Sweet escape, Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial

I love reading about new perfume launches & I love to sample them even more but ever since I jumped through the rabbit hole I always had some reserve for the fragrance offerings from the brand names completely not related to a beauty industry sector. Fashion brands are a bit of a different story because most of them now have their in-house perfumers. Among brands that originally do something different from cosmetics or perfumes, Van Cleef & Arpels is usually on my fragrant radar ever since I fell for their Bois d’Iris. Learning about their novelties makes me want to try them.

Ambre Imperial is the latest installment to Collection Extraordinaire from Van Cleef & Arpels. It’s a composition that doesn’t like to play hide & seek but goes straight to the point. Immediately after spraying it on I could smell a generous dose of heavier, oriental vanilla. It starts off dark, kind of earthy and even a bit dirty on my skin but it softens after 5-10 minutes. It’s a rich and dense aroma that has something carnal and sensual within itself. After a few more minutes I start to notice that the composition is changing. After around 30 minute it reveals an ambery accord.

Amber note in new VC&A fragrance isn’t a stereotypical sticky and sweet element that melts together with vanilla. No. This one has some more animalic elements and it also combines some mineral qualities. Possibly this is only because of my skin but when amber accommodated on my wrist it started to smell salty, like a sea breeze. It’s junction with vanilla instantly made me think of creme brulee sprinkled with salt crystals on top. At some point vanilla in Ambre Imperial turns caramelized, even a bit smoky. One moment and the smoke impression becomes more intense.

Once tonka bean joins the composition, the fragrance gains a completely new facet. It’s aromatic and at the same time it feels really balsamic and resinous. To me it’s still quite dark fragrance and as the time goes by it becomes more and more sensual and erotic in its nature. Woody notes are undefined in Ambre Imperial, my guess would be that it’s a mix of cedarwood, sandalwood and cashmere wood. It has some roughness & at the same time my nose picks up the specific alcoholic note, something like rum… Then we have some benzoin. It’s the continuation of resinous part of the fragrance. Also thanks to that accord the woody part of Ambre Imperial feels smoother.

Over the next few hours this new fragrance didn’t change significantly. It was a pleasant mix of resinous, woody and ambery elements. But then, much later it develops a tingly sensation and behind it stands a handful of pink pepper. It introduces some spiciness that combines well with other notes of Ambre Imperial. The piquancy is mild, well-behaved and lacks the metallic edge that usually appears when we’re dealing with black pepper accord. Moving towards the drydown the composition loses its edges and becomes rounder. Vanilla dominates over the other notes. Right now it smells more sweet and gourmand than earlier but I would never say it smells like a dessert. Here we have a black vanilla pod, not the vanilla pudding.

To me Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial is an interesting fragrance mostly because of its dark side. Instead of being allowed to run wild, the perfumer created a darker amber fragrance that behaves very polite and elegant. Like black panther that has been domesticated and thinks it’s just a regular kitty. Moreover it’s seductive and embracing smell that I’m sure many of you would compare to a cashmere turtle-neck. It’s moderate sillage and decent lasting power make it a good companion to wear during colder months… And no, not only for dates. Composed by perfumer Quentin Bisch, Ambre Imperial arrived on the shop shelves in sleek, black glass bottle that attracts attention. It’s an eau de parfum in 75 ml size. Do you like these kind of fragrances, that carry some mystery?

14 thoughts on “Sweet escape, Van Cleef & Arpels Ambre Imperial

  1. Cornelia Blimber says:

    ”creme brulee sprinkled with salt crystals on top”….that could be a clever description of Un Bois Vanille (to my nose, that is).
    Do I love perfumes with a mystery? sometimes, the surprise can be a deception as well. Such perfume is Tubereuse Criminelle for me. I really love the first part, but after half an hour I get sweet bubblegum. Beuh.
    A pleasant surprise: Idole by Lubin. At first I smell rum, pure rum. I like rum in a glass, not on my skin. But after the rum comes one of the most beautiful soft leathers.
    Speaking of Van Cleef & Arpels: I love a lot their ”Pour Homme”–my fav. tobacco. Much better than Chergui (too sweet) for me. Also ”Van Cleef”( in the diamond shaped bottle).

  2. Sun Mi says:

    Oh this sounds lovely. I really like a lot of the VCA Collection Extraordinaires – and I love the bottles!

  3. Holly says:

    It’s quite possible that I may come around to ambers, since I’ve recently gotten interested in vanilla. This one sounds really nice!
    I do like perfumes that carry some mystery as long as it’s a pleasant surprise. 😉 I only recently tried Musc Ravageur for the first time, just a dab from a sample. Well, it smelled like a tame musk from close up sniffing, but I kept wondering throughout the day what the barnyard smell was in the house. A digestive problem with one of the cats? A dead rodent somewhere in the walls? I can only conclude that it was me, and for some reason that barnyard scent could only be detected as it projected rather than on skin. You know how people say they don’t get skank from certain perfumes, but they’re concerned that perhaps others smell it on them when they don’t? This was just a variation on that theme…

    • lucasai says:

      It’s interesting because Musc Ravageur smells on me mostly of… cinnamon! But it’s good when you inhale a perfume and start wondering what smells so good (or bad)& then you realize it’s your perfume.

  4. Undina says:

    While in general I do not completely trust “outsiders”, Van Cleef & Arpels started their perfume business loooong time before everybody suddenly decided to cash in on it, so in my book they are “legit” 🙂

    I haven’t tried this perfume yet but I will once I get to the store, especially since it’s an amber perfume – thank you for the heads-up. But those 75 ml bottles… As much as I like how they look, this days perfume has to be extraordinary for me to want to go beyond a 30 ml bottle or a 10 ml decant.

    • lucasai says:

      I agree with your reasoning. They have more experience than other fashion, jewellery etc brands.
      75 ml is a lot. For other fragrances in Collection Extraordinaire they also have 40 ml bottle but probably not for this one.

  5. hajusuuri says:

    I need to re-try this. When I first smelled it on a SA’s skin, we were both smitten and of course I got a sample. I wore it not too long after and I was just meh about it. If I recall, it just turned musty on me. It was warmish out when I tried it so that may have influenced how I felt about it. Nice review!

  6. jillie says:

    I don’t know that this would be really me, but I would have tremendous respect for it! It seems that VC&A are maintaining a tradition of producing decent fragrances and ones which you can actually smell ….. I know my nose is probably getting a little less perceptive than it used to be, but I am so disappointed in how WEAK a lot of new releases are! It’s my “bee in my bonnet” – I don’t see the point of a perfume that isn’t even smellable to me after 20 minutes, especially at the prices charged!

  7. ScentBound says:

    Interesting that the black pepper appears much later in the composition. In my experience, black pepper is usually a top note.

    I like dark and mysterious fragrances but I find them not very versatile. I have to be in a special mood to wear them.

    Great review, Lukasz. It definitely got me interested.

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