|Amber, the fossilized resin.|
Amber is a primary ingredient in Oriental perfumes, a classification heralded by Guerlain's Shalimar, which used vanillin, labdanum and coumarin (the principal note in tonka bean) to create a sweet, warm, powdery and erotic fragrance. Not all Oriental perfumes, however, are ambery. Opoponax and other balsamic and resinous materials are used as bases as well creating a wider spectrum of Orientals.
There are materials that are often confused with amber. The prehistoric tree, Pinus succinifera, produces a fossilized resin used in jewelry making. A process called destructive distillation is used to produce a material called fossilized amber, or Baltic Amber. Most of what I've smelled is not pleasing and so not used much in perfumery. I've sourced out a beautiful oil that is deep, rich and smokey with a subtly sweet and lasting dry down. Ambergis is the waxy secretion of the sperm whale. It is secreted by the gastrointestinal tract of the whale to coat and soothe it from the sharp beaks of it's favorite meal, the cuttlefish. The mass is excreted and floats on the ocean. The synergy of sun and salt water transform it into a sensual, warm and somewhat ambery perfume substance that lasts and lasts. Ambrette is rendered from a type of hibiscus and is referred to as the vegetal equivalent of musk. It is ever so slightly ambery (but more animalic) and becomes sweeter during its long dry down.
On the heels of my recent Spice Route perfume class (and the resultant research I did) I'm teaching a class on Amber and Oriental perfume making in my home studio in Brooklyn on Sunday, July 19th. We'll review the Oriental classification and pass around some examples of established and niche perfumes. Resins, balsams, florals and spices that were discovered along the Spice Route will be discussed, explored and available to work with to create two perfumes. For more information and to register look here.