Amber fragrances are the buttercream frosting of the perfume world. They’re easy to like and easy to get sick of. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine not having a little amber in your perfume collection to reach for when you’re cold and cranky and need the perfume equivalent of sweet comfort food.
The thing with amber fragrances, though, is that they've been done over and over. How do you make them new? When I saw the tome-shaped bottle for Histoires de Parfums Edition Rare Ambrarem, I wondered what the spin on amber would be this time. Citrus? Spice, maybe? No. I should have guessed: oud.
Histoires de Parfums nose Gérald Ghislain created Edition Rare Ambrarem, released in 2011. It includes top notes of pink peppercorn and elemi; heart notes of iris absolute and saffron; and base notes of castoreum absolute, Bourbon vanilla, sandalwood and amber.
Just after it's sprayed on skin, Ambrarem's amber-oud combination is cool and almost herbal. Ambrarem's oud isn't the peaty, bandaid-smelling oud, but oud boosted by saffron — it smells like oysters and the ocean. The amber is soft, not sticky-sweet at all. Rooty iris ties it all together in an intriguing fresh-warm combination. (Here the iris is just a bit player and not as vivid or fruity as in Amouage Opus V's iris-oud mix.) At this point, Ambrarem smells promising for an amber fragrance, but don't pull out your wallet yet.
Soon, like a garbage freighter chugging into the bay, Ambrarem's castoreum appears. At first, the castoreum wafts gently above the fragrance's sweet sea air. But over half an hour or so, the funk builds until you wonder if a water buffalo died under the house. If you love Guerlain Jicky's fetid squirrel aspect, you'll adore Ambrarem at this point. If you wrinkle your nose at civet and other notes with a hint of the derrière, back off from the tester.
After a few hours, the ocean and funk melt away leaving nothing but amber. Plain old head shop amber. The amber shimmers sweetly, but you can get that in Pacifica Spanish Amber, too. During Ambrarem's final throes, vanilla jumps in. Ambrarem has rich sillage and lasts all day on my skin.
For the amber lover with no fear of intense animalic notes, Ambrarem is definitely worth a try. I love an animalic edge to a complex perfume — for instance, the whiff of trash in vintage Christian Dior Dioressence is the dash of salt that makes the fragrance for me. But Ambrarem's amber-funk feels out of balance. You might like it better.
Histoires de Parfums Ambrarem is is $175 for 60 ml Absolu de Parfum; for buying information see the listing for Histoires de Parfums under Perfume Houses.
What perfumes do you reach for when you need a hit of amber?
Other ambers reviewed at Now Smell This include: Armani Privé Ambre Soie, Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge, Atelier Cologne Ambre Nue, Estée Lauder Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang, Hermès Ambre Narguile, I Profumi di Firenze Ambra del Nepale, Laura Mercier Ambre Passion Velvet, Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe, and although we haven’t reviewed this one I’d be remiss not to include it, Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan.