Ambre Narguille by Hermès

Ambre Narguille is the quintessential gourmand. Depending on how you see it that is either a good thing or a bad thing.

Myself and many other perfume enthusiasts treat fragrances as an art. We view it as an evolving three-dimensional work. It evokes emotion, and it sets a scene. Art requires the application of one’s skill, imagination, and technical ability to create a work appreciated for their beautiful or emotional power. As a blogger of fragrance I defend this mantra with all the linguistic power I can muster, because I believe fragrances can fulfil these requirements.

The gourmand style of perfumery is a relatively new idea, attributed mostly to Thierry Mugler’s 1992 creation Angel – firstly using ethyl maltol, a candy-floss synthetic material smelling both delicious and totally wearable. This is woven together with other equally delicious notes like blackberries, vanilla, honied chocolate, and patchouli, and together these accords create [in the most rudimentary sense] delectability in a scented format.

Just like some artistic movements initially questioned in the visual realm, one may argue today that fragrances in the gourmand style are a) not an artistic form of perfume and b) easy commercial art. Simply, gourmands are cheaters!

In complete contrast to this we have chypre perfumes. Chypre is an olfactive group – glorified as the most complex and artistic fragrances available. One only has to utter Mitsouko or some of the classic Roudnitska Dior fragrances to be met with perfumista (sometimes faux-wad) acclaim about some contrapuntal, juxtapositional, superimposition of layered notes – whatever. Just know that chypre perfumes are known to change throughout wear dramatically, and are generally abstract in nature.

As a result, we can see why gourmand perfumes can be treated as ‘lesser’ perfumes; these  in contrast can smell cheaply composed and in most cases are linear throughout wear. In most cases gourmands smell directly to the point and entirely representational. But in the end enjoy fragrance for what it is. Representational or abstract art, there’s more to life than perfumes. Just.

Ambre Narguile by Hermes © 2015 Liam Sardea

© 2015 Liam Sardea

Ambre Narguille is fragrant nicotine. It is addictive. From the name alone, one may not think of amber and the long vessel for smoking, a narguile, as something particularly inedible, however the swirling medley of scented and sweetened tobacco with raisin and dried apple undertones creates a warm and toasty out-of-the-oven experience. Strudels, pies, and sweet pastries come to mind as notes of cinnamon, and coumarin-rich tonka bean are laced within the fragrance.

There’s a level of guilt experienced when satisfaction can be so easily obtained. Do not assume that this gourmand smells overly foodie, or cheap in that matter, because we can expect much better from Ellena. The blonde tobacco and tonka opening is enveloping; no powder in sight. It is delicate and poising, hinting at the depth of cistus labdanum and amber notes to come. This for the most part is unlike anything else on the market; it is luscious without the uncomfortableness of a full stomach. You’ll want to put this on top of desserts in the same generosity as icing sugar.

And thus this is where the argument starts. Can a rustic cozy comfort be treated as art? This fragrance surpasses critical thinking and judgement – because it is instantaneous comfort achieved so easily.

Expect apple pie shortly after this brief opening, and bypass the quaint urinous qualities found in the opening of Luten’s Ambre Sultan, straight to the syrupy glazed amber sweetness diluted to a state like pellucid water. Unlike Luten’s, Ambre Narguile is a virtually weightless amber. The dry accords are taken over by wonderful butter caramel notes and a wonderful combination of amber, vanilla, and a hint of labdanum. This then lingers like a treat.

What is respectable about this fragrance is the deliberate pairing of compliments. When heaviness is presented through vanilla and tonka, it is softened with musk and cutting rum. When it is overly sweet from the caramel, amber, and benzoin – cistus labdanum and a subtle smokey tobacco subdue the sweet tooth notes.

When the apple pie passes, amber and tobacco take domain. Truly like puffs of scented smoke from a hookah, I think the amber remains a grant illusion; it relies on the dry fruit and sheer woods to create something conversely rich and buttery. Perhaps then Ambre Narguile transcends the gourmand category and can label itself as illusionary art. Impossible constructions, and grand contradictions much in the style of M. C. Escher, along with Ellena’s trademark sense of transparency and luminosity, only adding to the interesting anomalous nature of this fragrance.

Despite its praises, I find Ambre Narguile, whilst realistic, somewhat obvious. It smells very literal, especially in reference to hookah pipes. Ambre Narguile is a sophisticatedly created caramel gourmand driven by niche additions of tobacco and labdanum. Ellena’s other Hermessence works are much more impressive – tattering around the edge of abstract works with obvious intellectual flair.

Alternative: Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens 

Well done and fine, despite its deliciousness this is a miss for me. I am an art enthusiast at heart. I don’t deny that this is art, however there are other more meritorious artsy fragrances.

Subjective rating: 3/5

Objective rating: 3/5

2 thoughts on “Ambre Narguille by Hermès

  1. Heya Liam,
    I like the idea of fragrance as art. I’ve followed the idea for a while and love the passion that brings it as an ending.
    Still, I find myself yet to be convinced.
    I think perfumery a craft but I think the creators/noses can be artists, and artistic, in their creation.
    Portia xx

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