Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan : Perfume Review

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Amber

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Some fragrances need to be well-tested over time to become classics. Guerlain Nahéma was an utter failure when first launched in 1979, but today its ripe, voluptuous accord of ylang-ylang, rose and sandalwood is considered archetypal. Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, on the other hand, has achieved the status of an amber gold standard in a mere decade. Created as an interpretation of a classical sweet amber theme, today it is among the most imitated and recognizable amber fragrances. The genius of Serge Lutens and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake lied in layering a sweet, unctuous amber accord with the camphorous brightness of herbs. The result is a fascinating sweet-savory interplay that evokes as much caramel ganache as tomates à la provençale (tomatoes grilled with parsley and oregano.)

On the face of it, Ambre Sultan seems like a variation on the traditional labdanum and vanilla accord that can be found in many classical fragrances. It certainly has plenty of warm resins accented with dry patchouli and woods as well as a deliciously dark vanilla. Yet, although some elements seem familiar, there are some facets of Ambre Sultan that are surprising. The bright, aromatic flourish of marjoram, thyme and coriander has a piquant character, and when set against the dark, heavy resins, the effect is not unlike a sprinkling of salt over a piece of chocolate. The herbs lighten the opulent heft of amber, while green, vegetal musks soften some of the rough edges.

In contrast to the grand parfums like Guerlain Mitsouko, in which a classical sweet amber accord plays an important role next to the mossy woods and cinnamon sprinkled peaches, Ambre Sultan is a solo performance. It is not a composition where the top notes have a distinct character from the drydown. Instead, Ambre Sultan unfolds all of its gilded, ambery layers at once, allowing one to admire their warmth and richness.

Built in the modern style, it is a radiant composition that combines a great tenacity with a powerful sillage. Wearing Ambre Sultan, I feel as if I am wrapped in a heavy pashmina, which is a pleasant sensation on a cold day. It gathers plenty of compliments, often from complete strangers. Even so, be forewarned that proper dosage makes the difference between a caress and asphyxiation. One spray too many, and the beauty of Ambre Sultan becomes smothering.

Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan Eau de Parfum includes notes of coriander, amber, oregano, bay leaf, myrtle, angelica root, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, and vanilla. It is sold in the export range. The export line fragrances are available from Aedes, Beautyhabit, Luckyscent, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and from some Neiman Marcus locations. $120, 50ml.

Sample: my own acquisition

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29 Comments

  • Olfactoria: The most wonderful amber! I’m glad to see you gave it five stars. It really is THE amber. October 3, 2011 at 4:18am Reply

  • Tracy: I am going to try this – fall is here! October 3, 2011 at 8:36am Reply

  • Suzanna: Delicious review! I will wear it today.

    This is the only fragrance with that many herbal notes I can wear. Normally I do not care for herbs at all, but here they slightly roughen the surface of the amber/vanilla in a marvelous way. October 3, 2011 at 9:01am Reply

  • Style Spy: My favorite amber (and I have quite a few) and one of my top 3 fragrances of all time. Perfection. October 3, 2011 at 9:39am Reply

  • AnneR: I just bought a full bottle after draining my decant. AB just makes me happy when I wear it. I love that I can smell it all day. Thanks for the review. October 3, 2011 at 9:43am Reply

  • dleep: Thank you for that wonderful review! This was my first Serge. October 3, 2011 at 11:59am Reply

  • Warum: I loved this review.
    I have to admit that I still do not spray AS, wearing only tiny dabs of it. I know a lot of people do spray it, but I have not just come around yet. October 3, 2011 at 12:16pm Reply

  • green jean: i like to wear this on one wrist and hermes’ ambre narguile on the other. i can sniff each wrist in succession to compare and contrast, and then sniff them both together. ooh. i need to stop now and get out my treasure chest. October 3, 2011 at 12:28pm Reply

  • Victoria: One of the best, that’s for sure! October 3, 2011 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is my favorite for this time of the year. October 3, 2011 at 12:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like herbal notes in general, but here they lend such an interesting effect. Mmmmm…. October 3, 2011 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: I also love ambers, but this one never fails to please! October 3, 2011 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, a drop is enough to last for the entire day. It is really tenacious! October 3, 2011 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: I think that it was my second Serge! 🙂 The first one was Fleur d’Oranger, which is still my favorite. October 3, 2011 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: This is the kind of fragrance that needs to be dabbed. Like you, I cannot envision spraying it. 🙂 October 3, 2011 at 12:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sounds wonderful! 🙂 October 3, 2011 at 12:52pm Reply

  • Mikeperez23: One of the only fragrances that brought me to tears when I first smelled it – no lie. It will always be what I think of, when I think of amber. October 3, 2011 at 11:09pm Reply

  • Sharryn Stormonth: I love ambers and this is on the top of my list alongside of Ambra del nepal. Ambre narguile is one I must try. I agree with Olfactoria, I am so pleased you gave it 5*. October 4, 2011 at 1:52am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for sharing that! Any perfume that can evoke such a strong feeling is very special. October 4, 2011 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Victoria: Do try Ambre Narguile! I love the strong tobacco note interspersed with amber in that fragrance, and yet the whole is so light and airy. October 4, 2011 at 12:20pm Reply

  • minette: i didn’t fall for its charms for several years… but once i did, i did because, on me, it’s more about the incense than the amber – i feel like i’m burning high-quality incense on my skin when i wear it. if it were simply a sticky-sweet amber, i wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much! October 4, 2011 at 4:16pm Reply

  • hongkongmom: I need to go and put this on now! Thank you so much for the previous post on ambers and for this and the one on ambre russe…I have learned a lot! October 6, 2011 at 2:36am Reply

  • Gentiana: Guess what:
    I just received my Ambre Sultan in Vaporisateur Tout Noir… I am so happy!!!

    But I must tell I don’t understand the marketing (and customer service) at Lutens.
    I asked them four times for samples. And I specified that I don’t want them for free.
    I received the funniest reactions. Or no reaction at all.

    I am very keen to smell Bois Violette, Fumerie Turque, Bois Sepia, Borneo, Boxeuses, El Attarine, Iris Silver Mist, Douce Amere, Cypre Rouge, ROse de Nuit… and a few more.
    I never ever will do again the silly thing to buy an expensive perfume unsniffed.
    How on earth can I smell the fragrances from the Palais Royal collection without traveling to Paris? February 24, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: They really should make the samples available in little coffrets for purchase. It seems like such a sensible way to satisfy its curious customers! But I’m glad that you’re enjoying Ambre Sultan, one of Serge Lutens’s classics. 🙂 February 24, 2014 at 11:39am Reply

      • Gentiana: Well… they should.
        I broadened my perfume knowledge first due to the very nice SA-s and managers at the 3-4 niche perfume shops in Bucharest – they always gave me samples when I visited them – and to more perfume houses that have intelligent sampling programs.
        So I received discovery sets at fair prices from Frederic Malle, Parfums D’Empire, J H A G, Les Nez, Olfactive Studio, Mona di Orio, Molinard etc.
        And: with ANY perfume purchase I received at least 1-2 samples. That gives a good feeling… You feel a little bit spoiled and appreciated as a customer.
        SL didn’t send extra at least a wax sample. Or a perfumed cardboard. Anything. It is not about the value. It is the ATTITUDE.
        I don’t see the logic of such an exlusivist behavior at SL. I percieved it as an arrogance. Please…don’t ask me to reproduce the answers of the SL people when I asked about samples… I have to feel that they make me a favor selling me their perfume.
        I think I will send them a letter. But I need to find the right tonality. The purpose is to help them improve the customer care. Do they mind it? February 25, 2014 at 4:44am Reply

        • Gentiana: Now that I re-read my comment it seems a little bit harsh.
          I would tell the things a kind of more nuanced…
          If you think that I wrote too much or that I overreacted, you may delete it.
          Thank you. February 25, 2014 at 4:58am Reply

          • Victoria: But if you feel that you didn’t receive the right service, you should write a letter. February 25, 2014 at 8:00am Reply

        • Ushie: Hi, Gentiania, I don’t know if you will see this, but if you go to the Serge Lutens website and send a comment in to them, they will send you at least one sample. You have to be very clear in your request, and also formal (in the best French interpretation of “formal”). They’ve done it for me. Also, the mailing list notifies you of bonuses with purchases–a recent one was a coffret of 32 samples with any purchase. April 20, 2014 at 3:29pm Reply

          • angeldiva: Hi Ushie! Hi Victoria!
            Firstly, THANK- YOU for the Serge Lutens website request tip. I did write to them, and will hopefully receive some samples. They were very gracious!
            I tried my paid for sample from Luckyscents(thank -you BdG). My Gooooodness!!! What a sensory surround experience! I must have the ideal skin chemistry for this genius perfume, because it really transported me body and soul. The amber bloomed, the perfume ,”thows,” (? I don’t know the proper term so I am using a dye term) a mesquite smoke scent off my skin. I loved the review, but it doesn’t describe the campfire orgy that this perfume creates. I can smell sandalwood, and something orange as well. But, alas, I adjust learning how to identify the notes and sing the song.
            Ambre Sultans is more of an experience. To think that my entire motivation for learning about Serge Lutens was because I saw it offered on a discount site that I frequent. The information from BdG is invaluable for the informed perfume consumer. Thanks!
            P. October 20, 2014 at 5:04pm Reply

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