Warm and sophisticated amber reigns supreme as a radiant jewel in the heart of our exquisite Promenade Sur Le Rocher fragrance. It gracefully intertwines with the delicate blooms, imparting timeless allure and subtle sensuality. Amber takes center stage once more, this time as the soulful base note in Danse Étoilée, revealing its depth and richness, as it harmonizes with the other notes.
Amber - an important component in perfumery – has many names and many meanings. Here, The Reverie contributor and perfume historian, Dimitri Dimitriadis, hopes to disambiguate the definition of “amber” when used in fragrance, and he touches upon some synthesized modern alternatives.
If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself walking along the windswept west coast of Denmark right after a storm, chances are you might find yourself a sizeable chunk of amber cast up along the tideline. A region once covered in vast green forests in antiquity, the North Sea has long since claimed these prehistoric woodlands back over the millennia, but here – as with several other places in Northern Europe - the fossilized sap from these enormous trees has been washing ashore in the region for thousands of years. This is vegetal amber; considered a semi-precious gem, and often referenced as a note in perfumery. Astonishingly, amber does not carry any significant odor unless burned over hot coals. Any attempt to extract the smell of amber using traditional methods of maceration and distillation will often have a very low yield and is highly destructive. So, what then, is the olfactory profile of amber? Vegetal amber is a petrified resin... the hardened fluid that one might encounter strolling in the woods oozing from a tree which has been recently cut or damaged. If you have ever had this tacky substance on your hands, you would agree it has a sweet honey-like, slightly green distinction. It is this honeyed warmth often referenced in perfumery, but in order to recreate the smell of this resin, one must mix a selection of individual notes such as vanilla, benzoin and labdanum for instance, that together, create an amber accord. An entire branch of perfumery – called Orientals - refers to fragrances which possess this rich, sweet resinous amber quality.
Ambra / Ambergris
Mariners, beachcombers and bathers alike have occasionally made their fortune stumbling upon a lump of ambergris which washes ashore in specific parts of the world. Also known as Ambra or Grey Amber, ambergris is a by-product of a small percentage of sperm whales which is released into the ocean, it is believed, when the animal perishes. An abdominal obstruction attributed to the whale’s diet, ambergris can float in the sea for decades, taking on a rich balsamic, oceanic scent; the more it is exposed to sun and salt water, the more velvety and sweet the ambergris becomes. When tinctured, its applications in perfumery are numerous. Not only does it lend a unique and complex quality to the perfume, ambergris acts as an anchor, increasing a perfume’s longevity on skin. In addition, the use of ambergris in a composition often works much like the brightness and contrast controls on a computer screen: it brightens a formula, rendering it sharper and crisper. For this reason, ambergris is one of the most highly-prized substances in perfumery, and prices – even for just a few grams – can quite often reach the stratosphere. Its olfactory distinction is far removed from that of vegetal amber, however, because of the proximity in name, the two are often confused.
Today, modern perfumery frequently relies on the synthesis of aroma chemicals. A molecular reading of any natural scent can be performed in a laboratory, and these scents recreated by following a precise molecular recipe. Because of the prohibitive cost, scarcity and ethical considerations of using natural ingredients such as ambergris, we can rely on these clever aroma chemicals to deliver a very similar (if not identical) scent to a perfume.
Flavor and fragrance giant Firmenich have created one such molecule, Ambroxâ Super, which provides a distinct ambergris element used in many perfumes today, including both Promenade Sur le Rocher and Danse Étoilée. Ambroxâ Super possesses a sparkling musky woody tonality inherently present in the natural substance. Aroma chemicals such as this allow perfumers greater access to a palette of materials that might once have been unattainable, and because of regular screening and regulation, they are often deemed safer to topically apply or inhale than many genuine oils and extracts.
Amber – in all its guises - will continue to inspire perfumers as it has done throughout the ages. Our appreciation of these gifts from the natural world can only be heightened by inroads made in modern science that have allowed us to preserve their distinct scent profiles, in a non-invasive manner.
Dimitri Dimitriadis is a perfumer, perfume writer, speaker, curator and historian based in Perth, Western Australia. He has designed and hosted perfume exhibitions and frequently holds speaking and educational engagements for luxury fragrance brands and independent perfumeries across Australia. When he is not burying his nose in a fragrance tome, you’ll find him trawling the antique markets on weekends; having a leisurely game of tennis; or adding to his vast 80’s heavy metal vinyl collection. Follow Dimitri on Instagram @eaudorangeverte and discover more of his writing here and on his blog The Fumery.