Ingredients: iris, cistus, vetiver
The word Ambre (amber) gives ample opportunity to the fragrance industry’s fondness for shell games where the bewildered punter cannot figure out where the pea went. Amber proper is the stuff of necklaces, made of hardened resin and found on Baltic beaches. It has no smell until heated to destructive distillation, at which point it yields an oil, never used in perfumery these days. Then there’s the perfumery amber you find in street markets throughout the Arab world—a combination of vanillin, cistus resin, and acetanilide powder. It looks like friable rock, smells great, and is dirt cheap to make. Finally there’s ambergris, spat out by whales after a large lunch, dark gray fatty stuff that also lands on beaches, smells amazing, and costs a fortune.
Ambre Eternel does smell like an amber material (cistus resin, aka labdanum), but there is a lot more to it than that. In fact, the dry, gray topnote that rises before you like a tall, ghostly apparition coming up through a stage trapdoor seems mostly made up of iris and violets and a brilliantly conceived background touch of a Badedas-style camphoraceous ester. The iris here is not the bready, translucent material of recent Chanel releases. It is more akin to the solid synthetic accord of Lutens’ original Iris Silver Mist (Maurice Roucel, 1994). As the iris fades, the fragrance shifts to a warm woody-fruity-ambery accord and heads to a very clean drydown with no chemical bones showing. If I were to guess at the artistic intent of this fragrance, I would describe it as an attempt to do a modern Iris Gris (Fath, 1946), replacing the muted peachy glow of the original with the smooth matter-of-fact lighting of a sepia portrait. Very good indeed.
Editor’s Note: The original review, published on February 22nd, has since been edited. Dr. Turin smelled Ambre Eternel following a presumed recovery from a severe cold. He was, however, still hyposmic to the amber note, and as a result, Ambre Eternel smelled drier and woodier. The review has since been amended by Dr. Turin to reflect this.