Wednesday, 26 March 2014

From Ambre Sultan to Chanel No. 5, A Curious Journey In Taste

Eight years ago, I lifted a curiously understated rectangular bottle of fragrance to my nose and inhaled. At that moment, my concept of ‘what perfume smells like’ changed forever. It was Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens.

This revelation occurred whilst I was teaching in Dubai. Being so deeply opulent and spicy, I assumed it was an Arabic brand. Not being a certified fume junkie back then, I didn’t buy it, waiting instead until my bottle of Opium ran out to consider a purchase. Of course I did re-visit the store to indulge in it’s heady lure several times. 

From discussion with fellow fumies, it appears that many of us began our journey into niche with this creation. Unsurprising when you consider that the most popular genre amongst contemporary niche fans tends to be orientals.
As my interest developed into a hobby increasingly more compulsive than a serious train spotting habit, I smelt a great many niche perfumes. I developed a distinct personal taste that was dominated by; citrus chypres, intense orientals and outdoorsy feeling woods. A jasminophobe, I was highly unlikely to feel the love for a full on white floral or (gulp) the horror of an old fashioned floral aldehyde.

So, how the hell have I fallen hard for Chanel No. 5?
Whilst having a boozy dinner at my beautiful friend Jo’s house around Christmas time, we delved into her very grown-up stash of fumes. Jo Loves ‘proper perfume’, i.e. the likes of Moschino, 24 Faubourg and Chanel No. 5, that which we associate with drinking champagne in an immaculate dress. Or more relevantly to our friendship, glugging Asda’s Prossecco in tatty clothes. My overriding sensation whilst sampling Jo’s grown up lady scents was a sense of exoticism, they smelt extraordinary, innovative and otherworldly. Odd, because that’s exactly how I felt when I smelt Ambre Sultan.

As I dozed off in her absent son’s big red tractor bed that night, I pondered the curiously soapy whiff radiating from my arm. The Chanel No. 5 was emitting the fizzy sherbet like quality of aldehydes over a complex mélange of sappy woodland greenery and an abstraction of floral delights. It was beautiful. I was astonished.

 Harry, a budding fumie takes a shine to Jo's Rochas Alchemie..

..but decides that Moschino is more pleasing
And so to Ebay. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 Elixir Sensuel was rapidly obtained and a couple of days ago, an EDP of the original arrived courtesy of a kindly regular swopping buddy.

What’s essentially happened is that over the last few years I have smelt so many repetitions on the theme of amber and woody orientals that they have become ‘normal’ and no longer feel unique or ‘niche’. Ambre Sultan has been emulated so many times that Chanel No. 5 feels like a contemporary innovation. The mainstream has (with exception of some truly awful leaden fruitchoulis) become the exotic.
So, you can expect to see some changes at Odiferess this year as I embark on a journey into new genres. This year I will be mostly seeking out notes that I didn’t used to like (yes, I am emitting a vociferous air of jasmine from my wrists today courtesy of No. 5 and enjoying it enormously) and seeing how far my tastes have broadened. I have on my current list of things to review; fruity hedgerow delights from Mark Buxton, Penhaligon’s ‘busty’ Cornubia, Caron’s ‘shining happy people’ scent - My Ylang, Boucheron’s dazzlingly snooty - Place Vendome and Le Labo’s unfeasibly sticky lily- Lys 41.

The result of a google search for 'Woodland Flowers'. This is better than woodland flowers.

I shall be continuing to read the insightful words of some of my favourite blogs written by men who love a lavish bouquet. In particular, The Scented Hound who has a penchant for Caron and The Silver Fox who is as unafraid of a strident white floral.

Disclaimer: Despite my current adoration for No. 5 I reserve the right the state that Brad Pitt looked and sounded like a complete buffoon in the recent fragrance advert which was as humourous as Tom Ford's 'naked female bottom-crack scent smelling strip dispenser' was vile and sexist. I want to hear a secret tape of the associated marketing exec meetings, what were they thinking?!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on matters of taste, has anybody had a drastic shift in recent times?


  1. Serge Lutens was my entry into the world of niche, too. For me, it was Chergui and Douce Amere. What a revelation!

    My love of scent was accentuated by learning about niche. There's been no drastic shift in tastes, but I had no idea that there were perfumes that smelled like incense or tobacco. Wow! I have never been able to appreciate Chanel No. 5, though, and I feel I should. It's so iconic!

    1. Hi Julie. That's good to hear. I hope we have some more revelations. "My name is XXXX and my addiction began with Serge Lutens.."

      I used to abhor No. 5. I always thought it was an unpleasant scent that simply traded on it's iconography but suddenly it's an elixir of majesty to me. It must surely be something to do with tastes widening with experience?

  2. Interesting to hear of the latest evolution in your tastes - big blowsy jasmines, eh? Whatever next! Tbh, I never liked Ambre Sultan - too 'erbal? - but I did fall hard for orientals at the start of my hobby and haven't budged from that so far. I can appreciate aldehydic perfumes too, and must retry original No 5, though Eau Premiere is my current flanker of choice. ;)

    1. I know.. curious eh? I even digged out those floral Evody samples that we were gifted to have another whiff. I am not pregnant so I doubt it's hormones!
      My mum is off to Egypt tomorrow. I have requested a tiny bottle of Clinique wrappings if she happens upon a lavish perfumery. They don't sell it here. Have you tried it? A friend sent me a teeny sample. It reeks of gargantuan aldehydes so fizzy that it makes your eyes water in the opening spritz, all billowing away over earthy woods. Amazing stuff. x

  3. Thanks for the link love my dear. Ahhh, the joy of Ambre Sultan. I think I wore it once this past winter. Like you I loved the orientals when this madness all started. I think that some of the niche's were so new and unexpected that we were drawn to them for their uniqueness. But I find that I like things a bit more subtler now and for instance, today I wore Pd'E Fougere Bengale which is straight up immortale. I haven't worn it for a good 9 months and it has just kind of worn me out. So when I got home, I had to put on some Caron French Cancan just to make me feel much more relaxed. Here's to the florals!!! We'll revisit this in a year from now and we'll see where we're at!

  4. Oh Steve, you are so right! There is definitely a point of exhaustion with scents like Fougere Bengale. My favourite in the Parfum D'Empire line is Yuzu Fou which delivers that mind alteringly optimistic citrus buzz. So much easier to wear. I think another current issue in the niche market though is that many are the opposite - too subtle. I have donned a few samples that are barely audible amongst the scented noise of your daily environment. I've not written about them because they were so fleeting.
    Have you tried Caron's MyYlang yet? I need to hear your thoughts if so. It throughly delighted me.
    See you in a year wearing (aquatics? fruitchoulis?)..

  5. No drastic changes for me but I've been "into perfumes" from the childhood so I think I'll die a floral perfumes fan. Yes, my tastes keep developing and I do like ambers and some mild orientals but florals are still my No.1.

    I keep coming back to Chanel No 5 - and still I cannot wear it. Or Shalimar. Let's talk in 10 years.

    1. Hi Undina, In ten years time I hope to be over my obsession and clinging to a single beloved bottle of Mitsouko. I doubt that will happen though! Seriously though, I have tattered clothes. The money gets boshed on fragrance..