Labdanum and amber

tonka orris lab

The picture above shows tonka beans, orris root, a jar of labdanum absolute, and lavender blossoms.  Photo copyright SonomaScentStudio.com.

When I made Ambre Noir, I wanted a very dark labdanum-rich amber scent with a little leather and rose and very little vanilla.  I also wanted woods, moss, and incense.  I like the way it turned out, but I want to soften one of the woodsy leathery notes and I may decrease the rose.

Many labdanum fans have loved Ambre Noir as is, but some people have said they’d prefer more of a sweet golden amber note and less labdanum.  I would like to keep it fairly dark and resinous, so I may do a separate golden amber and keep noir very dark, or I may just lighten the labdanum aspect a touch.

Each perfumer mixes amber accords to taste, using labdanum as one of the main constituents and adding things like benzoin, peru balsam, vanilla, tonka, patchouli, sandalwood, cedar, frankincense, myrrh, oakmoss, vetiver, ambergris, orris, citrus, and spices.  From the dark Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan to the gourmand Hermes Ambre Narguile to the smoky Tom Ford Amber Absolute, each amber scent takes the theme in its own direction.

Ambergris and ambroxan are not the same as an amber accord, though they are often used in amber accords.  Ambergris is the interesting substance passed out of a whale’s digestive system that floats around in the ocean or washes up on beaches and if found by someone who recognizes it is sold for a lot of money as a rare perfume ingredient with fixative qualities.  Ambroxan is a synthetic ingredient created by a large fragrance aroma chemical company trying to find something that does for perfume what natural ambergris does.  Many of these synthetic ambergris components are available (Ambroxan, Ambrox DL, Cetalox, Cetalox Laevo, etc), but Ambroxan is my own favorite so far.

Was another hot day today!  I need to make some updates to the website, keep orders flowing out, and make progress on the new scents.  Will return to Ambre Noir shortly…

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  1. Tonka beans – now I know what they look like! Thanks for the photo, Laurie.

    For what it’s worth, I vote for a separate version of a golden amber and keeping Ambre Noir as it is (or close to it). I want the true labdanum experience. 🙂

  2. Hi AnnE! Tonka beans are funny looking things! Fairly large, dark, and with a powdery substance that can appear on the surface because of their high coumarin content. They smell great and are easy to tincture.

    All comments are worth a lot — very helpful! 🙂 Yes, that’s what I’m starting to think too. There are a lot of sweeter ambers already available but much fewer really dark ones. Ambre Sultan is my probably my favorite of the dark ones, but it has a fair amount of spices and I thought it’d be fun to do one without spice and with a little leathery nuance but mainly featuring labdanum. That was my original idea for Ambre Noir and I should probably stick to that. I do want to soften one woodsy ingredient in it and decrease the cardamom. The cardamom was the only spice I used and it makes the opening not what I want. I’m still comparing versions and thinking about it.

  3. I think you already know my vote – two different ambers – one golden and sweeter, and another very dark and resinous.
    🙂 Thanks for posting the picture; it’s gorgeous!

  4. Hi Cheri! Aren’t digital cameras great?! I finally got one a couple years ago and love it, though I’m no pro at it. Fun to be able to email pics and share them so easily though.

    Labdanum lovers unite, lol. It’s thick and sticky stuff but so wonderful. 🙂 Thanks for input!

    It was 104 here today. Must be even crazier where you are!

  5. Yes, a dark amber without the spice would be marvelous! I would probably love Ambre Sultan, were it not for the cumin. Blech! I know most people love it (and no offense to you, I hope), but that note is anathema to me. I’m not always great at differentiating notes, but cumin is one I can always detect immediately. Isn’t that always the way with what we dislike?

    p.s. I hope it cools down for you soon!

  6. Hi AnnE! Many people are sensitive to cumin and dislike it in fragrances so you’re not alone. I actually do like it in some things but so far have only used it in custom blends since so many people dislike it.

    It is much cooler today, thanks. Back to normal, except for the fires and smoky air.

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