Making Sense of Amber
What do perfumers mean by amber? Actually, they could be referring to several things:
1) a perfume recipe where you mix resins (labdanum, benzoin, opoponax, frankincense, etc.), vanilla and patchouli. This mix is open to interpretation, the choice of resins, proportions, whether to use patchouli at all – it's up to the perfumer and their vision. This style/nuance is called ‘amber’ or oriental. It could be the main theme of a perfume or could be a drydown note, underneath, say, a floral heart. Hence, one can call this combination a 'floriental' perfume..
2) An accord that replicates the smell of ambergris (aka grey amber, a pathological metabolite that comes from the rectum of a whale and spends years floating and curing in the sea). Real ambergris is very rarely used (due to cost and scarcity) but perfumers know how to recreate its smell: soft, radiant, salty and sweet with some tobacco vibes (from a mix of synthetics and natural materials).
3) Ambroxan and its relatives. In their search for a budget replacement of natural ambergris perfumers discovered one of the main molecules that constitute its smell: ambroxan. It lacks complexity and the corporal warmth of real grey amber but does wonders in citrus and fresh woody formulas, adding longevity and olfactive brightness. It’s derived from clary sage. It’s not synthetic. This nuance has now earned it's own place in the perfumers palette, beyond just being a replacement for grey amber.
4) Extremely rarely (almost never) ‘amber’ in perfume could mean the fossilized resin, the actual gemstone which can be put through the distillation process to derive a liquid perfume material. In our search for rare perfumes we have only heard of one perfume formula to ever include this... heard but never smelled.
The perfumes in this edit and samples in the corresponding pack will illustrate the oriental ambers, ambergris accords and the use of ambroxan.