Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan ~ fragrance review

Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan

Ambre Sultan* was my first Serge Lutens perfume. I ordered it from England because, in early 2000, there wasn’t a bottle to be had in the United States. I purchased Ambre Sultan unsniffed because — who doesn’t like amber?

I’ve written about “amber” before, but since that post, I’ve come to prefer “tough” ambers over sweet vanillic amber blends (which many perfume lovers categorize as easy-to-wear “comfort scents”). Of course, I have many perfumes in my collection with amber-y bases, but I usually own just one ‘clear-cut’ amber perfume...and for over a decade that’s been Ambre Sultan.

Ambre Sultan starts off with a dual personality: both syrupy and dense with sticky resins, and severe and bitter with dry oregano and bay leaf aromas; its early stages of development include a dried flower scent (immortelle?) Smelled up close, Ambre Sultan presents an atypical take on amber (brash, not polite; rough, not smooth). I also can detect myrtle; some people think myrtle smells “medicinal,” but I wouldn’t use that word to describe the herbal/vegetal nature of Ambre Sultan. I prefer Serge Lutens’ idea: "I would love to tell the Arabian history through perfume creations. I think women are now mature enough for another type of perfumery — one that can be linked to civilizations." Though I’m sure women will be “amused” their overall maturity level is gauged sufficient by Monsieur Lutens to appreciate his perfumes (perhaps the translation of his statement was poor), I like his aim, long since adopted by other perfume houses: to explore the world’s cultures with scents. Ambre Sultan smells a bit “antique” and has a “long-ago, far-away” quality I love.

During the extreme dry-down, Ambre Sultan becomes more of a “classic” amber mix of vanilla (not too sweet), musk (not too animalic), sandalwood (just right), benzoin (adding a hint of incense) and patchouli (not too assertive and, blessedly, without the now-ubiquitous “cocoa” note one finds in patchouli perfumes everywhere).

Ambre Sultan is unisex and has great persistence and sillage; it has also kept me loyal for a long, long time. You can say I practice “ambergamy.”

Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan is available in 50 ml Eau de Parfum ($120); for buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

*1993, Christopher Sheldrake perfumer; notes: oregano, bay leaf, coriander, myrtle, angelica root, amber (sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla).

**Serge Lutens Enters New World, Cosmetics International, Feb. 25, 2000, by Bettina Aykroyd.

Note: top left and right image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Absolute Scentualist says:

    Great and very accurate review, Kevin. As someone who was broken in to the idea of amber by foody and vanillic blends, Ambre Sultan was almost astringent and too herbal at first. But after that initial blast settled a bit, it has the most wonderful balance of amber and edge, soft and woolen at the same time. It and AG’s Ambre Fetiche are two of my favorite amber interpretations at the moment and I can definitely see myself getting a bottle or decant this fall/winter. Unusual but lovely, like many of the earlier SL creations.

    • Kevin says:

      AbScent: agree…I’m a fan of Ambre Fetiche too

  2. oiseaubleu says:

    what a timely review. i was looking over Ambre Sultan reviews earlier this morning. i’m hesitant to try this due to the coriander, bay leaf, and oregano notes because i don’t much like smelling/tasting them in my food and wouldn’t think i’d like them any better on my body, but you have me intrigued by the dried flowers you mentioned. i love that smell. so far, SL’s scents do seem to work on me so i’m keeping AS on the “to try” list. thanks for the review!

    • Kevin says:

      Oiseaubleu: do give it a try…it’s one of my favorite SL perfumes

  3. Kelly Red says:

    Oh Kevin we are twins separated at birth. My first SL was also Ambre Sultan and I also adore “hard” ambers. I have tried several others but always come back to SL. Last year a friend of mine who is teaching in the UAE helped me get my hands on some pure amber oil. I adore perfumes from the middle east and india as they have the strong scents I love. The amber oil stinks to high heaven (a quote from my husband who hates it) and I am forced to wear it when he’s out of town. I dream of visiting the middle east or the east coast of Africa, Jordan, Morocco, and visiting perfume shops there. I know my friend said they were very helpful and loved that someone in the US liked their more traditional scents.

    • Kevin says:

      Kelly: I loved
      the ambers in Morocco…especially the little ‘nuggets’ they’d wear around their necks in little ‘cages’ made of silver. I bought some and 15 years later they still have a wonderful STRONG aroma

      • Kelly Red says:

        My friend gave me one of these!!! It has a little gold pierced round cage and a chunk of amber inside. A tiny bag of a few extra was included. I wear it on a nice leather cord next to my skin as it needs the warm to really give off the scent. We are twins :D

  4. Chamade says:

    When I tried Ambre Sultan my nose only picked up the oregano. I smelled like a pizza for 24 hours.

    • Kevin says:

      Charade: don’t mention pizza…I’m starving right now

      • Chamade says:

        Poor you! Maybe you should treat yourself to some nice Italian or Moroccan food.

      • Marjorie Rose says:

        And there’s a sale today only at Papa Murphy’s! (Any pizza only 10 bucks.) Just saying!

  5. You know, I know everyone loves “Uncle Serge,” but I’ve had some suspicions for a while now that he’s really kind of a overly precious ass. I agree with you that perfumery has something important to teach us about the cultures of the world, but usually, the person Serge Lutens just strikes me as a big ole mansplaining orientalist, however great his perfumes may be.

    That “women are now mature enough to enjoy my perfume” remark really rubbed me the wrong way – can you tell?

    Signed, A Cranky Feminist.

    • sinnerman says:

      Burst out laughing *

    • Bela says:

      Actually, he should have said ‘*some* women are mature enough to enjoy my perfume’ considering how many women drench themselves in candy-floss-smelling juices’.

      • Kevin says:

        Bela: it would be interesting to know is SL ever goes to a perfume counter at a huge department store and samples the wares…I can’t picture it

    • Kevin says:

      Breathes: yes, I can tell! You’re breathing fire, not gelatin!

  6. sinnerman says:

    Morning Kevin from Australia !
    Apon buying my partner s fragrance this week for his 50th, Ambre Sultan and Tubereuse 3 Animal by HdP were my top 2 picks !!
    I went with TA3 ,
    This would be my next SL fragrance if ever I was to buy another ! I did try Cedar during the week and I really liked it as well,
    Thanks for the insight into your Ambre,

    • Kevin says:

      Sinnerman’ you’re welcome

  7. Omega says:

    It was too masculine for me..I am not really an SL fan. Miel de Bois being the least fave of the offerings. His “honey” note smells like rodent urine.

    • Kevin says:

      Omega: Miel de Bois is one of the coolest Lutens scents! I know I’m in the minority….

      • Absolute Scentualist says:

        Kevin, co-sign on the MdB. I was lucky enough to score a bottle last year and it gets better and better each time I wear it. It’s especially luscious in the fall and winter months. Just writing about it makes me crave a spritz. Mmmm… :)

        • Kevin says:

          AbScent: HA! It’s always good to recognize another Miel lover.

      • lenika says:

        Kevin, I’m with you on Miel de Bois!

  8. PetronellaCJ says:

    Oh Ambre Sultan, how I love thee. It’s one of my few “me but better” scents.

  9. Dusan says:

    Ambergamy – fabulous! So is your review, Kevin :-) I feel the same way about Amber Sultan and reckon a bottle is long overdue.

    • Kevin says:

      Dusan: indeed! And my bottle is about empty….

  10. Vincent says:

    This fragrance hasn’t impressed me at all. There are much better ambers out there for much less imo.

  11. Kimberly Elizabeth says:

    Wow, what a great review of this beautiful scent. I especially love the description of “brash, not polite; rough, not smooth” and that it has a “long ago, far away” feel to it. Spot on. I love this scent, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to spring for a full bottle. It just seems a bit much for the heat and humidity of Florida. I only get to wear it a few days a year when the heat relents a bit. Those few days sure are glorious, though.

    • Kevin says:

      Kimberly: I think it goes well with heat, but DRY heat…I can see it being problematic in humidity.

    • Kelly Red says:

      Oh good heavens Kimberly, I agree w/ you on AS and the Florida heat, it would knock over a palm tree and then stomp on it for good measure! But here in Minnesota in the cold cold cold, it is divine.

  12. Merlin says:

    A.S. was one of the 1st niche frags I smelled and I found it repugnant. I did, however, very much like Ambre Russe. So far Ambre Russe has been the priciest frag I have ever bought (only the 100ml was available here). A couple of years down the line, though, and I do sometimes wonder whether A.S. would have been the better choice. What made the difference was the description of A.S as a herbal apothecary! I began to appreciate the bitter herbal counter-weight to the sweet amber.
    Katie Puckrik, describes Eau de Beaux as an amber, too. Its much less expensive than the other two, and far less complex, but still very appealing. The main notes are supposed to be Cypress and incense, but I have trouble smelling these notes in it.

    • Kevin says:

      Merlin: I’m a fan of Ambre Russe too. I was thinking today how much SL fragrances have gone up in price in the U.S. (used to be around $90…if only Paris were closer). Never smelled the Eau de Baux…I’ll try it next time I’m in L’Occitane.

      • Merlin says:

        Although I think you did the NST review of it and concluded that it was overly civilised and too reminiscent of fine furnitured interiors! It was a very interesting take on it. But, I think you concluded that you preferred Wazazamba because of its ruggedness – and after finally getting a sample of W it seemed so entirely different that the comparison didn’t make that much sense to me. (Though I assume you were comparing them because they are both PdEs).

        • Kevin says:

          Merlin: Wazamba didn’t figure into it at all…I wrote about Ambre Russe very briefly in my Lonestar Memories review I believe.

          • Merlin says:

            Hi Kevin,apologies, you are right! And yet -I was so sure… talk about the construction of memory! : /
            But this passage of yours made a definite impression on me (I just looked it up.)

            ‘ its richness was an indoor richness — bringing to mind a world of soft, smooth leathers, sparkling crystal, polished marble, waxed paneling and gleaming silver. Ambre Russe’s opulence felt excessive and tame at the same time.’

            The best of perfume writing!

          • Merlin says:

            By the way, what do you think of Guerlain’s Oriental Brulant? After being totally OVER ambers, orientals and gourmands I seem to have suddenly and severely regressed and fallen in love with it…

          • Kevin says:

            Merlin: Les Elixirs Charnels have not made an impression because I’ve been too lazy to order samples!

  13. Suzy Q says:

    Kevin, great review, as ever. I got a small decant of Ambre Sultan in the last Swapmania. It was love at first sniff. I’ve tried other ambers searching in vain for “my” amber. They were too sweet or two medicinal. This one was just right and I immediately graduated from a small decant to a to a full bottle.

    Incidentally, last weekend I did not feel well. I sniffed my decants and bottles and nothing smelled right. I was prepared to go unscented. Then I remembered your hilarious Coromandel review from a few years ago. I gave myself a little spritz and it was perfect. It really was a comfort scent for a sickie.

    • Kevin says:

      Suzy: oh, good! I promised myself a bottle of Coromandel this fall and the chill is upon us (at least at night)

  14. PinoiPerfumista says:

    Kevin, have you tried Baldessarini Ambre? If not, I suggest you should. The web offers varying reviews (as usual) but to my nose, it is one of the better amber perfumes in the market.

    • Kevin says:

      Pinoi: I never come across that scent anywhere, but thanks for the recommendation

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