Ambre Russe.

I’m a fan of the French niche fragrance line Parfum d’Empire. Most of their scents are interesting at the least, and they are all created around the theme of famous empires, which is politically incorrect in the extreme.  Visiting their website gives you the opportunity to purchase a set of samples of all their fragrances for 22 euros. Mine arrived along with a lovely handwritten thank-you note from one Elodie. All the scents are created by Pd’E’s founder and nose Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, a man with an immediately obvious talent for olfactory storytelling.

They range from amazing (the incense and pine darkness of Wazamba; the heartbreakingly delicate Osmanthus Interdite; the Napoleon-worthy Eau Gloire) to pedestrian (Trois Fleurs, a seen-’em-once-seen-’em-all floral; Iskander, a blasé eau de cologne that it’s namesake Alexander the Great wouldn’t have given a second glance to) to the weird (Aziyadé, an Indian-restaurant gourmand in the manner of Serge Lutens’ Arabie; Cuir Ottoman, a leather with a curiously addictive rubbery note), but the undisputed champion of them all is  Ambre Russe.


The claimed notes include tea, incense, vodka, champagne, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ambergris, vanilla, and leather.  Starts off with a magnificently boozy blast of vodka, but it’s the smell you get when you’re pouring yourself a top-shelf shot like Finlandia or Grey Goose, not the stale scent of cocktail breath. It disappears in minutes to reveal the most luxurious, decadent amber I’ve ever smelled, and yet it’s not heavy like some ambers can be. Spiced with smoke, cumin, cardamom and tea, Ambre Russe reveals more with every passing hour. It does not have the dry, woodsy quality of Ambra del Nepal, nor the lip-smacking sweetness of Ambre Narguile (although it is faintly sweet) nor the strong herbiness of Ambre Sultan. I would not reserve this for nights out…when applied judiciously, it makes a marvelous daytime scent in cool weather. (If you’re on your way to work, perhaps wait a minute for the vodka note to cool off.) Lasts a good long time and leaves your clothes smelling heavenly. The drydown is a sweetly sensual and warm skin scent.

Ambre Russe lives up to its name: it’s both ambery and very Russian, in a nostalgic upper-class caviar and silver samovar way. You can imagine a czar or grand duchess wearing it. It’s unisex enough for a confident man, but anyone of any gender with an amber fetish will immediately have a swooning fit after inhaling this.

Unusually for a niche fragrance house, Pd’E products are not stratospherically priced. 50ml bottles are US$75 at Luckyscent, while 100mls comes in at a relatively gentle US$110. Beautyhabit also sells them.

Aussies, as usual are screwed both in availability and price: Libertine Parfumerie sells the Pd’E range but seems to be out of Ambre Russe. 50mls of most variants is priced at a cool AU$150.  I’d probably order through one of the US vendors listed above.



  1. cabrogal

    When I got back from India in 1988 I gifted several of my female friends with vials of Mysore sandlewood oil and intricately carved soapstone containers I’d packed with perfume amber (I’d had a huge lump of it thrown in as part of a deal on a bulk purchase of jewellery amber I’d made).

    One of them used them to set up a home perfume lab (along with a whole lot of other stuff she bought like vanilla, spice and citrus essences) that she used to customise scents as gifts to her friends.

    I’m no judge of that sort of thing but my then girlfriend reckoned they were brilliant and they were much in demand among the girls who received them.

    • Sasha

      Cabro if you still have any of that, hang onto it. Mysore sandalwood is extremely endangered nowadays and the Indian government has embargoed its harvesting and export until the forests are replenished. It can barely be purchased for any amount of money, and most “Sandalwood” fragrances nowadays are made with either Australian sandalwood (completely different species) or synthetics.

      • cabrogal

        Sorry, gave it all away within a few weeks of getting home in 1988.

        I’m pretty sure it was authentic too. I spent weeks in Mysore doing my research before I purchased and it was of clearly different viscosity and smell to the stuff on sale in the tourist chowks. And several times the price.

        BTW, the sandlewood oil was well sealed, but my backpack smelled of amber for years.

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