Friday, 30 April 2010

Spice and amber - Ambre Russe and Caravelle Epicee

I have had samples of Ambre Russe (Parfum D'Empire) and Caravelle Epicee (Frapin et Cie) for quite some time now. Both were purchased from Les Senteurs in London. Incidentally, I don't know if any of you know of Les Senteurs, but they are a small business in London's Belgravia, selling some wonderful niche fragrances. If you visit them personally, they will usually be more than happy to provide you with samples. If you aren't able to visit, they will mail you 6 samples (generous quantities I might add) for £18. 

When I first tried these, I think it was in winter, or possibly very early spring. All I know is that neither spoke to me and I felt that they were decent, but unremarkable. I put them to one side, but recently I dug them out of my mucky scent sin bag, looked at them and then thought: "what the hell, lets give these two another go...." I'm not quite sure what made me try one on each wrist; its something I do quite often actually. I think I'm just greedy for scent. Thinking about it now, I think it was the booze that did it. No, I wasn't inebriated, but both these fragrances have boozy notes and I felt like comparing them side by side. 

Both fragrances open in an alcoholic haze. Ambre Russe has a top note of Vodka, and it opens dry and slightly vegetal, like potato-distilled alcohol. It isn't overtly boozy, but within a minute or so it sweetens slightly, when I detect a touch of patchouli, amber and something herbal. I'm not sure about herbs, it could be lavender or perhaps cardamom? There is a leather note in there as well, but it veers towards the fruity side rather than the fetish/leather jacket club, with a hint of smoke. I felt that at this point it bore a resemblance to Caravelle Epicee, but less boozy and sweet. In the heart the amber really comes to the fore and what a great amber it is. The funny thing is, when I first tried this last year, I never really got a serious amber note, yet months on, it hits me right between the eyes. Is this just me having a better-trained nose and more perfume exposure, or is it a seasonal, skin chemistry thing? This fragrance is sweet, but like the best of Serge Lutens, for example, this is tempered by the balance of herbs and spices. The dry down is amber, lightly spiced, dryish, yet enough sweetness to please those who like that style of amber. If I were to classify or pigeon hole this, I would say it is a bit like a cross between Serge's Ambre Sultan and Montale's Blue Amber. It is a complex and rich fragrance and I definitely give it a strong thumbs up.

Caravelle Epicee opens with booze too, but its cognac this time, sweet, heady but again, cleverly tempered with herbs and spices, so it never becomes cloying. The sweetness is rounded with an oaky, caramelness not unlike what one would expect from an oak barrel in which the cognac was aged. Its a clever touch. I detect herbs and a slight floralness which might be lavender or sage, but honestly, I'm not sure. There is a smokiness in this fragrance too, more charred barrel than burning wood, that weaves in and out, almost incense-like, and as tobacco and cumin seep through in the heart, I'm swooning. I can't believe how much cumin I detect (having not noticed previously, until I read a review of Ines, of All I Am, A Redhead blog). Its wonderful, and with the nutmeg and pepper, forms a formidable spice combo. Although sweet, there is a slightly sour tang that balances things. In the dry down, I am reminded of sitting in a library, comfey in a leather armchair in front of the fire, glass of cognac in hand - perhaps I am just being fanciful!  Ironically, despite the winter comfort scene, I actually think Caravelle Epicee performs better on my skin in warmer weather. This is also a complex, lush and lovely perfume.

I think these are both beautiful fragrances. I think they bear similarities in that both have a booze top note, spices and smoke. Where they differ the most is that Ambre Russe is ultimately all about amber, while Caravelle Epicee is mostly about cognac and spices, yet both are sweet, but balanced, without ever becoming cloying. Both work better in warmer weather in my opinion, despite them being ironically comfort scents, at least to my nose. I recommend both wholeheartedly.

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