The sensuous slither of limbs. The expanse of a man’s chest, heated and lightly musky. The slow seduction of a dance that is always completely refined, just hinting at the passion below. The heated languor of the tango is what comes to mind when I wear Ambre Nuit, an incredibly sensuous but highly refined fragrance from Dior‘s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) For me, everything about Ambre Nuit calls to mind the Latin tango — from the rhythm of its developing notes, to its mood, to the sensuality that almost borders on the overt but which, ultimately, is too refined and elegant to really cross the line.
Ambre Nuit was released in 2009, the creation of François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior. Dior categorizes the fragrance as an “amber woody floral,” and provides the following description:
A mysterious fragrance, inspired by the baroque atmosphere and balls of the 18th century, which left their marks on Christian Dior. The tale of a Rose seduced by carnal Amber, which together unveil an unexpected profound, intense and elusive scent.
Describing Ambre Nuit as a “rose” fragrance might be little misleading, in my personal opinion. It is most definitely not that on my skin for the majority of its development, nor for many others. In fact, I would say that “rose” is almost the least of things I experienced with this smoky, woody, amber fragrance. Dior’s list of notes include:
Bergamot di Calabria, Turkish Damascus Rose Essence, New Zealand Ambergris, Gaiac Wood, Cedar Wood and Patchouli.
Fragrantica adds pink peppercorns; Ozmoz adds spices and balsam notes; and I would toss in both frankincense and myrrh. The real key, however, is the ambergris which is a whole other olfactory animal than the regular amber used in the majority of perfumery. A very rare, astronomically expensive ingredient, ambergris has a strong, salty-sweet character that is always sensual, often slightly musky, occasionally a little animalic, and usually so creamily rich that it can border on ambered caramel.
Ambre Nuit opens on my skin with sweet, refined patchouli, followed by sun-warmed bergamot and pink peppercorns. Unlike the patchouli note in many commercial fragrances, nothing here smells like the sharp, plastic-y, highly synthetic ingredient that is always painfully loaded with purple fruitness. Though the patchouli smells a little grape-y at first, it is a very refined, subtle aroma that is actually a little black in nature. It has a smokiness that would imply incense as a hidden note, something that is borne out later by the rest of Ambre Nuit’s development. From the start, though, something about the patchouli and smoke accord in Ambre Nuit reminds me of Chanel‘s gorgeous, glorious Coromandel from its Exclusifs collection.
The pink peppercorns in Ambre Nuit differ slightly in aroma from that used in commercial, mainstream perfumery. They have a fiery, spicy edge that evokes red, chili or pimento peppers, instead of something wholly fruity in nature. (The excessive, pink peppercorn and patchouli combination in Marc Jacobs‘ Lola comes to mind when thinking of things that Ambre Nuit does not resemble!) Here, the pepper infuses the subtle, muted rose note, along with the patchouli, turning the flower into something red, rich, and darkened. Yet, the rose is never so syrupy or sweet as to feel jammy and fruited; it’s too smoky and dry for that.
All the main top notes sit upon a base of beautifully dry, rich, nuanced woods with amber. The accord is smoky from the gaiac; peppered and aromatic from the cedar; and burnished to a soft, rich edge from the ambergris. The latter feels very much like the real stuff with its salty, musky facets. Here, however, the ambergris also has a subtle undertone of something that is simultaneously honeyed and almost boozy. I suspect the combination of the patchouli, peppercorns, and ambergris is responsible for the almost cognac-like, liqueured undercurrents running through Ambre Nuit.
Ambre Nuit’s nuances in the early stage really show themselves best when a large quantity is applied, but there are dangers with that, as well. I tried the perfume twice, with the first test consisting of one, medium-ish smear, and the second entailing about 2.5 very large ones. With the smaller quantity, it’s harder to detect the full range of the perfume’s layers; Ambre Nuit is so well-blended that it ends up becoming just a single, very smooth, almost abstract, smoky, woody, ambery bouquet after the first thirty to forty minutes. With a larger dose, you can see more of the nuances in the fragrance, but then the pink peppercorns can verge a little on the over-bearing. For me, at least, it was a little sharp, unbalanced, and just tipping towards the screechy category. It wasn’t a problem at all with the smaller dose, so I suspect one has to go the Goldilocks’ route and try for a dose in the middle. Regardless of quantity, in its opening half hour, Ambre Nuit is a beautiful, very potent blend of smoky, liqueured, salty-sweet amber, with dry woods and a quiet touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from the peppers and a little sweet from the patchouli.
What fascinates me, however, is the patchouli and incense combination in Ambre Nuit. I am convinced that there is incense in the perfume. It is as though Dior decided to do a variation of the note in its divine Mitzah, another smoky, oriental, rose-based perfume, but Dior opted to combine incense with ambergris in lieu of Mitzah’s labdanum. Ambre Nuit has the exact same sort of subtle smokiness in the base. The patchouli is a perfect accompaniment to both elements: it’s a little 1970s, hippie-ish, except it’s so refined in Ambre Nuit that it lacks any skanky, musty, musky, pothead-type of dirtiness. Underlying the smoky, salty, sweet notes is an unexpected honey tone that must come from the ambergris. It has subtle beeswax nuance to it as well, which just adds to the richness and depth of the base.
Thirty minutes into Ambre Nuit’s development, the woody notes start to rise to the surface. Gaiac can sometimes have a slightly tarry, asphalt-like character, while at other times, it can smell like burning leaves. Here, both aspects lurk under the creamy, soft, smooth wood. When combined with the incense notes in Ambre Nuit, it serves to create a wonderfully dry accord that counterbalances any sweetness from the patchouli and offsets any heaviness from the ambergris.
There is something extremely sensuous about the combination of notes in Ambre Nuit that consistently make me think of an Argentinian tango between heated dancers in some smoky, dark room — except they are dressed in the most refined, elegant, couture outfits. The ambergris’ special, unique features evoke the warmth of heated, slightly musky skin that has been rendered just the faintest bit salty from sweat. The incense conjures up the smoky, dark feel of those dance rooms, while the gaiac and cedar replicate the incredibly smooth, wooden floors that the dancers glide across. The rose note is nothing more than a mere accessory, as inconsequential as the flower in a dancer’s hair, and hardly a significant part of the scent on my skin, especially as Ambre Nuit continues. All the notes, however, are very smooth and refined, thereby ensuring that Ambre Nuit stays a level above the many, mainstream, commercial scents that have similar elements. I must confess, though, I worry a little about those pink peppercorns which could have been handled with a slightly softer touch. They are the only thing that tarnish Ambre Nuit’s more sophisticated balance.
At the end of the first hour, Ambre Nuit is a gorgeous, smoky ambergris perfume. There is a sweet-salty creaminess which is infused by incense, a light flicker of warm musk, a dash of honey, and a tinge of beeswax — all atop very dry, smoky woods. The patchouli has melted into the ambergris, adding to its rich sweetness. And the rose has completely vanished. As a whole, Ambre Nuit is a little too potent in its sillage in the early hours to be called “airy,” but it has a very plush feel that is as rich as velvet. And, yet, it is not opaque, heavy, or unctuous in any way.
Ambre Nuit never changes in its core essence, but some of its notes fluctuate in prominence. Around the middle of the second hour, the peppery gaiac wood takes the lead, followed by the ambergris, then the smoke, and trailed much further behind by the patchouli. The end of the third hour, however, sees the patchouli join the smoky woods and ambergris in a three-way tie. The whole thing is sweet, salty, smoky, a little bit musky, and absolutely beautiful. Again, the subtle similarities to Chanel‘s Coromandel raise their head for me. Ambre Nuit is significantly woodier and drier, and lacks the delicate, white cocoa powder, benzoin, and vanilla undertones of Coromandel. Yet, oddly enough, the patchouli in Ambre Nuit has taken on a distinctly chocolate-like nuance at its base, though it’s more akin to a gooey, dark chocolate ganache than the airy, white cocoa powder of Coromandel. Still, the way both fragrances are so infused with smoky incense and patchouli, that they feel like very distant cousins.
Ambre Nuit slowly grows closer to the skin, turning softer and more ambered in focus. Around the end of sixth hour, there is an odd quirk which occurred during both tests: the smoke takes on a soapy, white character that reminds me of myrrh. It only lasts about forty minutes, but it was noticeable enough to make me sit up on both occasions and think that the incense had become very churchy. It quickly fades, leaving Ambre Nuit’s remaining and final notes in the drydown phase as an abstract amber that is simultaneously a little dry, a little sweet from the final flickers of patchouli, and a little musky.
Like all of Dior’s Privée fragrances, Ambre Nuit has excellent longevity on my perfume-consuming skin and generally moderate sillage. Ambre Nuit lasted just under 8.5 hours on me with a single, medium-ish smear, and over 11.75 hours with 2.5 large ones. The sillage is significantly greater than some of the other Dior Privée fragrances, no doubt due to the impact of the patchouli which is always a more projecting ingredient. With the larger dose, Ambre Nuit wafted a good 4 inches above my skin for the first hour, thereafter dropping and becoming slightly less. But it took a whole 8 hours before it became a skin scent. If you work in a conservative office environment, I would suggest not spraying with abandon, especially as aerosolisation can increase a perfume’s potency. (Plus, there is that whole issue of needing to create a delicate balance with the pink peppercorns.)
Ambre Nuit is extremely well-liked, with raves on Fragrantica and elsewhere about its sophisticated, refined, opulent and very versatile nature. Interestingly, for some, like the Candy Perfume Boy, Ambre Nuit is much more of an oriental rose fragrance, calling to mind Le Labo‘s woody Rose 31, only with a slightly powdery undertone to the floral note. He adores it, and calls it “utterly fabulous.” For me, Rose 31 was mostly peppery cedar, with massive amounts of ISO E Super and a very muted rose, while Ambre Nuit had no powder at all — clearly, skin chemistry makes a difference. On Fragrantica, the talk isn’t about the powder, but about differing experiences with the rose. For some, it only appears midway during the perfume’s development, while others find it noticeable as a rich, aromatic rose from the start. There is also quite a bit of talk about the incense in the fragrance, too, with one commentator reaching the same conclusion that I did: both incense and myrrh must be part of Ambre Nuit. Others find the opening of Ambre Nuit to be both bright and significantly more citrus-like in focus than it was for me, with zesty grapefruit and bright bergamot.
Regardless of the variations, almost everyone adores Ambre Nuit and, for some, it is the best of the Dior Privée line. I don’t love Ambre Nuit as much as I adore its sibling — the labdanum-incense beauty that is Mitzah — but then, there aren’t a ton of things I like as much as Mitzah. Still, I definitely think it is worth checking out if you are a fan of easy, accessible amber fragrances. It’s not a revolutionary, edgy, unique amber fragrance; and it’s not a heavily spiced or very unctuous, opaque, fully baroque one, either. But it’s not meant to be any of those things.
Dior’s signature perfume style is to create incredibly smooth, refined, well-blended, generally unisex fragrances that take a slightly typical combination of notes, and raise it to a higher, almost couture-like level through the best ingredients and superior crafting. Dior is intentionally trying to create very accessible fragrances, but it wants them to be the height of refinement, sophistication, and discreet elegance. Ambre Nuit is no exception, though the fragrance is significantly more powerful than its softer, more unobtrusive, but equally elegant, siblings. (With great caution in spraying, Ambre Nuit might be appropriate for some conservative office environments.) For some who seek a more revolutionary, perhaps more unique bent to their amber fragrances, Ambre Nuit will probably be a little safe and little uninteresting. But I doubt they’d argue with its silky smooth nature, or with its luxurious undertones. As an added bonus, Ambre Nuit is almost cheap per ounce, relatively speaking, given the quality and the enormous size that Dior provides for its “small” version. The perfume costs $155 for a whopping 4.25 oz/125 ml — almost a full ounce more than the normal “large” version of most perfumes. (You should see the truly large Dior size at a behemoth 15.2 oz or 450 ml! You could use it as a cudgel or weapon!)
For me, what distinguishes Ambre Nuit from some other ambers on the market is the glorious sensuality of its rare ambergris. When combined with the incense, the smoky, sweet-salty result is damn sexy. Watch the video below, listen to the music and how it undulates in different tempos, and see the lithe, swaying, connected bodies move. That’s Ambre Nuit for me.