Versilia Vintage Ambra Mediterranea is a study of ambergris or grey amber by Bertrand Duchaufour, and a scent that is meant to have a luminosity evocative of the “calm deep Mediterranean.” Not for me. It is also a scent that some people think is one of the best ambers around. Again, not for me. Not by any means.
Profumi Del Forte was founded in 2007 by Enzo Torre. According to the company’s website, he was “inspired by the timeless style of the Versilia seaside resort,” which explains the “Versilia” in the title of some of the fragrances. In 2009, the company released Versilia Vintage Ambra Mediterranea (hereinafter just “Ambra Mediterranea”), which Profumi Del Forte describes as follows:
The elegance of grey amber and the serenity of orange. The sweetness of ylang-ylang, the warmth of cedar wood. Gentle luminous notes, which evoke atmospheres of a calm deep Mediterranean.
[Notes:] Orange, coriander, ylang-ylang, jasmine, grey amber, benzoin from Siam, tolu balsam, incense, cedar wood, patchouli, vanilla, white musk
It’s hard to know where to start in describing Ambra Mediterranea for a few reasons. First, on my skin, it is primarily an excessively chemical, harsh woody-amber (with the emphasis on the “woody” part of the equation) with smokiness and, during the first four to six hours, with varying amounts of ambered caramel sweetness. That’s the entire scent in the most simplistic nutshell. Second, I’ve consistently experienced two slightly different versions of Ambra Mediterranea during the first stage, depending on which arm I apply the scent and in what quantities. The actual core — that chemical, smoky wood-centric bulldozer — remains the same in both cases, but the proportion of notes is different, as are their nuances and prominence. Ultimately, both versions merge into one after while, always radiating profoundly chemical, harsh, desiccated woodiness and arid smoke, mixed with a touch of sweetness. Both versions are unpleasant, it’s merely a question of one being less extreme than the other. I’ll cover both briefly.
Ambra Mediterranea opens on my skin with amber that smells like thick, heavy, dense caramel. It is laced with woodiness and twinges of an ISO E-like chemical, leading me to think the amber is probably AmberMax or one of its similar relatives. Either way, the focal point is on caramel sweetness. It is splattered with candied orange peel and spicy patchouli that emits dusty woodiness, quiet smokiness, and subtle nuances of cocoa. About 20 minutes later, the woodiness takes on a slight musty quality, and there are the faintest touches of creaminess circling at the edges, though it doesn’t smell like vanilla, per se. Rather, it’s more akin to a creamy filler and texture. Still, as a whole, Ambra Mediterranea is primarily caramel amber laced with quiet woodiness. As a side note, when I apply less of the fragrance, roughly a few tiny swipes, the woody note and the ISO E-like twinges are more pronounced from the start, even on this arm.
The secondary notes aren’t constant. 30 minutes in, the patchouli retreats to the sidelines, and its cocoa nuances fades away. The candied orange peel vanishes entirely. After roughly 90 minutes, the base turns woodier in nature, emitting a cedar-ish aroma marked by a growing wave of dryness and the first hints of incense. None of it smells natural. At the end of the 3rd hour, Ambra Mediterranea is half cedar, half caramel amber, with both parts linked together by a thin strand of incense. It is slowly turning into Version #2 at this point, except the degree of the nuances — smokiness, aridity, chemicality, sharpness, raspiness, and sweetness — differ. When I apply a lower dosage or quantity of the scent, these undertones are greater and appear much sooner, even on this arm.
At the end of the 5th hour and the start of the 6th, Ambra Mediterranea basically turns into scent that marks the opening of Version #2: arid, totally scratchy, raspy woods that are so sharp that they feel like needles in my nose. The woods are splattered with a small amount of synthetic amber that has a woody undertone of its own amidst its caramel sweetness, and then the whole thing is laced up with ribbons of sharp incense and occasional wisps of clean musk. An hour later, the back of my throat feels scratchy, a new side-effect to join the olfactory splinters that go up my nose each time I smell Ambra Mediterranea up close. In the final hours, all that’s left is sharp, abrasive woodiness with equally sharp smokiness and a dab of clean musk, before dying away as simple chemical woodiness.
On my main testing arm and regardless of how much fragrance I apply, Ambra Mediterranea opens with a blast of Nasomatto-style chemicals, blaring a synthetic woodiness laced with quiet but sharp smokiness. The bouquet bears a very chemical twinge that resembles acetone nail varnish remover mixed with rubbing alcohol or medicinal antiseptic.
The hideous concoction is followed by a musky ambergris smelling of caramel, lightly infused with thin streaks of creamy vanilla, then dusted with a handful of cocoa pods, as well as actual cocoa powder, a pinch of candied, dried orange peel, and a few specks of spicy, brown patchouli. The last set of notes would be enjoyable if they were in any way comparable to the main core, or even if they were secondary notes, but they’re the mere minutiae amidst the titanic ocean liner that is fake woody-amber chemicals. They clang away with a desiccated raspiness right from the start, and a very cheap-smelling, wannabe “incense” smokiness that would horrify any religious figure from Constantinople to Mecca and Rome.
The overall result is this odd juxtaposition of almost femininely gentle, gourmand sweetness with ultra-dry, Nasomatto-style, smoky woodiness that has a gorilla chest-thumping character. The way the notes are on my skin, it’s truly as if the two things lie side-by-side, unattached and occurring simultaneously, like two different fragrances in the same bottle. Oddly, a wisp of overly clean, definitely laundry-like musk hovers about the edges like a confused vestal virgin uncertain of which party she should attend. The louder one is unquestionably the Nasomotto woody gorilla, though, which dominates the focal point aggressively on my skin.
Ambra Mediterranea’s main focus on abrasive, smoky, woody aromachemicals continues for hours to come without dramatic or drastic change. As in Version 1, the orange, cocoa, and spicy patchouli disappear after 30 minutes, though the vanilla lasts a short while longer. The acetone and ISO E-like undertones disappear even more quickly, but the fragrance’s abrasive raspiness and scratchiness somehow seem to grow stronger in response. As in Version 1, the amber’s caramel fades away over time, leaving only desiccated woods wrapped up with incense. The difference is that the amber loses ground far more quickly here than it did in Version 1, roughly 3 hours in total. At the similar point in time in Version 1, the scent was more evenly split between the cedar-ish woods and the amber. Regardless, as I noted earlier, both versions ultimately end in the same place, even if it takes a few hours and even if the balance of notes is initially different. None of it is pleasant, in my opinion. The first two times I tried Ambra Mediterranea I scrubbed it off in less than 10 minutes.
Bertrand Duchaufour must have been given a very specific brief by the company/client, because this degree of in-your-face chemicals is not his usual style. On the other hand, given that Ambra Mediterranea was originally released in 2009, there is a good chance it has been badly reformulated by some ham-handed idiot since, as you will see later, earlier accounts of the scent seem to describe something quite different, while two recent Fragrantica reviews note the fragrance’s chemical nature. Whatever the precise reason, none of it feel originally or distinctive in this day and age. Perhaps, in 2009, Ambra Mediterranea was more unique and exciting, but, in 2015, I’m not impressed.
I’m much more sensitive to or aware of chemicals than others, and the vast majority of people don’t seem to mind them, but, putting aside the chemicals entirely, nothing about Ambra Mediterranea feels interesting to me. It’s not a refined, polished update on an amber soliflore; it’s not a distinctive, cutting edge interpretation of a smoky, oriental woody; and it’s not a drier or more balanced twist on gourmands. I can’t even call it a hodge-podge of styles, either, because the proportion or balance of each sides isn’t equal enough for that. Ambra Mediterranea simply feels discordant to me, nothing else. There is no smoothness, no finesse, no seamless blending, and no luxurious opulence to counterbalance the jarring nature of the notes, either.
On Fragrantica, Ambra Mediterranea receives generally positive reviews, though not from everyone. For several of the women commentators, Ambra Mediterranea is too masculine or strong, and there is a similar comment to that effect on the fragrance’s Luckyscent page. Most men on Fragrantica, however, really like Ambra Mediterranea. One chap found it to lie midway between Tom Ford‘s Amber Absolute and Montale‘s Blue Aoud. (A Montale reference should tell you something….) According to the vote system, 7 people think it resembles Amouage‘s Opus VI. I saw no similarity between the two scents on my skin.
Apart from the amber, a few people find Ambra Mediterranea to have a large amount of patchouli, while others experience far more incense and woods. Back in 2011, “Alfarom” wrote: “A magnificent concoction of top quality amber (among the best available on the market) and straight ahead frankincense with a considerable woody presence.” He gave it a rave review and a 9/10 rating, calling it “T-E-R-R-I-F-I-C!” I don’t share his view, and we normally see eye-to-eye, which makes me wonder again if Ambra Mediterranea has been changed since he wrote his comments and become more chemical; more recent reviews do note that more unfortunate side of the scent.
For “Colin Maillard,” writing in January 2015, the fragrance’s dryness is partially one reason why he found Ambra Mediterranea to be a “creative” change from most ambers. He writes, in part:
Finally one of the very few amber scents which tries to do something creative with this accord. A dry, smoked, camphoraceous amber rich in darkness and sour resins (like benzoin), with an indolic and dusty texture, perhaps provided by jasmine. Basically a sort of Donna Karan’s Black Cashmere with less spices (at least initially) and more amber: there’s quite some differences, but that (and other scents like that) came to my mind because of its dark, ambery thickness, almost harsh and pungent, which is one of the most interesting features of Ambra as well. The scent is really good initially, and much powerful too[….] This scents has almost nothing in common with almost any other amber: the note is there, but it’s austere, dry, sour and shady. [Emphasis to perfume name added by me.]
He notes that the “downside… is a persistent ‘chemical’ feel, something halfway metallic and terpenic,” but it was more than a mere “feel” for “Mary-Jayne,” who thought Ambra Mediterranea bore a Nasomatto style of “invasive” and “unrelenting” chemical harshness, just as it did for me. In May 2015, she wrote, in part:
This has Nasomatto strength potency, and there is a strong chemical-synthetic note that I cannot quite place, but man it is persistent and invasive. It is just unrelenting, for me there is this super powerful synthetic woody type note that almost reminds me of cleaning alcohol, a dense heavy thick patchouli that tends to earthy chocolate nuances, a hint of deep amber and a touch of resins and spice with a little tiny bit of something floral plus what feels almost like a smidgen of oud.
The closest thing I can think to compare and liken it to, is if you wore a hefty dose of Black Afgano one day, and the next day you wore the same clothes, that are impregnated with BA, but this time you applied Blamage [another scent from Nasomatto’s creator]. Liberally. This is super dense and super intense. Unfortunately for me the chemical note has an eye watering harshness and t is is unrelenting from the initial spray right through into the late drydown. [¶][…] I find the notes don’t settle or melt into the skin at all, I am not keen on the overly strong and insistent chemical note and there is very little amber to my nose. That said, if you are looking for a BIG, loud and heavy Patch scent this may be of interest to you. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
I didn’t find Ambra Mediterranea to be as much of a powerhouse as everyone else, but I smeared my quantities, not sprayed — and aerosolisation always adds to a fragrance’s projection and sillage. That said, I thought Ambra Mediterranea had good sillage with 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle. At that amount, the fragrance opened with 3 inches of projection that seemed to grow a little after 20 minutes, but not excessively so. The scent trail was about 6 to 8 inches of sillage at first. Ambra Mediterranea became a skin scent on me after 5.75 hours, and felt both wispy and quiet at 7.5 hours, though it was still extremely strong up close, to the point where the sense of needles going up my nose persisted. All in all, Ambra Mediterranea lasted just short of 12.25 hours. I have the feeling that if I sprayed the fragrance, my numbers would be significantly higher, as my skin holds onto industrial strength chemicals for a large period of time, particularly when they’re in large doses. On Fragrantica, the vast majority of longevity votes (21) place Ambra Mediterranea in the “very long lasting” category which is defined at 12+ hours. For sillage, the majority of votes (18) are for “heavy,” with the next closest category (9 votes) being for “enormous,” the highest ranking of all.
I dislike Ambra Mediterranea immensely but, if you have no problems with industrial-strength synthetics at high dosages, and if you want a very dry, woody-centric, smoky, and Nasomatto-style amber that skews masculine in nature, you may want to give it a try. I don’t recommend it for anyone else.