Hermes L’Ambre des Merveilles ~ fragrance review

amber-ish background

Flankers are much maligned by perfumistas, here as much as anywhere else. At their worst, they're endless — and often, mindless — series of minor variations on perfumes that weren't all that interesting to begin with. There are flankers of flankers, and flankers of flankers of flankers. There are good flankers and bad flankers, flankers I hope never get made (anything having to do with Diorissimo, thank you) and flankers I can't believe ever were made. There are flankers that outsell the original pillar fragrance, flankers that eventually elbow the pillar aside, and flankers that just can't hope to best their elders. Flankers do well, of course, but they're annoying, not least because there are just so very many of them.

In theory, of course, it's not a bad idea: take a beloved fragrance, and explore some facet of its composition in more depth. And sometimes that works. There are flankers that I like better than the pillar fragrance (L'Eau de Chloé, The Body Shop White Musk Libertine, Chanel Allure Homme Édition Blanche). Flankers can bring about a new appreciation for the pillar scent (Thierry Mugler's Angel Liqueur de Parfum and A*Men Pure Coffee spring to mind) or carry a classic perfume into the modern age (Chanel No. 5 Eau Première). Some become icons in their own right (Chanel Coco Mademoiselle). And sometimes, a flanker is something new and wonderful that doesn't seem to reference the pillar more than tangentially (Dior's Hypnotic Poison, Givenchy Organza Indecence).

Hermès has done an admirable job so far with the flankers to 2004's Eau des Merveilles, and by the way, thank you, Hermès, for not doing one every year. Elixir des Merveilles (2006) and Eau Claire des Merveilles (2010) took lively new approaches to Merveille's "salty-sweet" meditation on ambergris, adding gourmand and cosmetic powder accents, respectively. The latest in the series is L'Ambre des Merveilles, which like the prior two flankers was developed by Hermès house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena (the original Merveilles was done by perfumers Ralf Schwieger and Nathalie Feisthauer). 

L'Ambre des Merveilles retains Eau des Merveilles' salty-citrus-sparkle opening, but the top notes are a bit fruitier, sweeter and more vanillic. The dry down has a very slight gourmand touch (I would swear there's a smidgen of the "austere vanilla biscuit" from Elixir des Merveilles) but isn't as sweet as the opening. It is perhaps closer in spirit to Eau des Merveilles than the two prior flankers; it feels like a different way of looking at the same theme rather than an attempt to find a new angle. If you asked someone to take the original Eau des Merveilles' abstract idea of ambergris, and move it one small step closer to what modern consumers think of as "amber", you'd get something very like L'Ambre des Merveilles.1 So L'Ambre maintains the original's transparency and aura of understated elegance, but it has a tad more presence — it's somewhat warmer, heavier and woodier, and there is just the faintest trace of something like tobacco leaf in the far dry down.2

I think of Eau des Merveilles as casually sexy — it's not seductive in any hard-hitting or obvious way, and it doesn't seem out of place with jeans and a t-shirt, and yet...there's just something sexy about it. L'Ambre des Merveilles kicks that up a notch. You could dress it up or down, and it might hold up better in cold weather despite the sheer dry down (I mostly think of Eau des Merveilles as a summer fragrance).

The verdict: a worthy addition to the series. When I reviewed Eau Claire des Merveilles, I said I liked it second best, after Eau des Merveilles. That's still true, but turns out that I actually wear Eau Claire more than the original. I haven't yet figured out exactly where to place L'Ambre in that ranking; time will tell.3 I'd know I'd like to have a bottle, but not a 50 ml bottle. As usual, I wish they would do smaller sizes.

Both Eau des Merveilles and L'Ambre des Merveilles strike me as unisex (Elixir des Merveilles is a bit more conventionally feminine, and Eau Claire des Merveilles, more feminine still). The lasting power for L'Ambre is probably about the same as for Eau des Merveilles, despite the heavier concentration: good enough but not great. Be prepared to reapply.

Hermès L'Ambre des Merveilles

Hermès L'Ambre des Merveilles will launch in September, and will be available in 50 and 100 ml Eau de Parfum.

1. See the definitions of amber and ambergris in the Glossary if you're not clear about the difference; there is also a discussion of "amber" (scroll down to the 11th paragraph) in Perfumista tip: on lists of fragrance notes, why they matter & why they don’t.

2. If you want something much heavier and warmer, you probably want Parfum des Merveilles (2005).

3. L'Ambre des Merveilles, by the way, layers beautifully with Eau Claire des Merveilles.

Note: top image is Scrapbook Sunburst Background in Safety Orange from BackgroundsEtc [cropped] by webtreats at flickr; some rights reserved.

Update: it was rather late in the day before I realized that my example of a flanker of a flanker of a flanker, Chanel Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme, was merely a flanker of a flanker. My apologies for the error, and may I offer up instead Victoria’s Secret Sexy Little Things Noir Tease Temptation, the 2011 winner of the The We-Just-Can’t-Stop-Ourselves Flanker Name of The Year award.


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53 Comments

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  1. alyssa says:

    I love that image!

    And I adore Eau de Merveilles, like Elixir de Merveilles now and again, couldn’t find enough difference in the parfum to justify the bottle, and can’t wear Eau Claire at all (that powder does strange, diaperish things on my skin). I suspect this one also won’t be different enough from the original to warrant purchase but I look forward to trying it.

    • Robin says:

      I can see how Eau Claire could go wrong. Eau Claire layered with L’Ambre might actually be my favorite Merveilles — the deeper amber notes tone down the cosmetic powder aspect, and the Eau Claire brightens things up a bit.

  2. mals86 says:

    I got such a good laugh out of that first paragraph, Robin!

    And before I even checked the byline (uh, I confess to my general practice of skimming the first two paragraphs before looking to see who wrote them), I knew you had written it.

    • Robin says:

      I’m glad you laughed, and acknowledge that I am supremely predictable! We need to get Erin to do another one of those fun posts in which she imitates other blogger’s writing.

      • mals86 says:

        I like to think of it as writing “in your voice.” And thumbs up for that.

        • Robin says:

          Thumbs up for your kindness! But I *am* easy to spoof. Maybe everyone who writes a lot is — do you think you are?

          • mals86 says:

            I think I could easily be spoofed.

  3. Janice says:

    I’m looking forward to trying this one. My favorite of the bunch so far is Eau Claire, and it sounds like it will be fun to play around with layering them.

    • Robin says:

      All the more reason why they need to do them all in 15 ml — the Merveilles Layering Set.

  4. Jill says:

    I agree with mals86, I really got a chuckle out of that first paragraph!

    This sounds quite nice to me, but I confess I still have not tried Eau des Merveilles! I have only tried the Elixir, which I like but find a bit too sweet and overpowering.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, do try it! It’s a sort of sleeper scent — I have come to think it’s really one in the genius category.

  5. Omega says:

    I love amber..I need to try this.

  6. Tatiana says:

    Looking forward to trying this as I love Eau de Merveilles and like the Eau Claire. I used to like the elixir, but my bottles been sitting half used for quite some time now.
    I also got a chuckle out of that first paragraph. Only the truth is funny.

    • Robin says:

      Interesting. I like the Elixir better than I used to, but don’t think I’d wear it often either.

  7. hajusuuri says:

    Triplle points is coming up soon at Nordstrom and since I am likely to get Coco Noir, I will also get a $5 travel spray and have the SA fill it with L’Ambre, assuming of course that Nordstrom will carry this.

    Nice review!

    • Robin says:

      My Nordstrom isn’t doing that anymore, meanies!

  8. OhLily says:

    Thanks for the review, Robin! I’m a fan of JCE’s and I enjoy a well done amber, so I’ll be on the lookout for this. I haven’t tried the Elixir and Eau Claire was just a bit too powdery on me, but I really like the original.

    Ditto on any Diorissimo flankers. :P

    • Robin says:

      I hope I don’t live to see Diorissimo Cherie…

      • OhLily says:

        I don’t think my kids could handle it. Seeing their mother’s head spinning all the way round while screaming “A pox upon your house!” tends to upset them for some reason. Go figure. ;)

  9. DrO says:

    I was lucky to be in London for the Olympics this summer and tried L’Ambre while in Selfridges. I loved the scent do much that I tried it on a couple more times and I was hooked, I snagged a large bottle in Duty free while on the way home and I’ve put it into heavy rotation ever since. It is my undertanding that it will be available here first in Hermes boutique and their online store.
    Also be on the look out for Valentina Assoluto, by Valentino, due here next year I believe, another new addition to my collection

  10. nozknoz says:

    Robin, if one considers Allure Homme a flanker to the original Allure (which I think is fair because it came out two years later) then you WERE correct to count Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme as a flanker of a flanker of a flanker. But it was worth referencing Victoria’s Secret Sexy Little Things Noir Tease Temptation in this wonderful analysis of flankers, in any case.

    I’ve never really given any of the Merveilles a good try – it sounds like a sample of this new one would be a good place to start.

    • Robin says:

      Hmmm…I don’t think you can call a masculine counterpart a flanker, even though it is the same general idea of capitalizing on the success of an existing scent. But the industry doesn’t use the term that way, as I understand it.

      Actually, I was surprised when I went looking for a flanker of a flanker of a flanker. There are TONS of flankers of flankers, really they’re a dime a dozen, but a “flanker of a flanker of a flanker” is rare.

      • nozknoz says:

        I guess I’ll have to hope for Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme Noir!

        I wonder if anyone has ever taken it to the next level (flanker of flanker of flanker of flanker)?

        • Robin says:

          Gosh. I haven’t seen one that I remember, and I think I would remember!

  11. AnnE says:

    I got the chuckles, too. My DH was in the room at the time, and he opted for having the entire paragraph read aloud in order to get the full flavor. :-)

    I’m glad you give this the “thumbs up.” I’ve been thinking of calling my favorite SA at Neiman’s to see if they have a tester bottle in yet, but I keep forgetting. So much easier to go there than to brave the Hermes boutique.

    • Robin says:

      I hope he laughed too, or was he just dumbfounded?

      And I know what you mean — some of the Hermes boutiques are really forbidding. Some of the people in my local store are really nice, but others act like you’re wasting their precious time if all you’re after is fragrance.

      • AnnE says:

        Oh, he laughed! He’s used to my obsession now. :-) I often forward him some juicy snippets during the day, too. He’s very amused by it all.

        And it’s not that the SA’s at Hermes aren’t helpful. When it’s slow. Some of them are quite nice when they don’t have to worry about missing out on a serious shopper.

        • Robin says:

          Good, it’s good to be amused by your spouse’s hobby!

  12. sweetgrass says:

    Geez.. Chanel Allure Homme Sport Eau Extreme and Victoria’s Secret Sexy Little Things Noir Tease Temptation sound like parodies. It’s like they’re just stringing words together.

    L’Ambre des Merveilles sounds like something I want to try. I know I’ve tried one of the Merveilles and I remember liking it.. but I can’t remember which one it was.

  13. lucasai says:

    L’Ambre des Merveilles really sound good by your description Robin. I will give it a try when it appears in Poland.
    It’s light amber right? I prefer those light ambers rather than heavy and dense ones.

  14. Nile Goddess says:

    The original Eau des Merveilles is a work of art. Ellena’s Jardins are beautifully done and I respect him for that. But when I look at his Merveilles flankers, I can’t help compare his work with the Spanish lady’s “fresco restoration” horribly botched job that’s been making headlines recently. I don’t think he understands the spirit of Eau des Merveilles and it revolts me that he issues flanker after flanker of it just because he can. He should leave well enough alone and stick to the style he does best.

    Will be looking forward to testing this but alas, harboring no high hopes.

    • Robin says:

      Totally agree on the “work of art”, and respect that you don’t like the flankers so far, but really, 3 flankers since 2004? That is nothing compared to what most companies are doing.

      Would also guess that while JCE has more artistic freedom than the vast majority of perfumers, I doubt he decides what fragrances will get issued. But of course that’s a separate issue :-)

      • Nile Goddess says:

        Ehm, Robin, that’s a reply to your reply to my post but not sure it’ll land in the right place.

        You are of course right in that Eau de Merveilles did not “enjoy” nearly as many flankers as other fragrances. But … what’s wrong with a Parfum des Merveilles and an extrait? Of the original? Parfum des Merveilles existed at some point. Seriously, why twist an iconic creation with a flanker? If you don’t like a fragrance, you won’t like a flanker of it unless it’s so far from the original it shouldn’t be called a flanker. Like Shalimar Parfum Initial versus the original . I like Parfum Initial while not „getting“ the original, but it is obvious Parfum Initial is no relative of Shalimar no matter what they say and which side of the blanket they want to consider. So just call it something else.

        IMHO Ellena just wants to stamp his name on all Hermes frags and it rankles him that he did not create Eau des Merveilles so he’s trying to obliterate it with his dreadful flankers. It’s his ego trip.

        • Robin says:

          Those were not flankers, but new concentrations (and yes, I know PdM in particular was quite different from the original). It’s a difference in marketing, and that’s all a flanker is, too — doesn’t matter if the juice related to the original scent in any way. The point of a flanker is that you don’t have to market it the same way as you’d market a pillar.

          I have no idea what JCE thinks about Merveilles, but this is Hermes…they don’t pay JCE to feed his ego. They are, and have been, pretty careful w/ the fragrance line. JCE has a boss — he doesn’t run the perfume division at Hermes, and it is pretty clear that he does not have anything like 100% freedom, although he certainly has way more than the average perfumer, who has none at all.

          • Nile Goddess says:

            Wow, sorry to hear noses have no freedom. On the other hand, it explains so much … such as talented noses turning up average mass frags.
            Thank you Robin!

  15. dominika says:

    I love amber, so this sounds really good.

    I’ve tried a couple of the Merveilles line, but I can’t remember which ones… I keep sampling them, but it’s hard to keep them straight with the similar names :)

    I hope I get to love one eventually, because I really love the look and feel of the bottles. I never really care about packaging, but these are just so beautiful.

    • Robin says:

      The bottle design is fabulous. Really wish I had one of the blue limited editions, they were particularly great.

  16. DameEmma says:

    I would buy the bejazyzis out of a coffret with the whole collection.

  17. MrsRabbit says:

    I wish I had seen the review before I went out shopping today! I did see it at Sephora but didnt try it.

    I tried several that have been recommended on the blog here. I have a corporate job so tried the Prada Infusion d’Iris. Love it and its on my list. My husband likes it so that helps too.
    Tried several other ones and ended up purchasing Chanel Coco eau de parfum. I feel like its a good start.

    I did sniff Angel and actually liked it. I guess its a bit controversial in that its so popular but I liked it and my husband liked it too. Just too heavy for me to wear to work and something I might get at some point.

    I have a perfume tour scheduled for up in San Francisco this Friday.

    I’m learning so much from the blog— thanks for all your insights!

    • nozknoz says:

      You’re off to a great start, Mrs. Rabbit – those are all classics, and I’m sure you’ll find something wonderful in SF, too!

  18. mikeperez23 says:

    Loved the ‘Flanker Rant’ Robin. Amen!

    I am, like you, a **BIG FAN** of Eau des Merveilles and I have owned all of it’s flankers and the Parfum des Merveilles. The only one that didn’t ‘stick’ was Eau Claire – like mentioned above it got weird and ‘animalic milky’ on my skin in the Miami hot weather, so I sold my bottle. This new amber one sounds fantastic and I hope to try it soon. Oh how I wish they made body products from the flankers, this sounds like it would make a great Shower Gel.

    One more thing: I swear I have seen ‘travel’ sized bottles of Eau des Merveilles and Elixir des Merveilles in Hermes boutiques and online – no?

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have, I don’t pay close enough attention! Right now the only one on the French site is a cute little 15 ml of Eau Claire, which I had not known existed, so thanks for mentioning it. Must keep my eyes peeled to see if they do one for L’Ambre.

  19. Uh-oh I think I just found what I may be asking from Santa this year! Sounds wonderful. I love amber and I pretty much love all of the “des Merveilles”. And I totally agree that they need to do a coffret for these! That would be fantastic!

  20. Veronika says:

    Sometimes when I spray this on I feel a hint of the smell of fire – the real fire while camping somewhere in the wood. I’m liking this one more than eau claire and elixir – not sure about the original though. But I definitely wear L’ambre more often than anything else right now. It is so sunlit and warm – a beautiful winter scent for a crisp but sunny day.

    the fire note is amazing! (eau des merveilles has a lacquered concert piano note wich I also find very interesting)

    • Robin says:

      Would love to know if it outsells the original over time.

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