A journey to the golden comforts of amber that travels through dessert and confectionary treats at afternoon tea — that is the essence of Ambre Cashmere Intense, the latest release from Parfums de Nicolaï. From lemon chiffon cakes layered with iris butter and served with lemony black tea to cupcakes and vanilla creme brulée laced with hints of spices, the scent unfurls in sweetness before ending with the golden strains of darkened labdanum and soft vanilla.
Ambre Cashmere Intense marks the start of a new direction and perhaps even a new era for the company. It is the first collaboration between Patricia de Nicolaï and her son, Axel de Nicolaï, who will undoubtedly be her successor down the line. (For the sake of speed and convenience, I’ll spell the family’s last name from this point as “Nicolai,” sans the dotted “i,” and simply call the fragrance “Ambre Cashmere.”) His voice played a large role in shaping the character of the scent, according to the press release that I was sent which says he sought to give a “feminine” quality to the classical pairing of labdanum and vanilla. Personally, I’d call it “gourmand” more than “feminine,” since I think the resulting creation could be worn by either gender if they loved a lot of sweetness in their perfumes.
The press release describes Ambre Cashmere as follows:
“At the beginning of the 20th century, the discoveries of new synthetic molecules allowed the perfumers of that time to lay the foundations of the great modern perfume chords. One of the first chord conceived was the Amber’ chord which is now a strong olfactory convention for us perfumers. Far from the sperm whale animal note, the Amber’ chord is made thanks to the association of vanillin and labdanum. Both smooth, powerful and deep, the chord is an infinite source of creations!” — Patricia de Nicolaï.
As wished by Axel, this amber is devinely [sic] feminine, very smooth, with a great delicacy, a strong performance and a spellbinding long trail to create an elegant and sensual olfactory signature. For the ‘amber’ fans, wearing Ambre Cashmere Intense, and leaving its exhalations behind you, it’s printing a footprint within the memory of others. [Emphasis in the original.]
Ambre Cashmere is an eau de parfum, and its list of notes is as follows:
Top: Black Pepper essence, Mandarin essence, Lemon essence.
Heart: Iris butter, Violet, Clove bud essence.
Base: Vanilla absolute, Labdanum absolute, Benzoin resinoid, Tonka bean absolute, Patchouli essence, Sandalwood, Musk, and Amber.
Ambre Cashmere opens on my skin smelling just like a lemon chiffon cake layered with iris butter and lemon-vanilla cream, then frosted with lemon curd and buttercream, before being decorated with candied lemon peels and a pinch of black pepper. In a few tests, there were droplets of tangy tangerine, but they weren’t a constant presence in all my tests, and they were always minor, fleeting note. Far more significant is the iris. Initially, it’s merely a wisp of vaguely floral creaminess that is cool but wholly abstract in nature. Within minutes, however, the note turns into a creamy floral cleanness that feels like rich butter with a subtle undertone of rootiness about it. Unlike some iris notes, there is nothing stony, damp, earthy, or icy about it. It’s merely like an unctuous butteriness that is nebulously floral and a wee bit rooty.
In all my tests, the lemon dominated above all else. It is not a sour or acidic note, but more like a sweetened lemon with only the barest vestige of tartness. It is so heavily blended with sweet, sugary vanilla that the accord skews completely to the side of lemon (vanilla) chiffon cakes frosted with thick vanilla-lemon icing, instead of something tangier like the concentrated lemon curd that patisseries use to cover tarts. (I love lemon curd, so I rather wish it had gone in this direction.)
All of it feels unctuously rich, its creaminess amplified further by the iris butter, but I wish there were stronger, fresher, or darker notes to counterbalance the sweetness. Neither the violet nor the clove showed up on my skin in any distinct, concrete way in any of my tests. The pepper wasn’t much use, either. It was just a microscopic pinch at first but I thought it added an interesting touch, and I appreciated that it smelt natural, instead of the harsh, cheap, synthetically smoky or biting pepper found in so many fragrances lately. (Amouage, I’m looking at you in particular.) About 20 minutes in, the pepper does, in fact, grow somewhat stronger but, unfortunately, now, it actually does feel a little biting and scratchy. Still, it remains a very inconsequential note in the overall scheme of things, and certainly not enough to change the focus of the scent.
There is one aroma accompanying the lemon chiffon cake that I find wonderful, but I can’t explain its presence. On all three occasions that I’ve worn Ambre Cashmere, I detected strong strains of what really smelt like dried, black tea leaves and actual lemon black tea. Perhaps it stems from the combination of rooty iris, lemon, and black pepper, or perhaps it’s simply some sort of mental association given the concentrated nature of the lemon and how frequently it is used in the beverage. Whatever the reason, the black tea note is a lovely touch, and I wish it were stronger.
Ambre Cashmere evolves in the slowest of incremental degrees throughout its lifetime, but there are points where the changes are most noticeable. The first begins roughly 45 minutes into its evolution. A ghostly whisper of patchouli rustles in the background, then gradually begins to crystallize into shape as the first hour comes to an end. It blossoms into a significant force after 90 minutes, merging with the lemon chiffon and vanilla accord, and rather blitzes all lingering traces of iris butter. Now, the creamy, gourmand sweetness is layered with spicy patchouli that wafts a quiet smokiness. None of the patchouli’s other facets appear; there is no chocolate, tobacco, camphorous greenness, or dusty woodiness, only a smoky and very spicy quality that visually alternates between red-gold warmth and a nebulous darkness.
While the patchouli carries some modicum of dryness with it, it’s not enough to counterbalance Ambre Cashmere’s growing sweetness, one that feels intensely sugared, especially when I smell my arms up close. There, the note smells like the store-made white frosting on a vanilla cupcake. It’s far, far too sweet for my personal tastes, and I find it smells a little cheap as well. It doesn’t help that an equally sweet white musk now arrives on scene as well, somehow amplifying the scent and rendering the vanilla a little cloying in feel. The iris’ floralcy is gone, and even its butteriness is rapidly fading away. Once in a blue moon, I can sense a tiny splattering of tangerine drops but, for the most part, all minor vestiges of citric tartness are dissipating. In fact, even the powerful lemon note beats a hasty retreat to the background soon after the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd. What’s left behind is a scent that is largely a sugar-frosted vanilla cupcake layered with spicy, lightly smoky patchouli and sweet, clean musk in a warm, golden cocoon.
The next distinct change in Ambre Cashmere involves the transition to another dessert. Roughly 3.5 hours in, the “amber” starts to emerge, smelling like a benzoin-heavy mixed accord that wafts caramel, rather than the darker, more toffee’d tonalities of labdanum. It merges with the sugary vanilla and clean musk to create an even greater sweetness, one that now evokes images of the crystallized crust on a crème brulée. In case I have not been clear, we’re now approaching levels of sugariness that would send a diabetic into a coma. There is only a fleeting flicker of lemon in the background at this point, so minor that I frequently think it may only be a figment of my imagination. The patchouli remains, but it is fully melded and fused with the caramelized vanilla at this point. Its subtle spicy smokiness somehow amplifies even further the sense of a burnt, caramelized crust on top of sugary custard.
The labdanum finally appears about 4.5 hours into Ambre Cashmere’s development. Initially, it is merely a soft murmur on the edges, but it gradually grows stronger, turning the bouquet more properly ambered in nature, fractionally darker, and less of a purely gourmand vanilla caramel. The full effects aren’t visible, however, until the start of the 6th hour when Ambre Cashmere’s long drydown begins and when it finally turns into a true amber fragrance, albeit one where the labdanum is heavily diluted with vanilla. All the notes are blurry now, frequently overlapping or merged into one. What’s nice about Ambre Cashmere is a new softness in the base. It isn’t precisely creamy, per se, but a sort of quiet, diffused plushness that becomes even more noticeable by the middle of the 7th hour. It must stem from the tonka, though the note doesn’t appear on my skin in a truly distinct, clearly delineated way. The patchouli lingers on at the edges as a ripple of lightly smoky spiciness, but is a light touch that is fully fused into all the rest. The clean musk also remains. For the next few hours, Ambre Cashmere continues as a simple vanilla amber, lightly flecked with clean musk and slivers of spicy smokiness. From afar, it’s just a haze of soft vanillic goldenness. In its final moments, all that is left is a golden sweetness.
Ambre Cashmere had good longevity, decent projection, and moderate sillage. The fragrance generally lasted 10 hours with 1 good spray from a bottle and 12 hours with 2. With 2 sprays, the fragrance opened with 2 to 3 inches of projection and 3 inches of sillage, but the numbers grew as the fragrance settled into the skin and both the vanilla and the clean musk became stronger. After 30 minutes, the projection was roughly 4 inches, and the scent trail expanded to about 6-7 inches. The numbers returned to their opening levels at the end of the 2nd hour, and continued to drop. Roughly 3.5 hours in, the fragrance hovered just above the skin at about 0.5 inches. There, it stayed for quite a while. Ambre Cashmere didn’t become a skin scent until the 7th hour. It was still easy to detect for a little while if I brought my nose to my arm, but it took effort by the 9th hour. While the fragrance really ended after 11.5 hours, tiny patches of skin continued to waft some sweetness even after that. As a whole, I think Ambre Cashmere is very light in body and weight, but strong up close. You may want to keep in mind that my skin holds onto and amplifies any scent with white musk and a lot of synthetics (like the vanilla here).
Ambre Cashmere is too new to have any comments on its Fragrantica page at this time, and I haven’t found any full blog reviews to provide you with comparative analysis. So, you’re stuck with me for now, and my bottom line is that you should only try Ambre Cashmere if you’re a gourmand lover or enjoy a lot of sweetness in your fragrances. Sugar phobes will not have an easy time of things.
If you fall in the first category and your favorite genre is gourmand vanillas or ambery vanillas, then you might enjoy Ambre Cashmere quite a bit. Even gourmand lovers who dislike traditional labdanum amber fragrances might like the scent, since the note here is heavily diluted and cut with vanilla and caramel. This is not the dark, chewy, toffee’d labdanum amber of Serge Lutens‘ Ambre Sultan or the dense ambergris-labdanum of Profumum‘s Ambra Aurea, but you should be warned that it is also not the sweeter labdanum-vanilla-benzoin amber of something like MPG’s Ambre Precieux, either. The latter had a fresh, aromatic opening with myrtle and lavender, maintained the toffee’d aspects of labdanum throughout, and never felt as though it were heavily dominated by vanilla. Ambre Cashmere has a profound amount of vanilla from start to finish. For that reason, it is far closer to vanilla fragrances than amber ones, in my opinion. Imagine, perhaps, a lemon version of Profumum‘s Dulcis in Fundo that segues into a patchouli- laced Vanitas, before ending up as a basic amber-vanilla.
It’s not my cup of tea, but then I don’t like gourmands, creme brulee vanillas, or intense sweetness. If you do, then you might find Ambre Cashmere to be a wonderful “cozy comfort” scent for winter. It’s an easy-to-wear, uncomplicated fragrance that I think is also fully unisex. (Since when are gourmands solely the province of women?) The pricing is reasonable, too. It comes in an affordable 30 ml/1 oz size for $65 or €55, in addition to a larger size. So, if you prefer your amber to feel like dessert and to have hefty amounts of vanilla, give Ambre Cashmere a sniff.
Disclosure: My bottle was provided courtesy of Parfums de Nicolai. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.