Post by Claire Vukcevic
Hello lovely-smelling APJ people!
I’m supposed to be writing an article on ambergris for Basenotes, but instead of finishing up, I keep ordering more samples of stuff I hear has ambergris in it, and so we are already at 6,000 words and counting….But I can’t help myself – I am simply fascinated with ambergris and how different perfumers choose to work with it (or a synthetic replacement).
Sex and the Sea by + for Francesca Bianchi 2016
Fragrantica gives these featured accords:
Mimosa, pineapple, coconut, immortelle, rose, iris, sandalwood, myrrh, labdanum, benzoin, ambergris, civet, vanilla
Francesca Bianchi’s Sex and the Sea is a good example of how perfumers can take a material you think you know and find a completely new angle on it. Here, Francesca takes all the usual markers of tropicana (pineapple, coconut, lactones) and twists them into something far less comfortable than the creamy, sweet sun-tan oil smell we expect to smell.
Using a dry, urinous ambergris material (Cetalox, a synthetic replacement for ambergris), the fragrance drags the pineapple through salty sea water until it dries up into a weathered old fruit leather.
Imagine a pile of dried, salted pineapple mixed in with discarded coconut husks and ancient sea tackle, ropes, and flotsam washed up on the shore of an island somewhere. The heap of materials is dry and crusted over with salt, and if you get close enough you will notice a searing smell of old seagull piss, dry and ureic – not honeyed and wet.
Underneath this dry, acid-toned salt-and-fruit-leather tangle, there is a queasily warm mix of milky lactones, fruit, and salt that comes off a little metallic and iodine-like. I’ve never smelled Secretions Magnifiques – not even by accident – but based on what I’ve read, I’d venture a guess to say that they are at least thematically related. Later on, there is a warm, unwashed body funk to this that is appealing.
Early reviews on Fragrantica are rhapsodic, with most pegging it to be a sexy or sensual fragrance. But I think that Sex and the Sea, while a very interesting way to use ambergris and pineapple, is not that easy or pleasant to wear. It contains a similar idea to Slumberhouse’s Sadanne, that is, a schmear of bright fruit over a layer of ambergris marine filth and bilge, but whereas Sadanne is sparkling and sweet, in Sex and the Sea, the result is far too urinous and tinder-dry to be a comfortable wear.
Longevity is everlasting. I would be surprised if cetalox ever truly dies on the skin or just eventually get scrubbed off. The kind of person I see enjoying this would be a fan of challenging perfumes that do animalic/sexy in a metallic, harsh, salty way.
Hats off to Francesca Bianchi, though. She is certainly not playing it safe. Instead, she hands us a pile of salt-encrusted sea tackle and says, here, this is my idea of sex on the beach. It’s as far from the Eau des Merveilles take on ambergris as you can get, but, in my opinion, all takes on this fascinating material are welcome.
What ambergris perfumes have you guys tried and liked?
Claire also writes for Take One Thing Off