my occasional musings on life, love, art, perfume ... what else is there?


Ambre Russe: A Not So Near Miss

Prequel: Well, I learned a lot from this post. I'm pretty sloppy/lazy with the technical aspects of perfume description: the chemistry and tangible sources of the scent. What interests me about perfumery is the emotional evocation and I'm sticking to that from now on!

But the discussion was very interesting.

Clearing adds the following:

"Ambergris, once obtained from humble whale vomit (?) can be sort of replicated by a mixture of the following .... different forms of vanilla, several types of rose oils, sage and vetiver. (I believe DSH** makes this blend replication ...but I'm not sure) ... The whole amber/ambergris/precious resin discussion leads us in circles every time. Every amber or ambergris oil in my possession is synthetic, and I didn't know that until I spent a lot of time at mua. A useful place with lots of smart women and one man."

My second favorite fragrance note is amber ... wonderfully defined by Bairn (who also credits Clearing for the definition): "In its concentrated form, it smells very thick and sticky, like maple syrup or sugarcane molasses. In blends it can either give a fragrance a certain depth - it can bring out floral notes twice as potent as they'd appear otherwise - or it can become a bit appley, too, like sweet, dried apples. It's normally a very nostalgic scent."

Amber is solidified tree resin, once found mainly in the Baltic regions. I remember my parents-in-law bringing me the obligatory amber necklace when they visited the former USSR, and the illustration to this post is the original Amber Room (circa 1938, before it was destroyed by the Nazis and subsequently reconstructed after the war, as a matter of great national pride) of Tsarskoye Selo, the Catherine Palace.

Today I'm wearing Parfum d'Empire Ambre Russe, with notes of vodka, cinnamon, coriander, tea, incense, leather on a base of amber. The vodka/cinnamon/coriander/ tea notes are too prominent, giving a perfume-y texture that I don't much care for. I'm hoping for reassertion of the incense, leather and actual amber notes, as they seem to in Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, a fragrance of which I'm much more fond.

The symbology of amber is that of time lost, a small being (dragonfly or other insect, as well as flowers and plant life) found encased in an amber capsule, transcending life and time.

As Bairn noted, nostalgia is somehow connected to this scent. As if sad for what has gone by, as one was suspended motionless, fully preserved and lifelike, although life long since had absented itself.

I don't think Ambre Russe is a good example of this fragrance genre. SL Ambre Sultan is, or even the unrefined Attar Bazaar Persian Amber ... but not this -- albeit beautifully perfumed -- amber fragrance-manqué.

*edit: please be sure to read the commentary below by winterwheat, bela and Bairn for clarification on amber-the-stone versus amber-the-scent versus ambergris-the-scent!

**interestingly, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz defines amber as " An earthy, warm resin note with an aroma that is reminiscent of brown sugar, vanilla and wood."


Blogger WinterWheat said...

I agree. Ambre Sultan is a wonderful example of the genre. Etro Ambra too, in a lighter way.

If amber is actually the scent of the tree resin, shouldn't it differ by tree species? Like, maple syrup versus birch syrup?

4:08 PM

Blogger mireille said...

WW, you know, when I was writing this, I kept trying to figure out exactly where the scent did come from ... and finally decided they were telling me it WAS tree resin scent. And I just went back and looked to see if they cited a specific tree and they did: "fossilized, hardened resin of the pine tree, Pimus succinifera" ... so I guess you could have different scents resulting from resin of different species! In which case, why don't we hear more about L'eau d'fossilized birch resin? Huh? I bet there must be other resins in use and maybe they're just not defining them as such? xoxo

4:18 PM

Blogger Bela said...

I love amber the stone and amber the scent too, but I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news... this is from Essence & Alchemy by Mandy Aftel.

"Amber has nothing to do with the semiprecious fossilized resin of the same name. It originally referred to the scent of ambergris [see below], which was also called ambra, but now an amber note is usually one that has been created from labdanum with styrax, vanilla, civet or benzoin.

"Ambergris is a morbid growth that is occasionally produced in the stomach or intestine of the now-endangered male sperm whale. Before the growth gets too large, the whale regurgitates it. … Ambergris in its solid state will retain its odor for centuries.... Minute quantities dissolved in alcohol are said to give perfume a velvety quality. It is extraordinarily expensive and difficult to find."

6:32 PM

Blogger WinterWheat said...

Bela -- that's what I always thought, but then I read on MUA that amber-the-resin actually yields a scent. Must have been a bad source -- less credible than Mandy Aftel, anyway.

7:06 PM

Blogger WinterWheat said...

Addendum: you can read a bit more about the scent of amber-the-resin on this site.

I'm not vouching for credibility here, but reading the section on "manufacturing process for amber resin" leads to the following question: What are the odds that styrax tree resin (also called benzoin) would be used to approximate the scent of a whale excretion instead of the scent of tree resin (amber) itself?

(Was that bad news? If so, I hate to be the bearer in return.) :-)

7:12 PM

Blogger Bela said...

That website confirms that amber-the-scent doesn't come from amber-the-fossil. They definitely say that the scent is "manufactured": "amber resin is always a blend of different ingredients from many different sources. Every manufacturer of amber, or amber oil uses a different blend of ingredients, hence the consistency and aroma varies considerably. Each amber resin maker uses his or her own, unique and secret formula. etc. etc."

I own several pieces of amber jewellery; I'm quite sure they never smelled of anything at all.

I said it was bad news because I was destroying a kind of myth: that this beautiful, romantic "stone" might yield a wonderful perfume.

7:24 PM

Blogger mireille said...

winterwheat and bela ... thank you so much for the clarifying remarks. Me, I'm just grateful bela isn't correcting my French. Or English. For a change. *mwah!* xoxo

7:49 PM

Blogger concupiscence said...

hi there, mireille. thank you so much for adding my description :). and yes, i have to agree with bela. that's the scent of ambergris note, or rather, of the various odorants that mimic it in contemporary blends. the fossilzed amber is supposed to emit a scent, too, when burnt - don't quote me on this one, i haven't tried it and don't intend to - but is not used in perfumery. and as far as i understand, the trade in true ambergris, which is mostly available as tincture, is very limited. some sources say it's because ambergris is treated as a waste product, others because it's considered an animal product. some research should shed light on that. anyway... i do believe that the normally stinky grey amber as a note will always, however scandalously, evoke its golden namesake. the grey's imitations today just smell too filthy rich to remain an echo of a homely secretion ;). thank you for a lovely read and beautiful picture xxx

12:25 AM

Blogger puppytoes said...

i just realized something. i come here to A) read your wonderful prose (for i think you have a gift for the written word) and B) learn about fragrance (for i know nothing!)

i regret i'm not smart/knowledgeable enough to join in on these discussions... what can i say? you had me at "whale vomit". still, this subject is certainly fascinating, and between you and Kyahgirl, perhaps i'll understand more about something i have enjoyed, thus far, from a purely Philistine perspective!

thank you, dear mirelle! i hope you're having a lovely--carefree--holiday weekend! xoxox

11:11 AM

Blogger audible said...

Mmmm... whale vomit. I'm sure the real stuff was amazing, but file it under beauty treatments that aren't worth the ick factor- right under drinking collagen beauty drinks that are rumored to have originated from dead Chinese prisoners. I guess I'm just not as hard core as I'd thought.

11:33 PM

Blogger Kyahgirl said...

Happy Independence day missy!

5:54 AM

Blogger Bela said...

Happy 4th, M (and everyone else from across the Pond)!

Such ingratitude, though. LOL!

'Amber' and 'resin': language as confusion instead of clarification, eh?

Audible, ambergris was used in infinitesimal amounts in fragrances. :-)

7:55 AM

Blogger Tania said...

My two cents follow.

Cent one: Ambre Russe, to me, smelled like booze. Cognac, to be exact.

Cent two: I have acquired some genuine ambergris extract and it has thrown into doubt every claim I've ever read that amber smells seek to replicate ambergris. Ambergris smells a little like a port-a-potty by the sea: a whiff of decayed seaweed, saltwater, something sort of dark and fresh at once. Nothing like the spice-vanilla-woods blend we know as amber. However, the persistence of the story that amber was once made to replicate ambergris leads me to believe that perhaps at one point it really did, but that as time went on, the appealing warmth of the resins used took over the mixture, so now amber smells more like styrax than whale spit-up.

8:52 PM


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