There’s a fog of confusion about amber, and ambergris. Both give a snuggly, cosy-sexy feel to fragrances – but amber is a ‘fantasy’ (synthetic note), and ambergris is a whale by-product (NB no whales are harmed in its production, which is a completely fascinating process).
Even more confusingly, the perfume ingredient doesn’t even come from amber itself – that time-hardened resin of Pinus succinifera, which is often shaped into jewellery. Instead, it’s the name given to a simple fragrance accord of labdanum, benzoin and vanilla – and/or, sometimes, touches of tonka and Peru balsam, which also have a sweet, resinous quality. ‘Amber’ as a perfume ingredient first made its debut in the late 1800s, with the invention of synthetic vanilla (vanillin); nowadays, it’s so widely used in ambrée-style perfumes that it’s given rise to a whole category (Amber ambrée).
It has an animalic quality, and is warm, a little powdery – and decidedly erotic. One of those ‘light-the-blue-touch-paper-and-retire’ perfume ingredients, this. As perfumer Alienor Massenet explains, ‘Amber notes are warm, and can evoke liquor. But above all, they give depth and sexiness to a fragrance…’
Smell amber in:
Shay & Blue Amber Rose