Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Ambre à Sade by Nez à Nez: Berry Unexpected

Recently I swapped fragrance packages with Elisa, a brainy blonde beauty who writes on all manner of subject (and quite often on the subject of beauty itself) at her blog, The French Exit. Elisa sent me samples of several perfumes that have gotten a lot of love on the blogosphere, but she also slipped in a real oddball! Ambre à Sade is from the indie French perfume house Nez à Nez, a house which strikes me as being playful and delightfully quirky, but which has drawn a fair amount of criticism from bloggers who think its line is comprised of overly sweet perfumes. Ambre à Sade lives up to both my assessment and theirs—it is quirky and gourmandly sweet—but no more so than a number of fragrances from the revered house of Serge Lutens. To my mind, this fragrance has as much personality as Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau, for example, while being a lot more wearable, and smelling it has proved a welcome diversion at this time of year when I am bone-tired of winter and in need of a laugh.


Not that I’m laughing now—I grew to love it real fast—but laugh I did the first time it went on my skin and I experienced the full shock of its over-the-top combo of berries, caramel and patchouli. My response was undoubtedly influenced by the fragrance’s name—its coupling of the word “amber” with the name Sade—because although I didn’t smell what I was expecting, the first image that flew across my brain was the food scene from the 1980s film 9 ½ Weeks. The one where a young Mickey Rourke has Kim Basinger seated on the floor in front of the refrigerator with her eyes closed as he feeds her a riot of sexy food stuffs: canned cherries in a goopy sauce, fresh strawberries, an ooze of golden honey that not only gets placed at the end of her greedy tongue but is smeared into her thighs. It’s supposed to be a playfully erotic scene, but it mostly comes across as campy (and probably intentionally so). Considering that Mickey Rourke’s character in that film has more than a touch of the Marquis de Sade about him, it’s not surprising that when I first smelled Ambre à Sade, this is the flashback that hit me.

Yet if my initial thought was the snickering one of “This is something one would wear if one was going on a date with Mickey Rourke,” it wasn’t my final thought. It’s true that Ambre à Sade smells rather campy when you inhale it right up close to your skin: there is a huge strawberry note in this fragrance that, not long after the fragrance is applied, briefly couples with a dark and chocolaty patchouli accord such that the combo smells like candied cherries. The patchouli is so dark, it’s hard to imagine a berry note eclipsing it, but in kaleidoscopic fashion the strawberry re-emerges, bringing with it the accompaniment of caramel. In the first fifteen minutes of wear, if you are the crazy kind of perfumista who glues her nose to this scent, Ambre à Sade is going to smell a bit plasticky. But back your nose away from your perfumed wrist and give it a little breathing space, and you’ll soon realize that this is one of the most lovely and well-done berry notes you’ve ever smelled in a perfume—and one that probably only you, the wearer, or anyone who gets intimate with you will notice. Thanks to the base notes in Ambre à Sade, this perfume smells richer and deeper from a distance: so much so that my husband thought I was wearing a tobacco scent. Only when I held my wrist under his nose did he smell the strawberry note in it too, and apparently that only increased his pleasure, because in short order he cracked open my sample vial and swiped some on his arms.

Blackberry, wild strawberry, caramel, raspberry, cedar, cinnamon, tonka bean, vanilla, patchouli and Russian leather—those are the notes for Ambre à Sade. Though I sometimes get hints of blackberry, basically the berry notes conspire to produce the scent of strawberry—and after doing a bit of research on the Marquis de Sade for this review, I think I know why this note plays a key role in the perfume (you’ll have to read or scroll down to the end to find out why). The base notes in Ambre à Sade, while not representative of a true amber, possess a warm richness that lends the fragrance weight. The aforementioned patchouli that smells chocolaty and espresso-like is the grounding force, along with a caramel-like vanilla accord that becomes more evident as the perfume dries down.

Getting back to my original statement about Ambre à Sade—of how over-the-top it seemed with its opening jolt of berried, candied notes—that reaction was largely due to the disconnect between what I actually smelled and what I was expecting to smell given the name. Campy it might have seemed at first, but a perfume’s shock value wears off fast—just as it does for anything else—and in the end one is left to decide whether the actual item has enough true appeal to make it a thing worth keeping. In the case of Ambre à Sade, the sincere answer from me is an affirmative yes. What’s really shocking about this perfume is just how natural, delightful and rare its strawberry note smells; how beautifully that berry note quiets down yet remains recognizable as it floats over the perfume’s adult-like gourmand base; and how irresistible it can be to wear a gourmand fragrance, period.

The Marquis de Sade, while imprisoned in the Bastille, had his wife deliver food and cut flowers to him—and prison logs indicate that in one month alone, he received 12 packets of fresh strawberries. Had I known this when I first smelled the perfume, I might not have been so surprised by it, yet neither might I have been as delighted. Sometimes a little shock is good for the system, especially when it’s the sweet kind.

Nez à Nez Ambre à Sade can be purchased from LuckyScent.com, where a 100-ml bottle is $165. My review is based on a sample sent to me from poet and blogger, Elisa.

Image (top of page) is of Kim Basinger's mouth from a scene in the film 9 1/2 Weeks.
Bottle image is from Fragrantica.com.

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March 18, 2013: