Thursday 1 March 2018

AMBRE SULTAN by Serge Lutens

When the weather takes a turn for the worse, and snow starts falling as companies launch their latest “springtime scent”, many customers almost ricochet back to the familiar warmth and spice that you get with the great oriental fragrances. The woods, resins and intoxicating florals help transport you to sunnier climes as we fend off the icy winds. For my perfume of escape this week I chose Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens and, whilst it might not be exactly thought of as an oriental, it definitely packs a punch with the sensuous laudanum. So, let me introduce you the fragrance about which Serge warned, “don’t expect it to fit in”.

Serge Lutens is still a name that is unfamiliar to many perfume wearers. Originally a hairstylist, makeup artist and photographer, he went on to create cosmetic lines for Dior and Shiseido. It was at Shiseido that he first entered the world of fragrance when they asked him to be the Creative Director for Nombre Noir in 1982. Realised by the perfumer Jean-Yves Leroy, it was followed by Féminité du Bois in 1992, this time a collaboration between Pierre Bourdon and Christopher Sheldrake. However, it was in 2000 that he finally formed his own company, simply called Serge Lutens.

Under his name he created new fragrances and also reissued some that had proved so popular for Shiseido. One of these was Ambre Sultan from 1993. It was created by Christopher Sheldrake, who is essentially Serge’s in-house perfumer when he’s not working for Chanel, and it took its inspiration from a piece of “scented wax, found in a souk and long forgotten in a wooden box”. With a bright orange colour, this bold and unforgiving fragrance demands to be heard and has a character that could easily be described as indomitable.

Christopher Sheldrake started his career with the fragrance company Charabot before moving to Robertet. These two companies would eventually merge in 2007, but by that time he was working for Chanel. However, before that final move he also worked for Quest, and it was while he was there that the collaboration with Serge Lutens began. Working with Serge really allowed Christopher to experiment. They weren’t making traditionally constructed perfumes, each had a mysterious element to them, and because of this his imagination was free to explore new styles as well as playing with unusual ingredients.

Ambre Sultan opens immediately with a huge dose of labdanum, which gives that sensual note to any fragrance, and the effect of a church-styled incense. A herbal aromatic quality is also prominent, with touches of bay leaf and oregano, and it seems to pull a patchouli quality very much to the forefront. As the green notes diminish you really start to get that wonderfully resinous blend of sandalwood and vanilla that Serge simply described as “sticky” before something akin to a spiced cognac finishes the fragrance off perfectly. It truly is the perfect fragrance for those looking for some indulgent warmth in these cold times.

Ambre Sultan is available from all Serge Lutens stockists and also from their Paris flagship store in the Palais Royal priced at £160 for 100ml.

[Image of Christopher Sheldrake © Haute Living]

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