Naomi Goodsir Or du Sérail: Harems, Hookahs & Gold

Sir Frank Dicksee, "Leila," 1892. Source:

Sir Frank Dicksee, “Leila,” 1892. Source:

An alcoholic harem master lies drunk in a pool of Calvados brandy in a seraglio made of amber, tobacco, and gold. A hookah lies next to a vat of booze, and wafts a fragrant fruitiness that mixes with the smell of musky cedar from the swamp which circles the harem like a moat and fortress barricade. Within the palace’s high walls is a small apple orchard dotted with bales of hay that are lightly coated with honey. In the lush gardens, exotic Indian davana flowers emit a tiny apricot scent, next to the custardy richness of ylang-ylang. At the palace’s heart is a courtyard where nubile concubines lounge on aromatic woody divans, dressed in thin silks made from vanilla. They dust their bodies with a light sprinkling of cocoa, as they nibble on toasted nuts and puff on a hookah. The sultan’s favorite, Leila, watches with a smile, glowing like a jewel in red and gold fabrics that match the stream of fruited liqueur pouring from a nearby fountain. The air is indolent, warm, musky, sweet, and filled with the smell of decadence, but darkness lies just around the corner. Slowly, shadows of tobacco and dry woods sweep over the ambered gold, covering it like an eclipse does the sun, until night finally falls over the harem. And, still, no-one bothers to help the drunken man collapsed in their midst. They all know what happens when you overindulge in the delights of the seraglio, or l’Or du Sérail.

John Frederick Lewis, "Reception," 1873. Source: Wikipedia

John Frederick Lewis, “Reception,” 1873. Source: Wikipedia

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Frapin 1270

Frapin Chateau via the Frapin website.

The Frapin Chateau via the Frapin website.

In France’s wine country, in a parallel universe, there is a cognac estate covered by acres of fruit trees whose heavy, sun-ripened treasures drip their sweet juices straight into oak barrels filled with rum and brandy. There, the rich stew of rum raisin, orange, and plums is infused with vanilla, the light powder of tonka, and cocoa. There is a suggestion of grape flowers that swirls in the air, vying with caramel and dry woods that are streaked with the tiniest vein of smokiness. As night falls, the golden booziness fades away, leaving a cozy sheath of creamy vanilla woods. The date is 1270, the golden blend is called 1270, and the estate is the ancient one of the House of Frapin.

Frapin is relatively new to the perfume scene, having started just six years ago in 2008, but the line has been making luxury cognac for centuries. In fact, the family behind it goes back almost 800 years. To quote a Vanity Fair article,

The Frapin’s rich family heritage is the stuff of a whimsical, old-world romance novel—and, according to creative director David Frossard, the key inspiration for all seven fragrances in the line. One of the oldest and most established families in France, the Frapins have been distilling cognac from their original Fontpinot Castle, situated on 300 hectares in the Grand Champagne region of France, since 1270 and through 20 generations; they expanded into fragrance in 2008. And if a castle isn’t enough of a fairy tale for you, Louis XIV himself granted official nobility to the Frapin family in 1697.

Frapin Castle. Source: Frapin website.

Frapin Castle. Source: Frapin website.

Frapin, as a perfume house, is perhaps best known for its 1270 fragrance which is an eau de parfum created by Sidonie Lancesseur and released in 2010. In the press copy quoted by many sites, Frapin explains the meaning behind the 1270 name, as well as what the scent is meant to evoke:

1270 via Luckyscent.

1270 via Luckyscent.

Named for the year the Frapin family established itself in the Cognac region of France (and continues to make cognac to this day), 1270 was created by Beatrice Cointreau, great granddaughter of Pierre Frapin.

Together with Frapin’s Cellar Master, she sought to create a noble fragrance full of the scents surrounding the creation of cognac. 1270 is dry, rich, velvety and smooth.

The flowers of the once-proud Folle Blanche (a grape nearly extinct from the region), the vineyard grass, the wine warehouse, the rich smell of damp earth in the cellars, the wood of new casks, the loamy smell of humus where the ancestral cognacs are stored- all these notes can be detected in 1270. Gorgeous is putting it mildly… this scent defies flowery prose.

The notes in 1270, as compiled from Fragrantica and First in Fragrance, include:

Top: Candied Orange, Nut, Raisin, Plum, Cocoa, Tonka Bean, Coffee
Heart: Vine Flower, Everlasting Flower [Immortelle], Linden Blossom (Tilia), Pepper, Spices
Base: Woods, Guaiac Wood, White Honey, Vanilla



1270 opens on my skin with Bourbon vanilla and light brandy booziness, followed by juicy oranges, dark plums, caramelized cooked raisins, and a tiny sprinkling of cocoa powder. There is also the faintest suggestion of sweetened powder from the tonka vanilla. As a whole, 1270 feels quite concentrated, but also very light at the same time.

My immediate, first impression is of a deliciously cozy, warm fragrance that feels comforting and soothing. I particularly like how well-balanced the notes are, from the boozy cognac (which sometimes veers into rum territory), the fruited juiciness, and 1270’s overall sweetness. Neither element feels out of whack with the others. Even better, the perfume isn’t painfully sweet or cloying on my skin at all. For someone like myself who isn’t particularly enthused by gourmand fragrances and who shies away from extreme sweetness, 1270 feels just right.

Rum Raisins. Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Rum Raisins. Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

A vague woodiness lurks in 1270’s background, evoking the image of old cognac barrels made out of oak. At first, it is merely a light touch, but it starts almost immediately to seep towards the core bouquet of notes. On my skin, that bouquet is primarily of a boozy, fruited sweetness dominated by rum-raisin and caramelized Bourbon vanilla. The orange notes are muted at this point, as is the light dusting of cocoa powder. One of my favorite parts is the odd sensation of grape flowers (does such a thing even exist?) that pops up every now and then. It’s a subtle floralacy with a nuance of dark, damask grapes, and much more interesting than the more typical rum-raisin molasses.

1270 slowly begins to shift. The muted touch of cocoa suddenly becomes quite prominent after 40 minutes, as does the orange. The perfume feels like a dance of swirling elements, from the cocoa-dusted oranges, to the brandy-rum, and the tonka vanilla. The woody accord looks on from the sidelines, biding its time and letting the main fruited elements shine in the spotlight. The wood note still feels primarily like oak, but the guaiac is slowly becoming more noticeable as well. As for the vanilla, its Bourbon-like nuances slowly fade, replaced by the delicate, very cozy, soothing touches of pure tonka. I keep thinking of caramelized vanilla, even though tonka really has nothing to do with that, but something in 1270 underscores that impression.

Photo: Kevin Lynch at

Photo: Kevin Lynch at

At first, 1270 is simultaneously both a very potent scent, and a really sheer one. It almost feels thin in its gauziness. The notes themselves are strong, but not the weight of the perfume. Even the sillage is soft. Though 1270 initially wafts 2-3 inches above the skin, the projection drops quickly after 20 minutes. By the end of the first hour, 1270 hovers a mere inch above the skin. It turns into a skin scent shortly before the 2.25 hour mark, lingering on for many more hours as a discrete cozy cocoon of warmth that feels quite suitable as an office scent.

Vanilla powder. Source:

Vanilla powder. Source:

1270’s first major change occurs at the end of 90 minutes. At that point, the woody element leaps onto center stage, pushing the cognac fruits back, and dancing with the tonka vanilla. 1270 has suddenly transformed into a tonka vanilla scent thoroughly infused with dry woods and a light nuance of smoky darkness lurking deep in its base. The guaiac is now more evident than the oak, but there feels as though a touch of cedar is flitting about, too.

About 2.5 hours into the perfume’s development, the woods grow smoother, but also a touch smokier as well. Guaiac can sometimes have the aroma of autumnal leaves burning in a bonfire, and there is the lightest suggestion of that here in 1270 as well. The leaves are lightly dusted by an amorphous blend of spices, but the main bouquet is of soft vanilla woods. Something about the overall combination reminds me of a more refined, more elegant version of Imaginary Author‘s Memoirs of a Trespasser, but without the latter’s synthetics, guaiac sourness, or stale nuances. 1270 continues to manifest a lingering trace of cognac fruitiness at its edges, but I don’t detect any immortelle with its maple syrup characteristics. There is no linden blossom either on my skin, and absolutely zero coffee.

A lovely creaminess arrives at the start of the 4th hour, transforming the vanilla woods into something richer and warmer. It muffles the touch of smokiness, turning 1270’s main focus back to tonka coziness with dry woods and vanilla. The latter is a lovely note that feels as silky as ice-cream, but never too sweet. An abstract floral element pops up every now and then; it feels like a white flower, but still nothing like lemony linden blossoms. The cognac fruits continue to linger on at the edges, but they are the tiniest, muted touch now. The same thing applies to the sprinkles of spice that, occasionally, seem like cinnamon.



As a whole, 1270 is primarily a swirl of rich, creamy tonka vanilla with oaked woods. And it remains that way for hours to come. A few secondary notes wax and wane in the distance, but the core essence of the perfume is quite linear. 1270 simply turns more sheer and translucent, a mere trace of golden silkiness on the skin. In its final moments, 1270 is a smear of something vaguely vanillic that is alternatively sweet and a little dry.

Every time I wore 1270, I kept thinking about how it would be a great office fragrance for someone who wanted a very personal, subtle touch of warm sweetness. 1270’s longevity adds to this impression, as 3 small spritzes from my atomizer resulted in a fragrance that remained an incredibly long time on my skin. The two times that I tried 1270, it consistently lasted over 10 hours: roughly 10.75 hours with a small quantity, and 12.5 with double the amount. In all cases, however, I had to put my nose right on the skin, and sniff hard to detect it after 6 hours. This is a very intimate, discreet fragrance. As a side note, I happen to think that 1270 skews a tiny bit feminine, primarily because of the lightly powdered tonka, but there are quite a few men who adore the scent, so it’s going to come down to your personal tastes.



Reading the reactions to 1270 on Luckyscent was interesting because they range all over the place. Some people rave about 1270 as the most delicious thing ever, while a few simply shrug. One woman finds the perfume to be too masculine, while a man thought it was too feminine. A few people talk about how 1270 smells like pineapples, while others talk about either vanilla butterscotch, rum raisins, or honeyed flowers. One person complains that it actually was not boozy at all. For some, it is too sweet, while others say think it is just perfect. A number of people aren’t enthused by the opening, but love the “spicy,” “warm” drydown. Others fall in love immediately from the start. There is also absolutely no agreement on how long the fragrance lasts, its potency, or its sillage. One person wrote about how 1270 was heartbreakingly fleeting, others say it lasts forever. As you can see, there is no consensus — on anything at all.

On Fragrantica, it’s almost the same story. However, judging by the votes given in the longevity and sillage categories, there does seem to be more of an agreement. For duration, there were 29 votes for Moderate (3-6 hours) and 25 for Long-Lasting (7-12 hours). In terms of sillage, the vast majority (53 people) found 1270 to have the lowest amount of projection possible, voting for the “soft” category, followed by 32 people choosing “moderate.”

Pineapple upside-down cake. Source:

Pineapple upside-down cake. Source:

I was interested to see that, once again, the issue of pineapple came up in terms of what people detected in 1270. For quite a few people actually, though most seemed to love it. One chap writes, in part:

The pineapple note is the first thing that hits you and it’s sweet and realistic then there’s a coffee, patchouli, cacao, vanilla wonderfully Nutty gourmand thing.
1270 is a class act from start to finish it makes you smell edible…positively edible. I don’t mean this in a ridiculous sense but in a deeply sensual way. The pineapple is persistent and you do get a jammy, plummy little bit figgy thing too it’s an immense fragrance.
If you couldn’t tell I adore this scent my first impressions have been very good however it didn’t last very long on my skin. Once again a second wear should yield answers regarding longevity.

Update: Upon wearing a second time I’m just as captivated as when I first caught a whiff of this lovely juice. To me the prominent notes are pineapple, cacao and wood. It’s almost like a pineapple upside-down cake covered in nutella, it has a kind of caramelized quality without being too sweet. I think that’s because of the honey element and the fact that it doesn’t feel ‘blended’ particularly, more like the pineapple sits right on the top and feels juicy and clear compared to the warm,sweet base. I adore this fragrance and really want it but the performance is a bit of a let down and it doesn’t project. Despite this it smells really really good[.]



Other posters had a vastly different experience. I was surprised to see that, for a few people, 1270 actually did have a coffee aroma, mixed in with all the rest. For a handful, plum was much more noticeable. Below are some other impressions of 1270, from women and men alike, including a review from someone who doesn’t like cognac but loves this fragrance:

  • It would be a strange choice for someone who doesn’t even like/drink cognac, but…love at first sniff! Warm and cozy, this scent envelops you and carries away. A co-worker told me that a woman wearing this scent does not belong in the mundane office environment, more like a gent’s club where expensive cigars are being smoked, expensive leathers are everywhere you look, expensive drinks are being poured. [¶] No great projection or longevity. It is a very intimate scent. However, and maybe for this exact reason, I want to hold on to it and never let it go.
  • The opening made me fall in love with this perfume. best opening ever! I couldn’t believe how good this smelled. it’s a delicious raisin/plummy/sweet honey/coffee/vanilla combo. Incredibly blended. I’ve heard a couple people say this reminds them of butterscotch, and I can see that too I guess. 1270 has two distinct phases on my skin. 1st- the awesome opening which lasts an hour or two. 2nd- a subtle vanilla drydown that goes away way too quickly. This perfume lasts a total of about 2 to 3 hours on me. This would be my signature if not for the poor longevity. Still and all, I will always always own a bottle of this, no matter how quick it disappears on me. love it love it love it.
  • Legitimate liquor in the form of perfume. [¶] 1270 is somewhat spicy, also boozy, however, the fruity notes are outstanding, most notably plum, who joins perfectly to honey, a mix warm and sweet, and later comforted by creamy vanilla. [¶] It creates the appearance gourmand, but feel a background resin, coffee or chocolate, something like that, delightfully well done, a scent so perfect that I do not care about the projection, i walk with a decant.
  • This perfume gyrates all sweetness and spice without tip-toeing over the line into cloying. Far too simple for my tastes at this price tag, however, but a lovely, comforting fragrance nonetheless. I wish Frapin had walked the line a little tighter, risked a little more for a truly unforgettable fragrance instead of this very lovely, but very safe bet.
  •  Initially I loved it, a rich gourmand scent with my favorite vanilla tonka accord. Yum. Sniffing it was so satisfying with the pineapple, plum and coffee smells and it was sweet and somehow chewy like Panforte. My only hesitation was that it was maybe too masculine for me. Well I got over the masculine problem but what finally kept this from being a “love” is the longevity. On me it doesn’t last more than six hours and if I’m going to spend this kind of money I’d like it to last all day. Also, as the weather has gotten warmer, I’ve found it somehow smells more musky and manly. I’ll try it again in when the weather cools down[.]
Photo: Dove Voice via

Photo: Dove Voice via

A few men find 1270 to be similar to Thierry Mugler‘s A*men line, with one saying “[t]his is a beautiful fragrance….a niche version of Pure Malt with more natural ingredients.” However, a number of other people think that 1270 is merely pleasant, but without sufficient complexity or uniqueness. I don’t think they’re wrong on that score. 1270 is extremely nice, but it’s not the most original, edgy, complicated or nuanced fragrance around.

However, in all fairness, that is not Frapin’s goal. They seek to make boozy fragrances with refined, top-notch ingredients for a scent that is comforting, cozy, luxurious and sweet. The price tag for that is, currently, $145 or €105 for a large 100 ml bottle, a decent figure which is quite moderate by the admittedly skewed standards of the niche world. Even better, you can still find 1270 in a few places for much less. (See the Details section at the end.) So, is this a scent that is worth $145? That will depend strongly on your personal tastes, and on how long 1270 lasts on your skin. It certainly smells expensive to me, and feels high-quality in nature.

Two minor, unrelated issues are worth mentioning. First, a handful of people on Luckyscent have stated that they think 1270 has been reformulated, as their recent purchases reflected a scent that is markedly different from what they had once owned. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true, as all perfumes seem to get watered down or reformulated into something weaker after a while. Second, there seems to be a weird situation on a number of retail sites, including Frapin’s own e-boutique itself, where 1270 is the one perfume in the range which is unavailable or unlisted. 1270 has not been discontinued, as it is Frapin’s flagship fragrance, so I can only assume that it has sold out.

As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed 1270, but I wasn’t moved by passionate love. It’s nice, very nice, but it’s a little hard to get excited about 1270 and I can’t figure out why. Perhaps it is because, at its core, 1270 is both uncomplicated and very discreet, two things that aren’t my personal cup of tea. Perhaps, I simply find it hard to lose my crackers over very sweet vanillic scents. I don’t know. That said, I definitely think that 1270 is worth trying if you’re looking for a very intimate, cozy fragrance that is an easy, “wearable,” “grown-up gourmand.”

Given the very sharp divergence in opinions, however, I don’t think 1270 is suitable for a blind buy. Maybe, it will turn to caramelized “pineapple upside-down cake covered in nutella” on you, or will feel too much like something suitable for someone of the opposite gender. 1270 might be a “fleeting heartbreaker,” or perhaps it lasts but turns out to be too sweet for your personal tastes. Try before you buy!

Cost & Availability: 1270 is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 3.4 oz/100 ml and which costs $145, €105 or £98. In the U.S.: 1270 is available at Luckyscent, though they are currently back-ordered with future shipments to go out in April. You find 1270 currently in stock at Beautyhabit. MinNewYork does not have 1270 listed among the Frapin scents on their website. Amazon has 1270, and discounts it for $110 instead of $145. The seller is alternatively said to be Frapin itself or “Euro Sale.” Outside the U.S.: In Canada, 1270 is available at The Perfume Shoppe for CAD $145. In Europe, you should technically be able to buy 1270 directly from Frapin’s perfume website. However, it is the strangest thing: 1270 is the sole Frapin fragrance not listed. In the U.K., it is available at Bloom Perfumery. In France, Frapin is carried by a whole host of sellers. Premiere Avenue sells 1270 at the old price of €96. Some Frapin retailers don’t show 1270 on their websites with the rest of the Frapin scents, like Paris’ Jovoy. Other Paris retailers, however, are Marie-Antoinette in the Marais and Nose. In the Netherlands, you can find 1270 at ParfuMaria. For the rest of Europe, there is First in Fragrance which sells 1270 for €105. In Australia, you can find 1270 at Meyers or Libertine which sells it for AUD$195. In Dubai, you can find Frapin at Harvey Nicks, among other vendors. For all other countries from Italy and Lithuania to Austria, South Africa, Kuwait, the Ukraine, Russia and many others, you can use Frapin’s Points of Sale page. SamplesSurrender to Chance sells 1270 starting at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial. A number of the vendors on this page also sell samples.

Perfume Review – Hermès Ambre Narguilé

I may have narrowed the search for my perfect amber. I need to say that at the onset because it’s quite an unexpected, unlikely thing. Certainly, I didn’t expect to like — let alone adore — a scent described as “cinnamon apple pie” by most commentators. I am not a fan of foody or gourmand perfumes. And I am most definitely not a fan of paying high prices to smell like cloying dessert. But there is something intoxicating, sensuous, comforting and unexpected about HermèsAmbre Narguilé. Of course, the incredibly intense ambre-narguil_fumes of rum that emanated from my arm for a few hours may have intoxicated my normal sensibilities, but this really is a boozy amber and tobacco scent par excellence.

Ambre Narguilé was released in 2004 as part of Hermès’ exclusive, in-store Hermessence line of fragrances. It was created by Hermès’ in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, a legendary perfumer who was recently called by Der Spiegel “the best ‘nose’ in the world.” Ellena is known for his minimalistic approach to ingredients, and for perfumes that always have depth and complexity, despite seeming sheer and transparent. That sheerness is rather a signature of his and, as I will explain later, a significant aspect of Ambre Narguilé.

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

On the Hermès website, Jean-Claude Ellena describes Ambre Narguilé as “[a]mber honey with swirls of smoke from the East. Savory, sensual, enveloping.” (Narguilé means a tobacco water pipe, or hookah, in French.) His goal in creating the perfume was as follows:

Amber, the Western expression of Eastern fragrances, has a warm, enveloping, almost carnal smell. I wanted to imbue this idea of amber with the memory of the East I love where tobacco – blended with the smells of fruit, honey and spices – is smoked in narguilés, or water pipes, and where swirls of smoke diffuse a sweet sense of intoxication.

The Fragrantica classifies Ambre Narguilé as a spicy oriental, but it doesn’t list the full notes. From what I’ve read in a few comments, the complete list seems to be:

benzoin, labdanum, musk, vanilla, caramel, honey, sugared tonka bean, grilled sesame seeds, cinnamon, rum, coumarin, and white orchid.

The opening burst of Ambre Narguilé was a huge surprise to me. From all the comments, I had expected a massive dose of cinnamon apple pie. I was fully intent on hating the perfume and, actually, I wondered why I was even bothering at all. After all, no good thing can come of a scent described as gourmand, right? Well, wrong. I clearly need to remind myself not to prejudge a whole category of perfumes. (Except soapy-clean laundry detergent scents. There, I plan to continue to prejudge as much as ever.)

Source: Fabio Visentin

Source: Fabio Visentin

Instead of a cloying dessert, Ambre Narguile opened as a spicy, sweet white floral. I blinked. White orchid? I never expected to smell white orchid with that list of potent, warm ingredients. But I did now. The perfume was a rich, floral vanilla with toasted, warm tonka bean, white rum and a hint of tobacco. I didn’t get any of the heavy powder that often goes with tonka bean, especially in Guerlain fragrances where the tonka bean’s powdery notes are responsible in large part for the signature Guerlinade.  I wonder if perhaps toasting the bean made a difference and warmed up the notes instead of bringing out its more powdery side? Whatever the reason, the vanilla from the tonka bean was sheer, not cloying.

Tonka Beans.

Tonka Beans.

Two minutes in, suddenly, the cinnamon apple pie hits me. It’s incredibly concentrated, particularly for a scent that does not, in fact, have any apples in it! It’s odd; Ambre Narguilé is still a spicy floral scent, but now, it is also slightly gourmand. A few minutes later, the apple becomes a bit less predominant and I get a strong burst of rum, raisin, rum raisin, rum, rum and more rum. It’s not the light white rum of the start, but dark, black rum. The sort you see in pirate movies. There is so much rum, I feel a bit light-headed and drunk from it, but in the best way possible. I also suddenly feel as though I’ve had rum raisin pie that has a strong dash of saffron in it. Good lord, that’s good! I ponder whether to put on Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.

About fifteen minutes in, I smell the faintly smoky aspects of the labdanum wrapping itself around the boozy resins. There is such a rich, nutty, smoky feel to the amber that it feels as though there is Siam Resin in there. And the apple suddenly seems a lot more like cooked plums than the apple of a strudel. I’m surprised that such a sweet, rich scent isn’t actually all that sweet. There is a dryness that I think comes from the labdanum which prevents this from being cloying or too dessert-y. The dryness makes me agree a lot more with Fragrantica’s description of this as a “spicy oriental” and not as a gourmand fragrance. It also adds to the impression that Jean-Claude Ellena had intended: shimmering, swirling whispers of smoke. He was right: the smoke helps to “diffuse” the sweetness, as does the hay-like aspects of coumarin.

After twenty more minutes of alternatively contemplating rum-drinking pirates and wanting to eat my arm, Ambre Narguilé starts to change. There is the lovely opening hints of tobacco but not just any tobacco. I smell my late uncle’s pipe: sweet, floral, almost rose-like, with fruity and apple overtones to its spiced tobacco. It’s such a strongly evocative scent that I suddenly miss him very much. The rose and apple

A Middle Eastern hookah water pipe or narguilé.

A Middle Eastern hookah water pipe or narguilé.

overtones also call to mind memories of using a hookah, or water pipe, a few years ago when that trend was very “in” and popular. The tobacco there — as in Ambre Narguilé — was never acrid, bitter, burning or strong like that of cigarettes, but lighter, softer, warmer, sweeter, and aromatically fruity. I’m amazed by just how well Ellena has nailed the hookah or narguilé aspect of things in this perfume. Clearly, it’s a result (in some part) of the labdanum, coumarin, and tonka bean, but that doesn’t really explain how he managed fruity, rosy, floral pipe tobacco in a perfume that has neither fruit nor any significant florals! I can’t understand it.

Another thing I can’t understand is just how sheer this scent is, while simultaneously being rich, narcotic and heady. So many of the reviews of Ambre Narguilé reference its “sheerness” and “transparency,” references which had made absolutely no sense toHookah me when I’d read them a few days ago. How could those two adjectives be used to describe a perfume as rich and sensuously deep as this one was supposed to be? I was baffled. Now, however, I can completely understand it. For such a seemingly gourmand scent, it is neither cloying nor diabetes in a bottle. It’s somehow light and airy, while simultaneously being almost narcotic-like in its headiness. It’s hard to explain, but imagine a light breeze. It gently wafts passed you, but it carries a maximum burst of concentrated smell.

I think only someone like Jean-Claude Ellena could manage such a seeming contradiction in spirit, and manage it quite so deftly. Perhaps he really is a “luminist” as he was recently described on Ca Fleure Bon, the haute perfume site of experts. They called him a “luminist” in terms of both his approach to ingredients and the final result. What I think they’re talking about is that he is a rare perfumer who manages to use a small range of ingredients in a way that illuminates them with both lightness and the most concentrated aspect of their essence. (At least, that’s how I interpreted their comments.)

Here, Ellena blends together a range of rich, ambery, spice ingredients in a way that amplifies their essence, while simultaneously creating an airy feel.  Ambre Narguilé has huge sillage, but you can also smell the concentrated nature of the ingredients. Yet, none of them are cloying or excessively sugary. More importantly, none of them are synthetic or artificial. There is no sharp screech of synthetic compounds, no clanging or burning in your nose, and no vaguely plastic-y tones.

Instead, it’s an incredibly well-blended, heady, cozy scent that has subtle transitions. The changes from stage to stage are not abrupt; the perfume moves seamlessly from that opening burst of white floral vanilla and white rum, to the cinnamon apple pie stage, to the rum raisin and rum, then to the tobacco, before ending in its final stage. Almost 6 hours later, Ambre Narguilé turns into a tobacco and wood scent with a leather undertone. The woody notes almost smell like cedar, but it is the leathery undertone to the pipe tobacco that suddenly explains why I like this scent so much: it reminds me of my beloved Karl Lagerfeld for Men (vintage) that is one of my favorite old fragrances to wear. Ambre Narguilé has the rich tobacco with the amberous, incense and leather feel of the Lagerfeld, but without the latter’s powder notes and with a hell of a lot more rum.

Which brings me to popular dessert smells from brands like Philosophy, Bath & Body Works, Britney Spears (for example, Fantasy which evokes floral supermarket cupcakes), Jessica Simpson (for example, Fancy, which evokes caramel and vanilla), and the like. I like Philosophy and BBW for what they are, and I have owned a number of things from each. (I have never owned Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson, and I never shall.) But, let’s admit it, the fragrances they create are completely artificial. To be as polite as I can possible be, they don’t smell particularly expensive, mature or natural. They are huge money-makers and extremely popular, but they are not expensive in scent or in cost. One reason for their profitability is the use of artificial, synthetic compounds which are significantly cheaper to use. The drawback to these artificial compounds is that they can be extremely sharp, cloying, excessively sugary and one-dimensional.

There is nothing artificial or cheap about the smell of Ambre Narguilé. It doesn’t smell of synthetics. It smells extremely expensive. And I don’t think you could get a comparable scent among the commercial, mass-produced, gourmand fragrances out there. According to a commentator on Basenotes, the famous NY Times perfume critic, Chandler Burr, said Ambre Narguilé:

is not merely the best; there is simply nothing like it on the market, period. And no one will ever do it as well again.

While I love the scent, I think Mr. Burr is pushing it and waxing a little too rhapsodic. But I do agree with him to an extent because I am convinced that there is no-one who could do it better amongst the plethora of dessert scents littering the aisles of Macy’s, Dillard’s, Sephora or the like.

But what about higher-end perfume houses? There, Ambre Narguilé would seem to have serious competition in terms of quality, as well as some overlap with existing amber scents. I’ve read a lot of comparisons on Basenotes to Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur, though there seems to be no consistency in the comments as to how they differ or are alike. Some say that Ambre Narguilé is like Musc Ravageur’s dry-down, only sweeter and less musky. Others say the exact opposite. Interestingly, a Basenotes poll asking for people’s preference between the two resulted in a complete 50/50 tie. Other potentially similar scents that have been mentioned: L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Ambre Extreme (said to be less spicy than the Hermès); Parfum d’Empire‘s Ambre Russe (said to be significantly richer, spicier and deeper than the Hermès); and Frapin 1270. I hear the last one mentioned a lot on MakeupAlley as an almost complete dupe for Ambre Narguilé (which has a 4.3 out of 5 score there). Unfortunately, I haven’t smelled any of those fragrances, so I cannot judge, but if you own one of them, you may not need Ambre Narguilé.

Do you, in fact, need Ambre Narguilé? That’s hard to say. For all its loveliness, I will be the first to say that it is really quite a simple, linear scent. Yes, it has transitions but, as a whole, it isn’t a complex, heavily nuanced, perfume that constantly transforms and morphs. The notes are essentially the same, though they vary as to degree or to the ingredient being emphasized, with more fruity notes at the beginning and strongly tobacco notes accompanying faintly leathery, woody accords at the end. But amber and tobacco are constant threads running from top to bottom in some form or another. As I frequently say, there is nothing wrong with linearity if you love the notes in question. And I think comfort scents are, in particular, more suited to being linear.

In terms of sillage and longevity, Ambre Narguile does well in both categories. The perfume projects for the first 2 hours quite forcefully before becoming slightly softer and more subtle. It became close to the skin about 4 hours in. And it lasted, all in all, about 7 hours on me. (Again, I have skin that ravages perfume.) On others, however, the average length of time seems to be between 12-15 hours! That is remarkable for a scent that is a mere eau de toilette. The famous perfume critic, Chandler Burr of the New York Times, told Oprah:

The rule is: Pretty is fleeting; heavy sticks around. Take the utterly genius Hermès Ambre Narguilé. Here’s a perfume of such luscious perfection, you want to melt into it as if it were an expert beurre caramel. Ambre Narguilé will not only dance all evening with the one that brung it, it’ll take you all the way home, too.

Perhaps the dispositive issue with Ambre Narguilé is its cost. It costs $235 and is sold only in the large 100ml/3.4 oz bottles directly from Hermès itself (whether online or via its boutiques). It doesn’t come in any other size and, again, it only comes in the eau de toilette concentration. However, and this part is key, Hermès sells a travel or gift set of

The Hermès travel or gift set.

The Hermès travel or gift set.

four 15 ml/0.5 oz bottles for $145. You can get 4 bottles of any perfumes in the Hermessence line, or all 4 can be the same perfume, such as Ambre Narguilé. In short, for $145, you would be getting 60 ml or about 2.0 oz of perfume, which is more than the standard 1.7 oz bottles for perfumes. As such, it is a much more manageable price. However, even then, it is still more expensive than Ambre Narguilé’s amber counterparts: Lucky Scents sells Frapin 1270 in a 100 ml bottle for $155, while Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe is $75 for 50 ml and $110 for 100 ml. Despite their more affordable cost, however, more than enough people (including a number who seem to own one of the other amber scents) can’t seem to live without Ambre Narguilé and shell out $145 for the gift set. It all depends on how much you love boozy, smoky amber and if you consider Ambre Narguilé to be “utterly genius,” or just merely adequately cozy.

I started this review by saying that I had narrowed my search for my perfect amber. If Ambre Narguilé cost less, that search might be over. I really like it that much, and it makes me feel happy. (My German shepherd also adored it and jumped up to repeatedly lick my arm — which he doesn’t usually do when I’m wearing perfume.) I can’t get over how intoxicating that rum was, or how elegantly beautiful that swirling mist of tobacco. But it is simple. And should simple cost that much?

As in most things in life, price is a very subjective, personal thing, and what is worth it for one person may be too much for someone else. For me, the problem is that I’m extremely picky, am constantly inundated with scents I love or am tempted by, could not possibly buy all the things I’d like to buy in one calender year, and have definite cheapskate tendencies. So, I’m not sure that I would spend $145 for Ambre Narguilé. (I certainly wouldn’t spend $235!)

But I am considering it….

Ambre Narguilé is available on Hermès’ website at the link provided above. Samples are available at a number of sample sites, as well as on eBay. The site I use, Surrender to Chance, sells it starting at $3.99 for the smallest size. As always, I think they have the best shipping prices, so I would start  there if you’re interested in testing out the perfume.