Starts off smelling like bad breath. Honestly, that is just what it smells like. I expected something salty and marine, but that doesn't describe the smell accurately. This is not the smell of the ocean; rather it is the smell of bacterial colonization, of stagnant water, of decaying teeth and gums, of roadkill, of morning breath. In a word, of putrefaction. Which makes sense, as ambergris is literally the loogy (a hard nodule composed of fats, proteins, plaque, & mucus) of a whale that has aged and gone rancid for many years. Is it disgusting? Kind of.
After twenty minutes or so, this bad breath scent dissipates and the fragrance gets much softer and a bit sweeter, yet very hard to detect. I have to put my nose to my wrist and really concentrate to smell anything at this point, but I do get hints of dry tobacco with that slightly sour bile smell playing gently at the edges. The creamy and subtly sweet drydown of Miss Dior parfum (vintage) is supposedly composed with real ambergris, and I can smell just a bit of that same mysterious magic in the drydown of the real Ambergris tincture.
Sniffing real ambergris tincture is a revelation, so fascinating to think that our fragrance forefathers plucked this substance off the seashore and tweaked it to complement and fix other notes, resulting in compositions that are truly beautiful. And in smelling the real deal, it's apparent that it was primarily the FIXATIVE qualities of ambergris that were deemed so valuable; I am deducing this by the fact that there are - mercifully - no perfumes vintage or modern that smell realistically of ambergris. I have also noticed that when layered with other perfumes, ambergris tincture softens the perfume's notes, lassoing them and reigning them in, blurring their sharp edges. I'm glad I sampled this, it is fascinating but not appealing.
22nd February, 2011 (last edited: 09th October, 2012)
After the alcohol dries, I get a very strong smell of mothballs. I am very surprised because I also smell a similar mothball quality in civet. To my nose, civet is like a combination of mothballs, feces and florals. Ambergris is like mothballs, brine and bile. I can't disagree with other observations on the bile aspect, only my first inclination was to say it smelled of very bad breath (human). Another surprise for me--this is the first animalic that I have not found to be pleasant. Apparently I prefer feces to vomit. Joking aside, I can tell that ambergris could be transformed by blending. I am sure its bitter edge could round out a fragrance, giving it some definition in the same way that bitter herbs and salt make a bland stew come to life. The deep drydown is sweet, not like what is typically considered an amber accord (labdanum, benzoin, vanilla), and it smells quite lovely, a bit like fresh air (but NOT ozonic).
Ambergris is a "single note" of ambergris tincture, and is great for anybody who likes to make their own blends or layer fragrances.