The first in an ongoing series of blogposts on ingredients and accords that are used in perfumes.
Last month I asked our Facebook fans which fragrance ingredients they'd like to know more about. Amber won by a landslide, so I've tasked myself with unravelling the mystery around it.
Where does it come from?
Surprisingly, amber isn’t extracted from the resin, but is in fact a fantasy accord constructed in the early 1900s to demonstrate the possibilities of vanillin (the purified vanilla flavour and odour created as a by-product of the paper industry). The basic amber accord is a combination of labdanum, vanilla and benzoin – creating a glowing warmth.
Amber isn’t Ambergris, the substance ejected from a sperm whale as a result of trying to digest cuttlefish.
How does it smell?
Aside from a warm, glowing odour, Amber smells somewhat sticky, very rich, and like a warmed up and slightly powdery vanilla, with a faintly 'animalic' underside that recalls the smell of hot skin.
Why is it used in a perfume?
Ambre Antique by Francois Coty gave birth to an entire family of Oriental fragrances, typified by Guerlain’s Shalimar - Oriental Ambers - all of them sharing this rich sensual base. At Penhaligon’s you'll find an Amber note in many of our fragrances, but its perhaps best exemplified in Cornubia, where it is decorated with tonka and heliotrope to play up the naturally present powdery edge, Artemisia, where the vanilla facet is played up to provide sweetness, and also in Sartorial, where it supports the honeyed floral and leather notes.