Amber is an odd word

Amber is an odd word, isn’t it?  I mean you type in the word “amber” in Google and the very first description that comes up  is what most people think of… those gemstones that sometimes contain insects.  That amber is actually fossilized tree resin and it makes for some very popular and interesting jewelry.  But when perfumistas talk about amber, they are talking about something completely different.

The perfume industry has the same problem as most disciplines in that the vocabulary is an obstacle for people who don’t understand the jargon.  When talking to fellow librarians, I’ll often  refer to books as monographs and magazines as periodicals.  The collection of materials in a library is a catalogue and one searches the catalogue via an OPAC.  Have I lost you yet?

It’s the same with perfume.  Among ourselves we prefer to use the jargon… ambers and fougères, topnotes and drydown, sillage and soliflores because, understandably, it’s alot easier to say “the amber family” than “that styrax-benzoin-cistus-labdanum-vanilla-musk family”.  It’s a kind of shorthand.  But when talking to people who aren’t familiar with the vocabulary, it’s probably isolating for them.

In addition to being a shorthand, using jargon identifies the person as part of an in-crowd having the same interests.  So when I say, “There’s nothing better than a crisp, green chypre”, it’s a kind of password to the listener that I understand the lingo and we can continue in this shorthand if you also know the vocabulary.

As to my first point , what does the word “amber” mean for perfumistas?  Well, the word “amber” comes from the French word “ambré” which comes from a mythic amber perfume, L’Ambre Antique (1905), created by one of the top 5 great perfumers of all time, François Coty.  Ambre Antique defined the genre and other perfumers soon found that they could use the amber accord as a base and add other notes to it… which is what they did.  Today, amber represents a whole family of perfumes.

Amber perfumes are known to have ingredients like vanilla, musk and oriental resins in them with classic ambers being Guerlain’s Shalimar, Chanel’s Coco and Yves Saint-Laurent’s Opium.  But if you’re looking for an inexpensive, basic amber that both women and men can wear, check out my Stetson Original review.

One final note on ambers, they are sometimes referred to as “orientals”.  We wouldn’t want to make it too easy, now would we?

Top Image : The Tower of Babel by Abel Grimmer (1570-1619)

Bottom Image : Vintage bottle of L’Ambre Antique

P&G : Old Spice Classic

Created by : Unknown

Date : 1938

Genre : Spicy oriental

Concentration : cologne

The SS America (1908), an Italian liner for Navigazione Generale Italiana, brought my grandparents and their two children from Naples to Ellis Island (New York) in 1923.  With them, the liner brought their traditions – incredible Italian cooking, the importance of family celebrations and the Italian tradition of men wearing fragrance.  The very first men’s cologne I ever smelled was from an empty bottle of Old Spice that my grandfather gave me.  Oddly, the bottle was not the iconic white bottle that we all know but one that was modeled after a Bavarian beer mug and it was painted silver so it must have been some kind of special edition.  I kept it for at least 10 years, occasionally removing the cap to smell what was a beautiful, clean manly fragrance.  It seemed like such an adult thing to do.  So grown-up!

And so when the Old Spice Man starting popping up on my screen, I ran out and bought a bottle of Old Spice Classic cologne.  At $14.65 Cdn. for a 125 ml. bottle, I figured… let’s have fun and test it.  The opening notes reminded me of the aftershave that my barber splashes on the back of my neck and if your barber owns a red, white and blue barber’s pole, you probably know what I’m talking about.  Old Spice Classic has a bracing and astringent opening kick to it with an orange, clove and cinammon accord that hints to something antiseptic.  The orange topnote is the most fleeting while the cinammon note lingers the longest.  The heart is vaguely floral which makes complete sense for the time it was created.  My colleagues at work couldn’t figure out whether it was a masculine or a feminine and that’s because today’s masculines are so hairy-knuckled and anchored in heavy woody notes that when we are presented with anything floral we immediately think of feminine fragrance.  The base is vanilla, musk and amber which places it squarely in the oriental family but it actually has an enduring lightness to it.  It seems to stay close to the skin and has outlasted several eau de toilettes that I own, so its lasting power is excellent for a cologne concentration, which is usually around 5% aromatic compounds.  Unfortunately, Old Spice Classic ends on a sweet musc and this is probably the part I like the least… but at this price, I’m not complaining.

Old Spice will never be in my top ten but if ever my collection went up in flames due to spontaneous perfume combustion and the white iconic bottle survived, I’d wear it happily for a week or two until I my insurance money kicked in to replace my stash.

Now… we’ve all seen that hilarious Old Spice commercial but, being a librarian, this parody grabbed my attention.


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