Ambra Grigia (

Dominique Dubrana kindly sent me a bottle of his “flottée” ambergris tincture, collected on beaches rather than from the sperm whale. I have only smelled ambergris a few times as a solid (always from Laboratoires Monique Rémy). Instead of attempting to describe it, let me quote on the subject the great fragrance chemist Gunther Ohloff who probably knew more about ambergris than anyone before or since. He calls it “humid, earthy, fecal, marine, algoid, tobacco-like, sandalwood-like, sweet, animal, musky and radiant”, and I won’t try to improve on his list. I don’t know what dilution the product is sold at. Nevertheless, this sun-aged cetacean furball extract is really quite something, and I plan to add it to various harmless little fragrances like lavender to see if they morph into Mr Hyde.

November 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (36)


You’ll be surprised with the results! I’m using some of this tincture in the perfume I’m working on, and the results have been phenomenal! I’ve been especially intrigued by the combination of the tincture and osmanthus absolute, and also combined with tobacco absolute and galaxolide.

Profumo’s civet tincture is very nice too!

Posted by: Evan | November 30, 2005 at 03:40 PM


A co-worker of mine recently spent a long holiday at the Turks and Caicos Islands, and there she and her husband were taken around by a young man who lives on one of the more undeveloped islands. As they walked along the beach, he stooped to pick up a rugged lump of something gray. “Ah!” he said. “We collect it and put it in candles.” Sure enough, his home apparently had a phenomenal aroma, and he said it was very common for people to simply pick it up off the beach. I have no idea if this is the selfsame substance coughed up by sperm whales, but I have a yen to go there on holiday myself now, just for a chance to smell it and perhaps nab a lump of my own. If not, at least I could work on my tan. :)

Posted by: Tania | November 30, 2005 at 04:51 PM


What a wonderful description. Ambergris is a note that i have always been curious about, and thought only found in very old ‘vintage’ perfumes. Below is a link to an article by Charles Sell:


We have many sperm whales off the coast here in Alaska but the seas are horrible, especially in winter. Beachcombing the outer coast just took on a new enticement!!

Luca, thanks the reminder of this elusive note; glad that it is still about.. Does it have the same smoothing effect as civet?

Posted by: michael | November 30, 2005 at 05:25 PM


OK, simple experiment: back of right hand, Yardley’s lavender, 2 spritzes. Left hand, Yardley’s lavender 2 spritzes +1 spritz ambergris. Result: the left hand still smells like lavender, but much stronger, more complex and in 3-D. Like switching from little speakers to big electrostatics. Small wonder people value the stuff !

Posted by: luca turin | November 30, 2005 at 05:35 PM


Ooh, that is officially very cool.

Posted by: Tania | November 30, 2005 at 05:38 PM


P.S. I have only been searching all my life for the ideal lavender-amber fragrance. Just to let you know. So this is very, very interesting to me.

Posted by: Tania | November 30, 2005 at 05:49 PM


Tania, a word of caution. Ambergris does not smell of amber, which is named after the oil obtained by destructive distillation of resin (tree) amber, much sweeter “empyreumatic” and not at all marine- animalic smell. I am sure Octavian will have the last word on this one :-)

Posted by: luca turin | November 30, 2005 at 05:54 PM


(sigh) Other sources I’d read insisted that modern amber accords are trying to replicate the effect of ambergris by using botanical and synthetic sources. I believe you, just…sheesh, lot of misinformation out there. Oh well, it’s still interesting to me, because lavender has such a clean, antiseptic herbal quality, and I haven’t yet found anything that satisfactorily gives it the extra oomph underneath, so you get a little dirty with your clean. (For what I want, Caron’s Pour Un Homme is wonderful but too sweet; Jicky is too sexy; Jo Malone’s Lavender and Amber is too soapy; I’m still trying.) Happy to hear what Octavian or anyone has to say on the matter. There was a lot of back and forth on my old board about amber and ambergris, so I’m glad to finally get clearer information! :)

Posted by: Tania | November 30, 2005 at 06:04 PM


I know, I’m fixated on the subject. I just thought that if Evan was going to quote Proust in the post below, I ought to haul in Melville over here. :)

Moby Dick, Chapter 92: Ambergris.


Posted by: Tania | November 30, 2005 at 07:39 PM


Hey Luca,
I never had the chance to smell real ambergris myself, only a bunch of synthetic reconstructions or chemicals that resemble the ambergris note. I’ve heard of many chemicals in the ambergris direction like AMBRINOL, AMBROX® DL, CETALOX®, GRISAMBROL® B, GRISALVA and many others. In your opinion, which is the one or the combination that would best resemble the real stuff?Maybe there’s nothing like the natural itself, but being the use of materials of animal origin an issue, it would be of use to have a good replacement under the sleeve.
Regards, R.

Posted by: Rafael | November 30, 2005 at 07:56 PM


Luca, after experiencing the nice-enough scent of the chunks, you now see how ambergris “opens up” and develops after being crushed and tinctured. It truly needs a minimum of three months to develop. I also infuse mine in oil. I believe our friend in Italy has some infused in sandalwood. I make from a 10-50% tincture. Only a tiny amount is needed — for instance, with your lavender experiment — perhaps one drop of ambergris tincture to 20 drops of lavender may have worked. Of course, more is always better, albeit extravagant.

For a lusciously erotic experience, I encourage those who are interested to crush some ambergris in virgin organic coconut oil — the one that smells strongly of coconut. Allow it to macerate for months.

Use cautiously ;-)

Posted by: Anya | November 30, 2005 at 08:27 PM


I got lost in the website this morning, it’s delightful. I love it that he encourages everyone to make their own blends, but I doubt that “everyone” will do it on the level Evan seems to, his latest sounds fantastic. When can we all get some? Tania, try SMN Lavanda Ambrata or maybe Ambra Lavanda, I thought that it was a wonderful version, I hope it’s still around. Who wants to go in on some Ambergris and/or from Il Profumo?

Posted by: Qwendy | November 30, 2005 at 09:15 PM


Hi Wendy!

Yes, the site is daunting, and while fun to get lost in ;-) not exactly fun to figure out what to purchase. I always recommend folks try his “mignon” page. There are samples there, for a bit of a charge, but they’re really minis, so a bargain in the long run.

An ambergris co-op is the way to go, Wendy, and the perfumer is very helpful in tips on tincturing, etc. (disclaimer ;-) not an ad, no commercial interest, etc.)just someone who loves his perfumes and thinks all his products are glorious.

Posted by: Anya | November 30, 2005 at 09:50 PM


I bought the kit of animal essences from Prufumo, ostensibly to make my own blends but actually because I could no longer bear not quite knowing what those notes smell like. The ambergris, to me, is by far the most intriguing and elusive (elusive in the sense that I cannot even come up with adequate similes, let alone adjectives, to describe how it smells). I want to try it with oakmoss (but then, I want to try everything with oakmoss).

The castoreum, on the other hand, smells like someone shouting at me at close range through a bullhorn, which is oddly enough not as unpleasant as it sounds.

Posted by: Liz | November 30, 2005 at 11:04 PM


I have read somwhere that CREED was the only perfumer who still uses ambre gris for his compositions.
Many of them have it:Angélique encens,Acier aluminium(don’t know this one,but it is said to be magic…do you agree?)and many more.

L’eau des merveilles also have an accord made of ambre gris but this is a reconstituted one,and the fragrance is rather good to my taste.

Do you know the price of Ambra Grigia ?
Must be very expansive i guess,for ambre gris is famous for that.

Posted by: julien | November 30, 2005 at 11:34 PM


Julien, Profumo’s Ambergris tincture is € 54.17 for 16 ml, a hefty sum, though not much more per ml than any perfume, and certainly worth it.

Quendy, thanks for the kind words, I’m working on it, I’ll probably have a couple of presentable things by the spring.

Rafael, none of the amber synthetics really smells like ambergris tincture by itself. I would say a combination of ambroxan, 6-methyl quinoline, hydroxycitronellal, sandalwood eo (album variety) and a very small percent of indole might put you in the general neighborhood but it would still be like someone trying to an impersonation of a celebrity; they might get a few mannerisms and a word here and there but you would never mistake them for the real thing.

Tania, have you tried L’Impact Pour Un Homme (the extract version of Pour Un Homme)? It might be just what you’re looking for. It’s less sweet than the non-Impact version, a beautiful marriage of the medicinal and the warm. Are you going to Caron for the sale? If you are, let’s go together ;)

Posted by: Evan | December 01, 2005 at 12:34 AM


Anya, you give me the best advice! (I’m furtively waiting for “orange blossom time.”). In the meantime, I’m going to look into an animal essence syndicate (Wendy K are you reading?) although Ambergris sounds like the best…… thanks for the Caron sale tip Evan, I might have to have a bottle of Coup de Fouet — who can resist that name? Hmmmm, I’ll probably be in NY in the Spring…………..

Posted by: Qwendy | December 01, 2005 at 01:14 AM


I purchased some ambergris from profumo last year…its use in blends is nothing short of magical. I actually work on formulas and create them “pre” and “post” ambergris to savor the difference.

Pre-ambergris is a cluster of essences; sandalwood, orris, tuberose, lindin, etc. flailing to find structure, balance, harmony. Like walking a tightrope. A careful dose of ambergris is added, and it swims through the blend, filling in the pointy edges with a silky, matted glow. The burnt waxy smell of the orris is softened into a gentle base note of moonlight, and the florals seem to open, rise and coelesce adding structure and form with almost algebraic precision.

It took me a while to find the careful hand necessary to achieve this effect, but once the technique is under your belt, the effects are glorious.

viva la ambergris!

Posted by: Matthew | December 01, 2005 at 03:14 AM


Ambergris is apparently an ingredient of Habanita, by Molinard. I bought a bottle recently and I love it, although it’s very much for evening wear.


Posted by: Kathleen | December 01, 2005 at 03:30 AM


Rafael: Arcadi Boix Camps, in his amazing book Perfumery: techniques in Evolution ISBN 0-931710-72-3 mentions many ambergris chemicals, but his favorite seems to be dihydroambrinol.

Posted by: luca turin | December 01, 2005 at 08:07 AM


Kathleen: given its provenance, I doubt very much that Habanita contains natural ambergris, but it still smells great :-)

Posted by: luca turin | December 01, 2005 at 08:08 AM


Thanks for the info about the price.

I have tried Impact by the way.
The lavender part is much more present and darker than in the edt version.

I am not a fan of lavender,but i must confess i am very happy with the fact a wonderful House of Perfumes like CARON did actually have the idea to create an extrait de parfum for men.I mean,it was time….

I am still searching for the good CARON which could suits me well.
I thought about En Avion,for it is woody enough to recall more of a masculine perfume.

Thanks again.


Posted by: julien | December 01, 2005 at 09:04 AM


Evan, I plan to go this weekend to smell Impact (and buy Coup de Fouet, just like Qwendy). Please come if you can!

On my own tangent as ever, I ask, has anyone actually heard of this Fogo Von Slack that Melville mentions in the chapter on ambergris? It’s beginnng to plague me. (The chapter is, as you can imagine, intensely olfactory.)

“I partly surmise also, that this wicked charge against whalers [that they smell bad] may be likewise imputed to the existence on the coast of Greenland, in former times, of a Dutch village called Schmerenburgh or Smeerenberg, which latter name is the one used by the learned Fogo Von Slack, in his great work on Smells, a text-book on that subject.”

Fogo Von Slack is a wonderful, wonderful name.

Please also take note of this:

“Nor indeed can the whale possibly be otherwise than fragrant, when, as a general thing, he enjoys such high health; taking abundance of exercise; always out of doors; though, it is true, seldom in the open air. I say, that the motion of a Sperm Whale’s flukes above water dispenses a perfume, as when a musk-scented lady rustles her dress in a warm parlor. What then shall I liken the Sperm Whale to for fragrance, considering his magnitude? Must it not be to that famous elephant, with jewelled tusks, and redolent with myrrh, which was led out of an Indian town to do honour to Alexander the Great?”

There you have it: it smells like a myrrh-soaked elephant.

Posted by: Tania | December 01, 2005 at 04:41 PM


Fogo von Slack ? I love it ! Could it be a relation of Fender von Fender from Robots ? “Trrumpets ? Where are the trrumpets ? ”

Posted by: luca turin | December 01, 2005 at 04:49 PM


L, you’re gonna love this. I just Googled “Fogo Von Slack” and the first hit is a blog of the same name, written by a blogger with the username of Luca, age 26, in Italy. Ha!

Posted by: Tania | December 01, 2005 at 04:53 PM


I am about 99% certain there is ambergris in Weil’s old Secret of Venus oil, but that 1% of me wonders if you might know about it one way or the other? There’s an oomph to it that I cannot imagine they could have obtained otherwise.

Posted by: Katie | December 01, 2005 at 09:48 PM


The amber wrist test confirms my contention that true ambergris really only ought to be used as a base note, to add volume and texture and to amplify! It seems as if finally the perfume-lingo of amplification has ellided with its metaphoric origin, in sound systems.

Tania– loved your blog, by the way (& am a friend of V’s) — have you tried Patou Moment Supreme? I’m really familiar with it as my mother has been wearing it as long as I’ve known her (nearly 30 years), though it is harder and harder for her to come by and now only exists in EDT which she claims was tweaked in the 80s. Anyway, it is a lovely dry spicy lavender-amber scent, with a little touch of geranium in the top to warm it up, and a heart of rose (barely detectable) to make it last longer. I highly recommend, especially 15 minutes after spritzing. I think it is only available in Ma Collection, but it might be at the new Patou boutique in Paris. It was created in 1929.


Posted by: Miriam | December 02, 2005 at 09:19 PM


To the wonderful description that Gunther Ohloff makes of Ambergris fragrance I would add that which most srikes me in this scent and reaches my heart while breathing it; milky motherly undertones.

Posted by: Salaam | December 02, 2005 at 10:53 PM


there is an ebay seller “magnifincense” who seems to have access to ambergris. i have previously bought raw and tictured ambergris from profumo, and have just purchased 14 grams (raw) from this ebay seller and it is on it’s way. i am eager to compare the two. my shop is in central california so if anyone in this part of the world would like to sniff this essence as well as the Profumo perfumes without having to purchase, feel free to stop by! (I am one of Profumo’s biggest fans)

The Perfumer’s Apprentice

Posted by: Linda | December 02, 2005 at 11:31 PM


To all lovers of true (natural) perfume,
I want to try these animal essences. I’ve got recipes from the 1700s and up that call for them. Of course I want to be responsible ane use them sparingly. I think I want this as badly as crack addicts want crack…well..
I’m barefootdiva on Natural Perfumery please share

Posted by: barefootdivagifts | December 03, 2005 at 05:30 AM


There are two informative websites on Ambergris:
I myself inherited a bottle of the tincture from my father’s pharmacy: as “Ambra grisea” it is used in homoeopathic formulations for insomnia and depression. The smell is indeed extraordinarily “involving” in the sense of “drawing you in” into a warm and sensual olfactory landscape.
If one looks into Poucher’s recipes (“Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, Vol II” 8th Ed. Chapman&Hall 1974), there was hardly any classical perfume composition that was not “automatically” rounded off by the addition of ambergris and musk tinctures (3% concentration each), usually after the other components had been “married” for a few weeks, and then the entire juice was again matured for months. It is probably fair to say that any bottle of extrait from France bought before 1970 had ambergris in it (commercial whaling was not yet banned, and perfumers, not accountants, had the final control ofer a composition). By the olfactory magic of those two ingredients even the harshest synthetics are smoothened and become integrated, and the whole gets the desired final lift and radiance.
I recently bought an old bottle of “Le Dix” at e-Bay and I can clearly smell the ambra…

Posted by: Reimar | December 03, 2005 at 08:12 AM


…One more thought. I read somewhere that at Falstaff’s table the wine was spiced with ambergris and that Cardinal Richelieu ate ambra-flavored chocolates. Reminds me of the movie “Chocolate”: that will be my next experiment, marrying ambergris and chocolate, and I mean not only in a fragrance…

Posted by: Reimar | December 03, 2005 at 08:19 AM


Food, drink, clothing. Here’s perhaps the most famous image of scenting with ambergris, Sargent’s Fumee d’Ambre gris:


I have also been instructed by a Sufi perfumer to place a dab of ambergris under the lid of a teapot, fill the pot and make tea as usual, and enjoy the scent and flavor of the ambergris for up to a year, as it permeates the ceramic of the top. I’m not a tea drinker ;-)

Posted by: Anya | December 03, 2005 at 12:49 PM


I’m looking up the Henry IV reference right now (apalling– I am a Shakespeare professor and all I can remember of Falstaff’s wine is that he likes Sack), but of course Falstaff is a fictional character, possibly based on Sir John Oldcastle, so whether or not the wine was spiced with ambergris is moot . . .

Posted by: Miriam | December 04, 2005 at 05:23 AM


I have some ambergris from and it is exactly what ambergris tincture should smell like. There are too many fantasy ambergris oils on the market and none remotely resemble the natural substance. The same holds true to musk. It may be interesting for some of you that on aging for many years the ambergris tincture takes on a different small yet. I have a very mature ambergris tincture that was produced by Roure-Dupont in April 1968 and it has a heavenly sweet smell with hints of anise and almond. To me its smell is as enchanting of that of orris absolute, although in no way similar. I have also burned raw ambergris in like in the famous painting and unless you cherish the odor of burning rubber I don’t recommend that you waste the precious substance in this manner.

Posted by: James | December 27, 2005 at 04:33 PM


The only fragraces on the market where, to me, the smell of natural ambergris can be smelled is in the drydown of Creed’s Ambre Cannelle and Fleurs de Bulgarie. As many of you have noticed, ambergris produces a profound effect when combined with other ingredients but its smell is subtle enough that in all but the highest concentrations it cannot be clearly detected.

Civet, while plenty pungent in raw or tintured form is seldom used in such a concentration that it can be clearly smelled. Some have said that one can smell it clearly in Tabu, but I can easily identify its effects on Tabu but not the substance itself. For those of you who wish to smell it can do so in Guerlain’s Jicky. It is the pungent fecal smell mingled amoung the aromatic lavendar and warm vanilla and coumarin.

Posted by: James | December 27, 2005 at 04:43 PM

Luca turin on natural perfumery

Luca Turin on

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