Amber gets the refined Armani treatment in Ambre Soie, an award-winning fragrance from his Privé Collection. Like his clothes, Armani’s perfumes tend to be minimalistic, fluid creations with simple lines, the highest quality materials, and a very restrained, quiet style. They aren’t baroque, bold, or intense fragrances that make their presence known. For some people, Armani’s extreme refinement makes his scents the epitome of luxurious smoothness, but I’ve frequently had problems with their bland character, sheerness, and discreet nature. In one case (his iris Nuances), the perfume was so purified, safe, and refined that I felt claustrophobic from the airlessness.
Ambre Soie is significantly better. It’s still far from my ideal scent and I wasn’t keen on its opening phase, but I can absolutely see why so many people enjoy it. Its simple character is genuinely elegant, the materials feel expensive, and its middle/final phases have an appealing warmth. It has been compared to Fendi‘s Theorema, a popular gingerbread amber with patchouli and spices that was discontinued but is still very much loved. I think the Ambre Soie is better on some levels, thanks to that Armani signature touch and the use of more expensive, luxury ingredients. The end result very much feels like the sort of safe amber that would work in a corporate boardroom, worn by men or women who want to enjoy a smooth oriental under their expensive suits without bothering their colleagues with any scent trail at all.
Ambre Soie is an eau de parfum that was created by Christine Nagel, and released in 2004. According to Fragrantica, it has won 3 Fragrance Foundation (or “FiFi“) awards: Fragrance Of The Year Men`s Nouveau Niche 2006, Best Packaging Women`s Prestige 2006, and Best Packaging Men`s Prestige 2006. Armani describes it on his website as follows:
Ambre Soie is a contemporary magic potion, created by Giorgio Armani, using the rich and voluptuous Soft Amber. It evokes the scent of an amber when, during the 15th and 16th centuries, musk and amber scents were embedded in the mortar of palace constructions, despite their rarity and price. Giorgio Armani wanted to reveal the raw beauty of the amber accord in simple, unpretentious fashion. With rare and delicate sense of balance, he has created a contemporary magic potion. “This is something I had always dreamed of”, notes Mr Armani. “A beautiful, rich and pure scent that evokes sensuality and mystery.” Warm and intensely compelling, Ambre Soie awakens the subconscious and stirs the spirit.
KEYWORDS: UNSETTLING, VOLUPTUOUS AND INTOXICATING.
According to Fragrantica, Ambre Soie’s note list is:
ginger, amber, patchouli, pepper and cloves.
I think that note list is incomplete because it omits one very significant element that appears for hours on end, both on my skin and that of others: fresh anise or fennel. Ambre Soie opens with toffee’d labdanum amber infused from top to bottom with green anise, followed by spicy, brown patchouli, a dash of fresh ginger, and something that feels quite clean. There is a lot of fennel on my skin and its herbal freshness outweighs the ginger by a mile, while the cloves are only a speck in the distance and barely perceptible. For the most part, the spices are abstract, shapeless and fully merged into the patchouli.
The labdanum is interesting. For a brief moment, it has a toffee’d nuance, but almost all of the ingredient’s dirtier, animalic, musky, or resinous characteristics have been stripped away. Generally, on my skin, labdanum tends to skew primarily towards toffee, instead of the “cola” note that others frequently describe. Here, however, Ambre Soie turns within minutes into pure root beer, particularly in conjunction with the licorice undertones of the anise. The patchouli brings up the rear, lagging far behind the other 2 notes, and smells quite generic. There is none of the material’s smoky, woody, musky, chewy, leathery, or earthy plushness. Like everything else, it has been refined to the point of safeness and thinness.
Less than 10 minutes into its development, Ambre Soie is centered entirely on an anise-licorice root beer aroma, with ghostly, thin pops of gingerbread patchouli lurking in the distance. After another 10 minutes, the patchouli catches up to the other notes, and Ambre Soie becomes a three-way race with the root beer always winning. A clean musk weaves its way through the top notes, amplifying the fresh cleanness of ingredients which are traditionally known for being dark, resinous, earthy, and somewhat dirty. The sillage drops at roughly the same time, and Ambre Soie hovers just one inch above my skin. None of its feels plush, thick, or deep at this stage. It’s disappointingly gauzy and light in body as well, though the scent itself is strong when you smell it up close.
My primary problem with Ambre Soie’s opening phase is not Armani’s obsession with light scents rendered discreet to the point of excessive intimacy. I’m genuinely irritated by the sterilization of two of my favorite notes, and by the fresh, green cleanness that is such a big part of the first few hours. What makes both labdanum and patchouli so enormously appealing to me is their innate darkness, cozy warmth, golden richness, and occasionally naughty dirtiness. Here, they have been lobotomized, stripped of their character, and turned into a polite Miss Manners.
Thankfully, Ambre Soie improves — so substantially, in fact, that I would caution others against judging the scent based solely on its first two hours (or testing it just on paper). This is a fragrance that merits a little patience and no snap judgments. Ambre Soie continues to be damnably discreet, but all of it gets better, from the actual notes to the thin, wispy body which subsequently deepens. There is even some dirtiness by the end, though it is always an Armani-like interpretation of dirtiness rather than something in the vein of Ambre Sultan, Amber Absolute, Opium, or O Hira. If you wait out the irritatingly insubstantial, lobotomized opening, I think you’ll be rewarded by a very cozy, appealing scent. It just takes a little time.
The first hint of that future promise begins at the start of the 2nd hour, when Ambre Soie turns softer, smoother, and a little sweeter. There is less of a pure root beer aroma with anise-licorice, and more plushness with a benzoin-like goldenness. The patchouli has melted fully and completely into the base by the 2.5 hour mark, losing its distinct, individual edge, but it works indirectly to amplify the spicy warmth. The ginger feels more prominent but, generally, it is fused seamlessly with the patchouli in the base. For the most part, Ambre Soie continues to be primarily licorice root-beer with gingerbread spiciness, but the labdanum is slowly changing shape. The toffee is returning; there is a distinct whiff of smokiness that curls its way around the notes from time to time; and a tiny suggestion of something resinous lurks darkly at the edges.
By the time the 3rd hour rolls around, Ambre Soie is turning into quite a different scent than what appeared in the opening. The dark, benzoin-like, sticky resin has risen to the surface, and is now quite apparent. It cuts through the clean freshness, ends the power of the green anise, adds a subtle smokiness to the labdanum, and sprinkles the whole thing with a pinch of powder. It feels a bit like Siam benzoin with its slightly nutty, smoky nuances, and it deepens the fragrance as a whole. It also serves to bring out the labdanum’s true characteristics, including a little bit of dirtiness, though nothing really intense. It certainly never approaches musky or animalic territory. (The thought of it would probably make Giorgio clutch his pearls with horror.)
As the green anise retreats to the sidelines and slowly fades away, what is left at the 3.5 hour mark is real labdanum amber infused with resins. The root beer cola aroma has vanished, and so has much of the licorice. What is left is not particularly sweet, golden, or plush, though. For the most part, it’s simply a dark warmth with a subtle undercurrent of smokiness, a tiny speck of dirtiness, and a wisp of patchouli. It’s also a skin scent by this point, though it isn’t hard to detect the fragrance up close if you bring your nose to your arm.
Ambre Soie remains unchanged until its very end, fading away as a blur of something resinous and warm roughly 9.25 hours from its start. I used 4 huge smears, amounting to 2.5 large sprays from an actual bottle, and the sillage was always soft throughout. It opened 2.5 inches above the skin, dropped to a mere inch after 20 minutes, then turned into a skin scent exactly 3 hours and 10 minutes from the start. I also tested Ambre Soie using a slightly smaller quantity: 3 moderate smears amounting to 2 small sprays gave me 2 inches of sillage at the opening; Ambre Soie felt positively translucent at first; it became a skin scent at the 2.5 hour mark, and lasted just a hair over 8 hours in total.
There are a few things that frequently come up in a discussion of Ambre Soie, and one of them is its similarity to Fendi‘s discontinued Theorema. Thanks to the kindness of a reader, “Connie,” I have a small sample of the vintage fragrance, so I did a side-by-side comparison.
It’s true, the two scents do share a kinship, but I think the differences are noticeable. Theorema is sweeter, with a substantially greater, more obvious, clean musk note (which is something I never really enjoy). It opens with an anise note as well, but I found it disappeared after a few minutes to be replaced by a tiny, muted wisp of abstract herbs. Theorema has much more of a gingerbread bouquet, and is a more vanillic benzoin amber without the heft of real labdanum on my skin. It didn’t feel really chewy, deep, dense, or dirty, though I would never use those words for the Armani fragrance, either, to be quite blunt. Still, Theorema has even less of it than the Armani. It felt simultaneously cleaner (due to the white musk), sweeter, and much more golden in hue. The amber smelled more generic at times, more gingered and cake-like, and without a root beer undertone.
The greatest difference for me is that the Armani fragrance felt substantially smoother. It has a different sort of freshness at the start, centered mostly on the green fennel fronds rather than clean musk. It’s sheerer, lighter, and more translucent in the beginning, but it turns darker and more resinous in feel by the end. The amber smells more obviously like labdanum (even if it is a very polite version of it), and it skews slightly darker in nature than the one in Theorema. For the most part, Ambre Soie is a softer, more intimate scent than Theorema, but it also felt much more luxurious and expensive.
However, you’re paying for that markedly higher quality, not to mention the Armani name. Theorema may be discontinued, but you can find it on eBay for quite a moderate amount, ranging from about $64 for a 50 ml tester bottles to about $120 for unopened, boxed versions. In contrast, Ambre Soie retails for $260 or £155 for 100 ml. You can find it for about $200 on eBay, but that is still a substantial hike from Theorema’s prices.
On Fragrantica, a few people bring up Theorema, and find Ambre Soie to be a stronger, richer version. Others, however, talk about Ambre Soie’s weak sillage, sheer body, and iffy longevity on their skin. For example, a 2012 review from “Persofoni” states:
Really people? 150 euros for such a thin smell?? My bottle doesn’t say Cologne, it says Eau de Parfum, but the longevity is disappointing…
I fell in love with this last year, i adore the strong anise, amber, clove, cinnamon and patchouli, but no matter in which season and in which weather i’ve tried it, it’s gone within a couple of hours.. Only i can then detect it vaguely on my skin…
Am I the only one here who feels deceived..??
There are some similar remarks from other commentators: “it lasts about fifteen minutes on my skin before it starts to fade away, taking all of its beautiful and interesting warmth along with it;” “Seemed potent at first but didn’t last too long on my skin;” “Wish this adorable exotica lasted longer on me for an edp;” or “Longevity could be better, on the end it thins a bit, but all in all worth the money.”
However, in terms of the actual scent, most people are very positive, though a few women find Ambre Soie to be too masculine for their personal tastes. Some of the descriptions for the perfume’s bouquet are as follows:
- it lasts about fifteen minutes on my skin before it starts to fade away, taking all of its beautiful and interesting warmth along with it. For the few minutes that it does bloom on my skin, I’m speechless as what starts out as an overwhelming blast of powdery anise, slowly transforms itself into a very unmistakable cola accord (it’s as though Lolita Lempicka and Estee Lauder Youth Dew had a child). It’s reminiscent of sipping root beer through a straw of black licorice; something I’ve never done, but can imagine would taste heavenly. The scent stays very close to the skin and doesn’t say much after the cola note has put in its two cents’ worth; when the root beer accord begins to fade, dragging the anise away behind it, there’s not much left to enjoy except a hint of what was so beautiful just moments ago. Despite the lack of sillage and staying power, I will add that if all fragrances bloomed and transformed the way this one does on the skin, the world of perfume would be a much more intriguing place for everyone.
- Great take on amber….Ambre soie is really dirty, like unearthing a chunk of amber from a dirty, peaty soil but with a slight sweetness. I get a peculiar liquorice vibe from the combination of ginger, cloves and pepper with a slight creaminess of patchouli it’s really good I enjoyed it the first time and my second try of this has made me realise just how good it is.
- If you miss Theorema, once made by Fendi, this is its stronger, pungent and much better clone of it. Excellent and naturally smelling amber. It has something masculine in it, maybe a bit of oudwood.
- The warm spicy opening is wonderful; a juxtaposition of ginger, clove, and what seems like a cinnamon-nutmeg cross. A bit later, a clear anis note comes forward then blends with the spices. As the dry-down continues, the amber note comes to the fore, while the spices still linger. Sillage is limited, and longevity is acceptable. It would be on my love-buy list, except I find it has just a shade too much of a masculine touch for me.
- the longer i have this one, the more i really appreciate it. it seemed quite simple & linear at first but repeated wearings (across all seasons) have slowly revealed a very subtle yet complex interaction of amber, anise & patchouli. very classy, low-key and cozy as hell. has overtaken bois d’encens as my fave armani prive and borneo 1834 as my fave patchouli (cuz it’s SO well-blended!) [Emphasis to named added by me.]
Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Ambre Soie. While I liked the actual smell by the middle/end stages, I consistently have difficulties with the Armani aesthetic and style. Every review I write for one of his fragrances feels like an ordeal, because I’m infused with enormous apathy even when I actually enjoy parts of a scent. They simply don’t move me, period. I’ve mulled over why I have such a struggle, and I don’t think it’s because of the discreet sillage and thin body, even though I find the extent of both to be very annoying at times. I think it’s because the fragrances are so safe that their refinement feels more like a lack of character or personality. If you look at Armani’s clothes, his Haute Couture Atelier line manages to infuse boldness into the luxurious minimalism and they really stand out on the red carpet. His Privé fragrances, however, feel like a well-tailored but generic grey suit without any real spark or pizzazz. They’re perfect for the office because they ultimately fade into the shadows. None of that is me — especially not at $260 a bottle — but I recognise that it’s a question of personal tastes and styles.
The bottom line is that Ambre Soie is a nice fragrance, and one that you should try for yourself if you love the genre. I think it is a scent that definitely improves with time, and rewards patience as well. It’s not the most complex, interesting, intense amber around, but that was not Armani’s goal. Edgy, bold, and different are not his thing; he’s all about refinement, smoothness, and seamless transitions. If you don’t focus, though, you’re likely to miss it, because the word “subtle” really is emblazoned over everything he does. For that reason, Ambre Soie does have more development than one might initially suspect if one isn’t paying attention. As one of the Fragrantica comments astutely noted, the interaction between the three main notes is “very subtle yet complex.” As a final caution, I don’t think Ambre Soie is well-served by testing on paper, so if you’re tempted to try it, do so on skin. I’d also advise applying a pretty decent quantity, especially if you want to counteract the fragrance’s discreetness and sheerness.
All in all, Ambre Soie is an elegant, smooth amber with a very wearable, versatile, easy character and a softness that might make it some people’s perfect office scent.