Names are suggestive things, whether in literature, art, or perfumery. In my experience, fragrances often fail to live up to the moniker bestowed on them but, sometimes, the good ones lead you elsewhere, evoking other images and worlds. With Ambre Loup, I never thought a golden wolf, but of dark, elemental, and wholly primal forces, encircling and bowing to a central core. Like dancers in an ancient ritual, they go round and round, faster and faster, until they turn into a mesmerizing blur, creating an intoxicating whole. That, in turn, brought to mind a perfumed version of Dances with Wolves, the famous film about Native-American Indians, or the ancient Navajo Fire Dance.
Close your eyes, and imagine the sun setting in a sky golden, hazy, and thick with heat. Blackness looms on the horizon, a drum beat rings out, and dancers begin to circle a giant totem made of tobacco. Ambergris, labdanum, vanilla, spices, aromatic cedar, the stickiest and blackest of resins — one by one they whoop and stomp, round and round, their feet beating up clouds of cinnamon and cloves, as the golden thickness of the dying sun hangs heavier and heavier atop their heads. The blackness crashes like a wave over the land, engulfing the dancers, merging with their aroma to create a blanket of rich, dark tobacco that is sweetened with vanilla, rendered musky with ambergris, and thick with labdanum. Village elders watch the dance from under the shade of giant cedar trees, puffing on tobacco pipes, and sipping rum or scotch. All of it swirls into one, all of it engulfs you, a cloud that is so thick and richly heady, you can feel it coating your skin, stroking you with heavy fingers of opulent darkness, caressing you, seducing you. This is the narcotic world of Ambre Loup from Rania J. Parfumeur.
Rania J. is a Parisian perfume house whose founder and nose, Rania Jouaneh, is strongly influenced by her Middle Eastern roots. As she explains on her website, her “passion for fragrances and perfumes originates from her childhood in the Middle East and Africa where she was surrounded by the aromas of the jasmine trees under which she played, the spice markets, souks and African bazaars.” She describes her fragrances as “eco-perfumes,” not only because she sources her materials “directly from producers and distillers who continue to produce using traditional methods” but also because she uses “Sustainable Development criteria” in her “choice of raw materials, bottles, reduced packaging, recyclable materials. Rania J. does not engage in animal testing.”
Originally, her fragrances were all-natural, but that is no longer the case. In a 2013 interview with Fragrantica, she said:
I’ve changed the House’s concept—I’ve decided not to confine myself with only natural oils. Now you can smell synthetic musks [an accord based on the Galaxolide molecule… — Fragrantica interviewer’s insertion] and synthetic amber in all my fragrances. I still love using lots of natural oils but they can’t compete with synthetics in persistence, which is evident at the drydown. If clients are not satisfied with the persistence, we will try to meet their expectations.
Ambre Loup is an eau de parfum, but it doesn’t feel like one to me. It has more intensity, density, strength, and longevity than many regular eau de parfums that I’ve tried. It feels more like an extrait or pure parfum, except Ambre Loup has greater sillage than most things in that category, too. It essentially feels like a Slumberhouse fragrance, and that similarity extends to more than mere longevity and sillage, as I’ll explain shortly. All of that from a fragrance whose notes seem quite traditional. According to the Rania J. website, Ambre Loup contains:
Top note : Clove, spices
Middle Note : Balsam Peru Essential Oil, Labdanum [Amber] Absolute, Vanilla Absolute
Base Note : Agarwood/ Oud, Gaiac Wood, Cedar wood
Vetiver and tonka bean are also mentioned in her written description for the scent; I definitely smell the former which makes me wonder why it was omitted from the list. Another omission would seem to be ambergris which shows up on First in Fragrance‘s note list. That list is telling for another reason as well: it states that the top two layers of the scent contain the same four ingredients, as if Rania J. sought to concentrate, then amplify, the key notes to the greatest degree possible:
Top Note: Ambergris, Labdanum (Rockrose), Balsam of Peru, Vanilla
Heart Note: Ambergris, Labdanum (Rockrose), Balsam of Peru, Vanilla
Base Note: Agarwood (Oud), Tonka Bean, Cedarwood, Musk
Neither list includes tobacco, but Ambre Loup opens on my skin with a thick, dense blanket of precisely that. The labdanum, ambergris, and Peru balsam have combined to replicate precisely and exactly the smell of tobacco on my skin, a multi-faceted accord that resembles simultaneously the aroma of fragrant tobacco leaves drying in the sun and the sweetness of pipe tobacco, with a pinch of the darker, rather leathery and almost tarry nuances of tobacco juice. If I close my eyes and focus as I sniff, I can make out the barely delineated edges of the components that make up the “tobacco,” from the musky warmth of the ambergris to the toffee’d, slightly leathered labdanum, as well as the quietly smoky, cinnamon-spiced, balsamic stickiness of Peru balsam resin. But it takes effort because all of the elements are so finely blended, so heavily integrated, that I’m essentially left with the sense of “tobacco.”
This accord lies at the heart of Ambre Loup from start to finish, but there is much more to the fragrance’s stunning opening, an opening that made me do a double-take from the very first moment and say, “Wow.” The tobacco is drenched in rum, along with a slug of what I would swear is salty scotch. I feel quite crazy for detecting scotch of all things, but Ambre Loup unmistakably radiates drops of the earthy, peaty, salty qualities of good single malt whisky. The saltiness undoubtedly stems from the ambergris, while the rest may possibly arise from the wood notes, but it was still an unexpected touch. That said, the wood notes are quietly visible in their own right in the base, smelling simultaneously like freshly sawed cedar with a pinch of pencil shavings and a few slivers of lightly smoked guaiac. Up top, the main “tobacco” accord is dusted with spices, primarily cloves, but wisps of cinnamon occasionally weave in and out as well. The whole thing lies cloaked in a thick fog of dark, musky amber, adding one more layer of richness to a very hefty, dense bouquet.
Ambre Loup shifts incrementally and very slowly. After 35 minutes, the ambergris and labdanum are so fused together, I can no longer tease them apart from the “tobacco” even when I concentrate. At the same time, the boozy mix of rum and whisky retreats to the sidelines, then vanishes entirely at the 75 minute mark. Near the end of the 2nd hour, swirls of spicy, vanillic sweetness appear, spiraling outwards from the tobacco like spider veins, emanating from both the Peru balsam and the actual vanilla. At the same time, the cedar grows more fragrant, and starts to seep upwards. Yet, both the vanilla and the cedar wax and wane; every time I think one of them has weakened, they return as strong as ever a short while later.
One thing that is constant is how Ambre Loup calls to mind some other fragrances that I’ve really liked. If Slumberhouse‘s gorgeous Kiste and O’Drui‘s Peety had a love child that bore a trace of Papillon‘s Anubis, then the result might be a little like Ambre Loup. Let me be clear, the scents don’t actually smell alike, because there are no honeyed, fruity, peachy, sweet tea, animalic, or urinous notes in Ambre Loup, but the “tobacco” and the overall feel of the scents ties them together in my mind. Kiste’s spiced, tobacco’d, resinous, thickly golden, musky darkness is a spiritual cousin to Ambre Loup, but there are also strong echoes of Peety’s cinnamon-vanilla pipe tobacco during the latter’s drydown phase as well. Take both those things, mix them with wisps of Anubis’ resinous smokiness and a thick slug of dark vanilla, place them on a strongly woody base, and the end result wouldn’t be too far off from Ambre Loup after a few hours have passed. The tobacco accord becomes particularly close to that in Peety roughly 3.5 hours into Ambre Loup’s development when the vanilla emerges in its own right, instead of just being part and parcel of the ambergris-labdanum-Peru Balsam’s “tobacco”.
Yet Ambre Loup is a woodier scent than either Kiste or Peety. The cedar is noticeable from the very first moment, smudging the edges with a quiet fragrancy that called to mind freshly sawed wood or a new chest of drawers, but the note starts to make a real impact near the start of the 5th hour. At that point, Ambre Loup turns woodier, smokier, and drier, losing much of its sweetness from the vanilla and the ambergris. The guaiac weaves in and out, slightly smoky in a way that smells like autumn leaves burning in a bonfire, and it wraps the “tobacco” with tendrils of smoke. Tiny streaks of leatheriness stir in the base, probably stemming from the “tobacco” which is now darker, earthier, and grittier, much like an absolute rather than the earlier pipe tobacco or cigar leaves. Once in a while, near the end of the 8th hour, I think I can even smell a smoky oud as well, but it’s an imperceptible, elusive note that only shows up once in a while in the background.
Ambre Loup’s drydown begins when most other fragrances are drawing their dying breaths. At the end of the 9th hour and the start of the 10th, Ambre Loup turns to the dark side, as if night had fallen on the amber’s golden sun. There is no vanilla, no spices, no sweetness, no soft or golden warmth. The fragrance essentially smells of tobacco absolute with the darkest resins and woods. The latter are still slightly smoky but, more and more, they feel green. Actually, to be quite precise, they resemble smoky, woody Haitian vetiver more than anything else. I’ve tried Ambre Loup twice and the drydown each time smells primarily like “tobacco” coated by resinous Peru balsam, then laced with smoky vetiver and a sliver of woods. The scent continues that way for 7-10 hours (!!) until, to my surprise, a lightly spiced, golden, slightly vanillic sweetness returns and replaces the woodiness. In its dying moments, Ambre Loup is nothing more than cozy, golden, “tobacco”-ish softness with a trace of sweetness.
Ambre Loup’s longevity is massive. Using 3 big smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, it lasted just under 22 hours on my voracious, perfume-eating skin. On one tiny spot, I thought I could detect a wisp of musky, resinous sweetness 24 hours after I’d put on the fragrance. This is such a rare occurrence for me, you have no idea. But Ambre Loup did well even using a small amount. With the equivalent of one spray, it lasted 17.5 hours.
While Ambre Loup’s projection is only moderate, its sillage was surprisingly tenacious. With the equivalent of 2 sprays from a bottle, Ambre Loup opened with 3 inches of projection, but cast a scent trail that easily extended 8 to 10 inches. The numbers dropped at the end of the 2nd hour to about 1.5 inches of projection and 5 inches of sillage. However, it took 9.5 hours (!!) for Ambre Loup to turn into a skin scent. I was even more amazed to detect tiny tendrils of resinous tobacco wafting up around me 14.5 hours into the perfume’s development. Having sillage after so much time, even slightly, is unusual.
I’m someone who loves opulent, intense, long-lasting powerhouses above all else, so I feel rather churlish when I say that Ambre Loup’s longevity is one of its downsides for me when combined with its monolithic heftiness. Every single time I’ve worn Ambre Loup, I spend the first 3 hours intent on buying a full bottle — and I would have done so immediately at that point in my initial test had Twisted Lily not been back-ordered at the time. Then, sometime around the 7th hour, I become a little tired of the singularity. Ambre Loup is first and foremost a “tobacco” scent on my skin from start to finish, and the rest are just nuances. Some greater than others, like the vanilla or the woods, and they wax and wane a lot, but the core of Ambre Loup — especially from afar as the sillage curls around me — is of sweetened, resinous, musky, ambered-covered “tobacco.” It’s a little tiring after a while, but it’s thoroughly exhausting after 17 hours sans cesse, never mind almost 22 hours. O’Driu’s Peety wore me out in the same way. There is only so much tobacco-amber that I can take.
Various interviews that I’ve read with Rania Jouaneh often mention how each of her fragrances is meant to highlight a single note, essentially operating as a soliflore, so some linearity is to be expected. I don’t mind it one bit when I love the scent in question — and I most definitely do here — but Ambre Loup has such density, heft, and richness that 17 or 22 hours of essentially the same note feels like a surfeit of richness. Even a mixed feast becomes too much after that period of time, a gluttonous excess that leaves one exhausted, so having just one dish makes the surfeit all the more intense. What I can’t shake is the thought that Ambre Loup often feels like a mere base accord (albeit, a nuanced one) rather than a fragrance with an olfactory pyramid with stages.
And, yet, I really cannot rave enough about the first 6 hours. It’s such an intoxicating, heady, utterly addictive brew with such sultry seductiveness that I keep wavering on whether to buy a full bottle. I rationalise how its excess would be manageable once in a while, a metaphoric feast for special occasions. I rationalise how, the rest of the time, Ambre Loup would be a perfect layering base for leathers, more traditional ambers, rich florals (jasmine or ylang-ylang for me, roses for other people), or patchoulis. Layering would be a way to alleviate the singularity with other elements, and I think of how perfectly the “tobacco” would work with the rich vanilla-patchouli of Loree Rodkin‘s Gothic I.
It’s a testament to how hard I fell for Ambre Loup in its first 6 hours that I’m engaging in these mental acrobats, but I wouldn’t be doing it if the fragrance were not reasonably priced for the quality and longevity. Ambre Loup costs $149 or €92 for a small 50 ml bottle and, quite clearly, a little goes a long way. This is a fragrance that feels and smells much more expensive than its price.
But the scent that I’ve described here — with its confluence of notes creating a “tobacco” aroma — is not the one that other people experience. On Fragrantica, a number of people think Ambre Loup resembles Serge Lutens‘ Ambre Sultan. The labdanum’s powerful role is clearly responsible but, on my skin, Ambre Loup doesn’t resemble that material and its usual facets. Nor does it smell like labdanum and ambergris the way those notes often combine in scents like, for example, Profumum‘s Ambra Aurea. By the same token, on my skin, Ambre Loup doesn’t resemble like the labdanum and resin combination found in a whole host of fragrances from O Hira to Ambre Precieux. My skin really and truly recreates the smell of tobacco, period.
For everyone else, though, Ambre Loup is an amber fragrance with intense resinous stickiness, warmth, sweetness, and woodiness. One Fragrantica poster also detected vetiver, just as I did, in addition to a very strong oud note. Another describes Ambre Loup very differently: “Herbal amber, swoons into a softer burnt caramel, kinda like Slumberhouse‘s Rume or Ore. Comforting and reminds me of viscous sugar being burned.” A third found similarities to Ambre Sultan “without the spicy herbal edge.”
For “Amer1212,” a self-described amber and ambergris lover, the fragrance was a one of the best ambers that he’d tried, and he rated it a 5 out of 5. He called it a “lustful amber” with an erotic quality, writing in part:
The lustful amber ! [¶] the opening is resinous ambrey vibe with drops of agar (oud) little animalistic..then turns into a sensitive quite sweet warm amber & vanilla & labdanum with little woods & dried fruits in the background ( vetiver , cedar , dates or grapes ).
Its a romantic erotic specific amber based scent , with brilliant quality, [¶] With spiritual character & sensitive dark depth & exotic sense , its talks a story about the hype of the ” Amber ” it cross between the east & the west culture in it own world ! & makes it more than a typical Amber scent ! […][¶] this Amber knocks me out ! Its one of the best amber based scents I tried in my opinion.
“Deadidol,” however, was less enthused, partially because he found the scent to be “foodie” and “edible” for his tastes, but primarily because he found Ambre Loup to last too long, going strong well after 12 hours. His detailed review reads, in part, as follows:
This is an immense, thick amber—structured upon materials that lend themselves well to hard-hitting compositions. What stands out upfront is a hefty Peru balsam that delivers a semi-gourmand effect that’s countered by what initially appear to be somewhat challenging facets: a pungent oud; a musk that smells a little like castoreum; and some strong, spicy notes. At the outset, the cedar and guaiac aren’t that clear, and the labdanum that really forms the body of the whole thing sits patiently behind the foodier parts, playing more of a structural role than a featured note itself. Vanilla glazes the whole thing, but it isn’t overly sweet per se. It seems to function more by filling in any empty spaces left behind by the other components. The overall feel is a slightly cinnamon-like resinous amber—not too far removed from the dry down of Ambre Sultan.
Ambre Loup is a tad too foody for my own tastes; the balsam and the spices make it lean far more toward the edible than the sappy or liturgical. Yet it manages to sidestep the standard oriental cliches that veer powdery or saccharine and the result is a fairly straightforward but accomplished amber.
However, it lasts far too long. There are some synthetic basenotes here that are very exceptionally well done (in that they don’t feel overly synthetic), but it’s the latter half of Ambre Loup feels like it was built to last until next week. The natural materials used in this scent certainly lend themselves well to a long lifespan, but this was still going strong 12 hour later on me—and that’s perhaps a tad too much.
Well, after my experience, I wholeheartedly agree that “Ambre Loup feels like it was built to last until next week.” (And now I’m back to hesitating on my full-bottle purchase as I remember just how I felt at hour 10, let alone hours 15, 17, and 20.)
Still, whether it’s “tobacco” or amber, whether it’s too long-lasting for words or has dream longevity, if you love dark, resinous, and ambered fragrances, then I strongly urge you try Ambre Loup for yourself. I think it’s superb. In fact, Ms. Jouaneh shows such an appreciation for opulent richness, quality, smoothness, and heft that I plan to try the rest of the line. Really beautifully done.
[UPDATE 06/2015: I couldn’t stop thinking about this fragrance in the weeks after my review, and I ended up buying a full bottle. Every time I wear it, I love it more. Yes, it still lasts an exhausting length of time, but I find Ambre Loup to be completely intoxicating and it has become one of the top 2 favorite fragrances that I’ve tried this year. I’m quite obsessed with it, in fact. When I’m not testing and have free time to wear perfume for myself, it is always Ambre Loup that I want to wear. Every year, there is one fragrance that dominates my mind and feels like an addiction. Ambre Loup is my 2015 addiction, hands down and above all else.]
[UPDATE March 20, 2022: Has Ambre Loup been reformulated? I think that answer may be yes.]