cologne, nosireebob! It’s one of the single most compelling reasons to even have a summer. It’s that good. Lemme explain why…..
Every single time I apply Eau du Sud, especially in the anti-climatic summers of Holland, I’m teleported to a place I never want to leave. In the land of Eau du Sud, the birds are singing, a plethora of Mediterranean herbs – basil, rosemary, lavender and mint – are fecund and ubiquitous, the Sicilian lemons and grapefruits are freshly squeezed by bronzed beauties, and the sky is wide open and endless with heat shimmering through the ether. It’s perfume voodoo and this voodoo is the key reason most of us fume junkies are so committed to it – because it evokes a very specific context of where we really want to be.
The first hit of Eau du Sud is ALL of these elements whoopin’ you upside the head like a warm sirocco wind. It has a close affinity in vibe with the timeless classic Chanel Pour Monsieur but with just more of everything. The citruses do dominate at first but the grapefruit – unusually – takes over from the juicy lemons and bergamot. And what is doubly remarkable is that the grapefruit lasts for a full hour, outlasting even the excellent Guerlain Acqua Allegoria Pampelune.
Then there’s the mint and basil combo, which I believe truly sets Eau du Sud apart as a unique experience. They simply sing together in perfect fifths as in an elegant, rustic choir. Furthermore, it is this herbal bouquet that gives Eau du Sud its claim to greatness, because they act as the basis for the unmistakeable chypre vibe you get after maybe 15 minutes on the skin. Some say Eau du Sud is like Diorella and Cristalle, among other aromatic, citric chypres, but I emphatically disagree. They all have some degree of moss in their composition, but Eau du Sud relies on its gorgeous herbal accord to provide the chypric foundation.
The longevity of Eau du Sud is another of its extraordinary features. There is no cologne on earth that can last for 8 hours, no matter how hard Malle might try with his latest Indelible. You can apply Eau du Sud at 8am, wear it through a stinking hot day, and it just holds up all day long! Whether you are on vacation or stuck in an office with the AC on the fritz, its power to evocate a happy place will never let you down. There is the faintest, almost imperceptible waft of labdanum and vanilla in the base that I hold responsible for this legendary longevity and is one more reason to admire the skill of the late lamented Ms. Goutal – this was among her final masterpieces.
The great asset of Eau du Sud is that even if you are in the midst of a brilliant summer, it enhances that reality, kind of like certain substances enhance the reality of certain music. Its chypre quality allows you to enjoy it throughout the year for a quick and dependable pick-me-up, casually or for formal occasions. But it is in summer that it teleports me most convincingly.
It needs to be said that the bottle I’m reviewing (and my backup bottle) is a “vintish” (vintage-ish) one, produced before the fairly recent takeover of Annick Goutal by a Korean parent, Amorepacific. You can easily recognize it as it doesn’t have the soulless conformity of bottle shape that the new ones do. From my experience, this event has really affected the best Annick Goutal fragrances in a depressingly familiar, negative way, and honestly I won’t even try any more after a traumatic whiff of the reformulated Mandragore and Sables…. Luckily you can still find this summer gem on the usual sites and indeed I hope you do. You may never be as satisfied with a mere cologne again….
Eau Mer by Pekji
Since we’ve looked at something close to ‘cologne’, it only makes sense to explore another very popular category in masculine-summer perfumery – the (complex) vetiver. Or vetiver plus. Y’all know this one, right? The distinctive earthy vetiver note is still key but dominates to wildly varying degrees – Guerlain, Carven, Malle, Villoresi, Lutens, etc. all do “vetiver plus” fragrances to vastly different effect. My top choice for an outstanding summer “vetiver plus” is from a very impressive newcomer to international perfumery, who launched a full line of fragrances this year: Eau Mer by Pekji.
Eau Mer goes on as a simple-ish neroli-heavy eau de cologne. That clichéd stage lasts literally seconds before you realize you are dealing with a VERY different animal here. The quality of the neroli is obvious but it cleverly and immediately takes a backseat to what can only be described as an “industrial green marine” accord that wobbles in like gasoline fumes from a leaking tank. I’ve never smelled anything like it, and for some, this stage may flummox or unsettle. Imagine a forested marshland with a petrol refinery a couple of kilometres down the road on a windy day and you start to get the idea of what this smells like. The neroli and a tart petitgrain are firmly in place throughout but this crazy accord seems to float over it. Eau Mer is clearly brave perfumery, executed with daring and confidence. What happens next?
For a good 30 minutes, the petrol-green-neroli-aquatic (from what, I don’t know, perhaps seaweed or maybe even basil as in Eau du Sud?) cloud stays put. If this sounds unpleasant, rest assured that it most certainly not. It’s gorgeous. On the one really hot day that I’ve worn Eau Mer, this accord positively shimmered above my skin, making it feel quite organic – a very clever trick indeed.
Around the 45min mark, the true genius of Eau Mer becomes apparent. This isn’t a twisted eau de cologne made by a disgruntled sailor, it’s a bloody vetiver! The first time I wore this, I grinned ear to ear from this olfactory epiphany. As the shimmering petrol-marine accord slowly backed off, I was treated to a very high quality Haitian vetiver in all its grassy glory, as if I was being moved further down the marshy shore into a patch of fresh air. The petrol still lurks in the background, the neroli still impressively sticks around but Eau Mer joins the illustrious ranks of the Vetiver plus club. I didn’t see that coming, and man I love it.
A shy, wan jasmine note later joins the party, and it fuses with the vetiver to provide a degree of organic elegance. It’s this subtle jasmine that really convinced me that Eau Mer should be included with a couple of my favourite summer fragrances. It demonstrates that Pekji respects classicism while also embracing the avant-garde, which is something I’ve always respected in the creative arts, particularly music.
Eau Mer is something that I could see Mark Buxton or Geza Schoen doing at their best. The juxtaposition and effortless evocation of organic and synthetic are factors in perfumery that get me genuinely excited, and Eau Mer is an exciting fragrance.
On the Pekji website – incredibly – Pekji quotes someone who has worn Eau Mer and they invoke cottage country in summer in Ontario. I spent my first 18 years in that precise area, and can attest that this remarkable scent convincingly evokes summers in cottage country, with its mixed aromas of seaweed, mixed forest, outboard boat engines and marsh areas. But above all, I smell the sun gently beating down on this unspoiled part of the planet. This must be the only vetiver + that smells like my childhood summers, and now you can go there too.