Amber Pour Homme and Amber Pour Homme Intense (Prada)

Fougère, amber, cologne, leather.  Four accords, all rock-solid institutions within the world of fragrance. Prada's Amber Pour Homme (2006) welds them into one. On paper it seems a most improbable algebraic equation, inspiring little confidence that it could reckon true. But relax. Amber Pour Homme isn't exactly Fermat's Theorem. It's more of a little play on words-- but its punchline rewrites the whole language.

How so? Well, Amber Pour Homme includes notes symbolically representing each of its four flagship accords -- fougère, amber, cologne, leather.  By substituting a less prominent note for the one most associated with each genre, perfumer Daniela Roche-Andrier has knowingly altered its parlance-- played with its "language", so to speak. For her fougère accord, she uses patchouli rather than lavender: fair enough, and hardly controversial. For leather, a soft, chamois-like saffron note appears instead of birch tar:  again, well within bounds.  But the happiest surprise is found in the cologne accord, where Roche-Andrier employs South American cardamom in place of the more conventional hesperides as shorthand for 'fresh' and 'cool'. (Two hundred years of spice-laden Caribbean colognes can't be wrong.)  Together, these three notes achieve a hushed elegance, neither masculine nor feminine, simply handsome.

As for the eponymous amber, it's just that-- labdanum served up the no-frills way, unsweetened and unpretentious, drying down to a nice muted woody accord which sticks well to the background.  And really, the background is where it's at, for Amber Pour Homme is no extrovert. None of its component notes scream for attention. Imagine a choral group devoid of soloists, an assemblage of modest team players who subordinate themselves to the project and combine their quiet voices in glorious mass harmony. So cooperatively do they mesh that the sum of their efforts almost appears separate from its own parts-- a phantom tone, perfectly legible until you concentrate too hard on its origin. The challenge is to resist doing so-- and then you hear it in all its loveliness, unbroken.

This is why the notion of kicking it up a notch -- ostensibly the purpose of APH Intense (2011) -- seems redundant. It's the same fragrance, only sweeter and more custardy, as if someone convinced one or two of the choir members that they really could go solo if they wanted it bad enough. All they had to do was to burst out with some hot Beyoncé-like vocal folderol right smack in the middle of "Simple Gifts" just to show everyone how it's done.  Is it a disaster?  No.  Is it really necessary? Again, no.

Just give me the original any day.  Its quiet speaks volumes to me.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, mandarin, neroli, pelargonium, patchouli, cardamom, myrrh, amber, vanilla, labdanum, tonka bean, saffron, sandalwood, leather