A Perfumers Perspective

Ambergris is one of the best known and most sought after of all the perfume ingredients known today. The word Ambergris is recognized by the average individual throughout all the cultures of the world. It conjures images and feelings of intrigue, romance and adventure and yet for all the fame and interest which Ambergris receives; it is one of the least used and most widely misunderstood materials available to the perfumer. Many Perfumers in fact, have had little, if any, experience with Ambergris. Very few people in the perfume industry have even had the rare pleasure of smelling a pure Ambergris sample. This is due in part to the rarity of Ambergris and the fact that it is one of the most expensive of all perfume materials. Throughout history it has been so highly valued that it has even been said to be equal to gold in rarity and price.

It has taken many years of study to search out rare and elusive bits of information about ambergris. For the most part, this information can only be gleaned in a sentence here and a paragraph there in old and hard to find books. In talking with anyone who claimed to have training in the fine perfumes, I found that even the skilled sales staff of large and reputable boutiques, or many Perfumers themselves, possessed little knowledge about it. They have, for example, been told that the sure sign of the use of Ambergris in a perfume is a spicy, musky or amber base note. This of course, is far from the truth.

I have purchased bottle after bottle of oils claiming to be "real Ambergris oil" only to receive something powdery, sweet or balsamic, smelling of Benzoin, Vanilla, and Labdanum or else having a herbal note from Clary Sage and similar oils. As is the case with the perfume "Ambergris" (by a famous old perfume house); which while beautiful in its own right, smells nothing like Ambergris. In fact, Ambergris does not smell like any of these things. However, certain pieces or tinctures have many qualities which can only be described using these and other terms (for lack of a better language with which to explain the scent).

The truth is that Ambergris is a very soft and elusive fragrance; unlike any other scent. It is at times fleeting and hard to grasp and is best experienced on the skin or secondly on a perfume blotter and can never be rightly experienced by smelling it from the bottle. Some people find it unpleasant, while others find it addictive. When added to any other fragrance; its own scent disappears while amplifying the scent of the other. It exalts any perfume to which it is added and makes everything it touches bigger and more sensual than it can possibly ever be on its own.Ambergris is magical and unlike any other material. It is hard to find a fragrance type which is not markedly improved by its inclusion.

Ambergris is often referred to as a feminine note. However, no explanation for this description has to my knowledge been given in any literature on the subject. It was only after much experience that I came to understand that one of the many complex notes that make up the whole of the Ambergris scent is a note which is identical to the scent of a woman’s skin. In accepting that every woman, and every piece of Ambergris, smells differently, yet there is a rare, warm and fine quality that this perfumer at least, finds in common with the feminine pheromone and every piece of Ambergris I have ever smelled. Not the overtly sexual quality for which the Perfumer turns to the use of Musk and Civet to create. Ambergris brings to a perfume that quality which comforts us as children when held in our mothers’ arms or as a lover draws us again and again to that tender and cherished embrace that comforts our soul and quiets our aching heart, the scent of the beloved. It is this quality which has been noted throughout the several thousand years that Ambergris has been treasured by the peoples of the world. Also; why it is recognized time and again as a scent which, when worn by a woman, will attract men and is noted for its intoxicating effect on the senses. Ambergris is an aphrodisiac, narcotic and tranquilizing note that lifts a perfume creation above the mundane. It gives to it an emotion whose effect lies deep within the human psyche.

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