Trapped in Amber

© Anders L. Damgaard,

© Anders L. Damgaard,

Yes, I like amber.  Everyone does, or nearly everyone, and that’s why practically the first perfume released by any niche firm is either an amber or else an amber floral, aka floriental.

Ambers are also the big money makers. Serge has got Ambre Sultan, Annick Goutal has got Ambre Fetiche, I Profumi di Firenze has got Ambra di Nepal, and then there’s Ambra di Venezia, and Parfumerie Generale’s L’Oiseau de Nuit.  I have barely scratched the surface.  Ambers are everywhere, and there is some confusion as to what amber actually is, amber confuses me as well since half the time it seems to be an amalgam of labdanum (otherwise known as rock rose, or Cistus) and vanilla.

But that’s not the real thing.

 The real thing is fossilized amber from Tibet, or China these days, and you can buy it distilled by means of dry heat from several suppliers.  I wouldn’t know the difference, not really having made a study of ambers.  But do know who I think is the  contemporary master of ambers and it’s not Serge Lutens, at least, not for me.

Jean Claude Ellena gets my vote when it comes to managing this material so that it does not have the atomic weight of lead on skin.  He seems to know just exactly how to lighten and how to educate amber out of some of its base activities.  He’s done three ambers which I think are all stellar in different ways.

The first, still my choice if my back were against the wall, which it usually is with regards to amber, is l’Eau d’Ambre, his L’Artisan creation from the seventies.  It’s fantastic and manages to have a delicious scent of starched ironing.  If there were no other ambers in creation, this one would be a perfectly fine representative of the group, simple, soft, and neither heavy nor sweet.

The second is his Ambre des Merveilles, that one is a less angular amber, smoother and more vanillic, and a fine choice.  His great achievement there is that A d M is refined.  Usually ambers are apt to sling themselves onto your skin and park their gum somewhere out of sight for safe keeping.  There is absolutely no danger of this with the Hermes.  This is a beautifully weighted scent, and although I’d still go with the L’Artisan, this one is slightly better for the ladies.

Finally there is Ambre Narguile.  Oh boy, this one has set off quite the controversy.  Some folks think it icklily, stickily, sugary, and none too subtle.  AN certainly is lasting.  If ever there were a perfume that refuted the charge that Hermes’ Hermessences are here and gone scents; Ambre Narguile is it.  I had some sprayed on this morning at ten a.m.  The perfume’s here seven hours later, after a thorough washing, and looks set to spend the night on my wrist.

I’d object to this on principle except that to me, Ambre Narguile is about tobacco, rather than straight amber. Narghile is the hookah used to smoke various different kinds of tobacco blends.  Anything to do with tobacco usually has me as an audience right away and this perfume reminds me of pipe tobacco. Narguile does have a heavy lidded narcoleptic quality to it, and although I can see why this perfume might be a love it or hate it quandary for some, I enjoy it.

Here’s the biggest surprise, this heavy, long lasting, rich perfume, is the work of the greatest, slightest formula producing master of minimalist perfume writing in the business. Slow moving, almost perceptibly hardening about you as you wear it, this perfume does make you feel like a fly who lit on the wrong tree trunk one day hundreds of years ago, but Narguile makes you think death by Amber is no bad way to go.

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4 thoughts on “Trapped in Amber

  1. I do not believe amber in perfume has anything to do with a real fossilized resin…

    I’m upset that I do not love any of my ambers this year the way I loved them in the previous years. I just hope that it’s temporary and next year I’ll enjoy them again.

    1. Most “amber” probably has nothing to do with fossilized amber, I agree, but Eden Botanicals sell an amber that they say is harvested by dry heat from the fossilized stuff. I guess that sort of ingredient does not end up in mainstream perfume any too often ;-).

      Ambers are something that I frequently go off of too. Why does that happen? Maybe our noses go through cycles of what’s pleasing and what isn’t. If so, perhaps next year will be your amber year again.

  2. Hi Blacknall! I’m sorry this message is late, as I’m catching up on my blog reading, but as you mentioned that JCE is the man you think does the best ambers, you might be interested to know that in his book, “Diary of a Nose,” there is a Summary of Smells in the back of the book, and this is what he wrote under the title of Amber:

    “Amber used in perfumery is an olfactory convention which bears no relation to the fossilized resin, yellow amber, or to ambergris, an intestinal secretion produced by sperm whales. It was the first abstract smell in perfumery and appeared at the end of the nineteenth century with the invention of vanillin. This simple juxtaposition went on to generate and extraordinary number of perfumes.

    labadanum (absolute)”

    So, what you observed in the second paragraph of your post is true to JCE’s definition. Good observation on your part!

    1. So 90% of the time or better, all you have is labdanum and vanillan 🙂
      Foxed again! So who uses the fossilized stuff Eden Botanicals sells I wonder? Does anyone? What was amber before 1880 or so? The dry amber is apparently mined and called Oleum Succini or Anbar, but as Undina points out, it’s pretty doubtful that ends up in many formulas.

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