Perfume Review – Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe: Old Mother Russia

St. Basil's Cathedral. Source: Tripthirsty.com

St. Basil’s Cathedral. Source: Tripthirsty.com

It was a cold Spring, that April in 1986, when I went behind the Iron Curtain and visited the Soviet Union. Snow still lingered in parts of Moscow and the rural countryside that my group visited. I remember the grimness of Moscow, and have crazy stories about my time there: from our Russian minders; to the bugs in the telephone at the vast hotel where we stayed (either the Hotel Ukraina or the Cosmos) in Moscow; to stomping through birch forests to use a medieval, wooden out-house; and how I was interviewed on camera in the lobby for a news piece about the recent U.S.-Russian ballistic nuclear arms treaty. They quickly yanked and cut that interview when the journalist discovered I wasn’t just some mindless, young tourist who would babble about the glories of peaceful Mother Russia. To his unmitigated horror, I answered his question by giving a concise, Cold War breakdown of the history of nuclear arms talks and treaties between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. going back to the 1960s. His dirty looks followed me all across the giant lobby as I left….

Kiev in the 1980s. Source: Englishrussia.com. For the full post on great colour photographs of Russian cities from 1968-1984, click on the photo. Link embedded within.

Kiev in the 1980s. Source: Englishrussia.com. For the full post on great colour photographs of Russian cities from 1968-1984, click on the photo. Link embedded within.

My group ended up being kicked out of the Soviet Union after someone on it was caught engaging in black market dealings and a few other transgressions. (Not me!) It was probably just as well since we were in Kiev at the time and, as I mentioned, it was April 1986. Kiev, for those of you who don’t know, is in the Ukraine, and less than an hour’s drive from Chernobyl where the worst nuclear reactor disaster in history occurred only a few days later. We would have been there, but, instead, I was back in Paris when news of the disaster hit. The prevailing winds drew most of the radioactive fall-out away from the city, but my mother was still relieved that we left earlier than planned, even if it was under less than glorious circumstances.

Source: www.ruskerealie.zcu.cz

Dormition Cathedral. Source: http://www.ruskerealie.zcu.cz

Though I went to the Soviet Union, I saw enough of old Russia during my time there, from the magnificent old churches to the palaces. It is always Vladimir, however, which comes instantly to mind when I think of that trip. It was one of the ancient capitals of medieval Russia, and two of its cathedrals are now World Heritage sites. The solemn grandeur of those enormous, dark, often candle-lit churches — and Dormition Cathedral, in particular — with their huge walls covered in icons, painted figures and gold is something I will never forget. It instantly took me back in time to the Russia of Rasputin and Catherine the Great.

Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir. Photo by O1e9. Source: Flickr

Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir. Photo by O1e9. Source: Flickr

In a way, so too does Ambre Russe by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, the founder and nose behind Parfum d’Empire. Well, it takes me back to Russia, though it’s more to a tea room filled with large samovars and smoke as people lounge on velvet or leather sofas and knock back drinks over plates of sweetened fruits. But it’s certainly more than I expected. Unfortunately, the perfume was also significantly less than I expected. It didn’t live up to its wonderful opening and that trip back in time; it was too sheer, light and airy to be the true molten, luxurious, opaque marvel of Rasputin’s boozy, intense, dark, opulent Russia. However, those who prefer more lightweight, airy approaches to their booze and amber Orientals, may enjoy Ambre Russe very much indeed.   

Ambre RusseI don’t think any perfume house has better stories or descriptions to accompany their fragrances than Parfum d’Empire, and Ambre Russe is no exception:

An opulent elixir, as passionate as the Slavic soul. In this intense elixir, the opulence of the Russian Empire is conjured by the golden warmth of ambergris, intensified by vibrant spices, the smoky aroma of Russian tea and the spirituality of incense. Ambre Russe, a fragrance for impassioned souls. […]

In the flamboyant world of Ambre Russe, nothing is done in half-measures: parties are as intoxicating and sparkling as the champagne that flowed in Imperial Russia but they can end in the white brutality of an icy shot of vodka.

Ambre Russe also conjures the warmth and comfort of dachas where Russian tea, laced with cinnamon and coriander, is brewed all day long in samovars. It’s slightly smoky aroma melds with those of the birch and juniper tar rubbed into the legendary Russian leather. At last the golden facets of Ambre Russe are burnished by the incense of the Orthodox Church, before melting into a cloud of musk. And the celebration ends in mystic ecstasy. Ambre Russe: as impassioned and uncompromising as the Slavic soul.. 

I don’t know who writes Parfum d’Empire’s descriptions, but I want to meet him or her, and bow down in awe. As for the perfume notes, Luckyscent offers the following:

tea, incense, vodka, champagne, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ambergris, vanilla, leather.

The Russian Tea Room, with an iced Russian bear & vodka display. Source: Therussiantearoomnyc.com

The Russian Tea Room, with an iced Russian bear & vodka display. Source: Therussiantearoomnyc.com

Ambre Russe opens on my skin with so much depth, complexity and nuance that I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm. The very first thing you detect is citrus note like that in really good champagne. It is light, fresh, fruity-sweet, and absolutely sparkling. It is followed by a “chaser” of vodka and spices. The alcoholic blast is accompanied by: treacly cardamom; slightly woody-citrusy coriander; endlessly spiced, rich honey, the slightly tarry aspects of the birch tree; browned, aged leather; and, finally, rich ambergris. The amber, honey and boozy sweet notes combine with the tarry, leathery undertones of the birch to create a note of tobacco. Rich, warm and just like that in fruited pipe tobacco. 

Despite those many notes, it is truly the intense booziness of the scent, combined with the plethora of spices, which dominates those opening minutes. It feels a lot like the opening to my beloved Alahine, though the latter lacks some of the leather and tobacco undertones that are here. Ambre Russe also has a significantly drier feel to it, along with a faintly bitter, smoky edge and black tea notes that truly conjure up a Russian samovar. And, as the clock ticks by, Ambre Russe becomes even drier, woodier, dustier, and smokier. Hints of cumin appear, though they never evoke curry, stale sweat, or body odour. Instead, the cumin feels much like the dry, dusty powder. Unless you are a truly extreme cumin-phobe, I wouldn’t worry; the cumin is so minute and fleeting a note in Ambre Russe that I don’t think most people would detect it, especially given the extreme booziness of the scent.

Source: Orangette.blogspot.com (Website link embedded within. Click on the photo.)

Source: Orangette.blogspot.com (Website link embedded within. Click on the photo.)

Speaking of which, the champagne note slowly turns more into that of spiced rum, accompanied by the vast amounts of dried, stewed fruit that are a large part of the perfume’s base. The fruits feel like rum-raisin and stewed prunes, but there is also a surprising amount of stewed oranges to the note, thanks to the champagne. At times, the combination feels closer to fruity champagne, while, at other times, its more like simple, rich, spiced fruit. It flickers back and forth, but the truly odd thing about it is just how damn light, airy and sheer it feels. For a perfume with such strong notes, especially in the beginning, Ambre Russe is surprisingly lightweight in feel.

Hermès saddle. Source: eBay.com

Hermès saddle. Source: eBay.com

The swirl of dusty spices and fruit sit atop a subtle leather note. It feels honeyed, aged, and rich — much like the old, burnished, and oiled leather riding saddle that I once had. There is a faint powderiness that also appears, but it is generally well hidden under the warm smoke from the incense, the equally smoky black tea, and the strong hints of pipe tobacco.

You almost feel as if you’re in an old Russian tea-room in Kiev. The ceilings are a little black from decades of smoke, old icons cover the wall, birch trees logs are tossed into the fireplace, and the bells from a medieval cathedral chime in the background. As you collapse into the comfortable, soft leather banquets, a server puts champagne flutes on the table, next to strong black tea from the Samovar that is infused with massive dollops of cinnamon-honey. Stewed fruit are the only thing to save your stomach, as you ponder the baffling question of why a tea room is filled with sacks of dry, slightly dusty spices.

About 90 minutes in, Ambre Russe turns into a cinnamon-flecked amber perfume with incense smoke. Yes, there are undertones of honey, leather, tobacco, birch, and stewed fruit but they are light and grow increasingly subtle. To be honest, after that glorious opening and particularly after the second hour, Ambre Russe settles into little more than a light, cinnamon, boozy amber on my skin, and remains that way until the very end.

It is also incredibly — and, for my personal tastes, disappointingly — sheer. As early as the thirty minute mark, Ambre Russe starts to get sheerer and softer until, midway in the fourth hour, it feels as gauzily transparent as a thin, ambered kleenex. On my skin, the overall development of Ambre Russe was fully in the mold of a Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance — and I do not mean that as a compliment. In fact, there are quite a few tonal similarities between Ambre Russe and Ambre Narguilé, especially given the boozy rum, smoke, pipe tobacco, and stewed fruit notes. But, ultimately, Ambre Russe is significantly drier, woodier, and more dustily spiced. It also does not tip-toe up to the edges of the gourmand category in the way that Ambre Narguilé does.

Sillage and longevity also differ. In the first 20 minutes, Ambre Russe had good to average sillage, but after that, it projects little and its insubstantial weight turns the perfume into a skin scent surprisingly quickly. I tried it twice and, on both occasions, Ambre Russe turned into amber kleenex on my skin before the end of 2nd hour. (Far before Ambre Narguilé did on my skin.) Thereafter, Ambre Russe remained as dry, dusty spices and smoke over the lightest possible boozy amber base. That’s truly about it. However, Amber Russe has surprisingly longevity and lasted approximately 11 hours on both occasions on my perfume-consuming skin. At the end of the day, though, I found it to be an anorexic scent with little body and overall depth in the long haul.

I realise that not everyone shares my love for opaque, thick, molten perfumes, but that isn’t the real issue here, in my opinion. It’s that Ambre Russe’s beautiful, skeletal structure is there, but without the depth, complexity and nuance of its early start. It feels like a Lite or Diet version of a true, boozy, spiced amber. That said, those who prefer lighter, sheerer ambers may find Ambre Russe to be a perfect compromise, especially in light of some of the spices. Its lack of sillage, but serious longevity, may also make it perfect for those who worry about wearing serious orientals to a conservative office-environment.

I should note that I seem to be in the minority on the issue of Ambre Russe being far too thin. Take, for example, Luca Turin‘s admiring, four-star review in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide in which he writes:

Ambre Russe is quite simply the biggest, most over-the-top, most expansive, most nutritious amber in existence. If there was a cross between pipe tobacco and pain d’épices, this would be it. To call this an oriental is like saying that Nicholas II was no genius.

Notwithstanding that incredibly amusing last line, I couldn’t disagree more on the “nutritious,” expansive nature of Ambre Russe. But then, I rarely seem to agree with His Majesty….

There is a lot of love for Ambre Russe out there, along with a few polar opposite reactions. Perhaps the funniest (and my favorite) description for the perfume comes from Patty at The Perfume Posse who writes:

This amber rolls in fueled by vodka and lust after a handful of Exstasy and Coke hit the pleasure palace center of the brain, and you settle in for the long night partying in Kiev.  As the morning light reveals the detritus of the night’s Pan-like revelry, you find yourself deep in conversation with a beautiful/handsome poet who talks about life and love as an art form, and the amber turns to beautiful glowing warmth, glad for human comfort and conversation.  If only you could find your clothes, car and dignity, this would have been a great night.

Absolutely fantastic! Another favorite comes from Fragrantica where “Espi” writes:

Wearing Ambre Russe is like sitting next to a drunk but very attractive Russian sailor in a nice and comfortable pub. The only thing I don’t really get is why he’s got spiced honey smeared all over his body! 🙂 Quite the intoxicating smell [….]

Others talk about leather armchairs, expensive cognac, cigars, and old-world, sophisticated opulence. On Luckyscent, more than a few have given descriptions similar in spirit to this one from “yonderblues” who writes about “a room lit by candles filled with ladies in brocade dresses, surrounded by chavalier in their tall leather boots, sabers slapping their thighs and the scent of tobacco trailing after them.” I personally think these descriptions would be more apt if Ambre Russe were not quite so lightweight and gauzy since that completely destroys any sense of “opulence” in my mind, but, again, I have very different standards and personal tastes.

The main objection by those who hate Ambre Russe is the booziness. On both Fragrantica and Luckyscent, the negative reviews seem to center upon the opinion that there is just too much damn alcohol and vodka in the perfume. A handful of those commentators state that they don’t drink and don’t want to smell as though they do (“I hate vodka. I don’t drink.”) which is an extremely valid consideration. I honestly don’t think the vodka is that strong, especially after the first 15 minutes, and thought the fruity champagne note was much more pronounced, but, clearly, it’s all still too much alcohol for some people. As with everything in perfumery, interpretations are subjective and depend on your personal tastes, preferences, and history. 

All in all, if the notes sound appealing to you, and if you love very dry, boozy, spiced amber Orientals, I would definitely give Ambre Russe a sniff. Those who are completely phobic about cumin — in even its mildest, most microscopic manifestions — may think that the perfume smells like “Rasputin’s armpit” (to quote one commentator at the Perfume Posse), but I don’t think most people will. It’s a very pretty spiced amber, and I think it’s extremely evocative of Old Mother Russia. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Ambre Russe is an eau de parfum and is available on Parfum d’Empire’s website where it costs €92 for a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle. In the U.S., you can also find it at Luckyscent which sells the smaller bottle in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size for $75 and the larger 3.4 oz bottle for $110, in addition to a sample for $3. MinNewYork sells that same small 50 ml bottle for $100. Canada’s The Perfume Shoppe sells the large 3.4 oz bottle for $110 but you should contact them for the Canadian price. (The Perfume Shoppe website always confuses me a little.) In Europe, First in Fragrance sells the large 3.4 oz bottle of Ambre Russe for €115, along with samples. In Australia, Libertine carries a few of the Parfum d’Empire line, but not Ambre Russe. For all other countries, you can find a retailer near you using the Store Locator on Parfum d’Empire’s website. To test Ambre Russe for yourself, Surrender to Chance sells samples starting at $3.49 for a 1 ml vial. Parfum d’Empire also offers two different sample sets directly from its own website. The first Mini Sample Set is for 3 fragrances of your choice in 2 ml vials for €6 or €10 (depending on your location) with free shipping, while the Full Sample Set of all 13 Parfum d’Empire fragrances also is for 2 ml vials with free shipping and costs €14 or €22 (for the EU or the rest of the world).
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46 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe: Old Mother Russia

  1. This sounds amazing. Every part of this sounds right up my alley, especially the comparison to Ambre Narguile, which is one of my new-found favorites. I’m interested in the cumin, since I’m not sure I’ve ran across it in my sample purchases. I think I’ll be making a trip to LuckyScent to check this out!

    • Kellilee, you live near Luckyscent???!!! You lucky, lucky, devil!!! If you pop by the Scent Bar, see if they have Alahine by Teo Cabanel. It’s one of my all-time favorites! As for Ambre Narguilé, I really loved the opening to it and think it’s a fabulous boozy amber. It was just that its sheerness was too much in the later hours. Ambre Russe is *significantly* drier, spicier, woodier and more vodka-like than Ambre Narguilé, and the smoke smells quite different too, but you should definitely give it a shot. Let me know what you think when you do! 🙂

      • I only wish I lived near Luckyscent. I’m in the center of the country, so my visiting is strictly online. I did order a sample of this, along with Hedonist. Your reviews sell me every time. 🙂

  2. another fantastically evocative review – I especially like the link with Holy Mother Russia. I too got a connection, if fleeting, with Alahine (check out Ambre Nuit if you like that rose note. I find AR is all about the booziness, as it should be: it’s ambre RUSSE! I also concur with its sheerness, but I find that an advantage, it makes it more versatile. Ambre soie is also sheer, but its patchouli/anise combo keep the amber lively…. thanks again for the entertaining write-up. best regards
    (btw I got married last week and my top three shortlist was – man it was hard to pick – patou homme, derby or opus VI. amouage won 🙂 the compliments were endless. doei!

    • First, and most importantly, CONGRATULATIONS on your wedding!!!! That’s wonderful news, and the fact that you chose Opus VI over even your beloved Derby says a lot! 😀 I will definitely check out Ambre Nuit, as I have a Dior sample here. Ambre Soie is the Armani one, right? I shall look into that. As for Ambre Russe, thank you for the kind words about the review. I have to say, I’m shocked anyone agrees with me about the sheerness. LOL. It also sounds like you share my love for Alahine, so yay for that. 🙂 Again, a huge congratulations on your wedding, Tim! xoxo

      • thanks for the kind words! one of the gifts was a bottle of xerjoff zafar, the most over-the-top oud you can imagine, packaged resplendently. generous friends! the wife has also allowed her perfume-junkie-man to blow some of our gift money on scents, and i’m gunning for PG 22 djhenne, profumi del forte versilia ambra, mdci invasion barbare, and lutens rose de nuit. have you other suggestions, by any chance?

        ambre soie is indeed armani prive and it is absolutely gorgeous – elegant, plush, cozy and discreet (read: sheer). some say its over-priced. nah, killians are over-priced 🙂 bois d’encens is also an armani winner…. i also was thinking of the dior vetiver (finished with the large sample – very clean & round) and may go for that as well since i found out from you that it’s being 86’d. doei!

        • What a generous gift!!!! As for Zafar, I have actually reviewed it, in one of my courtroom drama parodies. I’m afraid it wasn’t for me, but then I’m not a huge oud fan to begin with and it’s a seriously HARDCORE oud! Over the top indeed!

          I bet it gives you a huge smile to write “the wife” because it made *me* smile to read it! 😀 And, I agree, Kilians are hugely over-priced, indeed! I’m afraid I have no other suggestions for you simply because: 1) I don’t know your personal tastes well enough yet or, rather, the full range of it; and 2) I think your tastes are considerably more masculine than mine so you like more hardcore things than I do (the Derby, Alahine & vintage men’s colognes excepted). I do wonder if you’d like the new Tom Ford Sahara Noir that I recently reviewed. Some say it’s like Avignon, but I thought it was like Amber Absolute with oud tossed in. Do you like Birch as a note in perfumes? Have you tried any Andy Tauer fragrances? Perhaps Lonestar Memories? Or, for spices, L’Air du Desert Marocain? Regardless, I hope you let me know what other celebratory treasures you pick up!

  3. You make the opening of this sound absolutely divine…so much so that my fear of cumin was assuaged when I read you describe it as dry dusty powder (that I could handle :)!!). Do you think the anorexic sheerness of the dry down might make this a good summer scent for me?(I tend to prefer more opulent fragrances when the weather is cold). And I have no issues with vodka…in fact I make essential oil blends for my pops with organic vodka as the “alcohol” :D!!!

  4. Naturally, I loved this review. And how I wish I loved this scent. You know how excited I was by it – but it smells terrible to me (or maybe just on me, actually). I feel like objectively I can appreciate it, but when I wear it I feel like I went on a week-long bender without showering. This is probably the only time I’ll say this: how I wish this scent were sheer on me! Or at least sheerer! Alas, this one is not meant for me – though it doesn’t diminish my admiration for PdE, a brand I positively adore.

    I loved your stories of the СССР and your experiences then. In so many ways, so much has changed, but in others, so much is this same. I really would like to go back to Russia again (that was a trip I will never, ever forget for as long as I live and I had the time of my life), but I would also love to visit Ukraine. Thanks for this review – it reminds me of everything I wish this perfume could be on me! 😉

    • “A week-long bender” — hilarious. It sounds like the top notes of vodka (in particular) were really extreme on you. I think my skin tends to amplify bottom notes more, so for me the vodka was actually not extremely long-lasting at all. The champagne was more intensive but even that just ended up being the orange/citrus mixed in with the stewed fruit after an hour. It sounds like Ambre Russe did not play nicely on your skin at all. 😦

      As for the CCCP, I do hope you get to see the Ukraine one day. It was lovely even back then and I imagine even lovelier today.

  5. Nice review, Kafka. I really like that picture of St. Basil’s Cathedral. I also like YOUR back story and truly thank goodness you got out before the accident.

    Have you ever tried Serge Lutens Boxeuses? As I was reading this, I kept thinking BOXEUSES without the amber but definitely with more body. I will need to do a side x side to smell for myself .

    BTW, today I’m in Mitzah as I know I need to make a decision soon!

    • Thank you for your sweet words about the review and about my getting out of the Soviet Union alive and uncontaminated by radioactivity. *grin* 😉 LOL. I think I missed it all by two days, if not 36 hours!! Thank heavens for that boy and his nefarious, dubious hijinks.

      As for Boxeuses, no, I haven’t tried it and don’t have a sample. Based on what you’ve said in the past and here, I am sure I’d love it. And, frankly, I’d rather not lose my heart to another Exclusive that is hard to get (at least, for regular, not massively marked-up prices). But I’m sure I will get around to it eventually. Perhaps if I ever find myself a French perfume mule, I will be more willing to risk heartache. 🙂

  6. Ambre Russe is what I wear in the evening, going out, when it is cooler here. Because I tend to overspray, it’s sheerness is probably a godsend! I adore it, and I do wish it was a bit more opaque, but I still enjoy wearing it!! Thank you for the great review.

    • You’re very welcome, my dear Tora. I’m glad the sheerness works perfectly for your weather!! Over-spraying would as well, in terms of giving it a little more sillage. Good planning!

  7. My niece is in love with all things Russian. She developed some fascination with the country years ago and actually spent a semester of college there. This doesn’t sound like a good scent for her. She’s more a flowers and fruit kind of girl. This might not smell girly enough for her.

  8. Excellent review, Kafka! And I absolutely love the pictures you posted associated with this scent and my home country’s capital Kiev 🙂
    I just recently acquired Ambre Russe after testing it numerous times before I committed to a get a bottle. I love this scent with passion even though it has cumin among its ingredients. I don’t pick up much of a cumin to be honest(yeay lucky me!). I love the dusty feeling of the AR dry down and it’s initial buzziness. I have to try it during warmer months now because I wore it mostly when we still had snow here in the northeast.

    • First, thank you for your sweet words about the review. I thought of you a lot while writing about Kiev and posting that photo. I trust you were somewhat amused by my getting kicked out of your country (in part)? 😉

      As for Ambre Russe, I have a question: you almost always seem to know when you truly love something and you succumb pretty easily or quickly when you do. For example, Sahara Noir. So, what about Ambre Russe made you have to give it numerous tests until you finally made up your mind? On a separate note, I’m glad you didn’t get much cumin. Honestly, I think there is almost nothing in there! But I guess cumin-phobes think that any amount is too much, judging by the “Rasputin’s Armpit” description. *grin*

      • I was amused that you got kicked out of Ukraine actually, but back then it was pretty common for a foreigner to get kicked out as the communism was ruling the nation.
        As for Ambre Russe I love how its notes develope on my skin. I had to test it numerous times because I was afraid that it will have the same effect that Ambre Precieux by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier had, which on my skin smelled old fashioned and not my style at all. Ambre Russe has this amazing dustiness about it that I love.
        With Sahara Noir we clicked right away beacause I love incense and its resemblance with Comme des Garcons Avignon which I love. But to me Sahara Noir was Avignon perfected if that makes any sense.

        • I think the dustiness is very cool because it cuts through the sweetness and prevents it from being like many other ambers that have that similar stewed-fruit and smoke accord. The dustiness also ensures that the (limited) cumin just remains as a powder note, not as anything evoking sweatiness or body odor. (Thank God for that!).

          I’m smiling at how much love is seeping through your words and the screen for Sahara Noir. I’m so happy you adore it so! True perfume love is pretty rare for me, so I’m always thrilled to see it in others. *smooch*

  9. I was not really blown away by this scent, another spicy amber…. But, I love your story about being in Kiev in 1986. How fortunate that you got (thrown) out when you did! I studied Russian in school and went to Russia for the first time in 1992 right after the fall of the Soviet Union and then again in 1994 (and several times since). It really amazes me how the country has changed so much in such a short time. Thanks for sharing!

    • Did you find it a bit anorexic and sheer, too, Dubaiscents? For me, if it had been richer, heavier, deeper and more opaque, I would have gone completely gaga for it. As it is, I liked it — but it was hardly love.

      As for my adventures in the Soviet Union, I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I rarely post about myself, in part because my reviews are bloody long enough as it is! But my time in the CCCP seemed to really fit here, especially as I found the perfume to be so evocative. Perhaps I’ll toss in more of my miscreant adventures around the globe. 😛 Russia in 1992…. quite a Wild West time, there! I hope to hear more about it one day, along with the changes that you’ve seen over time. 🙂

  10. Kafka, again I must wonder if we knew one another in a past life; my close call was being in NYC 48 hours before 9/11 and 2 days before that I was in the basement of the WTC itself. You must have been so relieved in the end to no longer be there when Chernobyl happened. But…about Amber Russie, hearing it’s that boozy only makes me curious. Then again I’m a fragrance lush :). This might be one I need to sample. I love champagne notes, and cognac as well.

    • Good heavens!! Such a close call with regard to 9/11 and the WTC. 😦 Thank God, you weren’t in the latter on the actual day!

      As for Ambre Russe, I think it will be far, far, far too dry for you, based on your personal tastes. The booziness is nothing like that in your beloved SDV. There is very little sweetness with Ambre Russe. Instead, it’s got a dusty, dry feel to it, despite the honey undertones. I really don’t think you’d fall for it, but I always encourage sniffing and perfume curiosity, so if you give it a shot, let me know! 🙂

  11. Great story! It’s one of the great tragedies of the 20th century that the bread basket of the Soviet Union will be a toxic no man’s land for millennia. (I went to the Soviet Union too in 1985…the kids think we make this stuff up for stories but all of the cloak and dagger stuff was real enough).
    Great review! How wonderful a fragrance can bring back so many exciting memories.

    • I’m not surprised your kids think you’re making it up; few people believe my Russia stories either! *grin* It was such an enormously different world back then that I think it’s hard for some to comprehend it. I’d absolutely *love* to hear some of your CCCP stories one day, Grace. As for Chernobyl and the tragedy, I agree. I saw Bourdain’s special on it last year and it’s still such a ravaged wasteland.

      With regard to the Ambre Russe, if you like very boozy (and vodka-booze more than rum booze) fragrances that are also very dry, then I think you should definitely try to give Ambre Russe a sniff. 🙂

  12. It was very amusing to read your story: everything sounds just about right, I didn’t witness any of these myself but heard on more than one occasion.

    As to the perfume, once again I have a feeling we are testing different scents 🙂 I love Ambre Russe and will buy a bottle when my decant is gone. It’s so rich and … well, the oposite of sheer that I can’t even think of wearing when it’s warm. It’s really bizarre what skin chemistry does to our perfume perception!

    • Chemistry is definitely one factor but, when it comes to the issue of sheerness, I suspect another reason is at play for the difference in our perception. All the people here who have written that they also found it sheer, along with all my personal friends who have written to me elsewhere about the perfume, are people who wear significantly heavier perfumes on a daily basis. In other words, the tent poles on the spectrum of “sheer to heavy” is very different. Or, to put it more simply, their baseline norm is different. 🙂

      • I concur totally with this riff on relativity. Plus, it is a very boozy fragrance. Spirits evaporate, leaving behind an impression of its former weight. That is my take on the sheerness of AR. Ambre Soie, for a non-boozy example, is sheer (to me) because the anise makes a strong initial statement then backs off enough to let a light patchouli subtly hover in the fore. To me, ‘light’ & ‘sheer’ are different applied to fragrance. Chanel Pour Monsieur is sheer, Eau de Cologne is light. I guess…. 🙂

  13. Your mom must have been so relieved to have you home, regardless of the circumstances! I remember Chernobyl. I never gave a thought to what it would mean to have to leave your home and never go back — not because of political reasons, but because it would be so hazardous to your health — until then.

    As for AR, I need to give it another sniff. I like foodie scents and I like leather a lot and wonder how long it would last on my skin (I only smelled it on paper).

    • Do you have a sample still of Ambre Russe? I think you’d like it but it’s not really a foodie scent. Boozy as in strong alcohol vibes (and not in the usual, traditional “rum” sort of booziness), yes, but foodie? No, it’s far, far too dry for that. It’s one of the things I like about it — how it’s not very sweet at all.

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  18. Loved the tales of your adventures in Russia, and how fortunate that you left the country before the Chernobyl tragedy, I wasn´t even born back then 🙂 . You were able to see the remnants of the dying Soviet Union before it became free from the tyranny, and you got to experience such an interesting country. I have never been to Russia but I would love to go (preferably in Summer lol) , I have heard that old Russia is grandiose and would love to see it. However what did you mean when you said that the telephones had bugs in them? Real bugs crawling in them or am I being dumb? Or were they microphones, as if to follow and spy on private conversations? Either of the two options are crazy! And I find so romantic the wooden medieval house, I have seen many in other parts of Europe but never stayed in a medieval building in the middle of the forest, have only stayed in medieval buildings in cities or villages, your experience sounds like a movie 🙂 . About the perfume, it sounds promising and I hope I personally get to experience it too, although I do worry that it could be too overwhelming on the alcohol, and I don´t drink any at all, but still this sounds like it´s worth trying. Kafka, after this crazy trip, have you ever been back to Russia?

    • No, alas, I’ve never been back, though I’d like to, one day. As for the “bugs,” I’m referring to electronic listening devices. This was the Cold War era and the ’80s, so it was a bit less crazy than it would sound now. 🙂 My favorite part of the trip was all the historical stuff, from Lenin’s tomb and the palaces, to the incredibly old churches and stunning icons. Icons everywhere, to the point that you almost become immune to their golden beauty! It was really something special. I have to wonder if Russia today would be anything quite like the Russia frozen in time behind the Iron Curtain and without a host of outside influences or huge modernity. I suspect not….

    • For a pure, hardcore, amber soliflore, I adore Ambra Aurea pretty much above all the rest for its density and richness. However, it is an *ambergris* scent, with all that that term implies, and not a labdanum amber or even regular basic “amber” (which is usually vanillic and with benzoin). Ambergris is a whole other kettle of fish! 🙂 And Profumum Roma’s fragrances have crazy longevity, even on my skin. Easily 12-16 hours, while for some people, it’s way more.

      For spicy Oriental, hmm… that depends. I really *ADORE* Alahine which is a super boozy, spicy oriental floral that turns into a soft, non-skanky Bal à Versailles. For labdanum-amber-patchouli, I love Mitzah. But for really molten, spicy, complex, multi-faceted oriental, then the chypre-leather-amber fragrance, Puredistance M, may be my favorite. Unfortunately, that one is super expensive. But a little goes a long way. Most of those fragrances have about 3 times as much forcefulness, richness or heaviness than the Ambre Russe which, seriously, I thought was an Eau de TOILETTE!

      Look into Ambra Aurea, and then its less dense, more traditional amber sister, Fiore d’Ambra. Both are from Profumum Roma, and have reviews in this blog. Then, consider and read the Alahine review if you don’t mind a floral component. I hope that helps, my dear. 🙂

      • I am going to do the sensible thing and get some samples as I have broken my personal bank for fragrances this month. I also love Mitzah ,which in my mind, almost seems like Opium in the beginnng.. Am I crazy?
        Ambre Russe I’m sure would die on me. I wouldn’t want to waste the money Thanks for your thoughtful help, yet again.

        • I think sampling a perfume is almost ALWAYS the best route, regardless of one’s budget. Skin chemistry is simply too tricky from scent to scent. As for Mitzah, I don’t see a lot of similarity to Opium myself, because, on me, the openings are very different. Opium has clove, lots of juicy fruits, bergamot on my skin in the opening phase. What could be happening is that your skin is amplifying the basenotes in both perfumes, because Opium’s core is — in part — incense, labdanum and patchouli. The big difference to me is the rich Mysore sandalwood in (vintage) Opium’s core, which Mitzah doesn’t have. But clearly, your skin is another one that amplifies base notes. 🙂

          Re. Ambre Russe, I don’t think it would necessarily die on you, let alone quickly. But it is very sheer in feel and density. It’s much more airy than heavily opaque, if that makes sense. Your best bet for something molten in richness and weight would definitely be a Profumum fragrance as they generally clock in at 43%-46% concentration — which is simply astounding given that most Eau de Parfums are around 15%-18%!

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