ISIPCA perfumer teacher Isabelle Doyen and art director for the Goutal brand Camille Goutal have proven their flair for the concept of an "oriental" perfume mainly through the collection Les Orientalistes some years ago. A trio of worthwhile scents came out in 2007 including Ambre Fetiche Encens Flamboyant and Myrrhe Ardente. The collection was augmented in 2008 with Musc Nomade a firm favorite of mine in the stakes of intimate musk fragrances. Their current output on the orientalist theme for their more upscale line Les Absolus(there's also Vanille Charnelle and 1001 Ouds) leaves me rather hesitant as to how much this is a corporate decision rather than an artistic one; especially taking into consideration the details surrounding Ambre Sauvage.
One look at the luxurious packaging and the price asked (195 euros for 75ml of eau de parfum) suggests a target audience of wealthy patrons shopping for posh gifts; Cartier lighters and Tiffany's more serious silver pieces engraved for the ocassion. This is undoubtedly true for most niche fragrance brands nowadays; just look at the Section d'Or by Serge Lutens (including L'Incidiaire and all the others) with its stratospheric prices! It's not an easy to digest truth for readers of perfume blogs and fora but it is nonetheless true enough and one should at one point make peace with the facts.
But what about the scent?
Sauvage (i.e. wild) is a name brandished a lot in 2015 because of the masculine fragrance launch of the same name by Christian Dior and LVMH. Loosely based on part of the name of the classic Eau Sauvage from the 1960s the modern Sauvage is anything but. Similarly Ambre Sauvage (Wild Amber) by Annick Goutal is not to be taken literally.
Amber by its own makeup is a scent produced by the synergy of two colliding forces; the dark resinous id of labdanum/cistus and the malleable softness of vanillin super-ego. I have elsewhere described how some ambers seem to be like child-POV engulfing hugs by well meaning aunts; too much of a good thing. Thankfully the refined French aesthetic of Doyen and Goutal ensure that their manipulation of the materials is never saturated. The raw materials become in their hands building blocks of a gouache where the colors melt into one another to the point where you can't quite discern where one begins and one ends. Doyen and Goutal have argued that basing their concept on the etymology of raw materials is a whole different ball game than working on memories; memories can only go as far in the pursuit of olfactory accuracy. By following the material's arc one can direct themselves into a mapped out path and deviate knowingly.
This is at once grace and irony in this case nevertheless: with sauvage in the name one expects something untamed and untramelled even by the codes of gallic civility and correct navigation. Neither the inclusion of patchouli (a lightly chypre facet) nor the wink of a leather-animalic quality in the top notes evoke a wildness that would be out of place in a salon. Ambre Sauvage is a classic refined amber rather than a poet maudit. Unlike Ambre Sultan by Lutens with its uncinventional aromatic impression of a Moroccan dish the Goutal fragrance is quite Parisian.
These two elements (leather and patchouli) do lend nevertheless a sophisticated character that cuts it above the soup of sameness among many ambres in the niche market. A delicious cooling smoke-chocolate hint recalls the treatment of lavender drawn through to its caramelic end of the spectrum in Doyen's L'Eau de Lavande for Annick Goutal many many years ago... The more Ambre Sauvage dries down the more it declaws itself; thanks to vanilla absolute coming forth creamy and smooth and mouthwatering but never cloyingly sweet. And it's perfect on a man as well. It's hard to dislike Ambre Sauvage.
Furthermore Ambre Sauvage smells dangerously close to Ambre Fetiche. Although the latter is among the better ambers out there (and one of the ambers I personally wear for that very reason) the launch of the former at this point in time suggests that a rather more concentrated edition with obviously high end packaging is meant to aim at more moneyied customers. Not necessarily more discerning ones. One might want to make peace with the facts at last.