Like many aspects of perfumery, “amber” is an abstract concept. It is not a material in itself but is an accord built around several materials to create an olfactory image of amber (the fossilised tree resin) that is glowing and golden. Three materials are typically used; the sweet, velvety spice of vanilla, the gauzy, soft and resinous quality of benzoin, and the woody warmth of labdanum. Together these materials create a hazy, plush and sweet accord that is evocative of exotic places, rich fabrics and precious jewels.
Amber is quite a versatile theme in perfumery and can be paired with spices, flowers and resins to pull it in many different directions. In this post I’ll be taking a look at four incredibly different ambers, ranging from the exotic to the extra-terrestrial. Consider this the first step in your amber education because once you’ve had a taste of this delicious style, you’ll be hooked!
#1 The Iconic Amber
Shalimar is one of the most famous of ambers, and even though it is fast approaching its centenary, it still feels incredibly relevant. Shalimar is opulence – it is velvet and silk, amethysts and diamonds. Inspired by the love story of Emperor Shah Jahan and princess Mumtaz Mahal, for whom Jahan created the Shalimar gardens, this perfume is a rich and enveloping blend of amber, bergamot and iris. Shalimar is plush and sweet, with swathes of delicious vanilla contrasted against the sparkle of citrus and wafts of delicate smoke. There are few things better in life than Shalimar.
Learn more about this legendary perfume here.
#2 The Straight-Up Amber
If you’re looking for straight-up amber, amber and more amber, then Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan is the king you’ve been looking for. Reigning supremely over all other ambers, this one brings rich spices into play, evoking the intense heat and odours rising from a Moroccan spice market. The base is skewed more to the warm, resinous notes as opposed to vanilla, meaning that Ambre Sultan is a much richer and less sweet take on amber that feels otherworldly; this is an amber that evokes the golden heat of the desert.
Ambre Sultan is also available in a limited edition bottle.
#3 The Carefree Amber
Created for the icon, Jane Birkin, L’Air de Rien is an intimate take on amber that combines some of Birkin’s favourite smells; the scent of her brother’s hair, of bookcases and Turkish spice markets. Reading that, you won’t be surprised to know that L’Air de Rien is somewhat of an unusual amber fragrance. Wearing it is like stepping into an empty room that a loved one has recently been in and sensing the absence of that person. It is the scent of a life lived, with the sweetness of warm breath and the animalic musk of bodies. There is something distinctly human about L’Air de Rien, and while it is bohemian and carefree, it is an incredibly emotive fragrance that really should be experienced.
#4 The Wild Card Amber
I’m a bit cheeky including Alien here because it’s not technically an amber, but hey, rules are made to be broken! Alien is a woody jasmine fragranced forged in the heart of a star and sent careering down to Earth in an ultraviolet light beam. It has a warm, golden heart that is a more transparent take on amber with none of the plushness or softness. Instead, woods are folded into the fray to bring a more angular, sharp touch. The result is a resplendent, igneous fragrance that catches the light like a sharply-cut diamond. It is literally out of this world….
There’s more! Read the previous instalments of the series below…