What to Wear for Apple Picking: Hermessence Ambre Narguile

This past weekend I headed to our local orchard to be surprised at some early apples to be had. I adore this time of year. Apples are part of what makes autumn. Greedily I scooped some up and watched Mrs. C roll her eyes when I exclaimed, “Apple pie!” I spent my afternoon putting it together. If there is any scent which means fall to me it is an apple pie fresh out of the oven. There is a perfume which does a fantastic job of recreating it, Hermessence Ambre Narguile.

The Hermessence line was created in 2004 by in-house perfumer at the time Jean-Claude Ellena. This was a collection which reflected his minimalistic approach to composition along with his ability to add a luminous quality. Back when this collection debuted with four fragrances it stood apart from almost everything else in the artistic perfumery world. These were the early days and M. Ellena was staking out a section of it all his own. For the next twelve years and nine more perfumes it became one of the best collections out there. This is a set of perfumes of which I own all of them. They are everything I look for in the world of perfume.

Jean-Claude Ellena

That’s the Colognoisseur talking. Mark the apple pie maker loves Ambre Narguile because it so ideally captures the scent of a cooling apple pie. Another thing to consider is that it was an early very different entry in the gourmand style of perfume. At this early point of time they were heavy cloying affairs. Amber Narguile was subtle to their sledgehammers. The beautiful trick is that M. Ellena creates an apple pie without using apple in the formula. What happens is his understanding of intersections of ingredients to give rise to something new.

It opens with that cinnamon flavored apple pie accord. Early on it is subtle like the steam rising from the pie as it comes out of the oven. It begins to take on a larger presence as it “cools”. I do not know exactly the combination M. Ellena uses here. It is some parts honey, another part amber, some coumarin, some cinnamon, and vanilla. Even after all these years I am sure I don’t have it all. I have just learned to enjoy it.

As it develops further a dollop of dark rum along with rich tobacco form the base to the apple pie. They add depth without turning it treacly.

Ambre Narguile has 10-12 hour longevity.

After making the apple pie this weekend I was driven to want to write about this perfume. it doesn’t really fit any of my usual monthly themes. Although I had a fleeting thought to try and claim it was Under the Radar. Sometimes I choose the perfume to write about. This time apples and Ambre Narguile chose me.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Cinnamon

I thought I had covered all my favorite perfume ingredients in this column. Last weekend’s Pierre Benard Challenge showed me I had missed cinnamon. It is one of those spicy ingredients which seem made for fall. Which makes this a great time to share my favorite cinnamon centric perfumes.

Estee Lauder Cinnabar is the first example I found of the classic cinnamon and clove pairing. It will be mentioned again below. In 1971 perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant would use this duo as a retort to the uber-popular Opium. After a fizzy aldehydic opening the spices simmer over a base of sandalwood, patchouli, and incense.

Clove and cinnamon, you say? Perhaps the pinnacle of this comes in Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur. This takes the spices with tangerine to form a spiced citrus accord that is ready to stand up to a fantastically balanced base accord of sandalwood, vanilla, and musk. The spices particularly sing in the cooler weather. One of perfumer Maurice Roucel’s best perfumes.

Aramis JHL was a part of the burly masculine cologne tradition of the early 1980’s. Perfumer Bernard Chant would make a cinnamon centric version of that. When I wear this as the fruits spices and woods come together, I channel my inner wild and crazy guy. It can feel anachronistic but in the cooler temperatures of this time of year it feels timeless.

Comme des Garcons Jaisalmer is the least mentioned of the great Series 3: Incense collection. Perfumer Evelyn Boulanger created the quietest of the five resinous perfumes. She spreads the spices out to form a layered opaque accord which is given more expansiveness through gaiac wood. It is so on trend for 2020 I think if these were released today it would be the biggest seller of them all. This is one of my favorite perfumes to spray on a scarf because it is at just the right volume.

Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile is one of my seasonal staples for the end of the year. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena composed this haiku in syllables of tobacco, cinnamon, honey, and vanilla. Another one on the lighter side which revels in its delicate balancing act.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Apple

One of the major scents of October for me is the smell of apples. I will be spending a lot of time in local orchards picking apples for use in making pies. When it comes to perfume apple is one of several fruits common to the fruity floral genre. For this edition of My Favorite Things here are five apple perfumes which fit in with my October activities.

I have been asked over the years for apple pie perfumes. Until 2015 my answer was Boss Bottled. After 2015 it was Boss Bottled Intense. In one of the rare occurrences where the flanker was much better than the original. Annick Menardo, who did the original, created a more fully rounded apple pie effect using orange blossom as a floral contrast that fits surprisingly well. I’ve been on a visit to the orchard and walked by someone who remarked, “ooh I can smell the pies out here.”

Another staple of the fall are caramel apples and there is a perfume for that too; Nina by Nina Ricci. This is a forerunner of the current floral gourmand trend as perfumers Jacques Cavallier and Olivier Cresp create a caramel apple central accord given a fresh floral contrast in peony. It is a little more substantial than the current transparent floral gourmands, but it makes it nice to wear in the fall.

When you just want your apples straight no pie spices or caramel covering. In that case DKNY Golden Delicious is for you. If there is a reason apple is a featured ingredient it is probably due to this DKNY Delicious collection. Each and every one features apple. Why I appreciate Golden Delicious is it captures the richness of the real thing. Perfumer Jean-Marc Chaillan puts the lush juicy apple out front and surrounds it with a bouquet of florals.

There are a few niche examples of apple perfumes both of which evoke apple pie in different ways.

Creed Spice & Wood uses apple as the crisp fruit in the top accord before delving into the spices. The lead spices are allspice and nutmeg. It reminds me of when the apples are all freshly sliced and tossed in the spice blend before being put in the pie shell.

Hermes Hermessence Ambre Narguile is another abstraction form perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. It is a swirl of the steam rising from fresh baked apple pies. It is made more compelling because it is so transparent it is like you want to lean into the pie you think is nearby.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke