“Olfactoria, Queen of Amber” – Perfume Lovers London Meetup, Thursday 17th May 2012

By Tara

Another month, another convening of Perfume Lovers London at the New Cavendish Club. But this was a particularly special meeting because the talk was being given by our very own Olfactoria, who had made the journey over from Vienna specially for the event.

The organiser of the group, Lila, introduced Birgit (Olfactoria) by saying that it was hard to believe that Olfactoria‘s Travels has only been in existence for 18 months. Recently recommended by former fragrance critic for the New York Times and curator of the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Art and Design in NY, Chandler Burr, it has certainly cuome a long way in a relatively short period of time.

Birgit told us that she is a psychotherapist by profession and a mother of two living in Vienna. She said she had prepared for the talk by watching the entire two seasons of Downton Abbey on DVD. She’d need not have bothered however, because her English is impeccable.

Next we dove into perfume and learned that the fragrance which set her off on her olfactory travels was in fact not an amber at all…

The Perfume That Started It All

En Passant by Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle

This was Birgit’s very first niche scent. What impressed her was the way it smelled so natural and it is indeed an extremely fresh and realistic lilac scent. Googling it led her to the secret world of perfume blogs and there was no turning back from then on. En Passant was also the very first perfume reviewed on this blog.

Amber

Birgit explained a little background to the amber perfume genre.

Amber is not occuring naturally but is created in perfumery through a combination of labdanum, benzoin and vanilla. We tried the three raw materials on scent strips and Lila had gone to the trouble of sourcing a Cistus ladanifer plant or “Rock Rose” from which labdanum resin is obtained. The shrub itself didn’t actually have much of a scent but you could feel the sticky resin on it’s twigs.

Amber is often present in perfumes in the form of ready-made bases, like De Laire’s Ambre 83, which is present in a lot of perfumes from Carons to Guerlains.

A modern form of amber is the molecule Ambroxan, for example, that is very light and transparent. (For example Juliette Has A Gun Not A Perfume and Escentric Molecule 02 are made entirely of Ambroxan).

Ambergris is a naturally occurring material that is often wrongly associated with amber scents. Expelled from sperm whales, it has a salty, animalic quality, it is very rare and expensive and it is the only animal substance still in use in perfumery today. Also Ambrette seed is something else entirely and not related to amber, it is harvested from the plant Hibiscus Abelmoschus and has a soft, musky scent.

The following were the amber “guided smells” which were passed around on paper strips for us to try.

1. Starter Ambers

L’Eau d’Ambre by L’Artisan Parfumeur

A basic, straightforward amber by Jean Claude Ellena from 1978, which askews his usual minimalist scent style. This and the other ambers in the category are good options for those who are not too sure of – or accustomed to – the amber perfume genre.

Other Starter Ambers are L’Eau Ambree by Prada, Etro’s Ambre, Agent Provocateur’s Strip and Dior’s Ambre Nuit.

2. Heavy Hitters

Ambre Fetiche by Annick Goutal

One of my personal favourites because of a fantastically limey frankincense note. This bold fragrance diverges from Annick Goutal’s usual style and is part of Les Orientalistes collection along with Musc Nomade, Myrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant.

Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens

A show of hands revealed that this was extremely popular with the assembled perfumistas. Indeed, it has been described as “the gold standard” amber perfume. Birgit told us that she has somewhat of an ambivalent relationship with Uncle Serge’s perfumes, having purchased them only to sell them on eBay and on occasion, subsequently re-purchase. Ambre Sultan has however proven to be a firm favourite thanks to it’s complexity and sensuality.

Another Heavy Hitter is the wonderfully boozy Ambre Russe by Parfums d’Empire

3. American Male Superheroes

Amber Absolute by Tom Ford

A great category idea; macho ambers done in a forthright American style. The pleasant surprise of the evening for me was Tom Ford’s terrifically smoky amber which Birgit advised us is best tested on skin. A couple of willing volunteers sprayed some on their arm for others to try as “human scent strips”. Rumour has it that it is to be discontinued, so let’s hope that’s not the case.

Ambre Orient by Armani Privé

Not as intense as Amber Absolute, Birgit describes this as “smooth and warm and radiant“. It includes notes of bergamot, thyme, incense, geranium, patchouli, oud, sandalwood and vanilla.

Another amber in this category is Ambre 114 by Histoires de Parfums.

4. Powdery Ambers

Ambre by Mona di Orio

Ambre is a very soft and tender amber option. Birgit told us she wasn’t very sure about this one at first but it grew on her over time to become a treasured favorite. (As an aside, she urged the audience to try Mona’s Musc which is a particular favourite of hers from the line, and mine too). Ambre includes notes of cedarwood, ylang ylang , benzoin, tolu and vanilla.

Another powdery Amber is Coudray’s Ambre et Vanille.

5. Dead Center Ambers

Mitzah by Dior La Collection Priveé

Birgit explained that she sees Mitzah as occupying the amber middle ground. It is a good representation of the genre with distinctive herbs and spices and outstanding longevity.

Another Dead Center Amber is Ambre Precieux by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, which to my nose, while still being a “straight-up amber”, is also a little more feminine than most.

6. Summer Amber

Opus VI by Amouage

This is the most recent release from Amouage’s Library Collection. Birgit describes it as a “Star Trek Amber” because it feels to her like a futuristic hologram. This is because while it has a strong character, it lacks weight. This makes it a perfect amber perfume choice for warmer weather. I’d happily have a bottle of this in my collection if the price was less prohibitive.

Two more amber categories were available for us to try at leisure after Birgit’s talk. These were:

7. 1980’s “Vintage” Style Ambers

Calvin Klein Obsession and Estée Lauder Youth Dew Amber Nude

8. Amber & Friends

Caron’s Pour Un Homme, Armani Privé’s Ambre Soie and Shiloh X

Birgit and Tara of Olfactoria’s Travels, Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume and Thomas, The Candy Perfume Boy

Birgit said that if there’s one thing she has learned about perfume from her scented journey so far, it is to never rule anything out and never judge to quickly. Great advice for us all, I think.

After the talk Birgit got a chance to meet several of her readers, which she was particularly pleased about. A gracious, witty and thoughtful speaker, it was an absolute pleasure to spend an evening in her amber scented company.

Photos by Vanessa Musson and Nigel Butterworth
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39 Responses to “Olfactoria, Queen of Amber” – Perfume Lovers London Meetup, Thursday 17th May 2012

  1. Thank you, Tara, and congratulations, dear Birgit! It sounds like you had a lot of fun.
    What we love most about Olfactoria is Birgit’s ability to engage us in her stories, her exquisite taste in fragrance (checking her reviews before buying is a must) and her simple yet delicate prose.
    Cheers,
    N&A
    PS: You are tempting us with those Mona di Orio fragrances. Now we want to try them all.

    • taratamarisk says:

      Thanks! It was a fun evening.

      Simple yet delicate prose is a lovely description of B’s writing and her stories always reel me in too. I recently bought a bottle of Equistrius by Parfums d’Empire and my interest in it was purely sparked by her review.

      Do check out those Mona di Orio fragrances!

  2. flittersniffer says:

    Thanks, Tara, for your thorough account of this informative and enjoyable talk by Birgit. She was a star to come all that way to share her “Amber Fetish” – or Fetiche, even!! – with us, and it was lovely to see her again.

    Oh btw, I can’t take any credit for the second photo, as I am in it. : – ) Nigel Butterworth kindly did the honours there!

    • tara says:

      It was great that B travelled all the way from Vienna for the event. It was well worth it for us and hopefully for her too. Amber Fetiche indeed!

      Nigel did us proud with the pic.

  3. Fantastic write-up Tara!

    Thanks to B and Lila for such a wonderful evening, and to you and Vanessa for company, perfume-sniffing and Lebanese food 😛

    • tara says:

      Thanks, Thomas! B filled in a lot of the factual stuff about amber.

      Lila is doing a great job organising such fun events and B outdid herself with her talk. It was so good to spend time with you and Nigel too.

  4. florence says:

    Congratulations Birgit for this event I’d like so much to be, but I hope we meet each other one day, soon. Thanks to Tara for telling this event and make us able to know what happened.
    Birgit, I agree so much with what’s been said above: you engage me in each story you tell, even those about scent families I don’t like and before a purchase or to know more about a perfume, I have a look to see if you reviewed it and what your thoughts are.

    Of course, amber is a love for me…..so it was surely great to listen to you. About Ambre by MdO, we already talked about it, but we had the same story and the same way with this scent from “hum why not?” till “oh what a treasure!”.
    Congratulations again and bravo for the photos, you’re all beautiful!!!!
    Tender thoughts from France under the rain with Vanille by MdO
    Florence

    • tara says:

      Hello Florence!

      Thanks to B’s writing, OT seems to be a reference point for many ‘fume fans, which is great. I also love how she opens me up to scents I probably wouldn’t have considered if left to my own devices.

      Wishing you sunnier days in France from London via Vienna.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Tara, has anyone ever told you that you do a bang-up job as a reporter? I felt like I was there — it was wonderful. It was through Birgit’s blog that I really came ’round to amber again in a big way (it was her post on Ambre Fetiche that got me started) … she is the perfect person to speak on that perfume genre.

    The photos were a treat, too. Loved seeing B with her hair down, and the one with all four of you ‘fumie friends is awesome.

    • tara says:

      Thanks, Suzanne! I know a lot of people would have loved to be there so I’m glad I brought it to life for you, somewhat.

      B is guaranteed to make you better appreciate amber, even if you don’t find at least one to love (which is unlikely!).

      Vanessa and I are quite enamoured with B’s flowing golden locks, too.

  6. Olfactoria says:

    Thank you for that wonderful write-up, Tara! I agree with Suzanne, you are a perfect reporter.
    It was a treat meeting fellow bloggers and readers in person. And – Lila rocks!!!

    • tara says:

      Thanks, B! There’s no substitute for being there in person but hopefully this is the next best thing. It was great that you got to meet so many people that read the blog, and they you.

      Lila is doing a wonderful job with the group. Long may it continue!

  7. Tara and Birgit, thank you so much, I was hoping we would hear all about the gathering and Birgit’s talk. Looking forward to hearing more about the trip. That is a brilliant and concise intro to ambers. I LOVE amber and a couple of my favourites are included in your selection. I would add L’air du desert Morocain and Ambra del Nepal. Hope Birgit acquired some special birthday gifts whilst in London. ~Sharryn♥~

    • tara says:

      Hi Sharryn,
      Glad you enjoyed the write-up, especially as you are such an amber fan yourself. I think there is an amber for everyone.

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  10. Ines says:

    Oh, it must have been a great pleasure to listen to Birgit and talk to her in person. 🙂 I am so jealous you all got to meet one another.

  11. chris says:

    Did you get to try the new Roja Dove release – Amber Aoud ?.

  12. Natalie says:

    Thank you so much for the report, Tara! And Birgit, I hope you had a lovely time and a good birthday.

  13. Alexandra says:

    It really was a lovely and fascinating evening; congratulations to Birgit for her wonderful talk and to Tara for a fab write up! I’ve barely stopped wearing Ambre Sultan since!

    • taratamarisk says:

      It was really great to meet you there, Alex! I’m so pleased you’ve found a love in Ambre Sultan. It’s surely one of the very best.

  14. Amy Bella says:

    Congratulations Birgit and thank you for the excellent, amber-y recap, Tara! There are a couple of things on this list that I haven’t smelled yet – I’ll have to remedy that soon!

    • tara says:

      Thanks, Amy Bella. I’m very glad Birgit’s talk has given you a couple of new things to explore. The Candy Perfume Boy and Bonkers About Perfume have also done write-ups, if you’re interested in reading more about the evening or other people’s takes on the perfumes we tried.

  15. I’ve really enjoyed reading your account Tara, it was a wonderful evening – we have never had such a packed room because so many people called at the last minute and insisted they had to be let in! I loved meeting Birgit, not only is she thoughtful, funny and considered about perfume, she is also even more beautiful in real life, inside and out.

    • tara says:

      Hi Lila!
      I couldn’t believe it as more and more people kept arriving! It was lovely to see so much support for Birgit and OT. Thanks for putting together such a great event and here’s to many more.

  16. Undina says:

    Tara, thank you for the report! I love reading these stories about perfume meet-ups (though I have to admit to feeling jelous) and you did a great job describing it!

    I like amber perfumes and, mostly, it’s Birgit to thank (blame?;)) for it.

    • tara says:

      Ha! Thank/blame, who knows? 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed the write up and I wish you could have been there too. Maybe one day, I hope. I know I wish I could have been there when you and Natalie got to met up.

      I know you are an amber fan and I’m grateful to you for my 2 Ambre Fetiche decants.

  17. dremybluz says:

    Birgit looks as beautiful as ever, and I am sure that she was as impressive at the seminar as she is here on her blog

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  19. Civava says:

    What a lovely company, and a very good amber guide.

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