A Luxurious Trail of Ambergris

james_tissot_le_balThere’s just something about ambergris.  The smell is as conspicuously  consumptive as trailing Thai silk along  the ground, or lining your slippers with minks. It’s outrageous and  most people don’t even know how pricey the molecules they inhaled when you passed by  were.  Ambergris is stealth wealth indeed.

However, since ambergris is and was so prohibitively costly, the ingredient has never turned up all that frequently in perfumes. When it does, as in Cartier’s Panthere, or Hermes Caleche Eau  Delicate,  or old Miss Dior,  the entire dry down resonates with is extravagant tonality, somewhere in between leather and iris. Something in the resulting coda, has suffered a sea change into something rich, and strange.

The emphasis there is definitely on the rich side of the statement.  Ambergris in Miss Dior turned  the perfume into  a fur coat of a fragrance, every molecule  a velvet textured  delight

In Amouage Gold, ambergris transforms that road production of Mme. Rochas into a gold brocade extravaganza and in 24 Faubourg it warns everyone to get out of your way.  “Here comes serious money,  so get your small change butt someplace else, and pronto.”  Both perfumes suit divas right down to the ground

Myself, however, I prefer my ambergris use discreet, which is why when I really want to smell ambergris these days I repair to the Creed counter, admittedly disputed territory for many perfume lovers.  However, Creed does use ambergris – tincture they stipulate these days – but they use it.  Well, even if the ambergris sloshed through the formulas in Wellington Boots I’d still smell for it.  And in some, ambergris still ambles. Take Fantasia de Fleurs

No one mentions it, and the perfume is much simpler now than when I first smelled F.D.F in the 90’s. Nowadays, Fantasia is a bit of bergamot on top of a lot of rose and some iris, but the train of this trailing tea gown of a scent is ambergris, and it goes on and on.

Fantasia was supposed to be the perfume of Elizabeth of Austria, the beautiful princess with the incredible head of hair.  Fantasia was supposedly used to scent her chevelure which must have cost – what, per hair follicle?

Well, I’m  not counting, and although the expanded heart of the fragrance has collapsed in on itself, that spendthrift dry down remains.  After Angelique Encens,  Fantasia de Fleurs is by far my favorite Creed, whose creed appears to be that rich really are different- they smell better than the rest of us.

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14 thoughts on “A Luxurious Trail of Ambergris

  1. A book I think you will find amazing is “Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris” by Christopher Kemp. Amid descriptions of his own desperate search for ambergris on the New Zealand shoreline, he explains that it’s the incredibly serendipitous nature of this wonder substance that makes it so costly. A whole laundry list of coincidences must occur in a precise sequence to make ambergris in the first place– then it has to bob around in saltwater & sun for a minimum of 50 yearsto be of any use to anyone. It washes up completely at random; resembling tallow, axel grease or old soap, it’s often overlooked or rejected as “beach trash”. So much goes right to make it, so much could go wrong before it’s found, and — much like Tolkien’s “One Ring” — it seems to make people lose their heads in the pursuit of it. Gollum!

    • The Hub says he has heard of this book, and it sounds like something to read and enjoy on one of these winter nights that don’t just fly by. Definitely goes on the list!

      Love ambergris myself, but having read your description of its rarity, and how hit or miss the discoveries of it are, despair of ever smelling much of it.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this, Blacknall – particularly in regard to Creed and ambergris. Though there are many people who hate Creed, mostly because of their marketing (which I’ll admit to not liking either), I quite agree with you that they use real ambergris – or at least they used a good dose of it in the bottle I have of Fleurs de Bulgarie. I think a lot of perfumistas don’t realize how soapy ambergris tincture is. It’s sort of a creamy, saline soapiness – and having identified that aspect from an ambergris tincture that I purchased years ago (and still have) from the Perfumer’s Apprentice, I knew then that Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie contained the real deal. I love that perfume! (And I believe another lovely commenter of yours, here today, likes it too, if I’m remembering correctly. :) Have you tried that one?

    • Many years ago I did try Fleurs de Bulgarie, and now can’t remember what impression it made, but most of the Creed feminines are elegant, and wear pretty well, so probably liked it.

      Maybe Creed’s marketing is what sets people’s teeth on edge, but I have enjoyed a number of their perfumes, and really love Fleur de The Rose, Fantasia de Fleurs, Bois de Portugal, Neroli Sauvage, and adored Angelique Encens, which I could well and truly kick myself for not buying when the company took it into their private range. But I agree with you that there are some really nice materials in Creed perfumes, not easily found anymore in other companies’ scents.

      • Have you tried Creed Acqua Fiorentina? This made me think of you because you like some fruity perfumes (as long as they’re not too sweet, I take it) and so do I. My sample has been gone for years, but this one was really good when it came out and I kind of think you’d like it.

        • You know I saw that just the other day at Neiman’s and said, “Hmm, have I tried that one?” to myself, and now that you’ve endorsed it will make a point to go back and try it.

  3. I’m ashamed, I’m not a real perfumista: I do not know how ambergris (natural or not) smells :( I have it in many perfumes that I like but I’m not sure what is the common smell between all of them.

    • Of course you’re a real perfumista! A card carrying member of the Union – that is, if we were unionized.

      Ambergris is so darned expensive that I don’t think you can smell it very clearly in many perfumes, but try Fantasia de Fleurs, it’s in there fairly recognizably, in the end and Meg and Suzanne say it’s in Fleurs de Bulagarie as well. There’s a soapiness to the note, I think it smells just a little bit leathery too.

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