Dior Patchouli Imperial (La Collection Privée)

Patchouli Imperial is a crisp, aromatic, desiccated, very woody men’s cologne that is far from the patchouli soliflore that its name would imply. It starts off as a men’s fougère, before turning into a scent with faint ties to Guerlain‘s L’Instant Pour Homme and, to a much lesser extent, Habit Rouge. Eventually, it ends up as a dry woody fragrance with an ambered touch, but little character.

Source: Dior

Source: Dior

Patchouli Imperial is part of Dior’s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The eau de parfum was released in 2011, the creation of François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior. Dior describes the scent as follows:

Potent and sensual, Patchouli is an essential House of Dior ingredient that took up its place at the beginning of the New Look revolution in 1947.

Full of elegance, François Demachy’s composition, Patchouli Impérial, is a celebration of this legendary oriental ingredient with notes as sultry as they are sophisticated. “Patchouli is a major note, the most animal of all the plant notes. It is refined, revealing unprecedented elegance.”

Dior’s very limited — and I would argue, very incomplete — list of notes only mentions:

Russian Coriander, Indonesian Patchouli, Indian and New Caledonian sandalwood.

Source: Dior

Source: Dior

Fragrantica voters add in cedar, Sicilian mandarin, and Calabrian bergamot. I agree with them, but would also include some other things. What I smell is:

Lavender, Bergamot, Lime, Virginia Cedar, Russian Coriander, Indonesian Patchouli, Cocoa, Indian and New Caledonian/Australian sandalwood, and something ambered.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Patchouli Imperial opens on my skin with cologne and fougère traits of lavender, bitter lime, bitter dried orange peel, bergamot, lemony peppered coriander, and dust. It is followed by a sour wood note that is simultaneously green, unripe, and desiccated. Dustiness infuses everything, especially the coriander which smells old, stale, and sharp. It’s not the dustiness of patchouli, but rather, of a dirt road or a crypt.

The wood note isn’t appealing either, as it is slightly off, almost like rancid “sandalwood.” A few months ago, I received a concentrated Australian sandalwood oil, and it smells extremely close to the aroma in Patchouli Imperial. The oil had an oddly medicinal, mentholated edge which isn’t apparent here, but it had the same “off,” green tonality that eventually turned a bit creamy like sour buttermilk.

Photo: D&M Canon. dmcanon.blogspot.com

Photo: D&M Canon. dmcanon.blogspot.com

The dustiness is quite something. It leaves an itchiness at the back of my throat, but more than that, it creates a staleness around the notes that robs the citric elements of all their brightness and zestiness. It also amplifies the definite herbaceous quality in Patchouli Imperial, especially the lavender which has all the dried, pungent, sharp characteristics that I loathe so much. The overall effect is to a create a fragrance that is as much a dry woody scent as it is an aromatic, fougère cologne.

Source: vfxdude.com

Source: vfxdude.com

Other notes soon arrive to join the bitter citruses, pungent lavender, sour green woods, and dried tonalities. At first, it is cedar which is equally dry and musty. Then, there is a hint of creamy sweetness that cuts through the stale, bitter, and arid accords, but it is very muted. More noticeable is a sour medicinal element that appears after about five minutes. It is sharp and pungent, but it doesn’t smell like the camphorated, leafy darkness of patchouli. Instead, it has an almost leathered greenness that feels like a distant cousin to galbanum. 

Patchouli Imperial is such an odd mix of sourness, greenness, dark brown desiccation and aridity, dust, staleness, and pungency. Dried lavender, dried bitter orange peel, bitter lemon, heaping amounts of peppered coriander, dust, dry cedar, unripe sour buttermilk “sandalwood,” and more dust — it’s really unpleasant to my nose. I’ve tried Patchouli Imperial a few times over the last 6 months, and most recently again in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in October, and each time, I’ve recoiled at its opening. People sometimes use the term “old lady” as a derogatory way to describe fragrances; I dislike the term as something that is both sexist and not particularly useful as a descriptor, but I’ve often wondered why no-one describes fragrances as being “old man” in nature.

Well, let me use it here. Patchouli Imperial has a sour, stale, musty “old man” aroma. It reminds me distinctly of an old Greek man I once knew whose old-fashioned fougère cologne mixed with a definite dustiness from his old books, as well as a subtle whisper of sour staleness from his unshaven face and his ancient, brown cardigan. He was a very sweet chap, but I wouldn’t want to smell like him.   

Light, natural, cocoa powder.

Light, natural, cocoa powder.

Fifteen minutes in, a creamy cocoa powder pops up in the sidelines, adding to the discordant jangle. The stale coriander powder grows sharper, as do the lemon and lime. The sour green sandalwood darts in and out, toying with the musty woodiness of the cedar. Thankfully, the pungency of the lavender softens a little, and that brief flicker of leathered greenness vanishes. The desiccated woodiness in the base remains, however, and my throat feels scratchier than ever. It has to be something synthetic, especially as there is something distinctly sharp in Patchouli Imperial when smelled up close. 

"Dusty Woods" by Brenejohn on DeviantArt. brenejohn.deviantart.com

“Dusty Woods” by Brenejohn on DeviantArt. brenejohn.deviantart.com

It takes about 25 minutes for Patchouli Imperial to soften, and for those sharp, pungent edges to get smoothed out. The fragrance’s sillage drops to a few inches above the skin, and turns mellower. It’s still incredibly dry, however, with a bouquet that is primarily woody lavender cologne with various dusty bits, an abstract patchouli, lemon, peppered coriander, and cedar. The patchouli that is starting to appear isn’t spicy, sweet, ambered, or mellow. It’s merely another form of dry woods with a dusty, herbal facet. The subtle whispers of cocoa and that green, unripe “sandalwood” in the base give Patchouli Imperial a very distant kinship with Guerlain‘s L’Instant Pour Homme Eau de Toilette (“LIDG”). Yet, the Dior has none of the latter’s black tea, its floral tonalities, or its creamy sweetness. At times, the dry citric and fougère elements remind me of Habit Rouge’s opening, but that fragrance was never sour, stale, or musty either.

Patchouli Imperial eventually loses its unpleasant start. The citric aromatics and lavender recede to the sidelines at the end of the first hour, but it takes a while longer for the creamy undertone and cocoa to fully emerge and to turn the fragrance into something less stale. The notes blur into each other, and Patchouli Imperial becomes a soft, gauzy, sheer haze of citric aromatics, dry woods, dry patchouli, dry cocoa powder, and some abstract creaminess. Tiny whispers of lavender and peppered coriander lurk underneath, but they’re muffled. Patchouli Imperial is a skin scent after 90 minutes, though the fragrance is still strong when sniffed up close.

"Golden Brown" by Emily Faulkner. Source: redbubble.com

“Golden Brown” by Emily Faulkner. Source: redbubble.com

Around 2.25 hours into Patchouli Imperial’s development, the fragrance takes on the characteristic that will remain for a while: a blurry soft, citrus, patchouli, woody scent. The amount of cocoa powder waxes and wanes, but the note feels increasingly nebulous and abstract as the hours pass. The best way I can describe it is as something that smells like dry sweetness, instead of actual chocolate. The patchouli also feels abstract, verging more an a generalized dry woodiness that has a hint of some sweetness than any actual, distinct “patchouli” in its own right. The citrus element finally fades away around the middle of the fourth hour, and an abstract “ambery” quality takes its place. In its final drydown, Patchouli Imperial is a nebulous, gauzy whisper of dry woods just lightly flecked with some ambered sweetness and a hint of powder.

Source: wallsave.com

Source: wallsave.com

Like all its Dior Privé siblings, Patchouli Imperial has moderate sillage and good longevity. At first, the fragrance is quite potent and strong, but the projection drops after 90 minutes, and Patchouli Imperial wears close to the skin for the rest of its duration. Dior intentionally wants its fragrances to be refined, unobtrusive, discreet, but strong and long-lasting, and Patchouli Imperial is no exception. All in all, it lasted a little over 9 hours on me. On people with normal skin, the more oriental or ambered Privé fragrances can last much longer.

I’m not at all enthusiastic about Patchouli Imperial. I’m not judging it as a patchouli fragrance, because, by and large, it isn’t one in my opinion. I’m judging it as a men’s cologne, and I think there are better takes on this particular profile than Patchouli Imperial. Its opening is horrid and incredibly unpleasant. While the fragrance subsequently improves and loses that discordant, jangling, dry, sour staleness, it merely devolves into a generic citric, dry woody scent before ending up as a slightly less dry, ambered, woody blur. I should probably repeat the word “dry” a few more times, but I think you’ve gotten the point by now.

You might argue that Patchouli Imperial is a refined take on patchouli, but it wasn’t on my skin. It felt uninteresting, average, and unoriginal more than anything else. For patchouli-mixed scents, I think you’d do far better with Guerlain’s L’Instant Pour Homme in either concentration (as there are olfactory differences between the two) or Chanel‘s Coromandel. For fragrances that primarily focused on patchouli, there are a host of options that I would recommend before this one, starting with Profumum‘s Patchouly. On the other hand, I think men who hate patchouli may enjoy Patchouli Imperial. By their standards, the note may seem very clean, fresh, and refined.

On Fragrantica, reviewers are more enthusiastic than I am about Patchouli Imperial. Some seem to have experienced much more actual patchouli than I did. Others compare the scent to Givenchy Gentleman or Nasomatto’s Absinth. I haven’t tried either to be able to compare. A number of people mention both amber and powder in the drydown, while a few bring up mentholated notes in the start. The comment that amused me the most came from a poster who said he got the most bizarre unsolicited comments whenever he wore Patchouli Imperial from friends who “associate it with along the lines of Caveman, Mummy’s Tomb, DOM, Closet filled of mothballs etc.” I suspect that is the crypt-like dust that dominates Patchouli Imperial’s start. 

I generally really like the Dior Privée line, but Patchouli Imperial is a complete pass for me. I don’t enjoy it as a cologne, and it’s definitely not my idea of a beautiful patchouli.   

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Patchouli Imperial is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and a few select, high-end department stores. Dior Privée perfumes come in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $170 with the new Dior price increase, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $250. (There is a third option which is so enormous, I can’t imagine anyone buying it.)
In the U.S.: Patchouli Imperial is found at Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [call (702) 369-6072]. Ordering from the store is best as they will give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles, to go with your purchase. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax. U.S. Department Stores: New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus, and the Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland also carry the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes.
Outside of the US: The Dior International page offers all their Privée fragrances for you to order online. This is the listing for Patchouli Imperial, but there doesn’t seem to be an e-store from which to purchase it. In addition, you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The one closest to you should have the perfume available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Patchouli Imperial a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line (minus the discontinued Vetiver), Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances in a sampler set for $35.99.

Dior Eau Noire (La Collection Privée): Licorice Immortelle

Source: fr.123rf.com

Source: fr.123rf.com

Chilled iciness and warmth, silvered light and black darkness, thickness and airiness, herbal crispness with gourmand chewiness, all swirled together in one. That is Eau Noire, a surprisingly gourmand fragrance from Dior with almost a fractal juxtaposition of textures, notes, and sensations.

Eau Noir is part of Dior’s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The eau de parfum was one of the very first Dior Privée perfumes, and was released in 2004. Unlike most of its siblings, it was not the creation of François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior. Instead, it was created by the then-young perfume prodigy, Francis Kurkdjian, who went on to found his own perfume house, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, to great acclaim. 

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

Dior categorizes Eau Noire as an “oriental aromatic,” and provides the following description:

An elegant gala spirit in an intense evening fragrance, swathed in mystery. This interpretation of Lavender in chiaroscuro reflects the atmosphere of the Château de la Colle Noire, an estate owned by the Designer, which is located in the Provence region.

Dior’s very limited — and I would argue, very incomplete — list of notes include:

White Thyme, Lavender, Liquorice, Vanilla Bourbon, and Virginia Cedar.

Fragrantica adds coffee, leather, spiced sage, and violets as well. And everyone includes immortelle, that tricky note that can smell of maple syrup, curry, and several other things as well. I definitely agree with a lot of those additions. So, in my opinion, the full note list looks more like this:

White Thyme, Lavender, Liquorice, Coffee, Immortelle, Vanilla Bourbon, Leather, and Virginia Cedar.

Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Source: Dylanscandybar.com

Eau Noire opens on my skin with the blackness of its name. It is a potent blast of licorice that is chewy and thick, almost resinously meaty in its depths, and, surprisingly, very chilled in feel. It’s followed by hints of thyme, coffee, vanilla, and a brief, transient pop of thick, yellow, spiced curry. It’s such an odd combination of iced, herbal, spiced and sweet notes that you have to blink. To be honest, the forcefulness of the licorice — so concentrated and thick that it feels like the distillation of every black anisic candy on the planet — is a bit alarming for someone like myself. Until just ten years ago, the mere smell of licorice would make my stomach heave and, though I now enjoy eating fennel/anise, I still won’t go near black licorice. 

Source: blog.diginn.com

Source: blog.diginn.com

Nonethelesss, Eau Noire is oddly mesmerizing. I feel almost paralyzed and transfixed by the scent which becomes increasingly more nuanced and complicated. An unexpected floral note darts about, though it’s not immediately identifiable, at this point, as anything in specific. Then comes the immortelle, coffee, and caramel. The coffee is lovely, potent, and black, just like a freshly brewed cup combined with the scent of freshly ground expresso beans, and it works beautifully with the licorice. 

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

The real key to Eau Noire, however, is the Immortelle (or Helichrysum) which must be in Eau Noire by the bucketfuls. Francis Kurkdjian has created a multi-faceted note, because the fragrance reflects almost all of immortelle’s various characteristics: dryly herbal floralacy; maple syrup; dry woodiness; and the curry that popped up that for a brief moment at the beginning. (No fenugreek, thank God.) I think that Eau Noire’s strong caramel note must stem from the combination of the immortelle’s maple syrup aspect with the Vanilla Bourbon. By the same token, if the coffee is not an actual, separate note, then I suppose it may be the result of the licorice mixed with the vanilla. Either way, Eau Noire is a fascinating blend of chewy, dense black licorice, sweet caramel, maple syrup, strong coffee, with flickers of herbs and a subtle undercurrent of rich vanilla. 

Source: 1ms.net

Source: 1ms.net

Ten minutes in, Eau Noire feels warmer, sweeter, and more gourmand. The lavender keeps trying to brush his way onto the stage, only to get elbowed back to the sidelines by the other notes. Still, he tries valiantly, his little purple head darting up and down every five minutes above the big, blokey shapes of the licorice and maple syrup. The name “Eau Noire” feels almost misleading for a scent that is so much like a rich, unctuous, almost cloying dessert. It certainly wasn’t what I had expected.

By the end of the first hour, Eau Noire changes. The lavender is very prominent now, and there are hints of something woody in the base. The fragrance, as a whole, is a more modulated, balanced, and smoother blend that is equal parts licorice, coffee, and lavender. The dominant trio is trailed lightly by caramel, vanilla, occasional hints of maple syrup, and the lingering, muted traces of an intangible, abstract floral. The licorice fascinates me in its dense potency. Sometimes, it has a distinctly icy feel. At other times, there is a very subtle but unmistakable leatheriness to the note. At all times, however, it is chewy and almost resinous in feel, conjuring up images of something like a thick, black brownie, only made of pure licorice.

For the next few hours, Eau Noire remains largely unaltered in its core essence. The only differences are one of degree, not of kind, as there are subtle changes in the order, priority and strength of the various notes. The lavender waxes and wanes in strength, as does the power of the licorice, coffee, and caramel. Each one takes its turn leading the brigade, and sometimes, they all share equal time on stage in a well-blended swirl.

Source: free-3d-textures.com

Source: free-3d-textures.com

Dior’s description for the fragrance references the term “chiaroscuro,” an interplay of contrasts, and Francis Kurkdjian certainly succeeded here. For the first six hours, Eau Noire is a constant play on opposites: chilly iciness; silvery lightness; warm blackness; airiness and dense chewiness. The texture or depth of Eau Noire follows suit, because the visual feel of black, unctuous denseness is juxtaposed with the fragrance’s surprisingly airy weight. Don’t mistake me, Eau Noire is not weak in sillage — quite the opposite, actually — but the fragrance doesn’t feel opaque or heavy. Instead, it billows around you like a very forceful cloud with at least half a foot in projection from just 2 large smears. This is not a fragrance to overspray with reckless abandon if you work in a conservative office environment.

One thing I found interesting was how Eau Noire appeared from afar. Around the third hour, as the fragrance wafted all around me, I would catch little trails of it in the air. I’ll be honest, my mouth watered a little at the aroma, despite not generally being a fan of gourmand fragrances. There is something about Eau Noire that is utterly entrancing from a distance where it smells almost like a chocolate-coffee-caramel mix, and I found it much prettier than up close where you can separate out the notes into chewy, black licorice with lavender, coffee, and vanilla.

Another point is the impact of different temperatures on the scent. I tested Eau Noire this summer, and found it both cloyingly sweet and largely dominated from the start by the maple syrup aspect of immortelle. Though my tests always take place indoors under extremely cool air-conditioning, as well as outdoors, it was hot enough this summer that even short periods outside made Eau Noire’s sweetness really explode. I don’t generally believe in seasonality when it comes to wearing fragrances, but I think Eau Noire is much prettier in cooler conditions where its various accords blend in better harmony and it’s not quite so sweet.

Maple Syrup. Source: iccoin.com

Maple Syrup. Source: iccoin.com

Around the start of the fourth hour, Eau Noire starts to change again. At first, it’s merely a subtle difference in the base where flickers of a smoky woodiness start to stir, as the cedar attempts to make itself heard. More importantly, however, the immortelle reverts back to its maple syrup character instead of the primarily caramel facet it had shown up to now. It also starts to become increasingly more prominent in the fragrance’s composition. At the same time, the lavender starts to weaken, and the licorice loses some of its shape. The latter feels as though it has infused or melted into every other element in the fragrance. It also starts to feel extremely leathery in undertone, instead of just plain licorice.

Increasingly, Eau Noire becomes primarily an immortelle fragrance in nature. Maple syrup dominates, followed by leathery licorice. The lavender pops up and down like a Jack in the Box, but it’s no longer an equal partner with the other notes. The coffee has vanished, along with the vanilla bourbon. The cedar is barely noticeable, even in the background. At times, Eau Noire feels mostly like maple syrup with caramel, though it’s somewhat drier than those terms would suggest. Actually, I’m surprised that the fragrance has as much dryness as it does. On my skin, Eau Noire isn’t a fragrance that is oozing sugary syrup, though it is sweet. I suspect the cedar may be working indirectly from the base, along with the leathery undertones of the licorice, to keep some of the sweetness in check.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Eau Noire’s sillage also starts to change. At the start of the sixth hour, the fragrance loses some of its powerful projection, and hovers only an inch or two above the skin. It is still quite potent when smelled up close, but it no longer sends little trails out into the air around you. At the end of the eighth hour (!), Eau Noire finally becomes a skin scent, radiating primarily maple syrup with a faint hint of black licorice. In its final hours, the fragrance is merely a blur of sweetness. All in all, Eau Noire lasted an astounding 14.5 hours on my perfume consuming skin. Most of Dior’s Privée line has exceptional longevity, but Eau Noire exceeded all the ones that I’ve tried thus far.

I think Eau Noire is a very well-made, intriguing, and rather mesmerizing scent on some levels, but I have mixed feelings about it personally. As a whole, its dark sweetness was much more attractive than I had expected from its opening moments, especially once I got over the shock of that much licorice. Yet, despite how entrancing Eau Noire can smell from afar, I’m not hugely tempted to get a bottle. For one thing, I struggle with gourmands. In light of that fact, even if I had a bottle, I’m not sure how often I could wear such a fragrance. Eau Noire is lovely as a “once in a blue moon” sort of fragrance, but, with Dior’s increased prices and out-sized bottles, do I really want to spend $170 for the “small” 4.5 oz bottle just for occasional wear? For me, it doesn’t seem worth it, but I’m sure that a gourmand lover would find Eau Noire to be worth every penny.

Of course, that assumes that the notes wouldn’t go terribly south on your skin. Eau Noire doesn’t seem to be the easiest fragrance for some people, due to the immortelle. In fact, Fragrantica is littered with comments about some of Eau Noire’s odder manifestations: curried lavender; “curried creme brulée” mixed with cedar; “curry meets caramel;” a “sinister affair of spices and herbs… that reminds me of cough syrup;” and more. One woman thinks Eau Noire is best on a man, while a male commentator thinks it’s a woman’s fragrance.

On the other side are those who are ardent admirers. One commentator thinks it’s the most “sublime” lavender fragrance ever, with spices and a touch of leather, calling it a “real masterpiece of subtlety and spice.” A number of people had the same experience I did with the interplay of contrasting notes. To give you just one out of many similar accounts:

EN is an olfactory maze of ying-yang scents. It is warm and cold, sweet/spicy and woody/leathery, bright and obscure, simple and complex. Indeed, its name says it all: black water. You don’t know what you might get or what to make of it when you wade in it. The key here is to relax and take it in. Just breath in every punch that is thrown at you with your eyes closed and take in each aroma and you may start valuing the grand bal of scents that dance together here. It is a mary-go-round composition where each note underneath the core licorice and lavender combo decides to jump in randomly, show up for a moment, and then suddenly be replaced by another. You will not get bored with this polytonal composition.

Ultimately, I think that you will like Eau Noire only if you adore immortelle in all of its various characteristics (including the potential curry note), along with gourmand scents in general. If so, then Eau Noire will probably be true love for you. Take, for example, the Candy Perfume Boy, a blogger known for enjoying a number of gourmand perfumes, and who has said flat-out that, for him, Eau Noire is “a holy grail fragrance.” In his review, entitled “Eau My God!“, he writes, in part:

The first blast of Eau Noire is somewhat of a baptism of fire […] I find it to be a totally joyful experience, and unlike anything else that has come into contact with my nostrils.

Things fall into place pretty quickly and the top notes are very much about lavender and liquorice, two aromas that are very much intertwined. Each brings out the dark anisic, herbal, and sugary qualities of the other and the overall vibe is neither floral nor gourmand, it sits somewhere comfortably between.

Possibly the most striking aspect of Eau Noire is the HUGE amount of imortelle within the heart. […] Personally I love imortelle, it is perhaps one of the most complex and pleasing smells around, it smells like sweet maple syrup, burned sugar and curry. Much to my pleasure, Eau Noire seems to showcase each and every one of the imortelle flower’s wonderful facets in perfect proportion. […][¶]

I keep trying to think whether I have smelled a fragrance as damn good as this recently, and I really don’t think I have! Eau Noire is everything that a good fragrance should be; distinct, unusual, well proportioned and exceptionally blended, beautiful and of obscenely high quality. Bravo Dior!

It is the ultimate accolade from a man who knows (and loves) his gourmands. And he’s not alone in his passion for Eau Noire. A number of its fans talk about its beauty in this Basenotes thread discussing a possible Eau Noire clone, J’S Extè Man, from an Italian company. On the official Basenotes review post for Eau Noire, the fragrance has a total of Four Stars, with 67% of the 57 reviews giving it a full five stars and making such comments as: “Pure perfection. Completely flawless creation.”

On the other hand, 23% or 13 commentators give Eau Noire just one star, and the main reason almost each time can be summed up as “maple syrup and curry.” I cannot emphasize enough that you have to love immortelle in ALL its potential aspects to love Eau Noire. There may have been just a single, momentary pop of curry on me, but then, my skin has almost never brought out that side of immortelle. (Thank God!) Clearly, I’m one of the lucky ones, but you may not fare so well.

Source: atyabtabkha.3a2ilati.com

Source: atyabtabkha.3a2ilati.com

As a side note, a number of people have compared Eau Noire to Annick Goutal‘s Sables, perhaps the ultimate benchmark for immortelle fragrances. I haven’t tried it to know how it measures up, but one commentator in that Basenotes thread, “alfarom,” has a useful comparison. He states that Sables “pushes to the very limit the boldness of Helichrysum by introducing a massive dose of amber, [while] Eau Noir focuses on its gourmandic/syrupy aspect adding a liqorice effect and a strong vanilla base[.]”

As you can see, again and again, the issue comes back to immortelle and gourmands. If you share the gourmand sensibilities of The Candy Perfume Boy, and if you love both immortelle and licorice, then I strongly encourage you to give Eau Noire a sniff. If you love gourmands but immortelle doesn’t always work on your skin, then you should hesitate and perhaps consider a test. But if you loathe immortelle, licorice and/or gourmands, then run very, very far away. Eau Noire may make you utterly miserable.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Eau Noire is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and a few select, high-end department stores. Dior Privé perfumes come in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $170 with the new Dior price increase, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $250. (There is a third option which is so enormous, I can’t imagine anyone buying it.)
In the U.S.: Ambre Nuit found at Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [call (702) 369-6072]. If you’re really interested, however, what I would do is to call this number instead — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She is an amazingly sweet lady who will also give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles, to go with your purchase. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. (I get nothing for the recommendation, by the way.) U.S. Department Stores: New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus, and the Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland also carry the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes.
Outside of the US: The Dior International page offers all their Privée fragrances for you to order online. This is the listing for Eau Noire. In addition, you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The one closest to you should have the perfume available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Eau Noire a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line (minus the new Gris Montaigne), Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances in a sampler set for $35.99.

Les Escales de Dior: Pondichéry, Portofino, Parati & Marquises (The Cruise Collection)

Dior is a perfume house that I like quite a bit, and to which I’m bound by the ties of childhood nostalgia. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the name of a Dior perfume that was wholly new to me, Pondichery, and I sat up in excitement when I read about it. A trip to India through tea, cardamon, jasmine and sandalwood, all done in a refreshing summer manner…. It called to me like the sirens to Odysseus. It didn’t take me long to realise that Dior had a whole, rarely discussed Cruise Collection of eau de toilettes that it had initially released back in 2008 called Les Escales de Dior, and which now numbered four in all: Escale à Pondichéry, Escale à Portofino, Escale à Parati, and Escale aux Marquises. The PR press copy, as quoted by Harrods, explains the collection’s style:

Les Escales de Dior is a Collection of fresh and sophisticated fragrances, inspired by the casual chic style of the Dior Couture Cruise Collection. In each destination that inspires an “Escale”, François Demachy, Dior’s Perfumer-Creator, selects the highest raw materials, exclusive to the Dior House.

Three of the four Escale fragrances. Source: mujerglobal.com

Three of the four Escale fragrances. Source: mujerglobal.com

I tend to become a little obsessed with things so, even though I still have quite a few of Dior’s wonderful, Privé Collection to get through, I became determined to get my hands on Les Escales de Dior. (The line is sometimes called The Cruise Collection on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) When Dior’s wonderful Karina Lake called me from the Las Vegas boutique with some news about a fragrance, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to beg for samples of the Escale collection.

I’ve been working through them, and they’re generally nice eau de toilettes with some very pretty bits, an uncomplicated nature, and a somewhat commercial bent. There’s nothing wrong with them, especially for their low price and large size, and commercial perfume buyers seem to adore a number of them — but they’re not for me. Given how simple they are, I thought I’d provide a relatively brief synopsis of the four fragrances in a single post, instead of treating each one individually to a lengthy, in-depth review. 

ESCALE À PONDICHERY

Escale à Pondichéry (hereinafter referred to simply as “Pondichery“) was released in 2009, and is categorized by Dior as a “green floral citrus.” Dior describes it as:

An olfactive immersion in India. François Demachy was inspired by the black tea extract during his journey in India: a fresh, sophisticated and elegant note. The new fragrance, Escale à Pondichéry, is rich in natural essences coming from the Indian continent, selected by the Dior House for their superior quality: cardamon essence, sandalwood essence and jasmine sambac absolute.

Source: fann.sk

Source: fann.sk

Pondichery opens on my skin with black tea, the juiciest bergamot, and nutty cardamon. The notes combine to create a strong but delicate aroma of tea with lemon that is just barely milky in undertone and lightly spiced with cardamom. It feels crisp, refreshing, juicy, aromatic, and airy, all at once. A subtle hint of white musk stirs in the base, smelling simultaneously clean and a little bit floral. I’m not a fan of white musk, even in subtle doses, but I can see why it was added. It helps accentuate the impression of a breezy, summer cruise. In fact, Pondicherry really evokes the crisp, well-starched, ironed whites of boat or cruise people, or the colonial past of the British in one their warm, Empire territories. Cricketers in India, or colonialists in the West Indies, are as much a fit for the visuals of crisp white as a modern-day cruise.

The tea accord is lovely but, for me, the white musk competes dominates just as much and ruins it all. My skin tends to amplify the synthetic, and I’m not a fan of  “fresh, clean” notes, no matter how popular they may be with the general public. For large stretches of time in Pondichery, it’s hard for me to smell much below the tidal wave of white crispness. Whenever I succeed, the tea is quite lovely with its strong undertones of refreshing lemon. About ten minutes into Pondichery’s development, the fragrance turns into a very summery, clean citrus scent with tea and an abstract floral note. Unfortunately, the latter never feels like jasmine, let alone concentrated Jasmine Sambac Absolute. Instead, the note is sharp, slightly chemical in nuance, potent in all the wrong ways, and yet, mutedly restrained in terms of an actual floral character. It is like a hygienically clean, fresh, unnatural jasmine, if you will, reinforced by laboratory-created white musk and infused with something disagreeably synthetic and lemony. (Yes, I have a strong bias against commercial synthetics!)

Tea with milkThankfully, Pondichery improves in time, and becomes quite pretty on occasion. After that difficult opening, the fragrance eventually settles into place and loses some of its synthetic and laundry-clean musk overtones. At the end of the second hour, Pondichery is a tea fragrance with slightly milky, lemony undertones, accompanied by fresh floral musk. There are occasional hints of creamy, white woods in the base, but they are abstract and certainly can’t be distinguished as real sandalwood. On occasion, the milky, sweet, creamy tea note is accompanied by something that smells like almonds, but it is subtle. Once in a while, a flicker of warm, lightly spiced nuttiness stirs in Pondichery’s base, but it never feels like cardamom (which has long lost any individual distinctiveness), so it must be that fake, ersatz “sandalwood” synthetic used to replicate the almost extinct Mysore wood. In its drydown stage, Pondichery grows more abstract, amorphous, and hazy, turning into a simple clean, white, musky woodiness.

All in all, Pondichery lasted just short of 10.75 hours on my skin, which might be surprising for an eau de toilette, except my skin hangs onto white musk like the damn plague. For the same reason, Pondichery had moderate projection for as long as the first 6 hours, wafting a few inches above the skin, before it turned into a discrete skin scent. On Fragrantica, the majority of voters found Pondichery’s longevity to be “moderate,” and its sillage to be “soft,” followed by “moderate” as the next choice.

Pondichery seems to be an extremely popular summer fragrance, with Fragrantica commentators loving its tea notes, its refreshing citrus tones, and the depth added by its subtle woody base. Men like it as much as women, so it’s quite unisex in its appeal. On the Nordstrom site, buyers positively rave about how wonderfully fresh, light, and beautiful Pondichery is, and the number of times the word “fresh” is used in a positive manner underscores to me one more time just how much the casual perfume buyer loves clean, white musk in commercial perfumery. If that is your taste, you should absolutely check out Pondichery. It’s versatile, affordable, and easy to wear. Parts of it are quite pretty, and I can see why the tea accord appeals to so many people.

ESCALE À PORTOFINO

Source: goldparfumer.ru

Source: goldparfumer.ru

Escale à Portofino (hereinafter just simply “Portofino“) was the very first Escale fragrance. It was launched in 2008, and is described by Dior as an “aromatic citrus” that is an “invigorating burst of sweet freshness.” The notes, according to Fragrantica, are as follows:

Top notes are bergamot, petitgrain and lemon; middle notes are almond, orange blossom and juniper berries; base notes are cedar, cypress, galbanum, caraway and musk.

Portofino opens on my skin with every possible part of a citrus tree: neroli with its bitter, spicy greenness, followed by regular, feminine, sweet orange blossoms; crisp, aromatic lemon; juicy, sun-ripened bergamot; and quiet hints of the woody twigs from the petitgrain. There are subtle flickers in the base that almost seem like sharp galbanum and something mossy. There are muted whispers of cedar lurking below, as well, accompanied by white musk. I don’t detect any almonds, nor cypress with its slightly piney characteristics.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

The whole thing is a very clean, refreshing, bright, summery, aromatic citrus that feels like an eau de cologne, though it initially has the strength and richness of an eau de toilette. At the end of the first hour, Portofino becomes simpler and hazier, devolving into a neroli and orange blossom fragrance with soft white musk. At the 90-minute mark, Portofino turns into a complete skin scent. There are fluctuating levels of orange blossom and white musk, but no woodiness and no almonds. It remains that way to the end when, in its final moments, Portofino dies away merely as a clean citrus musk. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 6 hours on my skin, and I seem to be one of the lucky ones.

On Fragrantica, most people seem to love Portofino, though there are a complaints about the fragrance’s weak longevity and projection. Some people found Portofino to be far “too citrusy,” a few thought it smelled artificially synthetic in its lemony nature, and seven people complained that it smelled like lemony dishwashing liquid or lemon furniture cleaner. (Actually, I stopped counting after the 7th one, as there are a lot of reviews for Portofino on the site.) A large number of people (28) compared Portofino to an old eau de cologne dating back to 1792: 4711 Original Eau de Cologne by Maurer & Wirtz. I haven’t tried the fragrance to know how it similar it is, but Portofino with its orange blossoms seems much warmer to me than a pure cologne with its brisker, crisper, thinner nature. Still, as a whole, the majority of Fragrantica commentators spoke positively and appreciatively about how Portofino was “refreshing,” “light,” “chilly,” “elegant,” “luxurious,” and/or perfect for summer. The word “fresh” was used repeatedly, as well. Again, it’s not my thing, but if that’s your style, you may want to consider giving Portofino a sniff.

ESCALE À PARATI

Source: cosmetics-parfum.com

Source: cosmetics-parfum.com

Escale à Parati (hereinafter just “Parati“) is an eau de toilette that was released in 2012. Fragrantica explains the perfume’s name, its inspiration, and its notes:

Parati (or Paraty) is historical and touristic town in Brazil, situated on the Green Coast (Costa Verde) near Rio de Janeiro.

Francois Demachy, the Dior in-house perfumer, found the inspiration for this fragrance in vivid and pastel colors of the landscape, laughter, wind, music, samba and sea. The fragrance captures Brazilian exotics with citrus and woody notes of bitter orange, lemon, petit grain, rosewood, mint, cinnamon, red berries and tonka bean.

Source: my-parfum.net.ua

Source: my-parfum.net.ua

Parati opens on my skin with lemons and oranges. It’s juicy, fresh, bright, and light, and seems well-suited to summer. Quickly, the citrus bouquet is followed by warm, sweet woodiness, and hints of mint. There is something a little synthetic in feel in the basenotes, but it’s minor. Quiet whispers of slightly bitter, woody, petitgrain twigs lurk about, but they never detract from the overall cool and fresh nature of the fragrance.

Blood Orange. Source: Twitter.

Blood Orange. Source: Twitter.

In less than ten minutes, however, Parati turns warmer and creamy in feel. The tonka bean adds a soft sweetness, though it doesn’t reflects a vanilla characteristic at this stage. Now, Parati is a creamy citrus fragrance dominated by a blood orange tonality, and accompanied by cinnamon and soft, muted rosewood. Around the 90-minute mark, the fragrance starts to gain more vanillic overturns, turning into a creamy, orange scent with soft woods and a subtle dusting of cinnamon, all cocooned in a warm, custardy vanilla. Parati remains that way largely towards its end, turning more abstract, hazy and soft until it is merely a trace of sweet vanillic woodiness. All in all, Parati lasted just over 4.5 hours on me, with soft, discreet sillage throughout.

On Fragrantica, people seem to have experienced a substantially more citrusy fragrance than I did. In fact, a number of commentators compare Parati to a cologne with its dominant, simple, citric blast. A handful mention the cinnamon and Parati’s warm woodiness, but they’re not many. As a whole, there doesn’t seem to be as much enthusiasm for Parati as there is for the rest of Dior’s Escale fragrances, but the scent is only a year old while others, like Portofino, have been around for quite a while now. I liked parts of Parati because its warmer, slightly sweeter nature didn’t feel as “fresh and clean” to me as some of the other crisp, light, citric scents, but it’s clearly a matter of personal taste.

ESCALE AUX MARQUISES

Source: Marieclaire.it

Source: Marieclaire.it

Escale Aux Marquises (hereinafter just “Marquises“) was launched in 2010, and is a warm, floral citrus eau de toilette. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

blood orange, pink pepper, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, coriander, elemi resin, benzoin, amalfi lemon and tiare flower.

Source: rmwebed.com.au

Source: rmwebed.com.au

Tiaré is a large component of the scent, so it may be helpful to briefly discuss its aroma. The flower is a tropical, Tahitian kind of gardenia whose scent is often associated with suntan lotion due to its use in Monoi-type of products. It has a creamy, rich aromaa that can sometimes feel like coconut or custardy vanilla, but which isn’t actually much like either. It’s a very lush, indolic, heady scent, and it lies at the heart of Marquises.

Blood Orange via FragranticaThe Dior fragrance opens on my skin with bright, juicy, slightly tart blood orange. There are hints of pink peppercorn, but Marquises is quickly infused by a heady blast of creamy, lush tiaré. The overall effect is to turn Marquises into something that distinctly resembles an exotic, orange-vanilla popsicle. Soon after, lovely whiffs of fresh, slightly spicy ginger follow, along with cloves, cardamon, and bitter nutmeg. Subtle tinges of lemon and fruity pink pepper berries lurk underneath.

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

The spices, however, are quite prominent and, within minutes, I’ve gone from smelling like an orange popsicle to some sort of spiced butter cookie. It’s the result of the tiaré’s very buttery undertones, combined with the nutmeg in particular. Behind the sweet, spicy, buttery, slightly vanillic warmth are bursts of juicy, tart, fresh citruses, though they sometimes feel like a Jack in the Box, popping up only occasionally and in varying strengths. On my skin, Marquises is never a full-on, predominantly citric scent, and is much more about the tiaré and spices.

Ten minutes in, Marquises is creamy, tropical, lush, sweet, very heady and slightly indolic, with buttery vanilla sweetness, loads of dusky spices, and a slight undertone of citric freshness. Ginger adds a quiet zing, especially in conjunction with the blood orange, while the nutmeg adds a slightly bitter edge that helps cut through some of the heady, unctuous richness. Sometimes the scent feels quite floral, but I’m still struck by the occasional impression that I smell like a shortbread butter cookie sprinkled with nutmeg. It’s not bad at all, especially as Marquises has enough dryness, spice and citruses to keep the scent from feeling gourmand in any way. The whole thing is very airy, bright, and heady.

Thirty minutes in, Marquises shifts a little. There is suddenly a quiet woodiness that stirs in the base and, surprisingly, it has quite a smoky aroma. It smells a little acrid, a bit sharp, and reminds me of the scent of burning leaves in the fall. It comes from the elemi, and it feels a little disconcerting in the midst of all the Tahitian floral creaminess mixed in with butter cookie and orange popsicle accords. Then again, I suppose those last three things are an unusual combination, in and of themselves.

Source: Kootation.com

Source: Kootation.com

At the 90-minute mark, Marquises settles into its main, final bouquet: tiaré backed by strong hints of blood orange (that has a slightly neroli and orange blossom undertone), with subtle spices and woodiness, all flecked by a vanilla creaminess. It’s a soft blur of muted notes that all overlap each other, never feeling individually distinct. Marquises hugs the skin as a discreet whisper, turning increasingly soft until it’s nothing more than a sweet, vaguely creamy floral citrus scent with some amorphous woodiness. All in all, it lasted just over 3.75 hours, which is pretty much in line with many reports on Fragrantica, though one poor soul said Marquises died after a mere 30 minutes.

Marquises seems hugely adored by those who have tried it on Fragrantica, many of whom call it “beautiful.” For a few people, it’s actually their favorite from the Escale collection. As a whole, commentators find it citrusy, fresh, and elegant, though some find the spices to dominate, and a rare few think the fragrance smells masculine. Judging by the votes, the main notes that people have experienced are: tiaré (54), blood orange (52), and lemon (51), followed by ginger (43), nutmeg (41), and cardamon (41). The common complaint, however, is that Marquises barely lasts on the skin. Yet, some people find the scent to be lovely and luxurious enough to warrant re-application during the day, and Dior certainly sells Marquises in a generous size at a decent enough price for that to be an option. (The smallest bottle is 75 ml/ 2.5 oz in size and costs $75, £56.00, and about €67,90.) I thought the scent was quite pretty at times, and it never felt very synthetic, so if you’re looking for a warm, airy citrus fragrance with a bit of a quirk, then Marquises may be right up your alley.

ALL IN ALL:

I liked small bits in each of the Dior fragrances, and thought they were generally pretty on occasion. None of them are revolutionary, original, edgy, complex, nuanced, or of luxurious depth, but I don’t think a commercial, summery Cruise line of fresh, citrusy eau de toilettes is meant to be. That said, neither light, crisp citruses nor fragrances that scream “fresh and clean” are to my personal taste, especially when white musk is involved. However, the commercial mass-market taste is for precisely such fragrances, so the Escale collection is aimed at a specific target audience.

For those who appreciate such scents, the Dior eau de toilettes seem ideal, especially for summer. They’re light, easy to wear, versatile, unisex, and affordable (especially given how the “small” Dior size is almost an ounce more than the starting size of most brands). Les Escales may have iffy longevity, depending on the particular fragrance in question and on your personal skin chemistry, but eau de toilettes have moderate longevity in general. As for sillage, the Dior style is for very discreet, soft fragrances as a whole — something which makes them ideal for anyone concerned about wearing fragrances to work, or those who prefer merely a subtle suggestion of scent. All in all, they are well-suited to a particular perfume style and taste.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The Escale fragrances are all eau de toilette in concentration, and are available at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and select department stores. The fragrances generally come in two sizes: a 75 ml/ 2.5 oz bottle which costs $75, £56.00, and about €67,90; and a 4.25 fl oz/125 ml which costs $98 or €91. (There is a massive 200 ml bottle as well, but I can’t find pricing on that and few places seem to carry it online.)  In the U.S.: the Escale line of fragrances can be found at select department stores, Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [(702) 369-6072]. If you’re really interested, however, what I would do is to call this number instead — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She is an amazingly sweet lady who will also give you free Dior perfume samples, free shipping, and you’ll pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. (I get nothing for recommending her, by the way. I merely think she’s wonderful, and I’ve bought from her myself.) Elsewhere, you can find the full Escale line at Macy’s (though I don’t know how many of the stores carry the fragrances in-house), and two of the fragrances (Pondichery and Portofino) are also available at Nordstrom. A friend in San Francisco informed me that he had difficulty finding the Cruise Collection in department stores, and located them actually at Disneyland, so not every Nordstrom or Macy’s may have them. As a side note, a large 4.2 oz tester bottle of Pontichery is on sale at FragranceNet for $66.46 with a coupon. The others may be similarly discounted on that site, so you may want to check. Outside of the US: In the UK, you can find the Escale Collection at Harrods where prices start at £56.00. In France, you can find the Escale line at French Sephora which sells the 75 ml bottles for €67,90 and the larger 125 ml bottles for €96,90. The link will take you to the Pondicherry entry, but you can find the other fragrances from the Escale link shown midway down on the page. In addition, you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a store near you.
Samples: If you want to give any of the Escale fragrances a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $2.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review – Dior Ambre Nuit (La Collection Privée)

The sensuous slither of limbs. The expanse of a man’s chest, heated and lightly musky. The slow seduction of a dance that is always completely refined, just hinting at the passion below. The heated languor of the tango is what comes to mind when I wear Ambre Nuit, an incredibly sensuous but highly refined fragrance from Dior‘s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) For me, everything about Ambre Nuit calls to mind the Latin tango — from the rhythm of its developing notes, to its mood, to the sensuality that almost borders on the overt but which, ultimately, is too refined and elegant to really cross the line.

La Vida es Un Tango. Movie still or advert. Source: Facebook.

La Vida es Un Tango. Movie still or advert. Source: Facebook.

Ambre Nuit was released in 2009, the creation of François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior. Dior categorizes the fragrance as an “amber woody floral,” and provides the following description:

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

A mysterious fragrance, inspired by the baroque atmosphere and balls of the 18th century, which left their marks on Christian Dior. The tale of a Rose seduced by carnal Amber, which together unveil an unexpected profound, intense and elusive scent.

Describing Ambre Nuit as a “rose” fragrance might be little misleading, in my personal opinion. It is most definitely not that on my skin for the majority of its development, nor for many others. In fact, I would say that “rose” is almost the least of things I experienced with this smoky, woody, amber fragrance. Dior’s list of notes include:

Bergamot di Calabria, Turkish Damascus Rose Essence, New Zealand Ambergris, Gaiac Wood, Cedar Wood and Patchouli.

Fragrantica adds pink peppercorns; Ozmoz adds spices and balsam notes; and I would toss in both frankincense and myrrh. The real key, however, is the ambergris which is a whole other olfactory animal than the regular amber used in the majority of perfumery. A very rare, astronomically expensive ingredient, ambergris has a strong, salty-sweet character that is always sensual, often slightly musky, occasionally a little animalic, and usually so creamily rich that it can border on ambered caramel.

"Tango and Cobblestones",  painting by Aldo Luongo. Source: ipaintingsforsale.com

“Tango and Cobblestones”, painting by Aldo Luongo. Source: ipaintingsforsale.com

Ambre Nuit opens on my skin with sweet, refined patchouli, followed by sun-warmed bergamot and pink peppercorns. Unlike the patchouli note in many commercial fragrances, nothing here smells like the sharp, plastic-y, highly synthetic ingredient that is always painfully loaded with purple fruitness. Though the patchouli smells a little grape-y at first, it is a very refined, subtle aroma that is actually a little black in nature. It has a smokiness that would imply incense as a hidden note, something that is borne out later by the rest of Ambre Nuit’s development. From the start, though, something about the patchouli and smoke accord in Ambre Nuit reminds me of Chanel‘s gorgeous, glorious Coromandel from its Exclusifs collection. 

Source: YouTube.com

Source: YouTube.com

The pink peppercorns in Ambre Nuit differ slightly in aroma from that used in commercial, mainstream perfumery. They have a fiery, spicy edge that evokes red, chili or pimento peppers, instead of something wholly fruity in nature. (The excessive, pink peppercorn and patchouli combination in Marc JacobsLola comes to mind when thinking of things that Ambre Nuit does not resemble!) Here, the pepper infuses the subtle, muted rose note, along with the patchouli, turning the flower into something red, rich, and darkened. Yet, the rose is never so syrupy or sweet as to feel jammy and fruited; it’s too smoky and dry for that. 

All the main top notes sit upon a base of beautifully dry, rich, nuanced woods with amber. The accord is smoky from the gaiac; peppered and aromatic from the cedar; and burnished to a soft, rich edge from the ambergris. The latter feels very much like the real stuff with its salty, musky facets. Here, however, the ambergris also has a subtle undertone of something that is simultaneously honeyed and almost boozy. I suspect the combination of the patchouli, peppercorns, and ambergris is responsible for the almost cognac-like, liqueured undercurrents running through Ambre Nuit.

Ambre Nuit’s nuances in the early stage really show themselves best when a large quantity is applied, but there are dangers with that, as well. I tried the perfume twice, with the first test consisting of one, medium-ish smear, and the second entailing about 2.5 very large ones. With the smaller quantity, it’s harder to detect the full range of the perfume’s layers; Ambre Nuit is so well-blended that it ends up becoming just a single, very smooth, almost abstract, smoky, woody, ambery bouquet after the first thirty to forty minutes. With a larger dose, you can see more of the nuances in the fragrance, but then the pink peppercorns can verge a little on the over-bearing. For me, at least, it was a little sharp, unbalanced, and just tipping towards the screechy category. It wasn’t a problem at all with the smaller dose, so I suspect one has to go the Goldilocks’ route and try for a dose in the middle. Regardless of quantity, in its opening half hour, Ambre Nuit is a beautiful, very potent blend of smoky, liqueured, salty-sweet amber, with dry woods and a quiet touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from the peppers and a little sweet from the patchouli.

"Dancers" photograph by Erwin Olaf. Source: KontraPLAN magazine.

“Dancers” photograph by Erwin Olaf. Source: KontraPLAN magazine.

What fascinates me, however, is the patchouli and incense combination in Ambre Nuit. I am convinced that there is incense in the perfume. It is as though Dior decided to do a variation of the note in its divine Mitzah, another smoky, oriental, rose-based perfume, but Dior opted to combine incense with ambergris in lieu of Mitzah’s labdanum. Ambre Nuit has the exact same sort of subtle smokiness in the base. The patchouli is a perfect accompaniment to both elements: it’s a little 1970s, hippie-ish, except it’s so refined in Ambre Nuit that it lacks any skanky, musty, musky, pothead-type of dirtiness. Underlying the smoky, salty, sweet notes is an unexpected honey tone that must come from the ambergris. It has subtle beeswax nuance to it as well, which just adds to the richness and depth of the base.

Thirty minutes into Ambre Nuit’s development, the woody notes start to rise to the surface. Gaiac can sometimes have a slightly tarry, asphalt-like character, while at other times, it can smell like burning leaves. Here, both aspects lurk under the creamy, soft, smooth wood. When combined with the incense notes in Ambre Nuit, it serves to create a wonderfully dry accord that counterbalances any sweetness from the patchouli and offsets any heaviness from the ambergris.

"Tango": Freja Beha Erichsen and Baptiste Giabiconi by Karl Lagerfeld for German Vogue.

“Tango”: Freja Beha Erichsen and Baptiste Giabiconi by Karl Lagerfeld for German Vogue.

There is something extremely sensuous about the combination of notes in Ambre Nuit that consistently make me think of an Argentinian tango between heated dancers in some smoky, dark room — except they are dressed in the most refined, elegant, couture outfits. The ambergris’ special, unique features evoke the warmth of heated, slightly musky skin that has been rendered just the faintest bit salty from sweat. The incense conjures up the smoky, dark feel of those dance rooms, while the gaiac and cedar replicate the incredibly smooth, wooden floors that the dancers glide across. The rose note is nothing more than a mere accessory, as inconsequential as the flower in a dancer’s hair, and hardly a significant part of the scent on my skin, especially as Ambre Nuit continues. All the notes, however, are very smooth and refined, thereby ensuring that Ambre Nuit stays a level above the many, mainstream, commercial scents that have similar elements. I must confess, though, I worry a little about those pink peppercorns which could have been handled with a slightly softer touch. They are the only thing that tarnish Ambre Nuit’s more sophisticated balance.

At the end of the first hour, Ambre Nuit is a gorgeous, smoky ambergris perfume. There is a sweet-salty creaminess which is infused by incense, a light flicker of warm musk, a dash of honey, and a tinge of beeswax — all atop very dry, smoky woods. The patchouli has melted into the ambergris, adding to its rich sweetness. And the rose has completely vanished. As a whole, Ambre Nuit  is a little too potent in its sillage in the early hours to be called “airy,” but it has a very plush feel that is as rich as velvet. And, yet, it is not opaque, heavy, or unctuous in any way.

Ambre Nuit never changes in its core essence, but some of its notes fluctuate in prominence. Around the middle of the second hour, the peppery gaiac wood takes the lead, followed by the ambergris, then the smoke, and trailed much further behind by the patchouli. The end of the third hour, however, sees the patchouli join the smoky woods and ambergris in a three-way tie. The whole thing is sweet, salty, smoky, a little bit musky, and absolutely beautiful. Again, the subtle similarities to Chanel‘s Coromandel raise their head for me. Ambre Nuit is significantly woodier and drier, and lacks the delicate, white cocoa powder, benzoin, and vanilla undertones of Coromandel. Yet, oddly enough, the patchouli in Ambre Nuit has taken on a distinctly chocolate-like nuance at its base, though it’s more akin to a gooey, dark chocolate ganache than the airy, white cocoa powder of Coromandel. Still, the way both fragrances are so infused with smoky incense and patchouli, that they feel like very distant cousins.

Ambre Nuit slowly grows closer to the skin, turning softer and more ambered in focus. Around the end of sixth hour, there is an odd quirk which occurred during both tests: the smoke takes on a soapy, white character that reminds me of myrrh. It only lasts about forty minutes, but it was noticeable enough to make me sit up on both occasions and think that the incense had become very churchy. It quickly fades, leaving Ambre Nuit’s remaining and final notes in the drydown phase as an abstract amber that is simultaneously a little dry, a little sweet from the final flickers of patchouli, and a little musky.

Like all of Dior’s Privée fragrances, Ambre Nuit has excellent longevity on my perfume-consuming skin and generally moderate sillage. Ambre Nuit lasted just under 8.5 hours on me with a single, medium-ish smear, and over 11.75 hours with 2.5 large ones. The sillage is significantly greater than some of the other Dior Privée fragrances, no doubt due to the impact of the patchouli which is always a more projecting ingredient. With the larger dose, Ambre Nuit wafted a good 4 inches above my skin for the first hour, thereafter dropping and becoming slightly less. But it took a whole 8 hours before it became a skin scent. If you work in a conservative office environment, I would suggest not spraying with abandon, especially as aerosolisation can increase a perfume’s potency. (Plus, there is that whole issue of needing to create a delicate balance with the pink peppercorns.)

Ambre Nuit is extremely well-liked, with raves on Fragrantica and elsewhere about its sophisticated, refined, opulent and very versatile nature. Interestingly, for some, like the Candy Perfume Boy, Ambre Nuit is much more of an oriental rose fragrance, calling to mind Le Labo‘s woody Rose 31, only with a slightly powdery undertone to the floral note. He adores it, and calls it “utterly fabulous.” For me, Rose 31 was mostly peppery cedar, with massive amounts of ISO E Super and a very muted rose, while Ambre Nuit had no powder at all — clearly, skin chemistry makes a difference. On Fragrantica, the talk isn’t about the powder, but about differing experiences with the rose. For some, it only appears midway during the perfume’s development, while others find it noticeable as a rich, aromatic rose from the start. There is also quite a bit of talk about the incense in the fragrance, too, with one commentator reaching the same conclusion that I did: both incense and myrrh must be part of Ambre Nuit. Others find the opening of Ambre Nuit to be both bright and significantly more citrus-like in focus than it was for me, with zesty grapefruit and bright bergamot.

Regardless of the variations, almost everyone adores Ambre Nuit and, for some, it is the best of the Dior Privée line. I don’t love Ambre Nuit as much as I adore its sibling — the labdanum-incense beauty that is Mitzah — but then, there aren’t a ton of things I like as much as Mitzah. Still, I definitely think it is worth checking out if you are a fan of easy, accessible amber fragrances. It’s not a revolutionary, edgy, unique amber fragrance; and it’s not a heavily spiced or very unctuous, opaque, fully baroque one, either. But it’s not meant to be any of those things.

Dior’s signature perfume style is to create incredibly smooth, refined, well-blended, generally unisex fragrances that take a slightly typical combination of notes, and raise it to a higher, almost couture-like level through the best ingredients and superior crafting. Dior is intentionally trying to create very accessible fragrances, but it wants them to be the height of refinement, sophistication, and discreet elegance. Ambre Nuit is no exception, though the fragrance is significantly more powerful than its softer, more unobtrusive, but equally elegant, siblings. (With great caution in spraying, Ambre Nuit might be appropriate for some conservative office environments.) For some who seek a more revolutionary, perhaps more unique bent to their amber fragrances, Ambre Nuit will probably be a little safe and little uninteresting. But I doubt they’d argue with its silky smooth nature, or with its luxurious undertones. As an added bonus, Ambre Nuit is almost cheap per ounce, relatively speaking, given the quality and the enormous size that Dior provides for its “small” version. The perfume costs $155 for a whopping 4.25 oz/125 ml — almost a full ounce more than the normal “large” version of most perfumes. (You should see the truly large Dior size at a behemoth 15.2 oz or 450 ml! You could use it as a cudgel or weapon!)   

For me, what distinguishes Ambre Nuit from some other ambers on the market is the glorious sensuality of its rare ambergris. When combined with the incense, the smoky, sweet-salty result is damn sexy. Watch the video below, listen to the music and how it undulates in different tempos, and see the lithe, swaying, connected bodies move. That’s Ambre Nuit for me.

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Ambre Nuit is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and a few select, high-end department stores. Dior Privé perfumes come in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $155, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $230. (There is a third option which is so enormous, I can’t imagine anyone buying it.) In the U.S.: Ambre Nuit found at Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [call (702) 369-6072]. If you’re really interested, however, what I would do is to call this number instead — (702) 734-1102 — and ask for Karina Lake, the Dior Beauty Stylist at the Las Vegas store. She is an amazingly sweet lady who will also give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles, to go with your purchase. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax! Tell her Kafka sent you. Elsewhere, New York’s Bergdorf Goodman and San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus also carry the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes.
Outside of the US: you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The one closest to you should have the perfume available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Ambre Nuit a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line (minus the new Gris Montaigne), Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances in a sampler set for $35.99.