Do you love your amber with a shot of booze, or straight up? Do you want it as dark as night, its toffee’d chewiness beset by either tobacco, leather or incense, or would you prefer it to be so golden that it evokes James Bond’s Goldfinger girl? Have you sought an “amber” fragrance layered with the creamiest and silkiest vanilla, or do you prefer it accompanied by some combination of dry woods, spices, salty caramel, bitter expresso, chocolate, jammy roses, or aromatic herbs instead? Whatever the combination or your particular preferences, my hope is that there will an “amber” on this list of 50 fragrances to tempt you to explore further.
Before we get to the fragrances, it’s essential that I explain the framework for this list. It’s going to be long, so I ask for your patience, but I think it’s necessary in order for you to understand why things have been sorted as they have and the criteria that I used in doing so.
First, if you happen to stumble across this article in the months or years to come, it may not make much sense unless you read Part I first. Part I is critical because it explains the categories below, the definitions and types of “amber,” how each type smells, the occasional overlap between genres, and the difficulty in having cut-and-dry parameters. As I explained there, broad spectrum orientals that include some form of “amber” in the base are not the focus of this two-part series, only the ones where it’s the key focus. In other words, fragrances where the “amber” ingredient is emphasized above all else. It comes down to the balance and ratio of notes. If a fragrance is predominantly rose and patchouli against an ambered backdrop, then it’s not really an “amber” but falls into another fragrance family altogether. To qualify for this list, the amber must be the star of the show, the fundamental essence of the fragrance, or, at a minimum, the engine driving everything, no matter how many additional flourishes or ingredients there may be. If you read Part I, you’ll understand why certain fragrances fall within the categories that I’ve chosen, why others don’t qualify, and also the sheer number of variables that are involved both in understanding amber and in trying to find the type that best suits your personal tastes.
That brings me to my second point. The goal here is not to have a short list of the “Ten Best,” “My Favourite Ambers,” or the like. The goal is something else entirely: to be as comprehensive as I can be in order to give you the widest range of options and choices to find an amber that suits you. So I will try to cover all the ambers that I’ve tried in the various genres, even if a particular fragrance didn’t strike a chord with me.There are a few exceptions, though, as I’ll explain in a minute.
Third, in order to be as comprehensive as possible, I have divided things into roughly seven or eight categories. The Labdanum and Ambergris ones deal with pure, hardcore soliflores where the main note is so overwhelmingly dominant that any accompanying elements are either incidental or they exist merely to accentuate facets of the “amber.” After that, there are the “Labdanum Plus” and “Ambergris Plus,” where center stage is shared by some type of ambered material along with several other elements, but the fundamental core and essence of the fragrance is still all about the “amber” when its olfactory profile is considered as a whole. Towards the end, there is also a broad Mixed Genre section, a sort of catch-all category, if you will. I’ll explain further when we get to that part.
For all these categories, it comes down to the balance of notes, the ratios of the specific ingredients, and what really drives the scent. The demarcations are not always cut-and-dry, and there is sometimes an overlap (particularly between the “Plus” genres), so I’m forced to rely on a purely subjective, personal assessment of where a fragrance may fall on the spectrum. The balance or ratios may be different on your skin and you may view the fragrance differently, but I can only go by what appears to me on my skin and to my nose.
That brings me to my fourth point. As I emphasized in Part I, one cannot ignore the role of subjectivity in all this. It goes beyond the way that I’ve classified things, and it applies to whether something is included at all. As you’ll see below, I’ve listed fragrances that I didn’t love but that other people feel passionately about, and also mentioned a few that others seem to view as “ambers” even if I would classify them in an entirely different fragrance family. However, one has to draw a line somewhere in a post that covers 50 fragrances, particularly given the overall number of “ambers” that I’ve reviewed over the years, so I’ve excluded ones that I absolutely loathed, that I scrubbed, or that I felt were unbearable aromachemical bombs. That is my line in the sand.
Finally, I’ve tried to limit myself to fragrances currently on the market. However, since my goal is comprehensiveness, I’ve listed three discontinued fragrances that I thought were excellent representations of their genre or just great perfumes as a whole. My thought is that eBay offers options if someone is really eager to try the fragrance. I’ve checked the site and all three are currently available as decants, samples, or full bottles.
Thank you for bearing with all that background explanation so patiently, and I’m sorry it was so long. Onto the 50 fragrances now.
Profumum Roma Ambra Aurea: Ambra Aurea is not only the gold standard for ambergris fragrances, in my opinion, but also the only one I’ve encountered that feels like a hardcore soliflore. The unquestionable, solo star of the show is ambergris, ambergris, and then more ambergris, even though there are other elements like labdanum, incense, and myrrh included as well. They merely accentuate various innate facets of the key note which has a stunningly rich aroma that is simultaneously salty, sweet, sticky, extremely nutty, vegetal, slightly musky, beautifully golden, caramel-laced, and honeyed. Plumes of smoke and incense gradually arise at the edges, while an immensely toffee’d labdanum swirls through the ambergris. The drydown is centered primarily on labdanum-amber-incense-resins with waning levels of ambergris. Be that as it may, the entire vibe and feel of Ambra Aurea is about the ambergris, presented in its richest, densest, and most opulent form. I think it’s superb, the perfume equivalent of the tsars’ legendary Amber Room.
“AMBERGRIS PLUS” FRAGRANCES:
Profumum Fiore d’Ambra: Fiore d’Ambra is not as good as its big older brother, but it’s still a lovely fragrance and may work better for women who don’t want something as hardcore, musky, or heavy as Ambra Aurea. The amber note is more fluid and amorphous, not so clearly and strongly redolent of ambergris. I think there is ambergris in there, but it’s heavily diluted. In addition, it’s infused with floral (carnation?), cloves, cinnamon, incense, and resin elements for a bouquet that strongly evoked vintage Opium for me at one point. Gradually, soft woods (sandalwood?), vanilla, and vanillic powder join the mix as well. In its later stages, Fiore d’Ambra turns into a powdered, cinnamon, vanilla and caramel-scented amber. It’s not as exceptional, bold, compelling, or distinctive as Ambra Aurea, but it’s pretty and it may be more versatile in some ways.
Farmacia SS Annunziata Ambra Nera: Sexy, smoky, and snarling, Ambra Nera is a gritty, punk rock amber that is simply gorgeous. It is a compulsively sniffable parfum, and involves far more than the “black amber” in its name. Rich woods, spicy patchouli, incense, sticky balsamic resins, animalic warmth, and earthiness are all cocooned in musky ambergris in a way that feels like amber with an edge. While its essence can be over-simplified down to patchouli-woods-amber, the overall effect is like the Billy Idol, Iggy Pop, or Ramones version of ambergris. Sexy, and very cool, Ambra Nera is one of my favourites in this particular genre.
Dior Ambre Nuit: Ambre Nuit opens as a beautiful, potent, strong but weightless blend of sweet, salty, and liqueured ambergris layered with incense smoke, dry woods, and a touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from peppers and a little sweet from patchouli. Gradually, Ambre Nuit turns into a gorgeous, smoky, sweet ambergris perfume laced with tendrils of dry woods and rich, sometimes chocolatey patchouli. I find the faintest, subtlest similarities to Chanel’s Coromandel, but the best summation for Ambre Nuit might be to call it the ambergris version of Mitzah, Dior’s fantastic (but sadly discontinued) labdanum fragrance.
Arabian Oud Kalemat & Kalemat Amber: Contrary to the company’s name, there is no oud in Kalemat which is a superb, super-rich, molten, and honey-slathered ambergris with a large sillage scent cloud, warmth, sweetness, cedary woods, incense smoke, and varying amounts of rose and muskiness as well. The concentrated Kalemat Amber oil may be even better and is magnificent in its richness, but it’s much softer on the skin. Arabian Oud has just opened a New York/Times Square location, but you can also find full bottles and samples of the EDP on eBay. (I’ve never seen samples of Kalemat Amber oil, alas.) I think both versions are fantastic, but which one suits you best will depend on what exactly you’re looking for. As a side note, layering the oil under other fragrances really adds to their richness and depth.
Tola Anbar: Anbar opens as a close copy of Kalemat (EDP). There are minor differences, though, like plums and fruitchouli. There is very little incense and no definite rose (though the feeling or suggestion is there, thanks to the fruit-chouli). Anbar also has much less honey, woodiness, and booziness. Eventually, Anbar turns into a gourmand “amber” dominated by immensely cloying caramel, shrieking vanilla, and extremely low-quality, synthetic oud that resembles something from Montale. As a whole, Anbar feels unbalanced and bombastic. I don’t find any of it remotely impressive, and I think it’s very over-priced. But it is technically an “amber” fragrance and might appeal to someone looking for a gourmand cousin to Kalemat, so I’ve put it on the list. (Grudgingly.)
Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe: In its earliest phases, Ambre Russe is a bold, beautifully boozy, and complex scent that really stands out. It opens with a fizzy, sparkling, citrusy note that is intended to be “champagne,” but it’s quickly drowned out by another type of alcohol, one that is more cognac and rum on my skin than the “vodka” listed in the notes. The intense booziness is also imbued with: spices; honeyed sweetness; a touch of wonderfully browned, aged leather; and, finally, loads of rich ambergris. Soon, rum-soaked raisins, pipe tobacco, and something resembling smoky black tea arrive to join the mix as well. It’s fantastic but, all too soon, Ambre Russe turns into a simple, soft, and very sheer cinnamon-flecked, benzoin-ish amber laced with incense smoke. It basically stays that way until the end. It’s nice, but hardly as interesting or compelling. Plus, for me, the fragrance feels more like an eau de toilette than an eau de parfum. Others perceive Ambre Russe as a really rich scent, so it’s clearly an issue of skin and one’s personal spectrum. Either way, if you love boozy amber fragrances, this is absolutely one worth trying.
Roja Dove Amber Extrait: Amber Extrait is discontinued, but I’ve put it on the list because would it suit people who like a gourmand take on amber and it’s also easily found on eBay. I summed it up as Willy Wonka’s Amber, because it’s centered on a delicious chocolate-covered ambergris. If you are passionate about both ambergris and chocolate/cocoa notes, then this is worth sampling. (You can do so via eBay where the fragrance is still easy to find as a sample, decant, or full bottle.)
Histoires de Parfums Ambre 114: This is another fragrance that falls into overlapping genres. The start of Ambre 114 combines aromatic, lavender, fresh, and cologne elements with a musky, sweet, caramel-scented grey ambergris (much like MPG’s Ambre Precieux). Small amounts of benzoin and vanilla finish things off. Later, it turns into spiced ambergris with caraway and dry woods, then into a more generalised “amber” bouquet with as much benzoin and powdery tonka as ambergris. Drops of labdanum lurk around the edges, but this is a very golden, fluffy, sweet and powdery amber in its heart and drydown stages. I re-tested this one recently and couldn’t decide if it was an “Ambergris Plus” or a mixed genre, Amber-Benzoin-Tonka fragrance, but I eventually settled on the former. Either way, it feels wonderfully golden after its slightly cologne-like debut, and it frequently makes me think of the Goldfinger girl.
SHL 777 O Hira: When you want to mainline the labdanum form of amber and money is no object, this is for you. The Incredible Hulk of labdanum fragrances, its key note is deepened to an intense degree by a slew of the darkest, most balsamic resins (especially styrax and Tolu balsam) and, I suspect, ambergris, spices, dark musks, some tobacco, and possibly some patchouli as well. Chewy, dense, opulent, molten, intense, spicy, smoky, leathery, smooth, and with a naughty side, O Hira is a knockout that made me do a double-take from the very first moment that I sniffed it. It’s very sexy, in my opinion, and a personal favourite as well, but it’s also painfully expensive.
Tom Ford Amber Absolute & Sahara Noir: Both fragrances can be summed up as frankincense-infused labdanum amber, and both are extremely similar. I personally prefer Sahara Noir because I find it’s smoother, better balanced, less bombastic, and more refined than Amber Absolute, and its incense smoke never feels as high-pitched, but the latter has the benefit of being a sillage beast and an absolute powerhouse (for those who appreciate that style of perfumery). There is a weird situation with the availability of these two fragrances that I don’t pretend to understand. Amber Absolute was discontinued and Sahara Noir was ushered in to take its place. Then, Amber Absolute returned and its replacement vanished. Someone well-placed in the industry told me that Tom Ford brought Amber Absolute “out of the vault” for a limited time, which implies that it will return there at some point. Personally, I think that Estee Lauder or Tom Ford realised the mistake in discontinuing a fragrance as popular and beloved as AA and will probably keep it around, but who really knows? Sahara Noir was much cheaper in its retail price and I still think it’s worth considering if you can find a sample or bottle on eBay because it’s a smoother, more refined, better balanced, and less bombastic scent. Either way, whichever one is out there, it’s a torrent of rich, dark labdanum enveloped in frankincense smoke that is absolutely worth trying if you love the two main notes.
Dior Mitzah: Mitzah was the highlight of Dior’s Privée line for me and many others, and I’ll never understand the decision to discontinue it. It’s a sumptuous, rich but weightless labdanum fragrance that, despite the presence of rose, patchouli, spices, and incense, always feels like it’s driven by labdanum, labdanum, and more labdanum. The latter is toffee’d, honeyed, resinous, dry sweet, faintly musky, lightly spiced, and splattered with dollops of rum raisin. The rose is dark, velvety, and beefy; the patchouli is spicy, boozy, smoky, and faintly redolent of chocolate; and the waves of incense smoke that surround the scent from all sides are beautiful, the perfect finishing touch. Simply writing all this out makes me feel mournful at the loss of Mitzah. I have a large bottle which I hoard, but re-testing it last week made me think, once again, how Mitzah is among the best things Dior has ever made. Samples are still easily available on eBay, and I think it’s worth trying if you love labdanum. (The full bottles are extremely expensive, but they’re also huge in size at 8.4 oz/250 ml.)
Teo Cabanel‘s Barkhane: I summed Barkhane up as Mitzah’s big brother, and that’s largely the case. It opens like Mitzah on steroids: a molten lava flow of immensely balsamic, chewy, toffee’d labdanum. Smoke and spicy patchouli swirl all around. The end result is a visual of smoldering, spiced, slightly smoky blacks, browns, and reds that are edged in bronzed gold. The problem for me is that this mighty, mesmerizing, fantastic river of richness dries up with surprising speed. Some people have been luckier in terms of Barkhane’s development, its sillage, longevity, and power, but others have been in my boat. It’s probably a skin issue. Still, Barkhane is a current fragrance, nicely priced at $130, and samples are not hard to find, so it’s definitely worth testing if you love labdanum (especially if you adored Mitzah and are frustrated by its eBay prices).
Lubin Akkad: Mitzah’s other relative is Akkad. It opens with sugared orange that is slightly burnt, along with patchouli and leathery, nutty labdanum over a sheer hint of powder. Cardamom and frankincense soon follow to join the amber party. But, with astonishing speed, Akkad turns into a simple mix that is predominantly labdanum, frankincense, and patchouli. The latter (or its fusion with the labdanum) gave me a distinctly dirty, hippie, ’70s vibe that neither Mitzah nor Barkhane ever did. At the very end, it turns into a very light amber with a sort of caramel, butterscotch undertone and with a hint of vanilla. It’s much lighter and feels far less complex than Mitzah, but it lasts longer on my skin than Barkhane.
Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan: The original, referential labdanum amber of its kind, Ambre Sultan is too well-known to need much description. An opening of bitter herbs over labdanum transitions quickly (on my skin) into a hardcore labdanum soliflore coated in beeswax. It’s a very boozy, resinous labdanum with all its nutty, dirty, toffee’d, slightly honeyed, sticky, vaguely leathered undertones on display. I think there must be some patchouli and dry, faintly dusty cedar lurking in there as well. I enjoy Ambre Sultan, but I’m one of the weird handful of people who doesn’t find the fragrance to be rich or heavy at all, but very soft, thin, and light in weight. That may be a reformulation issue since Ambre Sultan was first released more than 20 years ago, in addition to a question of personal tastes. Some people struggle with the herbal “spice shop” opening, while a few women find it too masculine and dark in feel. Nevertheless, Ambre Sultan is one of the most celebrated and popular ambers around, and the gateway by which a lot of people entered the niche world, so it’s definitely an important fragrance in the genre.
Elisire Ambre Nomade: Ambre Nomade was inspired by Ambre Sultan, and I actually prefer it to the original. It’s a pure parfum that was created by Pierre Negrin, the nose behind such Amouage fragrances as Opus VII, Opus VIII, Interlude Man, and Journey Woman (co-done with Alberto Morillas). Ambre Nomade is significantly richer than Ambre Sultan, smoother, and deeper. The notes are slightly different as well. Like the lavender and rosemary that appear in the opening, sprinkled over a tsunami of really beautiful labdanum and cistus absolute. The latter are swirled through with dark toasted nuts, toffee and a cocoa-dusted chocolate, probably from patchouli. Later, a crisp, fresh apple joins the mix, followed by a candied, crystallized ginger and some vanilla. In its finish, it’s all about labdanum laced with incense. I think it’s fantastic from start to finish, and, despite all the other elements, the labdanum and cistus are always the stars of the show. As a side note, Elisire is no longer carried by OsswaldNYC and I can’t find any other retailers for the brand at this time. However, Ambre Nomade is directly available via the company’s website.
Diana Vreeland Extravagance Russe: This one starts with so much promise with an opening that is centered on sumptuously deep, bold, vibrant wave of boozy labdanum amber lashed with sticky, balsamic resins and smokiness. There are nutty undertones like toasted hazelnuts, layers of the rich toffee so characteristic of labdanum, and a boozy Bourbon vanilla. Streaks of muskiness run through it like golden veins, then a surprising hint of something chocolate-like, and a ghostly hint of something leathery. It’s absolutely wonderful, but all of it fizzles out with astonishing rapidity, turning into simple mix of labdanum amber and smoky resins. I’ll never get over the speed of the change, and how thin, wispy and skin-hugging the fragrance becomes. Personally, I doubt the bold, vibrant, and iconic Diana Vreeland would approve of such a humdrum, unoriginal bouquet but, if you’re a fan of hers, give it a test sniff.
“LABDANUM PLUS” FRAGRANCES:
Rania J. Ambre Loup: It’s probably cheating to include Ambre Loup on this list since I consider it to be primarily a tobacco fragrance, but I’m going to justify its inclusion on the grounds that it’s officially supposed to be an “amber” fragrance and that’s, in fact, the very word in its name. Plus, there are monumental amounts of labdanum and chewy resins at Ambre Loup’s core. I love Ambre Loup passionately and find it wholly narcotic, despite having been exhausted by its massive longevity and rather singular focus on my skin the first few times I tried it. But there is something about this fragrance, something that stayed with me, beckoning, enticing, and hard to forget. The more I wore it, the more obsessed I became with it, and the more I had to have a full bottle. I’m now considering the need for a second, back-up one because I frequently turn to Ambre Loup when I have a rare night to wear fragrances for myself. It’s a dark, rich, dense, spicy, smoky, lightly sweetened tobacco-amber bomb that always gets compliments. I think it skews more towards the tobacco than the amber, but someone I know thinks it smells like opium. (The drug, not the famous perfume.) Either way, it’s going to depend on individual skin chemistry. All I can say is that this was #1 on my list of personal favourites in 2015, and I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.
Sultan Pasha Attars Pure Incense: Three times, I put Pure Incense into the Labdanum Soliflore category, and three times I moved it back here. I’ve now given up trying to determine the degree to which the gorgeous, head-turning, smoldering avalanche of labdanum — wafting its chewiest, darkest, most balsamic, smoky, toffee’d, leathery, nutty, tarry, musky, spicy, sweet, and tobacco’d facets — may share center stage with the various kinds of incense, led primarily by myrrh and joined later by frankincense. The bottom line is that this is the very epitome of resinous darkness, in the very best way possible, and it’s not a churchy, “High Mass” incense soliflore as its name might lead you to think. It was originally inspired by Norma Kamali’s famous but discontinued “Incense,” and is said to resemble it closely. Pure Incense is one of my favourite fragrances that I’ve tried in 2016, a powerhouse of intensity that is compellingly bold and like nothing else that is currently on the market. I think it skews quite masculine in feel, but I know some women who love it passionately. It’s really going to depend on your personal taste and style.
Sultan Pasha Resine Precieux: As the name makes clear, resins are front and center in this lovely attar which opens with swirling clouds of red, brown, gold, and black, as dark labdanum, cinnamon-scented benzoin, quietly smoky styrax, dry woods, myrrh, spicy Devil’s Dung, and lightly sweetened pipe tobacco swirl together in a dense ball of stickiness. That ball is then slathered with honeyed beeswax and ensconced within a musky, almost animalic haze of black ambergris. As a whole, this is a drier treatment of “amber” than you might expect from the notes. Its sweetness is counteracted by smoky and dry notes, in addition to being covered with a fine patina of dustiness, as though ancient woods had crumbled on the honeyed, balsamic, and almost fossilized resins. I love it, but I should warn you that, on some people, the Devil’s Dung spice (also known as Asafoetida or Hing) has turned “poopy.” It doesn’t on me or on others I know who love the scent, but it’s clearly a question of one’s skin and the notes it amplifies. So, it may be better to sample first.
Amouage Opus VI: Opus VI is driven by a super-charged labdanum with its darkest, muskiest, most leathery, animalic, and even dirty, almost goaty sides on full display, accentuated even further by dry, musky, amber aromachemicals (Ambrarum and Z11). Incense, patchouli, extremely dry woods, and spiciness round things off. The drydown is an amorphous amber with honey, beeswax and benzoin which creates a vague sense of nutty, caramel amber. That part is nice but I’m not keen on Opus VI as a whole, finding the dryness of the synthetics to be a dissonant polarity amidst the richness of the labdanum, and it felt too dirty for me (not in a good way) at times. However, a number of people really love Opus VI, especially those who prefer drier takes on the genre. If that is you, and if you like dark, musky and dirty types of labdanum, this is one for you to try.
Ateliers des Ors Larmes du Desert: A cousin to Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir and Amber Absolute, Larmes du Desert goes further, adding a hefty amount of myrrh and dry, smoky woods to its labdanum, and lessening the role of the frankincense. Don’t let that simplistic, nutshell summation fool you, though, or make you think your Tom Ford scent is an easy substitute. Larmes du Desert is a knockout that blows both of the Tom Fords out of the water in terms of complexity, character, and nuance. It may not be a “beast” like Amber Absolute, but it still has an avalanche of gorgeous labdanum and it’s a much more polished, elegant, interesting, and compelling scent as a whole in my opinion.
La Via del Profumo Mecca Balsam: Inspired by the pilgrims’ journey to Mecca, this is a labdanum fragrance layered with frankincense, oud, tobacco, benzoin, spices, floral notes, and tonka. I had an extremely odd, undoubtedly anomalous experience with it on my skin, but most people describe it as a deeply spiritual, smoky, and resinous scent, so you should probably go by their accounts instead.
Tauer/Tauerville Amber Flash: Amber Flash opens with the richly toffee’d aroma of labdanum that’s been layered with vanilla, cinnamon-scented benzoin resin, and the leathery, intensely tarry creosote that is in the base of so many Tauer fragrances. It slowly takes on an Ambre Loup-like tobacco and opium note, layered with patchouli and a smoky, abrasive, and extremely synthetic sandalwood note as well. The smoke, tar, leather, and creosote aspects slowly balloon to brutish levels, rendering this deeply unpleasant to me. In fact, I wanted to scrub Amber Flash. The only reason why I put it on the list is because some people seem to like it, because it may appeal to someone who is looking for a monumentally smoky, leathery, rough amber (and who ideally has no sensitivity to immensely forceful aromachemicals), and because its drydown is a better balanced, less aggressive, milder scent that is somewhat enjoyable (relative to the middle phase), thanks to the calming influence of vanilla. You can read the review for full details.
Armani Ambre Soie: Ambre Soie opens with fresh anise or fennel, ginger, abstract spices, and patchouli, all enveloped in dark labdanum. This is one of the handful of labdanum fragrances that actually skews to the root beer or cola side on my skin. (See Part I for the complete scent details.) A mere 20 minutes in, Ambre Soie turns into a three-way race between anisic licorice, root beer, and gingerbread-scented patchouli. I’m not crazy over the opening for reasons that I explain in the review, but Ambre Soie has a great middle and finish, even if it’s all skin-hugging and terribly discreet. Much later, benzoin arrives, followed by a subtle undercurrent of smokiness. The labdanum stops smelling like root beer, the fresh anise and licorice depart, and the sum total result is ambered, resinous warmth flecked by smoke, clean patchouli, and dark musk. It’s cozy and very appealing. Some people think Ambre Soie resembles Fendi‘s much beloved, discontinued Theorema, but I think the Armani is not as gourmand or ginger heavy, in addition to being much smoother, significantly less synthetic, and better quality.
MIXED GENRE AMBERS, “GREY ZONE” AMBERS, BENZOIN AMBERS, AND/OR “GENERALIZED AMBERS”:
When I went back to re-test several fragrances to pinpoint their specific category and focus, I realised there were a few problems. The first involves what I’ll call “Grey Zone Ambers” and “Generalized Ambers” where the balance of notes puts the scent outside the Labdanum, Ambergris, or Plus categories. For example, it was all about the benzoin and vanilla, or else some other factor was at play, like the use of an amorphous “amber” that was more of a generalized, almost abstract haze. A second problem involves what I’ve called “Mixed Genres Ambers” where the fragrance can’t easily be categorized because it goes beyond mere amber and crossed into another different fragrance genre as well. For example, vanillas or the incense family. And, yet, the fragrance was still mostly an “amber” or ambered resin scent when taken as a fundamental whole. So, I came up with this large catch-all section to cover everything that I couldn’t categorize elsewhere.
Sultan Pasha Cafe Ambre Noir: Cafe Ambre Noir is an attar or concentrated fragrance oil, and is one of my favourite things that I tried in 2016. It’s not an easy one to classify and could fall into a few different categories, so I’ve placed it here. Rich waves of sumptuous, dark, intensely boozy Bourbon vanilla are shot through with musky, salty and caramel-scented ambergris, deeply balsamic labdanum, dark honey, smoke, dry woods, bitter expresso, and chocolate. In its opening, the focus is really on the liqueured vanilla, but the labdanum, ambergris, resins, smoke, and honey are never far behind. The sum-total effect sometimes feels like a darker, richer, Bourbon vanilla brother to Arabian Oud‘s gorgeously molten, honeyed, Kalemat Amber, only this one has a demitasse of coffee and chocolate (mocha?) in lieu of rose and cedar. At the time of this post, Cafe Ambre Noir is sold out and unavailable because it is dependent on a particular type of Hindi Oud to amplify its chocolate facets and that has been difficult to source, but I hope it comes back soon because this is one of my favourite “cozy comfort” scents from 2016.
Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier (MPG) Ambre Precieux & Ambre Precieux Ultime: Ambre Precieux could go in a number of overlapping amber categories, thanks to its waves of labdanum supplemented by ambergris, Peru balsam, Tolu balsam, benzoin, vanilla, and tonka. I fell in love with it from first sniff, and frequently turn to it as a “cozy comfort” scent which is one of my favourite genres of fragrance. Ambre Precieux opens with aromatic, fresh lavender and myrtle over caramel ambergris. Layered deep within are creamy vanilla, smoky incense, spices, chewy resins, and toffee’d labdanum. It’s a luscious, sweet, and resinous mix that is lightly dusted with tonka and benzoin powder, but never so much as to skew into actual “Play Doh” territory, at least not on my skin. None of it feels truly gourmand, all of it is pitch-perfect, balanced, and smooth. The vanilla and caramel amber are in perfect harmony, because both are indirectly kept in check by the innate dryness of smoky incense and the growing waves of labdanum darkness. Ambre Precieux Ultime is a richer, darker, and limited-edition version of the original, and you can read my review for how the ratios and balance of notes differ between the two.
Al Haramain Arabian Treasure: This is basically Ambre Precieux that has been super-sized, as if placed on steroids to amplify its aromatics, its sweetness, its spices, and its power. The review explains how they differ in specific, but I prefer Ambre Precieux because its opening is much less aromatic, leafy, and fresh. However, some men may prefer Arabian Treasure because of the geranium in its start and because it never bears the powderiness that Ambre Precieux sometimes does. (I think there is much less benzoin and tonka.) If you liked parts of Ambre Precieux, but would prefer curlicues of smokiness instead of light, vanillic, benzoin/tonka powderiness, you may want to check out Arabian Treasure instead. (Al Haramain has affordable sample sets, and it’s a company worth checking out.)
Diptyque Benjoin Boheme: Diptyque isn’t a brand that has done much for me in the past, but Benjoin Boheme made me look at them in a new light. This is a lovely benzoin amber infused with styrax resin, patchouli, sandalwood, creaminess, and smokiness. It called to mind a Turner landscape painted in a palette of nut-browns, gold, and silver, then edged in smoky shadows. The benzoin wafts large puffs of cinnamon, while the styrax sends up plumes of smoke up top and a subtle, resinous leatheriness down below. It’s not a complicated scent, but it’s cool and warm, elegant and cozy, sweet, spicy, smoky, and even clean, all at once. Really nice job from Diptyque.
Le Labo Benjoin 19 (Moscow): Benjoin 19 was a constant shape-shifter on me but its essence, in a nutshell, is churchy ambered incense. Benzoin and styrax are swaddled in a thick, hefty amount of High Church, orthodox frankincense and myrrh, sprinkled with some aldehydes, then placed atop a labdanum base. The latter slowly seeps up, coating the cool, dusty, woody, ashy, and clean incense accord with warmth and toffee’d sweetness. Depending on test, aromatic pine and cedar were evident as well. In one version, Benjoin 19 skewed more towards the amber accords; in the others, the myrrh and frankincense took the lead, followed closely by the woods and the “amber” was merely a soft backdrop. Two of the versions were pleasant, I suppose, but Benjoin 19 is, ultimately, a really boring fragrance, in my opinion, especially for the elevated price of the “City Exclusives.” Still, if you’re a fiend for High Church incense fragrances with dry woods and moderate (to minor) amounts of amber, this one might be worth your while.
Hermes Ambre Narguile: I had difficulty deciding in which category I should place this one because it’s quite a number of things all at once. Yes, there is amber (labdanum, benzoin, vanilla, and tonka), drenched in boozy rum, then laced with sheer vapors of tobacco smoke and incense. But there are also cinnamon apple pie and rum raisin notes which are just as significant, perhaps even more so judging by the number of people who describe Ambre Narguilé in precisely those terms. Quite separate from all that, the drydown is centered on tobacco flecked with wood and leathery slivers, and the amber is often merely an amorphous, almost generalised backdrop, right from the start. So, in many ways, Ambre Narguile is more of a broad-spectrum gourmand oriental, rather than a more narrowly focused “amber.” Either way, it’s one worth trying and one of the few Jean-Claude Ellena and Hermessence fragrances I like.
Hermes Elixir des Merveilles: I loved the Elixir when I first started this blog, and I still do. It’s a mix of soft, grey, musky, and noticeably salty ambergris sandwiched between quietly smoky Siam benzoin and Peru balsam. (This is one of the few fragrances that I recall which lists Peru balsam as one of its notes.) The thing that catches my attention in the opening is the bitter, Marmalade-like orange, layered with caramel and a gorgeous spicy patchouli that wafts dark chocolate. Incense and cedar lick the edges; silky vanilla, soft sandalwood, and tonka swirl in the base; and a strong but weightless cloud of musky, ambered goldenness hangs over everything. It’s a bit of a bipolar scent, but I think it’s lovely, chic, and cozy in a very autumnal way.
La Via del Profumo Amber Rose: Dry ambergris swirls in a diffuse, sheer cloud around a velvety rose that is imbued with delicate layers of spiciness, booziness, and soft woods before being placed atop a base of quietly musky darkness. I’ve put Amber Rose into this Mixed Category because I don’t think the amber is really the emphasis. It would probably be more accurate to consider the fragrance as a broad-spectrum oriental or a floral oriental, because the rose is a major part of the scent. Then again, Amber Rose is a bit of a shape-shifter, so the ratios and balance of notes may be different on your skin.
La Via del Profumo Amber Chocolate: Semi-sweet, semi-dark, bitter, and slightly nutty chocolate is layered with silky vanilla, caramel, and tonka, then splashed with a very boozy and somewhat herbal liqueur that feels softly ambered. This is essentially a rich chocolate soliflore against an ambered backdrop, not an actual amber fragrance but I put it on the list for the handful of people who love chocolate and who would prefer their amber to be heavily diluted, sheer, and diffuse. It’s not hugely gourmand, and it definitely isn’t cloyingly sweet. I wish Amber Chocolate lasted longer on my skin and that it didn’t have such weak projection and sillage because it’s a really enjoyable scent. Maybe it will fare better on your skin.
MFK Ciel de Gum: There are different ways of viewing Ciel de Gum, depending on its stages or the notes highlighted on your skin. At its start, it veers between being a floral oriental set against an ambered backdrop and a cinnamon-scented benzoin sort of “amber” that laced with vanilla and fluctuating levels of florals. Yet, when taken as a whole and from start to finish, Ciel de Gum is unquestionably a golden scent that feels more purely oriental and “ambered” than a floral oriental. Its creamy, sweet, vanillic, cinnamon spice, and floral accents eventually turn, much later on, into a dark bouquet of heavily balsamic, smoldering resins licked by a touch of smokiness and a light veiling of powder. I’m not keen on the clean white musk in the early stages, even if its less than the deluge typically used by Mr. Kurkdjian, but it’s not too annoying on my skin. In its late stages and finish, Ciel de Gum is a significantly richer, darker, and bolder scent than his norm, and it’s absolutely wonderful. A real golden delight that is polished and cozy at the same time.
Kilian Apple Brandy: If one went solely by the name, Apple Brandy might seem like an odd choice for this list, but it’s definitely an ambery, golden scent under the deluge of cognac. Labdanum and Ambroxan (the synthetic version of ambergris) are swirled into everything, and feel just as responsible for the booziness as anything else. The opening smells like an apple Crepe Suzette over which vanilla creme anglaise is poured before the whole thing is dunked into a massive oaken vat of pure cognac. It’s pretty heady and intense, as well as being quietly gourmand. I happen to love boozy fragrances, but find this one is a bit too alcoholic and liqueured, even for me. That said, I think the power, force, and degree of alcohol is going to strongly depend on a person’s skin and the notes it amplifies. Apple Brandy is definitely and unquestionably worth trying if you love immensely boozy amber fragrances.
Kilian Amber Oud: This is not an oud fragrance, not even remotely, but it also doesn’t fit into the prior labdanum or ambergris categories, either. It’s a sheer, highly diffuse, gauzy, soft, and sweet scent whose core is best summed up as: Vanilla Amber, Vanilla Benzoin, Benzoin Vanilla, Caramel Vanilla, generalized amberiness with vanilla, or some variation thereof. Pick one, then toss in some cedar, a handful of brown sugar, and a pinch of what smells like patchouli, and you end up with Amber Oud. It’s nice but I find nothing impressive or interesting about it, and it’s much too sheer to feel “cozy” to me, either. Nevertheless, a lot of people go crazy for it, particularly women who dislike any real, actual oud, so it’s on the list.
Annick Goutal Ambre Sauvage (& Ambre Fetiche): I actually wouldn’t categorize Ambre Sauvage as an amber fragrance, but Ambre Fetiche (which it’s based on) most certainly is. The most simplistic summation for Ambre Sauvage is amber folded into “savage” (read: abrasive and synthetic) leather and placed against a backdrop of smoky darkness dotted with aromatic lavender and iris. The last two eventually give way to streaks of myrrh and frankincense. There is a lot of overlap with Ambre Fetiche and you can read the review for the full comparison and details, but the basic gist is that the Sauvage version is more centered on leather than amber, in my opinion, and it basically up-ends Ambre Fetiche’s pyramid of notes. I’m not keen on Ambre Sauvage at all, dislike its synthetics, and I think it’s an attempt to enter the luxury field with elevated pricing but not with a superior product. Ambre Fetiche is a much better fragrance, comes with a lower price, and it’s a truer amber scent as well. Out of the two, I’d suggest going with that one instead.
LM Parfums Ambre Muscadin: Ambre Muscadin was reportedly created by the late Mona di Orio. Its opening skews a little to the masculine side with intensely woody and cedar-driven notes infused with mosses, peaty vetiver, and animalic musks before slowly transforming into a dry but sweet caramel and vanilla flan that is lightly coated with honey. It’s more “ambery” and vanillic than a clear amber scent. The long drydown consists of a dry woody vanilla with only the mildest dusting of sweet benzoin powder.
FRAGRANCES PERCEIVED BY OTHERS AS BEING AN “AMBER”:
Roja Dove Amber Aoud: I don’t think this is an “amber” fragrance at all, not within the framework that I’ve described. It’s dominated overwhelmingly by an intensely syrupy, sweet, jammy rose that is rendered even more gooey with thick fruitchouli, laced with some nondescript, utterly minor, and very clean “oud”, then set against an amorphous “ambery” backdrop. This is a syrupy, fruity rose-patchouli, broad-spectrum oriental, not an actual, proper amber. But some people love it for its gooey, jammy, dense rose, while others rely on the misleading name to consider it an “amber,” so I’ve put it on the list.
Mona di Orio Ambre: Again, not really a true amber, despite its name. Ambre is a rich but frothy vanilla custard infused with florals, cedar, smoke, pepper, and powdery Guerlainade that finally, eventually, at the end turns into ambered, slightly boozy vanilla. The “amber” notes that it contains are benzoin and Tolu balsam, but the vanilla is the real star of the show.
Santa Maria Novella Ambra: I’m not sure anyone out there views this fragrance as any sort of amber whatsoever but, given its name, I thought I’d put it on the list to show just how misleading some of these titles can be. Ambra is very much a cologne that begins with an aromatic lavender bouquet and citruses that are infused with dry, smoky, and leathery birch. It has a lot of similarities with Tauer‘s Lonestar Memories. While there is an ambered backdrop to Ambra, it’s so minor and so utterly irrelevant to the focus of the scent that it might as well not be there at all.
Malle Musc Ravageur: I classify this as a spicy, animalic musk fragrance, but there is no doubt that Musc Ravageur has definite, pronounced streaks of benzoin resin laced with vanilla and a fluffy, more generalised, ambergris-ish note as well. Together, they form the cloud swirling around the gingerbread, civet, and dirty musks that are showcased on center stage. Your skin will determine what particular parts or ratios are emphasized more than others, but if you love animalic, spicy ambers (or spicy, ambered, dirty animalics), then this is one to try. I adore it. As a side note, I think it’s fantastic layered with something boozy or more heavily ambered. I tried it once under Ambre Russe, and the result was intoxicating.
Le Labo Labdanum 18 and L’Erbolario Meharees: Both fragrances are seen as more affordable alternatives to Musc Ravageur, but there are major differences in my opinion that go beyond price and quality. These two don’t smell alike, and they are different from Musc Ravageur as well. Labdanum 18 is an extremely sanitized, clean, and minimally spiced labdanum amber. It’s painfully lobotomized, overly simplistic, and linear. I’m not a fan at all. Meharees is a more intense and richer amber that starts with rich dates, oranges, smoke, earthy spices, and civet. Gradually, rum raisin, dry woods, and incense join the mix. Eventually, it turns into a dry, slightly incense-y, spicy, raisin amber with very little civet musk but with a smooth, soft undertone in the base that almost borders on the creamy. It all sounds great, especially given the low price, but there are some major quality issues (like a bug spray note and shriekingly sharp musk). I’d personally recommend Musc Ravageur instead, even if you can only afford a decant, but read the joint Le Labo/L’Erbolario review and then decide for yourself.
Tauer L’Air du Desert Marocain: I’ve seen LDDM on some amber lists, but I classify it quite differently. On my skin and in my eyes, it’s an immensely woody, spicy oriental that is merely set against an ambered backdrop. What’s highlighted for most of LDDM’s lifetime is a profusion of dry and earthy spices that are fully fused around an aromatic but dry cedar. It’s basically the scent of the bottom of an old wooden spice drawer on my skin, only this one has a marshy, vegetal ambergris aroma lurking in the background. Gradually, smoke, incense, dust, vetiver, patchouli, and black tea notes appear, followed later on in the drydown by labdanum, but the driving focus of LDDM, its fundamental essence, is always the profound, intense spice-wood accord. Perhaps it’s a skin thing, and maybe you’ll experience a greater quantity of amber than I did. Still, regardless of how you categorize LDDM, it’s a cult hit and a beloved bestseller for a reason, so if you love orientals, spices, and woods and if you’ve never tried it, then I strongly recommend that you do. While LDDM is far too dry for my personal tastes, I think it’s masterfully done, extremely evocative, and compulsively sniffable at times as well.
So, that’s it. 50 fragrances across the “amber” spectrum, featuring a variety of styles and notes. I hope the categories will help you to better understand what type of “amber” suits you best and why. Please remember, though, there is no hard and fast rule as how the ratios or balance of notes will appear on your skin, and there is considerable overlap between some of these scents. I sought to give you a rough guideline of the categories and the fragrances within each one, but it is still only a guideline. There are so many variables at play that it’s best you test things for yourself should any of the descriptions interest you. Hopefully, you’ll find a few new names to tempt you. Happy sniffing!
Wonderful list. I think my weekend has now been blown! I’ve been layering first formulation M7 over Musc Ravageur and I think its an incredible combination. We are both apparently finding the Malle to be an excellent “base.” I look forward to reading this in detail. Thanks again for the great work!
Ha, your weekend plans sound a lot like the ones I always have: perfume-related matters. What are some of your favourite ambers, Scentseater? By the way, original version M7 over Musc Ravageur sounds like a fantastic combination. I’ll have to remember that one.
I’ll gladly let you know as soon as I’ve made my way through this list, though I must say Resine Precieux was an eye-opener.
In what way? 🙂
The ability for such a tiny quantity of substance to open to you what felt like millions of years of the Earth’s core essences was wonderful. Layer after layer of new, unfolding facets. Really incredible. It made me feel as if I was completely in tune with the deepest, most golden parts of the planet.
That makes me so happy to hear. Your description is very apt and on point, and I know exactly what you mean. It really does feel as though you’re wearing parts of earth’s core, and for such a tiny amount to have such strength, power, or weight is really quite something. Hopefully, a few others in the set will move you as well. I look forward to hearing of your thoughts or adventures with those as well.
I own Musc Ravageur and a sizeable decant of Ambre Russe: I shall try the layering you suggested. Looking forward to it.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Ana Maria.
Dear Kafka, I was reading your list and thinking about how many of these I already owned and which ones I would really like to own (Ambre Loup for sure). It has now been confirmed that I am a true amberphile, though with the presence of the other resins which often accompany it. The combination of some elements of amber, frankincense, and myrrh are guaranteed to reel me in.
Thank you for sharing your immense knowledge with all of us in such a thoughtful and measured way. This is a list that I shall definitely consult.
You’re very welcome, Ellen. So, do you think you love amber even more than you do incense? I’ve always associated you with incense and saw that as being the thing you were drawn to the most, particularly the very “High Church,” cool-skewing, liturgical sort. Do you think amber has now edged that out, or was it always a combination sort of thing and you’ve only just realised that? As a side note, I often think of you when I write about incense fragrances. I think something like Atelier des Ors’ Larmes du Desert would really hit your sweet spot.
I don’t think amber has edged out incense. The first time I smelled Normal Kamali’s Incense, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. The combination of amber and incense can definitely hold me in thrall,however, although the lure of “High Church” with its myrrh component continues to be compelling. I stumbled across Ambra Nera by Ortigia a while ago and I really liked it. Atelier des Ors’Lames du Desert is on my list for a sample.
What an utter delight to read; nobody does comprehensive like you do! I so enjoyed coming across old friends here, like Musc Ravageur and Kalemat and Ciel de Gum, as well as some fairly new friends that are just growing on me, such as Fiore d’ambra. I find myself interested by your description of By Kilian Apple Brandy, which I never read or thought about before because I’m not a great fan of boozy scents. But suddenly it sounds appealing. And you have reminded me to get out Elixir des Mervielles. I always crave and wear this one for two weeks every October when the cottonwood leaves are glowing gold, and not at other times. It starts off my amber season, and they are in constant play until February when I begin to crave orange blossom.
I was amused at your mention of Fendi Theorema. For some reason this is my Thanksgiving weekend perfume, and nothing else will do. But I never seem to want it at other times.
I think you’re more of a fan of boozy fragrances than you realise, my dear. You loved Kiste which has a big boozy start, but you found it unsuitable to wear because of the sort of work that you do. You love Naomi Goodsir’s Or du Serail, and talk about a massively drunken set of notes there! Our mutual favourite, Sensual Orchid, has a rum opening, as did the Sensual & Decadent that you would have loved had it not been for your terrible experience with that buttery, candied, vanilla essence which put you off both fragrances (as well as any other vanillas that included it). Your beloved Cafe Ambre Noir has a pronounced boozy, Bourbon note and, last night, I remembered yet another fragrance with a boozy note that you loved but I’ve forgotten it now.
Davana, for example, is often used to recreate a rum-like note in things, so even some floral orientals (like TF’s Champaca Absolute) can have it.
If you go back over the fragrances that you love and you think really hard and analytically about their notes, I think you’ll find quite a number of them have a boozy aspect to them.
In short, you may have inadvertently cut yourself off from a group of fragrances that would actually suit you a lot because I suspect you like the boozy note far more than you realise. Now, the suitability of wearing some of these fragrances to work will still be an issue, but you have more than enough things in other genres that are work-appropriate and you could just save the boozy ambers for a cozy night at home.
Bottom line, I think you should look for a sample of Apple Brandy and also keep your mind open to others in the genre, old and new, that might be worth sampling as well.
On a totally unrelated matter, why do you think that Fiore d’Ambra never caught your attention before? Was it because you were comparing it to Ambra Aurea, or was it something else? I would have thought Fiore’s Opium-like facets would have suited you quite a bit.
I think you are exactly right. How do you come to know more about my tastes than I do? But when I stop and make myself think analytically (very hard for me when it comes to scents,) and try to put together my dream labdanum-vanilla in my mind, it smells a lot like Ambre Loup with a light overspray of Or du Serail. In other words, boozy appley honeyed tobacco with some amber and other goodies on board, but not really an amber scent per se. So I am tripping myself up by seeking the wrong notes, and by telling myself that I don’t like boozy notes. It seems that I love them. Will definitely try Apple Brandy.
Re the Fiore, I can’t imagine what I was thinking before, because this is so up my alley. I have noticed that when I encounter a smell (perfume, environmental, whatever) that I dislike, my sense of smell is very affected by it for hours afterwards and nothing else smells good to me. Maybe I encountered Fiore under some such circumstances. Just can’t recall. But I surely do love it now.
Hahaha, it’s because I analyse things like notes obsessively and on a constant daily basis, whereas other people don’t. Given the Ambre Loup + Or du Serail combination that you’ve mentioned and the reasons why it’s so ideal for you, then Apple Brandy is even more of a no-brainer for you! Promise you’ll let me know what you think when you try it?
This is such a beautiful list – thank you. I think I have all of the fragrances sans a couple – either FBs or decants – and they are all amazing.
What a collection you have, Marianna! So, if you had to pick a few current favourites out of them, what would they be? I know narrowing things down is always very difficult and that favorites can change depending on time, the occasion, one’s mood, or other factors, but what are 5 of the top favourites at this time?
The top favs all came from your recommendations – Ambre Loup, Kalemut (both EDP and oil), Ambre Aurea – decant that is almost at the end of its life so FB might be in order, Ambra Nera – absolutely amazing!!! I am debating Atelier des Ors – but it somewhat reminds me of Taklamakan which I bought on your recommendations so not sure I really need it
I’m so glad you love Ambra Nera. It’s so often overlooked by people, but then the entire Farmacia SS Annunziata brand is, actually. How are you enjoying Taklamakan? I pondered adding that one to this list for a brief moment, but it really is more of a broad-spectrum oriental, imo, with all its vanilla, patchouli, myrrh, and woods.
And how could I forget to mention two of my all-time favorites, Ambre Loup and Caffe Ambre Noir, in my comment above? I guess I forgot to mention them because I don’t think of them as amber; they are, respectively, deep honeyed tobacco and a night with a demon lover who has wolf blood. Sorry, but it’s true. And without you I would never have known about them.
I laughed so hard at Cafe Ambre Noir being described as “a demon lover who has wolf blood,” you have no idea. I don’t know how the wild or feral aspect came to mind for such a seemingly innocuous, quasi-gourmand fragrance, but I think it’s so wonderful and so perfect for you. I know what a high compliment any wolf comparison or association is for you. Now, how does your husband feel about you having an “demon lover”? 😛 😀
BTW, as you know, I think of Ambre Loup as a tobacco fragrance, too, but some people really view it as an amber one. That was one of the mental justifications that I used for including it here but, really, I just wanted to sing our beloved’s praise once more. Heh. 😉
Thank you for this fascinating read (parts 1 and 2). I have or have tried quite a few that you mentioned here.
My favourite amber for a long time was L’Artisan’s Ambre Extrème, followed by SL Ambre Sultan. Last year I fell hard for PR Fiore d’Ambra, and just this week I discovered Dorin Un Air d’Arabie Ambre which has gone straight to my wish list.
How may ambers does one need?
One can never have too many ambers!!!
I laughed so hard when I read this that I almost choked on my coffee because you took the words right out of my mouth, Marianna. That was the exact answer I was going to give when I read Cath’s question. One can never have too many ambers!!! 😀 😀
I wrote a long reply and somehow it got lost in the ether, ugh.
Thank you Marianne and Kafka for reassuring me that there’s no such thing as too many ;)p
As for the amber types, I’m having a hard time recognizing the difference, so yes, maybe it’s labdanum that I like.
The ones that didn’t work for me are PR Ambra Aurea (too strong) and Ambre Narguilé (cinnamon apple pie, it made me nauseous. Some types of cinnamon do that to me).
A few others that I have and enjoy: HDP Ambre 114, Agent Provocateur Strip, Mitzah, Elixir des Merveilles, Ambre Eccentrico (too delicious for words), Boucheron Trouble (sometimes when I smell this I wonder why I even bother buying other perfumes).
So, what’s the verdict? Labdanum?
WordPress decided to toss your comments into the “Trash” section for some stupid, unknown reason that is utterly beyond me. It does that sometimes, but particularly so in the last 10 days. I have no idea why, but I always keep an eye on that section in the Admin panel, so I fished it out. lol.
It sounds to me as though there are a few things at play with you and the ambers that you’ve tried. First, weight or density. Ambra Aurea is a very heavy scent, skewing almost opaque in feel and dense in weight. Second, you may not enjoy the purity of the ambergris involved or the subsequent, parallel muskiness, vegetal undertones, and even perhaps moistness of the note. Some people don’t. Third, and related to that, you may prefer a more diluted form of ambers in general, and probably the mixed genre or generalized ambers as a result. It’s the Dilution Issue that I mentioned in Part I. Perhaps the various aspects of ambergris that I mentioned are less difficult for you if they’re toned down and diluted with softer, fluffier elements. Ambre 114 and Elixir des Merveilles would be examples of that.
If Ambre Narguile didn’t work for you, it may be the cinnamon issue that you’ve pointed out or something else. It’s difficult to know for certain if it’s the cinnamon, the ambergris characteristics that I’ve mentioned above, the ambergris *with* the cinnamon, the general sweetness, the dilution issue, or some combination of all these factors.
I haven’t tried Agent Provocateur Strip, so I don’t know what that smells like but I do know from the past that you enjoy a certain amount of gourmandise in your fragrances. My guess is that it isn’t labdanum or ambergris per se, or a set type of “amber” that you enjoy, but HOW the material is treated in conjunction with everything else, the Dilution Issue, *AND* the weight of the fragrance. Mitzah is light in body despite its initial strength, particularly as compared to something like Ambra Aurea. Ambre 114 is also a weightless, soft fragrance. Elixir is a bit heavier, but not excessively and substantially so.
It seems it’s going to be a trial and error process for you in finding ones that you love since the weight issue is so significant. But I’m glad that you’ve found a few that you love passionately, Cath. 🙂
Haha, Marianna beat me to it with the exact answer that I was going to give: “One can never have too many ambers!!!!” 😉 😛 Think of ambers as shoes or even lipsticks: can one ever have enough of either? heh. I know other genres of perfumery are more up your alley, Cath, but if you can find the right style or type of amber fragrance to suit you, then you might end up bitten by the bug one day.
Judging by the Dorin and L’Artisan fragrances that you’ve mentioned, it sounds to me as though you may possibly prefer labdanum that’s been strongly diluted with sweeter, fluffier, more powdery or more gourmand notes, particularly vanilla. Lighter in body, too. Ambre Sultan is a bit of an exception to all that, but it is a labdanum fragrance as well. Did Ambre Narguilé ever work for you?
Thanks for the heads up Marianne and Kafka. I feel reassured now ;)p
Yes, maybe it’s Labdanum that I prefer, I’m having a hard time recognizing the different ambers. Another one I really like is HDP Ambre 114. PR Ambra Aurea on the other hand was too strong and yes, masculine for me, even though I usually don’t shy away from so called men’s perfumes.
Ambre Narguilé was cinnamon apple pie on my skin and it made me nauseous. Some types of cinnamon do that to me, so I’ve learned to be careful with that note.
Let me see what others I have and like.
Agent Provocateur Strip, Boucheron Trouble (huge love), Mitzah, Ambre Nuit (though I would have preferred the sweetness toned down), Ambre Eccentrico (too delicious for words), Elixir des Merveilles, and a few others.
So, what’s the verdict?
I have samples of O Hira, Ambra Aurea, Fiori D’Ambra, Ambra Nera on the way to me right now due to your recommendations in Part I and previous posts on the subject. Excellent learning material for those of us out there still trying to get our perfume “noses”!
Wonderful, I’m so glad I could help. Once you spend some time with your samples, you’ll have to let me know what you think of both the ambergris category and of the specific fragrances that you’ve chosen. Up to now, though, what was your favourite amber fragrance or type of amber, do you know?
Up to now, my experience with Amber fragrances has been very scant! I wouldn’t even say I’ve an amber fragrance though I’ve a few perfumes that contain it as a minor component. Recently however, I ordered a Tauer sample set and I’ve noticed he uses ambergris in almost all of them (Incense rose, incense extreme, Vetiver dance, PHI). And thanks to your post, I’ve been tuning in to its presence. There is definitely a salty, mineral facet at the base of his fragrances. I shall update as soon as I get a chance to test out the samples which are on their way. I realised I should have ordered a sample of Ambre Precieux too but that missed the boat 🙁 Would you say it’s a safe blind buy?
I wouldn’t say ANY blind buy is really safe. I rarely recommend it to anyone. There have been a few, very rare exceptions for particular people and particular scents, but it’s only because I know their tastes inside and out, the fragrance isn’t hugely expensive, and I also know that however it ends up on their skin, they’re bound to love it. Outside of that very narrow set of circumstances, I think there is always a risk. Perfume is so subjective and skin differences matter.
In your case, I really don’t know your tastes well enough and, on top of it all, there is the issue of the lavender/myrtle. I don’t know how you feel about either of those notes, or how they will be together on you. One commentator recently wrote that he struggled a lot with Ambre Precieux because either one or both of those elements wasn’t pleasant on him. To his nose, they smelt a bit like bug spray. (My guess is that it’s probably the lavender that was the culprit, but it’s hard to know for sure.) So, I’d really recommend sampling the Ambre Precieux first, Fillifelle. Much safer than to risk a blind buy. 🙂
My samples arrived! I love O Hira! Such a deep resinous Amber that at first it smells almost burnt and bitter, but tames down to a lovely caramel golden hue. Ambra Aurea is all frankincense on me, it’s smells exactly like the kind of incense burnt during Catholic mass. Not a bad association at all. Fiori D’Ambra is also lovely and evokes vintage perfume. I’m very happy to have a chance to sample them. Thanks a lot K! I think my Favourite ambers are in the labdanum category. At the moment I can’t form an opinion on ambergris yet. I will persevere!
I’m so glad you came back to tell me how you fared with your various samples, Fillifelle. For Ambra Aurea, I must say, I had to wonder if you accidentally got a different and mislabeled sample instead because frankincense and Catholic High Mass doesn’t sound like Ambra Aurea at all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that before (and I’ve read a lot of descriptions for the fragrance). Did you order from Luckyscent? If so, they don’t usually mess up, so I’m a little perplexed.
Yes, the ambergris in Ambra Aurea definitely has a quiet smokiness but it doesn’t skew into Catholic Mass liturgical territory and it shouldn’t be that intensive, either. How much fragrance are you applying, sweetie? Maybe over-application is the issue? But, even so, “all frankincense” isn’t the main aroma that should be appearing! I really wonder if you were accidentally sent a different fragrance instead. 🙁 🙁
I tried Ambra Aurea again and This time it smells a little different. Yes I ordered from Luckyscent! I went to look at the perfume profile again and I think I know why it went all Churchy on me. My skin tends to magnify myrrh so it makes sense that that was what I was picking up the first time, plus being more familiar with myrrh and frankincense makes it easier for me to recognise these scents. Second time round, I can pick up the salty caramel flavour you were talking about. And I like it more now!
Next, I’m going to try Amber Loup! I’ve also placed sample orders for Salome, Anubis and Kiste. Though these are not ambers, I’m so intrigued after reading your reviews. I hope to find a FBW one among these :)))
Lots of sniffing to do! almost all the perfumes in the list are new for me. I own Ambre Sultan and Ambre Précieux, and a perfume I named amber but maybe that’s wrong: Sublime (Patou). So I never sniffed the strong one’s. I was surprise that Ambre Sultan is thin in your perception. When I wear it, people say that i use such heavy perfumes! One friend sniffed it and said: ”Ich hasse patchouli!”.
I also love Shalimar.
My favourite perfumes are mostly labeled ”chypre”,,and now I am curious to sniff the perfumes in this list, thank you! new universe to explore.
Speaking of Armani Privé: I like that elegant, ladylike style. I have Bois d’Encens and Cuir Améthyste (yes, can’t help it) and maybe that Ambre is something for me (if I can find a tester…it’s very expensive)
I think “thinness” or “lightness” is really due to one’s personal baseline when it comes to fragrances. In other words, the fragrances that one is used to and the standards by which one assesses fragrances as a result. In the past, a few people expressed amazement that I found Ambre Russe to be thin, sheer, and like an eau de toilette but, in each case, they were people whose favourite fragrances all bore a lighter, softer, quieter character.
It’s much like the issue of animalics or “skank” in perfumery. Someone used to the old style of fragrances or to things like vintage Femme, etc., were unlikely to find such scents to be “dirty” or “difficult.” In contrast, someone used to the modern “clean and fresh” type of perfumery would interpret those scents as being very dirty indeed.
On a totally unrelated note, since chypres are your favourite genre, have you tried MDCI’s Chypre Palatin? It’s an absolutely glorious chypre which uses a very expensive method of removing the IFRA/EU-targeted molecule in oakmoss in order to get around the oakmoss restrictions. The result is an abundance of old-school, glorious mossy greenness and one of the very best modern chypres around. It’s really one of my personal favourites: https://kafkaesqueblog.com/2014/02/13/parfums-mdci-chypre-palatin-baroque-grandeur/
Read the review and, if it sounds interesting to you, perhaps you can look up retailers in your area that carry the MDCI brand so that you can give it a test sniff in person. If you fall in love with the fragrance, there is a sample discovery set method that is a way around the price of a full bottle and is much more affordable. Either way, I strongly, strongly encourage you to find an MDCI retailer near you and give it a test sniff! It’s absolutely glorious.
Thank you! MCDI is available in Rotterdam (Lianne Tio)..nice excuse to go to my beloved Rotterdam where I grew up.
I like ”skank” in perfume. I loved so much the pre-1989 Femme, with that note of fruit on the verge of decay. And Joy (still a favourite) was more ”dirty” and therefore more interesting in the past.
I am accustomed to light ambers, that’s why I thought Ambre Sultan being strong. And friends are not accustomed to perfumes at all.
I think € 199 for 60 ml (MCDI) is reasonable these days.
First let me say a big big thank you for all of the time and effort you must put into your very evocative blog! I am new to niche perfumery and reading your posts has inspired me to sample many of your recommendations. I am having a wonderful time with it! Your two recent Amber posts have been timely as I have been trying to figure out why I love Amber Loup, and Lune Feline ( which I think may be an amber fragrance?), but found that both Ambre Precieux and Ambre Precieux Ultime smell like bug spray on me. I really wanted to like them after your enthusiastic review but found that I had to scrub both off. I am wondering if it might be the lavender that is listed for at least the Ambre Precieux Ultime? Otherwise the listed notes for all of these perfumes are relatively close, and I am confused. I would love to figure this out as it has made me a little wary of ordering other Amber fragrances. Any thoughts you have would be much appreciated.
First, welcome to the blog, Doro Dreaming, and thank you for the kind words on the reviews. Second, I would bet money that the problem you’re having stems from the myrtle, the lavender, or the combination of the two. I’ve read a lot of things about amber notes from experts and lay people alike, a lot of descriptions both good and bad, positive and horrified, but I do not recall ever hearing any labdanum, ambergris, or resin note being described as “bug spray.” Not ever. Indolic white florals — absolutely, yes, that can happen. Lavender, myrtle, geranium or some other aromatics combined in some sort of accord — yes, it’s possible. I personally think the geranium, citronella, and cedar combination frequently smells like Citronella bug spray or insectide on my skin, and some white florals can occasionally smell like mothballs or bug spray, too, because of the indoles. But amber seems extremely unlikely.
There are many other negatives associated with the amber materials but if you’re getting “bug spray” from either of the Ambre Precieux fragrances, then it has to be the myrtle, lavender, or both. Since myrtle isn’t common in amber perfumery and a lavender/myrtle combination even less so, then I wouldn’t worry about trying other fragrances in the genre.
For what it’s worth, I hated lavender for decades because I’d been traumatized at a very, very young age by the dried lavender sachets that were all around me and their very medicinal, bracing, unpleasant aroma. (Even now, lavender isn’t my favourite note in perfumery and it really depends on how it’s handled or what other materials are used with it.) That “medicinal” smell may be what you’re interpreting or reading as “bug spray.” Have you had problems in the past with lavender-based fragrances? If you’ve loved them or had no issues, then we may be able to narrow things down to the myrtle or to the combination of myrtle *WITH* the lavender.
Quite separately and on unrelated matters, I think Lune Feline has a strong vanilla component while Ambre Loup has resins and tobacco, so the reasons why you may love those two fragrances may stem from very different notes/materials. The good thing is that you’re starting to narrow down and figure out what you love, so that you can go after similar sorts of fragrances and find ones that suit you. Lavender might end up being a no-no, though. LOL 😀 😀
Thank you for your insightful comments! It’s interesting that in fact I do like both lavender and myrtle essential oils on their own. But recently my mum bought a lavender body lotion that she loved, and to me it had that bug spray smell. So you have given me more confidence along with a huge list of other Amber perfumes to test. My husband and I are going to Rome in a few months and I already have my list of perfumeries to visit. What a great adventure!
Fortunately I’ve tried six or so of these scents, Cafe Ambre Noir on my short list, but unfortunately I haven’t sniffed Ambra Aurea yet. I do have a sample of Arabian Treasures that I’ll have to revisit later today and have always liked Tom Ford’s thick and chewy Amber Absolute. I recall years ago thinking L’Artisan’s L’eau D’Ambre Extreme was too similar in feel to Serge Luten’s Ambre Sultan, but my nose is much wiser nowadays and can detect the nuances, particularly oregano, in the latter. Speaking of oregano, though more of a mixed genre offering, I find myself reaching for Amouage’s Interlude Man when I’m in need of an amber fix, or if I’m wanting something easier to wear in its approach, Prada’s Amber Pour Homme Intense works fairly well and can be had for far cheaper (though I do find both are patchouli-heavy, too).
One of these days I’ll get around to those Arabian Oud offerings, particularly the Kalemat series; the writer in me screams “Must have!”.
From the “six of so” number, I’m getting the sense that the amber genre hasn’t been a huge mainstay for you in the past, Jim, and we clearly need to indoctrinate you better and get you bitten by the amber bug. 🙂 😛 (Then, I’ll move onto patchouli… lol)
All joking aside, I know you enjoyed Arabie and Ambre Sultan in the past, and you mention Amber Absolute here, so you seem to like labdanum fragrances. But I get the sense that amber isn’t an automatic thing that calls your name or that you’d automatically turn to if, for example, you were seeking something cozy or rich to wear at home. Tobacco, regular orientals, yes, but not amber quite so much. I may well be reading things incorrectly but, if I’m not, why do you think that amber hasn’t caught your attention the way other notes or genres may have?
Ha! I think living in Las Vegas for thirteen years had something to do with it. I remember trying Tom Ford’s Amber Absolute there and liking it, but wondering when I’d ever get a chance to wear it comfortably there so I tended to stay away from heavier scents which is probably why I ended up with so many citrusy Creeds and L’Artisans at one point. Plus living there I had access to try just about anything, something I sorely miss living in a small city now.
The amber-y fragrances I do have (or had) tend to be more designer like both Prada Pour Homme versions, the original being one I just finished a bottle of (and which smells very little of the amber in the rest of the scents here and definitely more barbershop), as well as Costume National Scent Intense and Halston Amber Man.
Having the L’Artisan Extreme version several years ago, I just felt like a lot of others I liked (that I tried, at least) smelled fairly similar (kind of like drinking all those IPA’s, lol). There’s different nuances, but Montale’s Blue Amber, for instance, feels very similar to Black Amber. But now with these two articles I have a good starting point to explore a bunch of other variations! I do like me some labdanum and myrrh, though!
This was a great help in letting me understand your amber situation better, Jim. And you’re right, all the ambery fragrances that you owned or wore before (like the Prada Homme that you describe) are either quite light or very different to the sort/style of amber bouquets in the fragrances listed here. In terms of the similarities that you encountered before, you raised a good point in your earlier comment about how your nose wasn’t so finely tuned to the nuances of scent as it is now. (The Montales are a whole separate matter, though, imo, in part due to the overwhelming nature of the very similar smelling faux “oud” that they use in so many of their Aouds.)
I’m glad that you’re going to explore some of the ambergris fragrances on this list and that Kalemat is calling your name as well. There is a dirt cheap, full 100 ml bottle of Kalemat going for roughly $48 on eBay right now, the last one available and with free shipping, but it’s from Kuwait and would take a while to arrive here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Kalemat-100-ml-Mix-Oriental-Western-Spray-By-Arabian-Oud-/262352529990?var=&hash=item3d156dea46:m:m30Q2QhPHLw71wOKmbh3D-Q
However, given that you don’t know if you love ambergris fragrances yet or this one in particular, it might be safer to just stop by the Arabian Oud shop in NYC the next time you go up there and to sample the fragrance that way (and for free).
Alas, that bottle on eBay, upon closer look, is only 12ml according to the drop down “size” menu, which makes it all-the-more confusing considering the picture and description of 100ml and later the use of “oil.” The same seller has another listing where it’s apparent the smaller amounts are oil from the drop-box. I shall be on the lookout as I recall the opening of your review when I read it several months ago, lol.
Drats. Well, that explains the low $48 price. I’ll email you later tonight, Jim, regarding the fragrance, if that’s okay.
Sure thing! I may not get it until morning as the change in season upon us has my body calling for bed earlier – I mean seriously, all of a sudden it’s dark around 7pm and even worse, darker in the morning when I wake up, lol.
The Al Haramain samples are, and have been , sold out . A percentage of their line are on limited supply . Hopefully they restock their samples. I would love to try more .I will be sampling Sultan Pasha’s for sure. I have Ambre Loop, Musc Ravageur and Ambra Aurea . I love them . I have bookmarked your Amber l,ll articles. I appreciate the time you take in creating articles like these.Thank you.
JBS1/Eddie, thank you so much for letting me know about the stocking situation at Al Haramain. I knew that they were out of the Sheikh and other “special line” attars for a while and that they’ve been waiting for new shipments to send me some, but I had no idea that the supply problem had spread to the regular EDPs as well. I really appreciate you letting me know. Drats, it’s a real pain that it’s taking so long to resupply their stock. At least people can still order individual samples from ParfuMaria in the NLs, although that’s an option that really only helps European readers more than everyone else. Hopefully, the Al Haramain situation will change soon.
Oh dear. I own full bottle of 7 of the first 10. Plus Ambre loup, a whole slew of Sultan Pasha…. And I’ve tried 90% of this list. My conversion, as described in Part I was certainly complete. This post has allowed me to appraise my level of madness. Thank you for being such a catalyst K!!!!!
Now. Any hopes of a patchouli and a Chypre series such as these????? You’ve written a lot about patchouli, you may have a synthesis post somewhere. But Chypre??? Please 🙂 some day….
Lots of well wishes and gratitude for these pieces sent your way
Haha, “level of madness.” I’m quite proud of how well I’ve converted you, my dear. 😛 😉 To think of your unmitigated horror once upon a time… well, it reminds me of those old ads for Virginia Slims: “you’ve come a long way, baby.” One day, I’ll do a chypre or patchouli guide, but given how monumentally large the chypre genre is (perhaps ten times the size of the amber one), that one is unlikely to happen for quite a while. This two-part amber series wiped me out. A chypre one might kill me. LOL.
I suppose I could always limit it to just “10 Current, Modern Ones to Try,” but given the current IFRA/EU restrictions, I’m not sure I could come up with a full 10. And vintages are not easy to find or sample at affordable prices. The whole thing is a massive headache that I shall think about next year perhaps.
Going back to the Ambers, out of all the ones you’ve tried, what are some of your favourites at the moment? I know favourite lists often change depending on one’s mood, season, or some other factor, and I realise that your current location with its much hotter weather might have changed things even more, but if you had to pick a few of your top loves at the present moment, what would they be?
How tickled am I to get a K-star?!!! I’m an Ambregris-Plus type of gal right now. Labdanums a touch less so.
So. In the Mediterranean weather. I wore Ambre Loup last week and found it a tad too much in the heat. That will have to wait for the Xmas season. Same for Ambra Aurea.
Ambre Nuit, Fiore Ambra and Ambre 114 are really lovely everyday ambers right now. Amber chocolate too. But honestly its the geographically appropriate middle eastern attars that are miles ahead of the game for me right now.
The Kalemat for night was glorious. And I’ve been wearing Sultan Pasha as my primary go to. All of them including the ambers. Im so hooked on his work and have decided to forego spending on Oesel and simply waiting for his new website and restocking from him. Amazing stuff.
A patchouli part I and II would be fabulous. I understand your reticence for the Chypres… But I remain hopeful that you might perhaps simply do a serious post on “My favorite Chypres of all time” Which I would LOVE.
I acknowledge that the descriptor “simply” may be inapplicable to your “madness” – and I mean that as a compliment 🙂
Haha, too true. I’ve never been one for moderation and even “simple” targets end up rapidly spiraling out of control into something big.
I’m so glad the attars suit the new climate and are making you happy. As for the website, god only knows when that will go up. It would probably be easier to just buy from his eBay store since it doesn’t change the product or the shipping, merely the venue where you place your order.
I have to echo hajusuuri: Enabler! Lol. I was holding off from eBay (oh Tabac Grande and refill of Ame Sombre….). But hey, what are communities of shared obsessions for?? 🙂
Glorious pieces these two, Amber 1 & 2. It’s going to be a reference work for all of us amber lovers. Thank you, Franz!
When I’m a grown up I’ll buy a bottle of O Hira…
Thank you, Mi’Lady, it’s very sweet of you. I had to laugh at the “grown up” and O Hira comment. heh. I don’t think age is the problem or limitation when it comes to that one. 😉 So, what are some of your other current amber favourites, and are there any new ones that this list has tempted you to try?
I’ve always had problems with the Amber category: its definition and borderlines are so blurred that I’m often not sure if a parfum belongs there or not… (one of the reasons I’m so excited and thankful for your awesome summary). And I definitely want to try the Profumum ones, plus you made Lubin’s Akkad sound very nice to me (Mitzah was rather harsh on my skin). As of wearing : Dior’s Ambre Nuit is one of my staples
Hah, age-wise I’m definitely mature enough for a bottle of O Hira, there are rather other considerations delaying the process of purchase…
Super list! Many I like and use, and many go on my try list! Have a good weekend Kafka!!
Thank you, Alex. Which ones are going on your Try/Test list, Alex?
The Profumum Roma’s, O Hira, Ambre Loop, Hermes, which I should give a second try, and Mecca Balsam. And maybe Ciel de Gum!
Oh, Ambre Loup… yay!! 😀 Fingers crossed that at least one of those, preferably more, ends up being a new love for you.
Speaking of lists, I’d love your take on sandalwood, particularly Mysore including fragrances. I know your take on Trayee which I plan on buying soon, and also that you don’t enjoy Samsara, one I’ve come to love after finding the original 1989 formula. I’d love to see more suggestions and I’m sure you can show me some o haven’t thought of! 🙂
I’m probably the worst person to write about sandalwood fragrances since I’m such a snob about the note and almost none of the modern ones have actual Mysore but some synthetic crap. Trayee is a rare exception, but everything else has synthetics like Javanol which is one of the worst things around, imo. It sears my nostrils each and every time, but it’s in a ton of fragrances, including a new, upcoming Amouage. One would have to go vintage for a sandalwood list, or else turn to attars. Have you been tempted to get samples of any of the Sultan Pasha attars? Many of them have sandalwood in them, and it’s always Mysore sandalwood in really rich, concentrated degrees (along with real ambergris).
Thank you Kafka for this super list! I only tried a handful of them. Comparing Ambra Nera with Ambre Sultan and Barkhane, I now have a better understanding between ambergris and labdanum. But then, when I see Ambre Russe, Ambre Loup and Ambre Narguilé, I’m getting confused again. Probably because the boozy parts in all three of them really catch my attention sometimes. I’ll definitely hunt some samples of the “soliflores” and “plus” categories to get a better reference. Thank you again Kafka for all the work and time devoted to this magnificent Amber series! 😀
I think it’s definitely a common thread of booziness which is uniting those three fragrances, Yinghao. Ambre Loup definitely has a slew of the darkest resins and labdanum that makes it quite different from Ambre Narguilé, while Ambre Russe is more ambergris at the start then more of a benzoin-ish thing. Ambre Narguilé is really mixed in the materials it uses. As a side note, I had no idea that you loved boozy fragrances. That wasn’t a note that I associated with you and your tastes for some reason. Do you have a boozy favourite?
What really pleases me is that the Ambra Nera-Barkhane-Ambre Sultan comparison has given you a better understanding of the differences between labdanum and ambergris. Which genre do you think you like more? And, thus far, out of all the things you’ve tried, what are some of your favorites in any amber genre? Also, how do you think your perspective, tastes, or views on amber (as a general category of scent) have changed over the last few years?
Actually it was the boozy note in all three of them that bothers me. I had enjoyed boozy notes in amber fragrances before and still enjoy them in patchouli fragrances. I had tried Ambre Russe once and liked it, but sometime last year, I tried it again and suddenly got really tired with its intense booziness. I must confess that my memory of Ambre Russe is now filled with booze and I can hardly remember details about its amber part. I’ll need to refresh my memory of it. Out of the three, Ambre Loup is my favourite. It opens boozy on me, but soon gets cut down by smoky tobacco and guaiac and it gets darker. It’s just that in the dry down, I once again pick up the boozy note. It’s not strong, but quite persistent, and my nose got a bit tired. But I did enjoy the dark part a lot, and I think I’ll try it again in the future.
Between ambergris and labdanum, maybe the former has a close win. At least in Ambra Nera, there’s a magic between the musky ambergris and patchouli that I really dig. As for the labdanum, Ambre Sultan, Annayake Miyako, Ambre Fétiche and Barkhane are the ones that I tried and I love them all. I always thought there was something in common in their amber heart, especially among the first three, now I see why! 😀
Other ambers that I enjoy are less intense and probably fall into the “generalised amber”: the sweet powdery Van Cleef’s Ambre Impérial and Hermès L’Ambre des Merveilles (these two are almost identical) and Elixir version; Parfumerie Générale’s sweet musky L’Ombre Fauve and L’Oiseau de Nuit; the opulent and feminine Alahine; and Reminiscence’s Ambre, musky and deep, yet it feels kind of “cold” and aloof to me, probably an unusual balance between ambergris and labdanum.
I didn’t think boozy fragrances were your type, so I’m glad I wasn’t imagining it and that you explained further. It helps me understand your specific likes and dislikes better, and that’s always a good thing. 🙂 I also appreciated hearing about your favourite ambers for the same reason. (And a big YAY for my beloved Alahine being a favourite fragrance of yours!! It is opulent indeed. One of the most under-appreciated floral orientals around, imo.)
With regard to Reminiscence’s Ambre, I remember it as having a somewhat synthetic ambergris note and there was some powderiness, vanillic notes, and clean musk as well, but it’s been ages and ages since I tried it, so I may be misremembering the particulars. I have a sample somewhere that I could dig out to refresh my memory, but my point is that the reason for the “cold” and “aloof” vibes you’re getting may be due to the synthetic type of amber at play.
Regarding to the “cold” vibe, I think it’s possible there’s something to do with synthetic aromachemicals. I’m not very sensitive to them, and sometimes even like the “cold” vibe. 😛
I read this once, and I want to read it again. Thank you for the most comprehensive review of ambers I have ever read. It’s amazing, and thought provoking.
To ‘celebrate’ the beauty of ambers, I started with L’artisan Amber shower gel. Very nice, very basic. Then I went to my collection, to see what I could sniff with you. I have Eau de Merveilles, and Elixir de Merveilles. Both are really wonderful-the Terry Chocolate Orange of the Elixir, and the salty woodiness of the Eau-both make me happy.
I know I love the Hermes amber-a bit apple-y,but my brother gave me his sample, and I appreciate its tobacco warmth.
Goutal’s Amber Fetiche is so lovely but I find it wears me , rather than the other way around. I wonder if there is a way to vary my application to get the effect everyone else gets-just a beautiful fragrance.
I have two you have not mentioned-the Prada Eau Ambre. I bet the musc in this would give you a stonkin huge headache. I do like it, most days it’s pleasant. But somedays it gives me a headache too (I get them all the time).
I also have the Prada Cuir Ambre-the tiny little 30 ml bottle. I am amazed at the list of ingredients in this-it’s huge, and includes jasmin and ambrette (must mallow) and cilantro. Sounds gross but it makes me happy. I apply it in such careful amounts it’s like splitting the atom. So easy to OD on this one, and there is so much oak moss in it-well, it does make my throat slightly close over ( EU be dammed, none the less).
But now I have skin tested so many I have to shower, and use some unscented products to de scent myself before work tomorrow.
Thank you, as always, for an amazing read. You put so much thought into each post-your work is amazing, and wonderful to read. You make me think about perfume, and your enthusiasm and honesty come through clearly.
Awww, it’s so sweet of you, thank you, Carole. (BTW, it’s nice to see you again. Stop lurking or being such a stranger!) I have to say, I smiled so much that you went through and slathered yourself with various fragrances after reading this. I’m really touched.
With regard to the Prada Amber, I haven’t tried it. I haven’t had any success with past fragrances that I’ve tried from the brand simply because of the amount of clean white musk that they seem to use. So, it’s quite likely that the amber one would give me a big headache if it it does so to you as well.
For Ambre Fetiche, when you say it seems to wear you rather than the other way around, the issue might possibly be the heaviness of the amber or the leather in the base, so one possible solution is to spray a tiny amount under a much sweeter, softer, and fluffier kind of fragrance in order to dilute it. Perhaps a spicy floral oriental or, better yet, a very vanillic scent? Are there any vanilla fragrances that you love? Even a heliotrope one might work, if you like powderiness, or perhaps the Eau de Merveilles? That’s a very lightweight scent (at least by my standards), but there is just enough there to sweeten, soften, or tame the darker notes in Ambre Fetiche.
If none of that works, then perhaps you can apply Ambre Fetiche in a place further away from your nose, like behind your knees, in order to have something that doesn’t seem to take over quite so much? The amount that would waft up from behind your knees might be light and soft enough to feel more comfortable to you. So, those are some possible ideas. I hope that helps. 🙂
I will take your advice-and stop lurking! And I love Amber Fetiche. So I think I will try the behind the knee suggestion. I also tried to combine it with the rest of the Orientals from Goutal-like Musc Nomade, and Encens Flamboyante. I could not get the combinations right. Adding the other fragrances just seemed to give a muddy sort of effect.
After reading the Ambergris part of the article,and studying the pictures, which are truly fascinating-I remembered I had bought some fragrances that are supposed to have a ambergris in them. I am not a Creed fanatic-I bought mine in a huge sale, and I bought them unsniffed, because of their reputation. I know it is purported this line has ambergris. Given the stats provided I can’t see how that could be true. It takes such a special set of circumstances to create ambergris-how could a house consistently use a material this rare? It just does not seem plausible, to me.
And I tried one more-I have a sample of Musc Ravager. I have had it for years, and recognized the Coca Cola sweetness you described. I recognize that same Coke sweetness in Kusmi Prince Vlad tea. I don’t get the dirtiness, or sexiness of this scent-it’s beautiful, and a bit sweet on me. But I’d put it with Shalimar-an Oriental-rather than a straight up Amber scent.
Thank you for being so hospitable!
I’m so pleased that you’ll stop lurking and will come out to play more often. 🙂
With regard to Creed, I’m not a Creed expert and diehard, but I’ve read a few Basenotes threads where people (including those who use, own, or like Creed) mention that the “amber” they use is actually Ambroxan. That’s an aromachemical which is meant, theoretically, to replicate ambergris’ various facets. I think how it smells depends strongly on the quantity used, the other accompanying notes, and other factors. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it, but I think you’re aware of my feelings about aromachemicals in general by now. Other people, though, also seem to struggle when Ambroxan is used in combination accords (like with ISO E-related materials, etc.), so the combination issue is very important in determining what exactly it smells like in a particular fragrance.
What’s relevant for the purposes of your question, though, is that the Creeds you may bought may include Ambroxan. On Basenotes, at least a few people say that’s what the brand sometimes uses, and I recall Aventus being one fragrance that was mentioned by name.
In terms of Musc Ravageur, its category certainly seems to go beyond the narrow confines of a mere “amber.” That’s hardly its main focus, in my opinion, and you’re right that it is an oriental in its broadest reading. The issue of dirtiness may either be a skin issue, may depend on your standard baseline for “skanky” scents as a whole, or, depending on when you bought your sample/bottle, might be a reformulation one. I know Musc Ravageur is hardly as animalic as it once was. Either way, I’m glad that you enjoy it, Carole. 🙂 And fingers crossed that the behind the knees trick works for Ambre Fetiche!
Thanks for this wonderful series, Kafka! You’ve inspired me to dig out my bottle of Ambra Aurea and get a head start on the fall weather. 😉
Ambra Aurea is as drop-dead gorgeous as ever; my bottle is almost two years old now, and if anything it’s gotten a bit richer and more complex (it definitely keeps well). My skin brings out the campfire smokiness very strongly against the sweet, rich, sticky ambergris and labdanum. The drydown (hours later) on me is a soft, rich, caramelly buttercream. It’s amazing from start to finish.
Will also have to dig out Ambre Russe and Ambre Narguilé (I like my ambers big and bold).
Now I have to try LM Parfums Ambre Muscadin and Lubin Akkad (don’t know how I missed those), and I’m revisiting Dior Ambre Nuit and Farmacia’s Ambra Nera – I may have to move Ambra Nera to my FB list, mmmmmm.
I liked your take on Andy Tauer’s Amber Flash! Most of his Flash frags don’t work on me either because of that massive incense/creosote note, but for some reason Amber Flash does. I get a rich strong amber with lots of scratchy chin stubble courtesy of the incense – a big lovable lunk of a guy who hasn’t shaved for a few days. 🙂
Two amber frags that are more-or-less amber-centric: Ambra del Nepal by I Profumi di Firenze – a sweet cardamom-spiced amber that’s straightforward but still nice (not a scary amber by any means, and possibly a good gateway amber) – and Copper Skies by Kerosene. CS starts out with a sharp licorice note and then turns into a smooth dry earthy amber, fairly sheer, with light tobacco and gingerbread notes. You have to wait out that peculiar licorice opening to get to the good stuff, though. And it behaves very differently on skin vs. strip; the top disappears fairly quickly with my skin chemistry, but on a paper strip the licorice lasts forever (ugh).
I managed to snag one of those 5 ml Dior sample bottles of Mitzah before it vanished, and oddly enough on me it’s a weak, watery rose with no labdanum that I can detect. My freakish skin chemistry strikes again… money saved, I suppose.
Thanks again for the chance to wallow in amber – you’re the best!
I hear very nice things about the Ambra del Nepal and Copper Skies. The Ambra is said to be powdery and light, though. Do you find it so on your skin? The licorice is one of the reasons why I haven’t gotten around to Copper Skies yet, but I will some day.
It sounds as though ambergris is your big thing more than labdanum, so Ambra Nera is definitely worth revisiting but I hope you’ll also venture into some of the new labdanum plus fragrances on the list, especially if you like big and bold. Give Larmes du Desert a shot, and perhaps you might consider getting a sample set of the Sultan Pasha attars. They almost all have real ambergris in them, and the others like Pure Incense that are labdanum or resin based are superb as well. For some reason, I think you might love some of his big, bold floral orientals like Reve Narcotique Grade 2 as well.
Have you tried the Malle Musc Ravageur? If you haven’t and if you like mild animalic musks, then I’d recommend sampling that one as well. Personally, I think the animalics have been considerably weakened due to reformulation, so I doubt you’d get much civet and certainly nothing skanky or dirty. But the gingerbread and amber… mmmm, delicious. I think you’d really enjoy it.
Ambra del Nepal isn’t powdery on me (and my skin tends to “powderize” frags at the drop of a hat). It’s a medium-weight fragrance; nothing like the powerhouse ambers, but it sticks around for a good seven or eight hours, with lovely ripples of sillage to remind you that it’s there without knocking you over the head. There’s a touch of sweetness that rounds out the spices but doesn’t go full gourmand.
Thanks for the recommendations for Larmes du Desert and the Sultan Pasha frags; I’ll definitely look into both of those! The more ambergris the better, I say.
I think I tried Musc Ravageur a few years back; I don’t remember much about it. Will try to hunt down my sample so I can re-evaluate it! Kind of a pity that the animalic edge has been toned down; I love frags like Bogue Maai and Papillon Salome, though MKK and Absolu pour le Soir are bit OTT for me.
Wow, your Guide is the best I’ve ever read about amber, very informative and helpful, thank you very much! Amber really is a glorious genre and there is still so much to explore.
One of my favorite ambers is Essence No. 3 Amber from Elie Saab (Kurkdjian created it), have you tried it, yet? It is probably too soft for your taste, I wonder if it contains any labdanum at all, haha.
And, of course, I love Mitzah, which is supposed to come back on the market!
I haven’t tried Elie Saab’s Essence No. 3, but thank you for letting me know about it. In fact, I haven’t tried anything from Elie Saab at all, so that might be a good place to start. 🙂 As for Mitzah, is it really supposed to come back? That would be great news. May I ask who told you that or where you learnt of it?
The sales persons at the Dior Boutique told me that they could order Mitzah directly from Paris, but it’s not in their shops, yet.
Such great news! Thank you for the information. I wonder what happened to make them change their minds and how they will phrase news of its return? The latter will be interesting to see or read, that’s for sure! 😀
Xerjoff Amber Star did not get a single mention…. Wow… (Eye Opening). Perhaps some gems are best for others to discover.
I haven’t tried it. There is nothing “Eye Opening” about that, so there is no need to be snide. There are thousands upon thousands of fragrances on the market, there are more than 1,300 new releases which join them each year, and this site does not focus solely and exclusively on ambers. Thank you for letting me know there is a good amber out there which you’ve enjoyed and which I should try.
Brava, Kafka! You have outdone yourself! You started me on my amber journey with Mitzah. Fast forward to today, I have 18 of the 50 in full bottles or decent-sized decants (many courtesy of swaps and splits with naughty Marianna). All the enabler pins you have can probably be made into full-body armors for a platoon!
Thanks for the reminder about the Arabian Oud boutique at Times Square — it had been too warm to think about ambers but the weather is turning so I will stop by soon!
I was in St. Petersburg for two days last year. That Amber Room is something to behold!
Amber room is amazing. I visited it when I was 16 so I really was bored and not paying attention (which is a shame, because I doubt I would ever make it back to Russia). And thank you dear Hajusuury for a personal mention – you are my most prolific trading/splitting/swapping partner 🙂
Thank you, Hajusuuri, and I’m pleased I could lead you (and your wallet) astray. lol 😉 BTW, did you ever try Taklamakan, my dear? If so, what did you think of it?
How timely! I got a partial bottle from a Basenotes split and I wore it for the first time today. OMG does not even come close to describing 1/10 of how fantastic Taklamakan is! Next up is New Sibet which will need to wait until next weekend 🙂
Yes yes YES !!
I won’t repeat my enormous, undying love for the utter masterpiece that is Mitzah. Or my enthusiasm for Ambre loup (the Amber base is very clear on my skin), which I have often praised on here (thank you SO MUCH for these discoveries Kafka!).
I know a rather decent number of the fragrances on the list, though the goal would be to try ALL OF THEM. At the moment, I really regret leaving my Sultan Pasha samples in France. I did bring my O’Hira one; I really, REALLY like it, but it falls a wee bit short if love. Same thing for Ambra Aurea- I liked its salty marshiness, though sometimes I could somehow detect wafts of… Rice powder (??). Curious about Fiore d’Ambra now!
I wonder if Parfums d’Empire changed the formula of Ambre russe. I found it very (too) thin when I sampled it, though on the whole I liked it (that samovar note… Ah…). I own a full bottle now, and it’s not thin- I don’t think that could just be a matter if spraying and application. There’s also a good dose of cumin. I still like it, but it feels a little less balanced, and the russian tea is now rather overshadowed.
I was not impressed by Amber Absolute. Maybe if I had tried it before my favourite labdanums, I would have liked it more, but its complete and utter lack of subtlety makes me roll my eyes. There’s a little bit of nice stuff burried under a pile of useless bits. I really do want to try Sahara Noir though!
Ambre Sultan is nice, and is one to try I think, I just find it completely linear and unexciting.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Benjoin Bohème! And I am usually annoyed by Dyptiqués marketing gimmicks.
Hermès perfumes never seem to work for me. And I could never find Ambre Soie!
I can’t believe I have never tried Kalemat, shame on me! Really intrigued by the Killian and LM Parfums ones, as well as by Ambra Nera.
Anyway Kafka, thank you so so much for your list. It will be my reference for months to come.
Looks like I have a new set of amber samples to order. I tried SP’s Pure Incense again tonight, and I want to again. I’m not sure I’ve quite learned how to wear attars yet. I think I may be more attracted to ambers with other notes rather than soliflores. I’m not sure why.
Wait, so you liked Pure Incense to want to wear an additional few times? That’s a good thing, right? And I’m confused by your earlier comment in Aurum d’Angkhor. I thought you already has a sample which you used up in one go? You bought another one to try out?
With these attars, dip the tip of a paper clip and wipe it across a small patch on your arm. Repeat 2 more times. The thin tip or end, about 1/4th of an inch high, wetted a few times… that’s all you need. 🙂
I ended up samplying Ambra Nera, Ambre fetiche, Ambre Russe, Ambre Loup and the surprisingly cheap Meharees. If you like the Meharees genre (definitely worth the 21€ price but lacking the niche quality) I strongly recommend Ambra liquida from l’Erbolario Lodi
Really enjoyed this K…..you know I am a sucker for amber and I have lapsed so far behind in the perfume world that I am going backwards in time, slowly trying to gather a “to sample” list 🙂
Just a little information about Dior Mitzah, it is *not* discontinued, but can only be bought in Paris or on Dior’s french website – where it can be delivered in the EU but not the U.S. I don’t have any affiliation other than loving Mitzah and feeling frustrated that the discontinued tales won’t quit. It’s only available in the 250 ml size. They have run out a time or two in the past two years but those have been matters of sourcing supplies. The gentle ladies at Dior Paris have assured my Mitzah mule that there are no plans at hand to discontinue it – as most of the price line it will remain exclusive to Dior only. It always pays to look at Dior.fr rather than the U.S. site which will throw you over to a retail partner…the same goes for Guerlain, MFK, and some others too. (MFK for one has everything in stock at the best prices possible, ships we free and gives lovely customer service.) Lovely articles and amazing list!
Thank you for the information. I object to the situation being characterized as a “tale” because it sounds to me as though Dior has changed its position on Mitzah since some years ago when the representatives — at Dior Paris, Dior Las Vegas, Dior New York, at the Galleries Lafayette, and numerous other places — that the fragrance was going to be pulled ENTIRELY. I can’t count the number of people who told me, my friends, and a number of my readers that once the old Mitzah stock was finished, “that’s it, it’s gone.”
If it is a “tale,” it’s one born of Dior’s *own* actions several years ago. I actually had one head vendeuse call me on the phone to tell me the news. She couldn’t understand it given the fragrance’s popularity, which is probably why Dior subsequently changed its mind and decided to make it now available in extremely limited fashion. But if anyone is responsible for the “discontinued tales,” it’s the company. Perhaps if they didn’t make Mitzah’s return or continued existence such a secret in order to save face from their previously publicized, ridiculous earlier decision, then the “tales” would not persist.
Oh my. I didn’t mean to use the word ‘tales’ in any sort of way – to me a tale is just a word for a post, announcement, telling, writing about an event. I’m older and unwell and it was 5 a.m., not that I’m any sort of writer on a good day. My intent was only to be helpful to people here who have mentioned regret that Mitzah wasn’t available anymore and nothing else. I agree that the responsibility for the information being properly disseminated is of course Dior’s and that they haven’t done a good job of it is obvious. I’ve only been involved with Mitzah for 2 years and when I know it’s available but see more people who have been told it’s not, as has happened repeatedly on forums, I’ve felt like the nice/unselfish thing would be for me to take the time and tell them where and how they can get it even though I don’t like to type with my MS and I’m fairly shy. I feel like a big jerk for posting as it’s clearly come across in a way I wouldn’t have ever meant it to or known it might. I should have refrained from being a busy body. My intentions were kind. =(
Dear Ms. Keller, my apologies for misunderstanding the meaning of your post. Thank you for clarifying. My goal was actually not to make you feel badly, and I’m truly sorry that I did so. My point was to clarify that Dior was the source of these rumours and that their secretive conduct since then has not been conducive to changing the story. So, it’s not really the consumer or the bloggers’ fault if the discontinuation tale continues since they started it and since they’ve helped in its perpetuation since then via secrecy and *extremely* limited availability.
Be that as it may, I’m sorry for having made you feel badly and for coming across so sharply. That was not my intention. It was 5 or 6 a.m. over here as well and I was probably too sleep deprived to realize your main goal was to help Mitzah fans who may have been seeking bottles going forward. It was an unselfish, kind thing of you to do. I hope you will accept my apology.
You’re very gracious and owe me no apology. I can absolutely empathize with the frustration that Dior’s secretive, inconsistent and kind of stupid conduct around the issue of Mitzah’s status (among other things) could lead to after years. I have zero hard feelings towards you and am sorry for being a bit of an old baby this morning. Your understanding is greatly appreciated!
You’re no old baby! At most, you may simply not be morning person — just like myself. We can be grumpy or poor communicators first thing in the morning together. 🙂 I’d share some of my triple strength French Roast with you but, frankly, I think I may need it more than you right now. 🙂
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Man. More vindication of my suspicion that amber is simply Not My Thing. Of course, I haven’t tried more than 10-15% of the items on this list, but most of them I didn’t like. The ones I did like aren’t very ambery: Musc Ravageur, which I agree is not really amber (on me it reads spice cookies and musk) and BK Amber Oud, which I agree isn’t oudy at all and feels like the lightest silk scarf in existence.
I should maybe have another go at Barkhane, since I do still have that sample and since I do adore Alahine so firmly. Alahine might in truth be as far into the amber realm as I care to go…
Just to let you know, Mals, I think Alahine has been reformulated. Badly. So badly that I couldn’t bear to have the juice on my house and gave it away to someone within a day of receiving it. I had bought a set of 20 or 25 official Teo Cabanel manufacturer samples on eBay to decant into a bottle. All of them smelled reformulated, heavily synthetic, and awful. So, it wasn’t a random fluke or a random off bottle. I couldn’t believe what I was smelling. Simply awful. I had to scrub the scent.
I have finally finished the two parts of your amber blog posts. It has taken me months, especially with part two, because I researched each and every one and got samples or decants of what I wanted and then loved. You directed me here yourself when I had questions, so I thank you!!
Spending so much time with you has made me want to go back to the very beginning of your blog. I could not find out how to get there, however. You are a wealth of information and great writing and I want to start from the beginning!