Ambre Narguile Eau de Toilette by Hermès Review
I spent a long while deliberating between trying this one and some spin-off like Parfums de Marly’s Oajan or House of Oud’s Dates Delight. I’m glad I went for the original, and now I know this is a type of scent that might just not be for me.
The first time I wore Hermès’ Hermessence Ambre Narguile, I was nauseous, annoyed, and a little revolted. It was a middling autumn day, not very warm but not desperately cold. This, I suspect was my mistake. I’ve since learned Ambre Narguile is entirely stifling and obnoxious to me in anything but freezing cold weather.
The perfume was more true to the name than I had anticipated based on the reviews: though I have never knowingly smelled a nargile, Ambre Narguile smells less like real food-and-spice smells and more like the sort of candle or air freshener type of fragrance that is added to many tobacco products to hide their stench.
Without the reference for a nargile, my mind wanders instead to vape pens, releasing steam scented with extracts and spices trying to smell like apple caramel or bubblegum or mint, and succeeding only in smelling like a heavy, waxy, slightly chemical version of that scent.
For me, Ambre Narguile lies in the uncanny valley of food scents: it doesn’t quite smell like real food and spices, and it doesn’t smell like perfume. I’m left uneasily assessing this as something like a candle or a room spray, or perhaps a scent for those scented wax cubes you can melt, or a vape product flavor.
I could smell cinnamon, rum, a texture of caramel, and so much sweetness that I imagine is supposed to be honey, but all these were executed in such an unrealistic chemical manner that felt nothing like real food or like something meant to be worn on skin.
I also detected an undercurrent of tobacco, making the scent a bit darker and heavier, along with an odd dash of sesame, adding more heaviness, but not more darkness, almost like a faraway slice of bread. Beyond that, I found Ambre Narguile to be an overdose of sweetness with cloying candle-like warm spices.
“This is no realistic vanilla, coumarin, tonka, but a cloying expired Yankee candle on sale after Christmas,” I thought.
Overall, projection was very faint. The late drydown cinnamon was dusty, artificial, and still over-sweet, and hung on an infuriatingly long time, more than some 24 hours on my skin (although the scent only really meaningfully projects and evolves the first six or so).
This drydown reminded me just a little of Diptyque’s Eau Lente, which in turn had reminded me of a dusty old shop near me full of moldy carpet that sells hookah, graphic tees, and miscellaneous tchotchkes. It is dusty, old, moldy, an artificial sweetness meant to hide something else in a very old room. The hookah association brings me back to the smoking nargiles.
On me, the stories of pure Christmas apple pie scent just weren’t accurate. Believe the copy: this is the smell of a scented tobacco product, built to crudely cover up smoke and stench with artificial, over-sweet cinnamon. It’s not for me, I decided, but if plenty of sweetness and the world of candle-like artificial-smelling scents doesn’t bother a person, this could be delightful to them.
I pulled our Ambre Narguile over a year later, on the winter solstice, a biting cold snowy day. And now… I think I understand the use case for Ambre Narguile.
In the biting cold, Ambre Narguile feels fresh and inviting. I get an apple note that’s the most pleasant apple note I’ve ever smelled: it’s fresh and juicy, the way you can smell that overripe smell when you put the skin of an old red or yellow apple to your nose. It’s like an apple that’s been sliced open and left out for a few hours, softening and browning in a way that makes it so much more of a dessert, decadent and just a little bit gross.
Sure, there’s no apple note actually listed here, but everyone and their mother smells something they call apple pie in Ambre Narguile, right? Let’s not pretend. There’s something in here that’s clearly fruity in an apple or cherry direction, if only in that a perfect apple-or-cherry-shaped hole is built into the pyramid.
In the snapping cold, there’s a fresh juiciness to Ambre Narguile that was sorely needed to make this tolerable, balancing and lightening up the heavier side of things. The arrangement of sweet and spicy notes around it, I must begrudgingly admit, feels masterful and refined. There’s infinitely more subtlety, nuance, and texture going on here than in a copy like Parfum de Marly’s Oajan.
This is less dainty and airy than most Hermès fragrance releases, but it’s got enough depth to it to still fit in with the rest of their releases and the Hermessence line in particular.
I think what I find most offensive in Ambre Narguile is that cinnamon note. It’s a little bit of overkill to me. It feels too loud, too artificial, to brazenly candle-sweet and waxy. It’s essential to the soul of Ambre Narguile, but, to me, it’s also a little nauseating in all its over-sweet artificial glory.
That odd sesame note might be part of what makes this feel weird to me, too. It’s a stroke of genius. It adds this sort of “bread note” that really brings out all the mental associations of baked goods and apple and cherry pies. It gives Ambre Narguile substance, depth, heft. But that heft can also be a little much at times, at least to me, when paired with the strong sweetness and overbearing cinnamon.
The benzoin here is also very resinous and balsamic. It’s less of a general warm vanillic scent and more of a pointed resin scent à la very sweet brown opoponax or pungent medicinal myrrh.
Still, in the depths of winter, I’ll admit I enjoyed wearing Ambre Narguile to the office. It’s too sweet for me — I couldn’t wear something like this regularly — but now I can see the appeal.
This is the most balanced, refined, multi-dimensional cinnamon-apple-pie scent out there. I get cinnamon, that fresh apple-like juiciness, a solid dose of caramel, and a bread-like texture of sesame.
Vanilla and coumarin (and tonka bean, which is 90% coumarin: I have no idea what the point is of perfumers effectively listing the same note several times over) shape the overall sweet-baked-treat-ness of Ambre Narguile, but this is never a vanillin-dominant scent: no, the cinnamon is too in control for that.
Benzoin adds a touch of resinous contemplation to the background of the scent, while labdanum and musk soften and smooth the layers of sweetness. Honey and rum? I don’t really get anything that really specifically feels like honey or rum, nor boozy at all, really, but I’d believe they’re blended in there somewhere, making up the bulk of the sugar content in this sweet, sticky mess.
And tobacco? I honestly don’t get very much of it here at all. Maybe it’s in there somewhere, way under the pile of cinnamon apple pies, but I’m not picking it up.
And orchid? Don’t make me laugh. Besides not even being a real floral note, since orchids don’t smell like anything, I don’t get anything remotely floral here, and haven’t read a review from anyone who has. Which I think is a good thing: it would have been an odd and jarring contrast, a sickly-sweet pink floral diversion in the midst of a scent that’s already sweet enough.
I often like to check what the Ukrainian community has to say about a perfume as I write a review. Often, what we smell in a perfume is shaped by our cultural surroundings and what we’ve seen other people say they smell, creating odd cultural echo chambers where, if you switch the language on a fragrance review site, suddenly people are talking about different notes entirely.
I can understand smelling apples here — as can many other English-language reviewers — but cherries aren’t the association I honestly think of in Amber Narguile. There’s nothing in here that’s almond-like, or marzipan-like, or cherry-cough-syrup-ish.
In short, there’s nothing here like a stereotypical cherry note, but I can see how this might remind someone of real overripe cherries, or cherry compote, or drunk cherry candies filled with cherries soaked in rum.
Ambre Narguile does also have the shape of the omnipresent warm vanillic Russian colognes of the Soviet Union days. I know my mom would smell Ambre Narguile and exclaim in mock salesman admiration, as she often does for such scents, “Русские духи!” — simply, “Russian perfumes.” This does, indeed, feel a lot like a traditional Russian sweet-spicy-vanillin scent, more than most.
As mentioned, Ambre Narguile hangs around an impressively long time, some twelve to twenty-four hours easily, though it’s a very intimate skin scent for most of that time. It’s in the same boat as Gucci’s Mémoire d’une Odeur: I can’t complain it doesn’t last long, since it technically does, but it’s very faint and close to the skin for most of that time.
Still, with the old spray-the-neck-and-wear-a-cloth-mask trick, I was getting wafts ventilating upwards and percolating through my nasal cavities all day at work, which is good enough for me. Impressive for an Eau de Toilette. And, I’ll admit, while too sweet, I did find it pleasantly warm and comforting. It’s a scent that’s perfect for cold weather, a ray of sugary cheer that feels just right for Christmas and the winter holiday season.
Fine, Jean-Claude Ellena. You win again. I find Ambre Narguile kind of gross, but I can also see how it’s a masterful work and why it’s beloved by many.
Though I’d originally thought I’d never break out this perfume again, I’m thinking I at least need to hold onto my sample and wear it a couple more times this winter. I’m looking forward to wearing this one around my boyfriend. It seems like the sort of sweet gourmand scent that’s really easy for most people to love on a romantic partner.
Ambre Narguile is both versatile and not in that it doesn’t fit in any of the buckets for traditional scent settings. This doesn’t smell like an office scent, or a date night scent, or a formal scent. It just smells like a super sweet cinnamon apple pie. You could definitely get away with wearing it all those places, especially on a date.
You can wear this wherever you want and it won’t be the typical thing anyone expects, but people will probably love it. The sky’s the limit. (The pie’s the limit?)
Is it worth the absolutely atrocious Hermessence price tag? To me, absolutely not. But I’m not a gourmand or sweet perfume gal.
If you really love sweet cinnamon apple pie scents and you want the most refined, intricate, famous one out there, this is it. Look no further than Ambre Narguile. I’ve since smelled a couple of others that are pleasant but rudimentary copies, mere cinnamon and little else. This is the most textured, layered cinnamon gourmand scent I’ve smelled. It’s the original, and it’s so beloved (and expensive) for a reason.
Honestly, a lot of the copies of Ambre Narguile, like Parfums de Marly’s Oajan and By Killian’s Angel’s Share (though that one’s at least got some original woody boozy things going on that make it unique), are also pretty expensive. So I wouldn’t even recommend picking one of those as a slightly worse but much cheaper dupe. No, if you really want to spend the big bucks on sweet cinnamon apple pie, this is what you want.
If you don’t really like sweet or gourmand perfumes, save your wallet and skip this one. But if you do, and you’re craving a warm cinnamon apple pie with texture and depth, Ambre Narguile is the very best.
Where to Find Ambre Narguile Eau de Toilette by Hermès
You can find samples and decants of Ambre Narguile EdT at Scent Split.
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