There are a few perfume ‘genres’ that I have never really ‘got’: green, woody and amber. Well, with time (and through this blog) I’ve learned to appreciate green and to love woods, but for the most part amber still eludes me. Amber, for those of you not familiar with it, is a blend of benzoin (a balsamic resin obtained from the bark of a number of trees within the Styrax genus), labdanum (a sticky brown resin sourced from shrubs) and vanilla that creates a warm, glowing sweetness that is soft, fluffy and gauzy in texture. It is the backbone of big oriental fragrances such as Shalimar, but it’s also used as a standalone theme in many modern perfumes.
More than being an iconic perfume genre, the amber is also the perfect scent for this cold weather. I like to think of ambers as winter warmers – those gloriously toasty and enveloping scents that get stuck in one’s winter scarf, wafting a hedonistic aura around the wearer. So as the winter draws in, it makes sense for everyone to have an amber in their wardrobe. But what happens when you don’t really like amber? Or, you think that you don’t like amber?
This is my predicament, you see, and my problem with ambers has always been the fact that they aren’t particularly diverse. If you’ve smelled one amber, you’ve pretty much smelled them all, and whilst each one may offer a variation in nuance, perhaps in texture or contrast, one can’t really escape the familiarity of the central theme. But me being me, I can’t just allow myself to ignore an entire style of perfume – I need to find my amber.
So to truly appreciate this perfume genre that has always alluded me, I thought I would go back to two classic fragrances – two of the most straightforward, pure ambers: L’Eau d’Ambre and L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême by L’Artisan Parfumeur. Now, having explored these two ambers, my thoughts are as follows: when you could have the best, easiest ambers like this, why bother with any others?
I first became intrigued by L’Eau d’Ambre when I discovered L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Amber Balls – terracotta balls that contain scent-diffusing crystals scented with the brand’s signature amber fragrance which is, you’ve guessed it: L’Eau d’Ambre. Created by L’Artisan Parfumeur house founder Jean Laporte in 1978, L’Eau d’Ambre was one the brand’s first fragrances. Taking inspiration from Arabian Nights, L’Eau d’Ambre places the signature amber accord against a backdrop of tonka beans and patchouli.
The ‘L’Eau’ in L’Eau d’Ambre is key: this is amber through a prism – one presented with lightness and spaciousness. It is, at its very core, a simple amber, where the rich, dry quality of labdanum provides contrast to the resinous, sweet blend of benzoin and vanilla. So L’Eau d’Ambre is a very straightforward amber, but it avoids many of the traps of others – heaviness, opaqueness, sickliness – with its delicate, powdery sillage. I’d call it the perfect entry-level amber but it’s so good, I reckon there’s no need to explore the amber genre any further…
L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême
…well, other than exploring L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême, that is. L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême came 23 years after the original. It was composed by Jean-Claude Ellena, the perfumer most famous for his tenure as in-house perfumer at Hermès. In contrast to Ellena’s mineral, watercolour style, this Eau de Parfum interpretation of L’Atisan’s iconic L’Eau d’Ambre feels much more fleshed out, with a more prominent sweetness and a softer, furrier signature, which is no surprise seeing as it takes inspiration from 1930s and the scent of luxurious furs.
Whilst L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême has a richness seldom seen in Ellena’s creations it does feature his love for spice (see Epice Marine by Hermès, Declaration by Cartier and Voyage d’Hermes etc.) The warmth of pepper and the fiery character of nutmeg illuminate the amber much in the same way that a roaring fire would. Where L’Eau wears like a silky veil of amber, Extrême is a chunky knit of soft fabric. It is bolder, more present and ultimately more comfortable. Can you tell it’s my preference of the two?
Warm up this winter with L’Eau d’Ambre and L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême.
L’Eau d’Ambre is available in 50ml (£85) and 100ml (£105) Eau de Parfum.
L’Eau d’Ambre Extrême is available in 50ml (£95) and 100ml (£115) Eau de Parfum.
Samples, notes and quotes via L’Artisan Parfumeur. Images are my own (the fur is fake).