Looking through my archives I realize that I have virtually nothing written on amber. This is strange, since theoretically, as a lover or orientals and heavy, decadent perfumes such as Bal A Versailles, there should be more. In reality, though I love an ambered finish to a scent, be it Parfum d’Hermes, Guerlain’s Heritage EDP, or the spectacular drydown of Metalys/Metallica (exactly my kind of subtle, ambered texture once the carnations have vanished);  L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’Eau Du Navigateur – all diaphanous incense, coffee and sand-kissed amber fade-down , or the strange cassis-ambered conclusion of Caron’s under appreciated Montaigne,  an unalloyed, pure, heaving amber often suffocates me, as though I were being dragged down, silk-gagged, in a heavy, camel- hair coat (with a dense, cashmere lining), on a humid and sweltering August afternoon.




Don’t get me wrong. I see an amber, I smell it. Such perfumes luxuriate in their sweet thickness and westerner-alluring orientalism. They glow with deep smell and the prospect of aggressive blankets of sillage that sink on air and stay richly in the brain. I gravitate towards these perfumes, in many ways, and sometimes briefly consider buying them, but virtually never then end up reaching for my wallet. Ultimately it can often seem to me as if the thickest and richest ambers own and then work you, as though you had been tantalized by, but were then drowning in, a giant, bristling vat of overcooked, throat-stopping toffee.




The prototype of the classical amber scent for me is probably Jean Claude Ellena’s L’Eau d’Ambre  by L’Artisan Parfumeur, ground zero of the pure amber perfume, just labdanum, patchouli, some rose, and probably some vanilla, but it doesn’t matter because all you get is that caramellized, sweet insistent ambered smell that is so French (the popular Reminiscence Paris Ambre also smells quite similar). In a sense this, and its more robust younger sibling, Ambre Extrême, are the sina qua non of classical ambers, clinging like velvet –  autumnal, even melancholic –  but even though I can imagine the odd spritz here or there on a cold winter’s day there is something, still, at the heart of this formula,  that slightly repels me. As I wrote in my review of  Parfumerie Generale’s Ombre Fauve (an unclean, animalic amber), there is still that dirty, unmade bed aspect of encroaching mental illness in L’Eau de l’Ambre  – of unwashed hair, of a certain musked obsessiveness – that makes me yearn for open windows.













Ambre Sultan: When the first Serge Lutens perfumes came out at the beginning of the 1990’s they were iconic. Unprecedented.  Fiercely strong, crafted with integrity and self-excitement, these perfumes seemed to open up new possibilities in what fragrance could be (and we didn’t even have the word ‘niche’ to categorize the perfumes then – they were just new). And although Ambre Sultan perturbed me at the time with its sheer potency  and by these exotic and unfamiliar accords I had never before experienced (not only the impressively voluptuous amber, vanilla and resins themselves but also the peculiar bay leaf, myrtle, and oregano spice market swirl of the top notes, most odd), I enjoyed wearing the samples and could dream of a more exciting perfumed future. It lingered, it professed, it was Ambre Sultan, now an oriental legend. Fast forward a decade or so, though, and the bottle I then got as a Christmas present that year was a pale shadow of its former self (as are most of the Serge Lutens now in my opinion). It was alright, and it still had the evocative, dusty herbs at the spice souk aspect that made it so distinctive, but the base was no way near as impressive, and now more generically wan and vanillic. I used up my bottle, of course, and enjoyed it mixed with other things when the occasion was right, but in truth it was never a perfect match for me anyway, and I certainly wouldn’t invest in another.





While I have long enjoyed wearing Calvin Klein’s Obsession (another amber perfume and my first ever perfume love) as well as Cartier Must Parfum – amber, vanilla, florals, and an unusual top note of green galbanum- together with L’Othantique’s ghostly, powdery Fleurs D’Ambre, other ambers I have tried on occasion in my rich, ludicrously perfumed life include Ambre Fetiche by Annick Goutal (ok, but too angled, rasping and smoky for me personally), and Ambre Precieux by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, which I consider perfect – a very beautifully austere, deep and shadowy ambered perfume that has a gentlemantly dignity about it that I am not quite sure I can carry off convincingly but which I can imagine falling in love with on another person.  If I were wearing Ambre Precieux myself I think I might keep making too many jokes in whoever’s presence I happened to be just to introduce a light touch of offsetting levity. Or else I might just get depressed. It is beautiful, but for an amber, this perfume has a surprisingly high level of gravitas.




In contrast, I have no time really for the fancy boutique hotel lobby ‘luxurious’ brand ambers such as Tom Ford Amber Absolute (solid and good but overwhelming;  the recent Rive D’Ambre  precisely the opposite, making so little impression on my consciousness that I couldn’t recall it at all, just a few minutes of deeply inhaling it), or the ritzy metallic slick of a perfume like Dior’s overly style-prescribed Ambre Nuit – the perfect example of an overloaded niche level perfume that is just too much bother and contains little beauty, in my view, although I have lingered several times in the past over Parfums D’Empire’s sturdy and convincing Ambre Russe, partly because I do have an attraction to all things Russian, but mostly because I like the no nonsense style of perfumer Marc-Antoine Corticchiato who usually creates quite unpretentious but full, bodied, upliftingly rich perfumes that quite simply please the senses. While I had considered buying this gilded, glinting perfume for its punchy, masculine blast of ambered richness, I was always slightly troubled by a certain saltiness, the champagne and vodka notes in the top notes of the perfume that remind me, now, of the horrifying Womanity by Thierry Mugler, possibly not only the worst perfume I have ever smelled in my life, but also the worst olfactory experience  (I once had the misfortune to be on a plane on my way from Japan back to England near a woman who had just drenched herself in this fig, metal, vodka, and caviar monstrosity at Duty Free, while then quite openly  proceeding to change her baby’s diapers – who seemed to have come down with a case of gastro enteritis  -just a little way down the aisle from where I was sitting (yes, actually in her seat). I can tell you quite bluntly this was an olfactory combination that I never want to re-experience: I was shouting and becoming unruly, thrashing about in my seat  -we were in ‘fasten your seatbelt mode’ at the time – in nasal and mental pain as the combined miasma of smells assailed me, deeply embarrassing Duncan who couldn’t believe my crazed reaction and was trying desperately to shut me up). In reality there are no similarities between Ambre Russe  – an amber perfume I respect –  and the chemical, piscine foulness of the Mugler – but somehow in my smell brain some notes have now become inextricably interlinked after this scent trauma, so I suppose that does mean dosvidaniya.











To expand on the ambers in this impulsively written piece I have just been looking through my perfumed drawers of samples looking for Mona Di Orio’s Ambre, which I remember being typically different and rebellious (she always revised the templates of any given perfume category): light, and emotionally relevant, but I can’t find it  – please remind me of its character if you do know this one. Instead, I came across a vial of Guerlain’s Bois D’Armenie  which I consider to be an amber – balsamic, resinous, quite dirty yet dark and soft and  mysterious, not as sharp as Tonka Imperiale from the same Les Matieres collection ( also a rich and glinting amber I once had a bottle of), as well as Armani Prive’s Ambre d’Orient, a straight-down-the-line rich, middle Eastern amber a la Ambre Sultan but less eccentric, more…..  Armani. Effective though – it delivers the goods, stays beautifully on the skin,  and I can imagine wearing it one day in combination with something else if the right mood  – extrovert, sociable, big-hearted, I will envelop you-  suddenly catches me.




Speaking of which, I have, actually, been wearing, rather than just pontificating on, an amber these last couple of weeks, the most recent release of all the perfumes here. While you wouldn’t catch me dead in a chemically purified ‘amber’ of the Prada variety, this new scent – Amber Molecule, by a perfumer I had never heard of before until I received a sample bottle in the post-  is smooth and ambered but full of light. A dose of ‘vanilla musk’ and ‘French powder’ combine with floral tones (tuberose absolute and orris) and lift the ambered notes up top, while as the perfume settles, it has the familiarly oriental, ambered facets that amber lovers love while managing to hover just above the curve of the skin without asphyxiating it. The problem I think for me with heavily concentrated classic ambers is the fact of constant awareness. Although I like to be conscious of the scent I am projecting – because perfume is ultimately more about personal pleasure than anything else – at the same time I like for that knowing to sometimes fade into oblivion and then for the sentience of the perfume to unexpectedly resurface at differing points during the day  – an mmmmmm I am loving myself in this, I wonder if anyone else is: for the scent to then disappear, intermittently, as I think about other things happening within and without me as I get on with whatever I am doing. With the relentless, clobbering caramel of an overly persistent amber you don’t get this – for me it starts to feel like something of a liability. An intrusion. And while Amber Molecule might not hit all my buttons completely  (perhaps it is a little bit sweet ; shallow?) it nevertheless, in a most pleasant manner, at least allows the light-headed, ambery goodness working its magic on your skin and encircling you – soft, uninhibited, approachable, sensual – to properly breathe.


Filed under amber, Flowers


  1. I’m not an amber person either, although I do own a few. (I am a true perfume lover, but for some reason, have never been enamored with ambers. I own one or two full bottles, but do not spritz them very much.) Most of them appear to be austere.

    • Personally I find them almost vulgar rather than austere. Although I am also a vulgarian myself at times (in flamboyant mode I can really drown myself in perfumes like these once in a while), the fact of subjecting others around you to this musky, sweet persistency seems to show, in some ways, an intrinsic lack of taste. If I were wearing a well judged dose of No 19 vintage parfum for example, it would be precisely the opposite: I would feel supercilious (because iris always has that effect), removed and full of snobbery. Ambers just make me feel as though I were a whore.

    • Which ambers do you have, incidentally, Madame Filomena?

  2. Katy

    Wonderful. I have a craving a couple of times a year for amber and more often an amber to layer with fragrances that poop out too soon in their amber dry down. I am looking at you, Bvlgari Black and Estée Lauder Private Collection Amber Ylang-Ylang. I have found that Pacifica Spanish Amber gives a nice lift to these two. I like Aerin Lauder’s Amber Musk, a nice light one for summer and for really cold days, Estée Lauder Amber Mystique is just the ticket. I need to start a Womanity anti-defamation league. Good God, dear Ginza, you make me never want to smell it again and I like it! The secret with Womanity is a light touch, the only Mugler one can spray with abandon is the excellent cologne. I nearly gassed myself once with an over application of Alien Absolute, coincidentally, an amber beast!

    • Brilliant to read and tantalizing too: I still don’t know the Amber Ylang but really want to smell it. Have never even heatd of Amber Mystique!

      ‘Womanity’ though ( SUCH a terrible name)!



      VILE !!!!

      I will never forget that experience: the metallic caviar note which I already DETESTED by the time I got on the plane as it had already leaked all over my hand in Duty Free ( Duncan was horrified as I approached him….. What IS that awful smell… ) and then the molten rivers of babe poop as a top note…lord my nose almost died.

      What do you like about it? This is one perfume whose admiration I simply cannot understand.

      Enlighten me, Woman!

      • Katy

        I think salt and fig are tricky notes in perfumery and I like the balance struck in Womanity, which I find creamy/savory. Personal chemistry looms large with all the Muglers and they smell better on some then others. I like some of the Womanity flankers better, The Taste of Fragrance flanker plays up the fig and lacks that strange dissonance of the original. It is a peculiar beast, there is no denying that, it need never be over applied or sprayed on anything but skin. My daughter Pearl wears this fragrance, she is nearly 6 feet tall and blonde and looks like a mermaid, so somehow it just works on her. I savor it on the hottest days of summer when its chemical clang is cooling instead of alarming. I find it quite foody…..

      • I must admit I am sold……
        And a daughter called Pearl, who looks like a mermaid? Who else to wear it!

  3. Wonderful work, Neil. I have a difficult relationship with amber; the closer it gets to front and centre of a fragrance, the less I like it (if I’m getting samples of a range such as the Dior colognes or Armani Privé, I’d get the cuir, the incense, the patch, the iris, and rarely bother with the amber) but hovering around the edges, adding some sweetness and resinous quality, it ain’t bad. Vanilla on its own: same thing. Actually, ditto labdanum; I always think of a damp and dirty dog – unwashed, slightly fetid-fusty skin and fur – when it’s used in high doses.
    I’d try to get ahold of that Amber Mystique if you can. The amber is blended with a bunch of other things and it’s actually quite palatable.
    For some reason, “molten rivers . . . ” is really staying with me. Ick. 😉

  4. Ick meaning highly effective writing.

  5. Lilybelle

    I’m not an amber person either. What you said about it taking ownership and drowning you, that’s exactly how I feel. I’m attracted…but I just can’t. Some of my favorite vintage fragrances do have a touch of amber, of course, but the modern niche *Ambre* frags are so suffocating on me. I need some light and sparkle in my scents.

    • Me too. I also think it’s the sheer MONOTONY. L’Artisan’s is the worst in that respect. A monosyllabic block of just one smell like a bar of fudge. I like the ‘story’ aspect of perfume, the development of different stages.

  6. It is funny, I have owned a few of the Amber scents you have talked about and sold them off over the years. I love the idea of an amber, mostly in room fragrances, but not so much to be parfumed in. I love amber as a note within a fragrance, but a fragrance completely built around amber is just too much for me. Same with vanilla, or patchouli. I adore the notes within a scent, but a scent comprised totally of those notes just leaves me cold and unhappy.
    Now as for candles or room sprays, well I just adore amber immensely. Interesting is it not?

    • I know what you mean though, as those ambery candles can really fill up the room with a warmth from without, without suffocating you from within. Myrrh, opoponax, amber, frankincense, bring it on.

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