Since 1999, when Guerlain introduced the Aqua Allegoria collection, most of the brand’s new fragrances have come as part of a series. Having series of perfumes, rather than just single perfumes, allows brands to perform a high speed of new launches (at Guerlain it’s ten new formulas per year) all the while keeping bottle design and marketing expenses to a minimum, as well as the catalogue well-structured and easy to understand for the customer. In 2015 alone, seven out of ten new fragrances were members of a group: La Petite Robe Noire Eau Fraîche, Aqua Allegoria Teazzurra, L’Homme Idéal Cologne, Shalimar Cologne, Habit Rouge Dress Code, and the two bridal fragrances, Le Bouquet de la Mariée and Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie.

With the advent of Ambre Éternel, marketed as a sequel to Santal Royal, Guerlain invents a new series called Les Absolus d’Orient, with more scents to come. These scents, like Les Déserts d’Orient, are intended for the Middle Eastern market, but at less than half the milliliter price. This market is currently a primary focus of LVMH, whose marketing teams know that people in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf perceive European luxury goods as status symbols. They also know that Arabs aren't attracted to classic European perfumes, especially not the vanillic orientals; living in an extremely hot climate, they want strong woody and spicy scents.

To most Guerlain fans Santal Royal felt like a departure from the brand’s well-known velvety signature, as it came with a rough boisé sec type accord, typical of modern men’s scents, mixed with rose and fruity notes, and not much sandalwood. By contrast, while Ambre Éternel has some notes in common with Santal Royal, notably the masculine base, it does have a connection to its namesake ingredient. In perfumery, the term amber usually refers to one of two things: ambergris (a soft-smelling tincture of a rare material that floats on the sea after being disgorged by sperm whales), and the amber accord (a blend of balsamic resins, commonly used for incense since antiquity). Ambre Éternel contains both of these ingredients. Ambery notes are clearly linked to the Guerlain history, as Aimé and Jacques Guerlain used them extensively, and many perfume historians regard Shalimar as the epitome of an amber fragrance. Therefore, despite being far away from Shalimar, Ambre Éternel immediately comes across as a Guerlain fragrance.

The scent is essentially a marriage between soft balsamic notes and powerful woody aroma chemicals. We speculate that this was Thierry Wasser’s way of trying to make a French amber fragrance appeal to young, affluent Arabs. From the very start of Ambre Éternel we understand that this is not a traditional Guerlain, but rather a "niche fragrance”, as it comes without the fresh top note that is otherwise a brand signature. Like most of the L’Art & la Matière scents, it seems composed of ingredients that all have more or less the same evaporation curve, because it doesn’t develop much while sitting on the skin. And to have two base notes, amber and wood, to make up the main theme of a composition hardly allows for the sensory breadth that defines a masterpiece, which Thierry Wasser probably didn't aim for anyway. As such, Ambre Éternel may appear rather dull and monotone for someone who is used to wearing Shalimar. The accord is very pleasant though, and far more elegant than the harsh Santal Royal.

Ambre Éternel starts out with a silky, matte blend of ambergris, orange blossom, cinnamon, orris, and a lactonic, sweet coconut note. It actually smells a bit like Thierry Wasser’s re-created 1937 perfume Coque d’Or (which says something about elegance), although we do get L’Homme Idéal’s steely high-tech leather as well. Jean-Paul Guerlain has noted that ambergris doesn’t smell of much by itself, but has a great impact on a fragrance, and it must be the ambergris that we sense in the beginning, a soft yet deep, salty breath of sea air that recalls vintage Vetiver (minus the vetiver of course). The scent slowly grows sweeter, with notes of jasmine, heliotrope and ylang-ylang appearing, without becoming overtly floral, together with sweet balsams. We also find a dash of vanilla in there. The balsams linger throughout the rest of the fragrance while it turns into mainly a woody scent, with patchouli, coriander, sandalwood, and dry cedarwood, making Ambre Éternel a definite unisex fragrance.

Les Absolus d’Orient’s bottle is a dark opaque version of the Aqua Allegoria's (a shape also used for the Eau de Rituel bottles), with a knitted scarf around the neck. For Ambre Éternel, the bottle is coloured a deep purple, almost chocolate brown, and the scarf burgundy. The label design has been changed from Santal Royal’s Louis XIV style (borrowed from Guerlain’s own La Poudre C’est Moi from 1925) into a look that is distinctly Middle Eastern.
(January 2016)

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