In Search of Amber (Derek)

Amber.  We have such a complex, masochistic relationship. I love amber; I want to love amber more than I do, but the idea of smelling like a head shop is incredibly off-putting to me. Amber can be such a refined, decadent scent. It can just as easily, however, take on the smell of what I refer to as a “privilege

d hippie.” So in an attempt to smell more like a gentleman than a freshman philosophy class at UC Berkeley I’ll be trying a heap of amber-based scents: Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, Tom Ford Amber Absolute, Atelier Cologne Ambre Nue, Hermès Hermèssence Ambre Narguilé, By Kilian Amber Oud, and Bond No 9 New York Amber.

Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan: Right off the bat we have hippie. This was the most depressing for me as I had heard so many good things about Ambre Sult

an. It opens with a rush of amber, myrrh, and green herbs. After that I thought I was going crazy. Making it up. I had to be. No, it’s just thyme or some sort of green herb. Nope, its THAT herb. Definitely a fragrance first for me. On the upside, if this is your speed, the sillage and longevity are intense. So bully for you, but a no go for me.

Tom Ford Amber Absolute: Whoa, momma. This is some pungent juice. Mega sillage and insane longevity on me. The fragrance itself comes across as the most straightforward of the lot and the least complex. It is very appealing. Amber Absolute is almost like a thin veneer of amber painted over a piece of untreated lumber. The boy inside me who grew up in the mountains loves the virility and rawness of it. A possibility, but it seems a little pricey for the end product.

(ED – this is the scent my youngest son seriously likens to putting a beehive on his head).

Atelier Ambre Nue: The fresh of the group. Lots of citrus and bergamot on the opening. They mellow in a vaguely earthy and certainly floral scent. Orchids floating on a pool of watery incense. This is an interesting take on amber, but not exactly what I was looking for. I found this to be more of a skin scent with moderate longevity, in line with the other Atelier Cologne fragrances.

Hermessence Ambre Narguilé: A fruity opening. As it progresses, the fuits sink further into a pool of amber and honey mingling with ginger. A little rum splashed on top. While the fruit becomes less pronounced as the scent evolves, it is always there. Another scent with great projection and super longevity

By Kilian Amber Oud
: Loads of benzoin and amber upfront. They bloom and reveal cedar, vanilla, and bay leaf. I was in love, such a beautiful fragrance. Then it hit me. I already own this. Its similarity to Straight to Heaven was incredibly pronounced to me. Lots of cedar but in place of Straight to Heaven’s boozy note there is a sweet amber. I’m in total lust, but I can’t justify the purchase. I wish I had smelled this first though, and this was the one I purchased.
 . A little fruitier than I was looking for, so the search continues. Though, truth be told, I can see myself buying this when it gets cooler. It is a comforting scent with lots of sweetness that I think would benefit from cooler weather.

New York Amber: BOOM! This scent is the equivalent of a Mack truck full of amber hitting a giant bergamot orange tree. It opens with a screech of saffron and then moves into a wonderful composition of layered bergamot, amber, and wood. Rose sits quietly in the background, simply rounding things out. This is a clean take on amber. A preppy amber. THIS is what I’ve been looking for. New York Amber is a sillage and longevity monster. It doesn’t quit, and it will attack those around you if you apply too liberally. This is what I purchased.

So I found my amber after a few missteps and a few “almosts.” Now I want to know, what note do you love but only sometimes? Tuberose? Oud? Do tell!


  • news says:

    Is it alright to place a portion of this in my personal blog if perhaps I submit a reference point to this website?

  • Patty White says:

    My favorite amber is still the that Laura Tonatto did. What’s its name? It was like old dusty closets and attics full of treasures. Loved that one.

    Thanks, Derek!

  • Loved your review Derek!

    I love amber in most forms. The Bond Amber was a little too masculine for me. The SA made a suggestion of sweetening it up a touch with Chinatown, which did work, but makes for a heavier oriental effect—not what I’m looking for when the temps are already in the 80’s. Maybe in the fall! I do need to try that amber oud though!

    Lots of notes are “iffy” for me: iris (don’t like it too cold and aloof), coconut (love it but it tends to “cheapen” compositions), grapefruit (scarred by Pampelune), rose, violet and tuberose (too diva). Wow, how fusssssy! Maybe I’m closer to that diva than I think!

  • My favorite amber frags are Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe (for its booziness … I get high wearing it) and Soivohle Amberene (for the spices and vanilla). Wouldn’t wear either in the warm weather but they’re great winter scents IMO and I’d certainly wear them more than occasionally … both are bottle-worthy on my list.

    Oud is my occasional/sometimes note… I own a small flacon of a pure Borneo oud, and oud frags on my best of list include L’Artisan al Oudh, Soivohle Oud Lacquer, and YSL M7. Got into it before it was everywhere; I saw Old Spice Classic Oud body wash at the supermarket, and there’s even an Axe Oud. I’m imagining oud mixed with the smell of a sixteen year old boy’s bedroom. Shudder.

    Then there are the notes I’d love to love in frags but are disasters on me 90% of the time: cardamon, nutmeg, rose, lavender. The weird thing is, I love all four of these scents on their own … it’s the renditions in perfume that I can’t stand.

  • Joanna says:

    Hermessence Ambre Narguilé is so beautiful. My favorite from the list you have above. I don’t know if you’ve tried Montale’s Blue Amber but it’s pretty dang good!
    Usually tuberose is my archnemesis but then I’ll smell something amazing and find out, yup tuberose is in the juice. Balmain Ambre Gris for example. Lily is also another note that I usually shy from…but then there’s Diorissimo which as Musette would say I would like to be embalmed in.

  • AnnieA says:

    @Lucasi, Iove Vetiver pour Elle, but no other vetivers …

  • Tatiana says:

    Love your descriptions of all the ambers. I have to admit that Kilian’s Amber Oud is the one for me. I own it in the travel spray. I also love that gold tone etched case it comes in.
    The note I find quirky, that is on again, off again for me is iris. Would love to find a warm, buttery iris with some longevity.

  • mim says:

    Loving all these recs! I like PG L’Ombre Fauve but it’s a huge fuzzy linear scent on me, very cuddly. I do like Ambre Sultan but then again don’t mind smelling like a hippie 🙂

  • Lucasai says:

    Nice take on amber, Derek! Amber is also one of my favourite notes. My precious amber is Prada Amber Pour Homme, my all-time-favourite.

    About the note I only love “sometimes” – I would say it would be vetiver. In some fragrances it drives me crazy when it plays the lead role or has that earthy, dirty smell. I prefer my vetiver to be hidden somewhere within the creation or at least joined by one or two notes that I really like.

    • nozknoz says:

      Lucas, if you get a chance, try Annick Goutal Vetiver – it has really nice complementary notes.

      I agree with Annie that Guerlain Vetiver pour Elle is worth trying, too, though it used to be sold only in the Paris airport, I think. I prefer the AG, anyway, because I’m hyperosmic to the musk in the Guerlain.

  • FragrantWitch says:

    Great post, Derek! I’ll have to investigate the New York Amber as it sounds gorgeous. I have to say I don’t mind the ‘privileged hippie’ smell but they often contain some note the goes nuclear sweet on me- gag.
    You might like to try Costume National 21- I’d say it’s a fuzzy leather/amber/ with spiced honey. Not preppy exactly but a lovely ‘library/bookstore on a rainy day’ smell and always garners compliments. A fantastic smell for the first fall days when you wear a sweater and wrap a scarf around your neck if you are walking anywhere!

  • Ann says:

    Hi, Derek, and thanks for another great post. Love how you’ve got the ambers broken down so nicely. Two in this family that I love (and you don’t hear a whole lot about them) are Armani Prive’s Ambre Orient and Dior’s Mitzah. There’s just a little something in each of them that makes them sing (at least on my skin).

    • Ann says:

      And speaking of amber, a really nice hand wash I’ve just discovered is Molton Brown’s Amber Cocoon.

  • Poodle says:

    I’m stil looking for an amber I like too. I am amazed when I see great reviews on a perfume and it smells like head shop oil too. I have a few samples right now that I keep trying but they just smell too much like those cheap oils to me. Very disappointing.
    I guess I’m a moody perfumista. Some days I crave white floral, some days I hate them. Same with a lot of other notes. The note I have the most problems with is peach. I can deal with it if it’s subtle and good quality, but more often than not it smells like cat pee on me. I like peach too but somehow in perfumes it take a turn for the worst.

    • nozknoz says:

      Your “moody perfumista” concept strikes a chord with me, Poodle! I usually wear a different perfume every day, and, for the most part, every week and month. Sometimes I’ll wear the same thing for one two or three days in a row, but that’s unusual. I skip around a lot according to my mood, what’s new, what old perfume I’ve remembered, what I’ve read about or the weather. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without having acquired scores of bottles and hundreds of samples, but it’s mainly about what mood my nose is in!

  • Kurt says:

    I really like Prada L’eau Ambree. It’s softness has a kind of fabric feel to it (think wool) Amber scents are also good for layering experiments.

    • rosarita says:

      Yes, this is a great scent all around, I think. Quite a trick to create an amber that can easily be worn on the hottest days of summer. Love the citrus open.

      Derek, your descriptions are very fun to read! I love amber but have never liked Ambre Sultan either – blasphemy, I know.

  • nozknoz says:

    Derek, I love your active descriptions! I’m also happy to hear that New York Amber is good, because I love that bottle. Must sample!

    I guess for me it’s the synthetic musks that are iffy, because I’m hyperosmic to some of them, and then they drown out everything else. The right proportion is really important because a wall of solid musk is just boring.

    By the way, I keep looking for the right amber, too, but I haven’t found the it yet: they all seem too bland, somehow (not that I’ve tried all of your selection yet). What sort of scratches this itch, though, is PdE Cuir Ottoman. To me it’s a leather-amber, with the bite of the leather providing the contrast and range needed to keep it interesting.

  • Brian says:

    You may want to try HdP Ambre 114 and MPG Ambre Precieux. Just sayin’. 😉