It’s not the gem but it has a golden aura about it. It’s not the whale product, ambergris sometimes called ambre, but it can be sweet and earthy at the same time. What is it? Amber, when the term is used in perfumery, is an accord or blend that has the basic formula of benzoin, vanilla and labdanum. I found my first formula for an amber base in Mandy Aftel’s iconic book Essence and Alchemy. Her formula is about 4:1 benzoin to labdanum with just a hint of vanilla. She then uses her amber accord like another fragrant ingredient. Other ingredients that she mentions are styrax and civet.
Labdanum is a favorite base note of mine and I have found that just a tiny bit can do wonders to extend and sweeten the base accord in a perfume. I reach for the dark and rich absolute that is thick in the bottle as often as I reach for the ‘clear’ version which is a bit easier to work with but still thick. A note here: I love working with thick and gooey botanicals in their pure form. I don’t warm them to make them easier to pour but I use a variety of ‘tools’ to scrape and chop the absolutes. Basically getting my hands fragrantly dirty as I do this perfume work. This takes time but I love the connection with these amazing and deep botanical ingredients.
Benzoin, as I write about in my last post, is golden and sweet—a pure vanilla. Add anywhere from a touch to a smidge to a healthy dose of vanilla to get just the right amount of rich and deep. Or use a lighter vanilla CO2 for a more easy-going vanilla note.
When I want an amber accord, I tend to approach each one differently and evaluate the ingredients as they relate to the concept of the perfume and to the other notes. Always benzoin, labdanum and vanilla in generally the same proportion as I first learned from Mandy Aftel but it may be darker in one blend or lighter in another. Here are a few combinations I love:
Benzoin and labdanum in a 6 part to 1 part with a tiny amount of vanilla. Add some tonka for a spicy vanilla fragrance and a bit of cocoa absolute and you’ve got a really beautiful gourmand amber.
Benzoin and labdanum in the usual 5:1 but no vanilla. Instead I went darker and musky with this one, using ambergris and patchouli.
When I teach natural perfume classes, students love the lighter vanilla CO2 and the clear labdanum. The formula remains about the same and sometimes I add a touch of cocoa absolute—just enough to give it a little extra sweetness.
What’s in your amber?
Let us know your favorite amber ingredients to be entered in a draw for a 5 ml roller bottle of Peace, Love, and Amber. Comment by midnight EST June 14, 2015 with a comment about amber for a chance to win! Winner will be announced on the blog and on our Tambela page on Facebook.
Aftel, Mandy 2001. Essence & Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume. Pub. By Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, Utah.