Amber is a great ingredient in many perfumes. It’s very feminine, almost foody, very smooth, not quite vanilla, will beautify just about any blend in a deep honey-like way. A lot of people think it is liquefied amber (the semi-precious fossilized resin) but it isn’t. Here is what amber is…
There are some “recipes” in perfumery, and amber is one of them. Think of this like “my recipe for red velvet cake” or “my recipe for Green Goddess Salad”. Lots of people make amber from scratch, but the results vary wildly, some are very sweet like honey, some are dry and are like a dry martini. They are all ambers, and making one and choosing the right one for a blend will make or break that blend.
Classically, amber is a combination of benzoin, labdanum, and vanilla (only natural vanilla though). There are (of course) as many recipes as there are ambers and they all give different results. People might substitute tonka for vanilla, vetiver for labdanum, frankincense for benzoin or put them with the base ingredients for a deeper and more complex blend.
Most perfumers use other people’s ambers, there isn’t any sense in re-inventing the wheel. That can become a problem, though, if your supplier goes out of business…if your supplier changes his recipe…or if your supplier decides to increase his price so that it becomes crazy. Of course, making your own is a risky business as you are at the mercy of your raw materials suppliers (these ingredients can change depending on weather conditions or the greed of the supplier).
Making your own is great but you need to have a lot of time to experiment and come up with your best recipes. I make ambers but I don’t say it’s an easy thing to do…it isn’t. I have had to abandon several because of ingredient changes. That does break your heart…no one is going to help you either, it just happens. If you hit it, though, it is exhilarating!
I find that the most dangerous thing about making an amber is the temptation to make it too universally pleasing, and therefore bland. Keep on pumping that vanilla in there and you are going to become Hello Kitty Purr-fume. Not enough and too much labdenum, you are into Dawn of the Living Goth territory. Too much benzoin? A bit volatile and not attractive. And that is about the ingredients which are the “classics”. With amber, I find that you can blow it in hundreds of ways. Don’t be bold, be wise; that’s the motto I have to use for making an amber. It is more difficult and it’s painstaking, and makes me fidget BUT when you hit it, you know it.
Amber goes with so many things. It is an adornment to florals, a dear friend to patchouli, it dances with citrus, and in large doses it can enhance musk like nothing else can do. But again, it’s all about harmony…too much becomes bland and too little and it’s nothing special.
Here are some perfumes I have made with amber, and I dearly love them all no matter how difficult they were to make: Huile of Fortune, Dominions, Seraphim, Howl, Chocolate Incense, Death, Dies Irae, Fabienne, Hatshepsut, Hophead, Oiche Shamhna, Silver Amber, Mistress of Power, Skeletons’ Ball, and Twee (to name a few). Take a look at them at Possets.
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