Perfumed Letters

Reading the scent trail of fragrance and words

Amber Mirage: Ambre Gris by Balmain

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The name Ambre Gris sets up certain expectations, based on the many iterations of ambre in perfumery (note, accord, family), but quickly dispelled by a few sniffs. First, this is not a big, rich, unmitigated amber à la Ambre precieux, Ambre 114, Ambre narguilé, etc. Likewise, I’ve sampled diluted ambergris and whole chunks of the stuff, as well as the substitute ambroxin, and do not detect these in the blend.

Ambre Gris is a congenially spicy member of the oriental family with no big flowers, and which by definition (oriental=parfum ambré), should have an amber accord at the base. It does without some of the features (a little vanilla or tonka, a lush benzoin, for example) present in many classic, heavy-hitting orientals.

The name is fitting, then, in a literal way: any amber association in this blend is gray, as in subdued, or diluted, or hazy. An amber mirage.

Above all, I get a distinct, slightly sweet but not candied cinnamon pepper blend over a little bit of  benzoin and a lot of  sandalwood. The subtle floral/vegetal accord may be immortelle, a note I would not recognize. More often than not, floral notes that are pleasant but nondescript to me, turn out to be farnesol. If I close my eyes, click my heels, and make a wish, I think I detect a little myrrh. It blossoms later in the drydown, but only very close to the skin.

A pleasant blend with unisex appeal, this is well worth a try, and even a buy. Above all it has a recognizable signature–though not the one I’d expected.

Sometimes I like Ambre Gris very much. Other times (today) I find it not subtle enough, and too synthetic. I am unwavering in in my appreciation for the bottle, disco ball cap and all.


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