I'm absolutely aware of all the limitations of Ambre Gris--obviously synthetic, overly radiant, misleading name, just kind of weird and Aromachemical City. But (to cop a phrase from Tania Sanchez) the problem is, I like it. I didn't at first, but repeated exposure drew me in and got me kind of hooked for a while.
By all rights, this state of affairs should have never come about. I'm almost entirely intolerant of amber perfumes, unless they are very dry and not very amber-ish (see Farmacia Ss Annunziata's Ambra Nera), or they are supporting florals (see half my collection). I think my problem with amber arises from the marriage of vanilla with all those resins, because I enjoy resins immensely, and I don't hate vanilla, although it typically kind of bores me--whatever it is, I've had trouble with amber since childhood and early exposure to Shalimar. I'm also not terribly fond of the cinnamon-driven spice potpourri found in much of Diptyque's stuff--I find these perfumes too kitcheny to really enjoy putting on my skin--and this perfume does involve cinnamon.
But Ambre Gris is primarily an amber perfume, sort of--it smells like sweet(ish) resins (it also nods in the direction of ambergris; I'll get back to that in a moment). Per the notes I see, it appears to be vanilla-free. Its cinnamon notesubtle, just enough to add an aura of warmth. I honestly get about zero tuberose from this--and as a stone Tuberose Queen, I wish I did. As for the rest, I get the myrrh (always welcome in my world), a trace of wood, and a nice bit of benzoin (almost certainly synthetic, but it still lends warmth). A bit of cold stone and a whiff of clean pine most likely indicate Cashmeran and Iso-E Super
But really, everything is in service to the main event--a massive dose of Ambroxan, an aromachemical that can be sort of pleasantly diffuse when used with a light hand and murderously vile when sprayed heavily. At its best, as Elena Vosnaki over at Perfume Shrine says, Ambrox smells inviting and non-perfumey; here, it goes beyond inviting into the realms of, I daresay, sexiness.
The reason I say sexy requires a little explaining. Ambrox can give perfumes the strange property of smelling much stronger at a distance than close up, Typically, this annoys me; it takes all the pleasure out of delicate notes and lovely florals, scattering their scent into millions of little bits, so that I feel like I'm constantly straining to smell what I'm wearing, and can't quite assimilate what I can smell into a pleasing whole; I'm sure someone at 5 or 10 feet away might be getting the entire story, but as the wearer I don't see the point. Ambre Gris has that same diffuse quality, but it uses Ambrox with spices and resins instead of flowers, notes that are powerful enough to smell at a distance, as it were.
Also, Ambre Gris doesn't require its Ambrox to carry a complex structure (unlike, say, Juliette Has a Gun's Lady Vengeance, wherein a rose chypre accord is blown to pieces, robbing it of a chypre's structural coherence and complexity. (I know you could say that's deconstruction or whatever--I still think it's lame)). Its composition is simple enough that there's no harm done if you catch only fragments of it in the air. And here is where the sexiness comes in, because those fragments are comprised of sensual myrrh and benzoin, rendered just elusive enough that they ask whomever catches their scent to lean closer. The result feels like walking in an airy suspension of gentle incense notes combined with the best bits of salted caramel and a touch of antique dresser drawer. The sense of spaciousness obviates the cloying quality that sweet notes can take on and the clunkiness that wooden notes can emanate. It also prevents the usual boredom that those notes can engender, at least for me. I don't need to smell Ambre Gris top-to-tail to enjoy it--quite the opposite, in fact.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I'm cognizant of this perfume's limitations. Its opening can be a bit harsh and sometimes smells more like an industrial product than perfume. Because the structure is so simple, its faults magnify easily; if you overspray Ambre Gris even just a little, the cold-concrete scent of Cashmeran emerges like a Stalin-era apartment block in the middle of your groovy little post-modern futuristic head shop of a perfume. The previously discussed properties of Ambrox deny the wearer the usual pleasure of wrist-sniffing. There's not much development once the opening notes dissipate. And, as pleasant as the main accord is, there's no denying the artificial nature of its components.
Ambre Gris is quite tenacious; in fact, it is really more enjoyable on the second day. It works particularly well caught on sweaters and scarves. It also makes a remarkably nice layering scent, adding a gauzy curtain of warmth that can turn a daytime scent into something nice for evenings. It is particularly pleasant to smell on someone else. I sometimes sneak a spritz onto my husband's favorite black cashmere sweater, because I love how the drydown smells when he comes back home from work. (Really, I think Balmain did themselves a disservice in its gender designation, because Ambre Gris smells fantastic on men).
Sutible for any setting, any weather (I can wear this outside in Texas summer on the days when I can't face another white floral) and easily available for less than 40 bucks, this perfume is worth a sniff if you haven't tried it yet. And the bottle is nice enough to make an appropriate gift. If you're considering shelling out over 100 dollars for Molecule 2 or Not a Perfume, or a lot more than that not Baccarat Rouge, spend a little time with this first.
09th March, 2017 (last edited: 12th March, 2017)
I too was enticed by the listed notes and after two separate tastings (yes, tastings, because this is so sweet I can taste it) I decided that they just aren't all detectable by my nose. Before I read the other reviews I thought maybe it was my amateur nose. Guess not.
I get a TON of sweet synthetic vanilla, and the slightly naughty sweet tanginess of benzoin. Pink peppercorns are there too, but the bouquet garni must have been prematurely removed from the soup. Watered down white musk too.
I was hoping for the kind of feminine perfume that I (a guy) could pull off, but this isn't it.
Glad my sample was free.
What a disappointment Ambre Gris turned out to be! I was really looking forward to trying it: from descriptions I had read, I had been expecting a very potent spicy vanilla fragrance, but instead found it to be one of the most boring vanilla ones I had ever smelled. On my skin it smells identical to Givenchy's Pi - nothing more I can really add to that.
I bought this blind because I love pretty much EVERY note listed in it.
Pink pepper, Cinnamon, Tuberose, Immortelle, Myrrh, Smoky gaļac wood, Benzoin, White musks, Ambergris
Strangely, this soft, savory scent fell short of expectations. I still dont quite understand how something with notes like cinnamon, myrrh and tuberose can smell so light and watered-down. The scent does smell complex and redolent of salt-water and powdery, unlit incense, but I was expecting an oil painting and got watercolor instead.
Maybe it just doesn't suit my skin. Definitely try first before buying!
In its favor, Ambre Gris tells you all about itself up front. It's plainspoken, there are no surprises and it doesn't take much concentration. Against it, AG has the feel not so much of synthetic perfumery as fake food. It's a twinkie instead of shortcake. It's margarine and cornstarch syrup on your pancakes.
That said, I kind of like it. There's something about it that's just off, not quite right. It's like the background hum of industrial fluorescent lighting that recedes in your mind to a dull hum until you turn it off and realize that what you perceived as a quiet hum or buzz was in fact low-volume disharmony. In filtering it you had just unconsciously redefined it so as to tolerate it. Honestly though, I do like AG a bit. But here's how: one spritz. One spritz is comfortable. Two is queasy. Three is so far over the line that, in the manner of the instant conditioning that you experience vomiting a particular food that you then never want to eat again, you'll never want to smell it again.
You're getting the Fine Gray Amber. Nothing like the wishful thinkers who thought they were going to get the full blast of ambergris (maybe never having smelled the real deal raw--YAW!).
But Oh, THIS is a CLASSY scent! I can't hide my exitement, having worn it on special occasions for the last few years where I know I will be RECOGNIZED but not separated...
The House of Balmain has done well. Sweet but aristocratic, woody yet balanced, LONG lasting and claaaa-ssssy! Women think they have smelled it before but can't remember when (HOW). Men just want to know what it is so they can buy it for their wives.
I get something unique here, and thank goodness it isn't unrefined Ambergris--a fine job has been done here, which might take our generation a bit of time and humbling to recognize. This laaaaasts into the day and evening... a lovely smoking bit of light as the nose listens...