This stuff is deceptive. When first applied it seems quite linear. Then, 4 or 5 hours in, I'm getting a wonderful wood / myrrh blend. Bottle is outstanding.
A word of warning though..JTD is right when saying use one spritz only...it probably smells stronger to others than to you.
One spritz is perfect. Wears nicely
Posies and cinnamon at first. The tuberose and immortelle make for an interesting blend. Sweet and somewhat "dirty" at the same time. The wood here has a smoked incense accord. This frag is neither fully amber or ambergris in nature. It is an idea. The white musk is sweet, nearly vanilla-like, subtle, borders on soap.
Odd as is this, as this settles it smells like basic, French perfume. Non-descript. Almost uncategorized. It is a sweet-floral-wood in my realm of labels. The wood here vaguely reminds me of birch. Not overly long-lasting on my skin.
Balmain Ambre Gris opens with a dash of pink pepper and a massive, sharp, squeaky clean note reminiscent of laundry products, which I dont particularly care for. But soon enough, the sweet resins and immortelle arrive, and the olfactory landscape of Ambre Gris heads to a more interesting direction.
Benzoin and immortelle impart their languid, caramel-like golden sweetness, with immortelle adding an extra touch of bittersweet licorice alongside with musty myrrh. Despite its enveloping resinous sweetness, the fragrance curiously never feels cloying or overwhelming. Besides a pinch of balmy smoke from guaiac wood, there is also something translating as a cool powderiness akin to iris to my nose that seems to absorb any extra grease.
The most intriguing aspect though, is the initial laundry-like white musk still lurking around, now fully integrated into the resin matrix and behaving like a refreshing breeze over the golden resinous lake. Not only does it lighten the balsamic amber, it also serves as a tantalising radiance to contrast the deeper resins.
The end result is a surprisingly refreshing yet still satisfyingly cozy powdery amber skin scent. Ambre Gris stays comfortably close to skin for a total of 8 hours.
Personally, I dont think Balmain Ambre Gris aimed at imitating the smell of ambergris, nor does it smell like the samples that I had the chance to test. Id rather put it in the same category as Hermès Eau des Merveilles, inspired by the intriguing fresh/warm duality of ambergris and reimagining a fragrance around this central concept, even though they dont smell like each other per se. Although I still struggle with the laundry-like opening on a personal level, overall I think Ambre Gris succeeds in recreating this duality in spirit. If you happen to be looking for a powdery, balmy amber with some freshness and if you dont mind strong clean musk, Balmain Ambre Gris is well worth a try.
I'm absolutely aware of all the limitations of Ambre Gris--obviously synthetic, overly radiant, misleading name, just kind of weird and Aromachemical City. But (to cop a phrase from Tania Sanchez) the problem is, I like it. I didn't at first, but repeat exposure (after I donated my sample to the mister) drew me in and got me hooked.
By all rights, this state of affairs should have never come about. I'm almost entirely intolerant of straight amber perfumes, unless they are very dry and not very amber-ish (see Farmacia Ss Annunziata's fabulously powdery Ambra Nera), or they are supporting florals (see half my collection). I think my problem with amber arises from the marriage of vanilla with all those resins, because I enjoy resins immensely, and I don't hate vanilla, although it typically kind of bores me--whatever it is, I've had trouble with amber since childhood and early exposure to Shalimar. I'm also not terribly fond of the cinnamon-driven spice potpourri found in much of Diptyque's stuff--I find these perfumes too kitcheny to really enjoy putting on my skin--and this perfume does involve cinnamon.
Still, Ambre Gris is primarily an amber perfume, sort of--it smells like sweet(ish) resins (it also nods in the direction of ambergris, playing to the ambiguity of its name, to which I will return in a moment). Per the notes I see, it appears vanilla-free. Its cinnamon notes are subtle, just enough to add a vague aura of warmth. I honestly get about zero tuberose from this--and as a stone Tuberose Queen, I wish I did; although sometimes I catch something sort of camphoracious that *could* maybe be tuberose, less the bubblegum facets that one usually finds in inexpensive perfumes like this one. As for the rest, I get myrrh (always welcome in my world), traces of wood, and a bit of benzoin (almost certainly synthetic, but it still lends a friendly, almost sensual vibe). A backdrop of cold stone and a whiff of clean pine most likely indicate Cashmeran and Iso-E Super.
But really, everything is in service to the main event--a massive dose of Ambroxan, an aromachemical that can be sort of pleasantly diffuse when used with a light hand and murderously vile when sprayed heavily. As I understand it, Ambroxan is also one of the perfumer's go-to synthetics when one wishes to simulate, to some degree, a sense of ambergris when the real thing is unavailable. Still, at its best, as Elena Vosnaki over at Perfume Shrine says, Ambrox smells inviting and non-perfumey; here, it goes beyond inviting into the realms of, I daresay, sexiness--not animalic-sexy, but "welcoming aura around this person" kind of sexy. And "move closer so you can get a better whiff" sexy.
I think this sexiness derives from the fact that Ambrox can give perfumes the strange property of smelling stronger at a distance than close up, Typically, this annoys me; it takes all the pleasure out of delicate notes and lovely florals, scattering their scent into millions of little bits, so that I feel like I'm constantly straining to smell what I'm wearing, and can't quite assimilate what I can smell into a pleasing whole; I'm sure someone at 2-5 feet away might be getting the entire story, but as the wearer I don't see the point. Ambre Gris has that same diffuse quality, but it uses spices and resins instead of flowers with the Ambrox base, and the result gives off a lovely vibe that reminds me of that delicious waft you get when you first open the kitchen spice cabinet--without (not to belabor the point) smelling like food.
Also, Ambre Gris doesn't require its Ambrox to carry a complex structure (unlike, say, Juliette Has a Gun's Lady Vengeance, wherein a rose chypre accord is blown to pieces, robbing it of a chypre's structural coherence and complexity. (I know you could say that's deconstruction or whatever--I still think it's not for me)). Its composition is simple enough that there's no harm done if you catch only fragments of it in the air. And here is where the sexiness comes in, because those fragments are comprised of the lovely myrrh/benzoin duo, rendered just elusive enough that they ask whomever catches their scent to lean closer. Or, if you're wearing it, it's like walking in an airy suspension of gentle incense notes combined with the best bits of salted caramel and a touch of antique dresser drawer. The sense of spaciousness obviates the cloying quality that sweet notes can take on and the clunkiness that wooden notes can emanate. It also prevents the usual boredom that those notes can engender, at least for me. I don't need to smell Ambre Gris top-to-tail to enjoy it.
As I said earlier, I know this stuff isn't perfect. Its opening can be a bit harsh and sometimes smells a little too much like industrial product. With its simple structure and powerful components, its faults magnify easily; overspray Ambre Gris even just a little, and the cold-concrete scent of Cashmeran emerges like a Stalin-era apartment block in the middle of your groovy little post-modern futuristic head shop of a perfume. There's not much development once the opening notes dissipate. And, as pleasant as the main accord is, there's no denying the artificial nature of its components.
And it lasts. And lasts. Ambre Gris is very tenacious; in fact, it is really more enjoyable on the second day, after the aromachems have lost some of their aggressive punch. It works particularly well caught on sweaters and scarves. It also makes a remarkably nice layering scent, adding a gauzy curtain of warmth that can turn a daytime scent into something nice for evenings. It is particularly pleasant to smell on someone else. I sometimes sneak a spritz onto my husband's favorite black cashmere sweater, because I enjoy how the drydown smells when he comes back home from work. (Really, I think Balmain did themselves a disservice in its gender designation, because Ambre Gris smells fantastic on men).
Sutible for any setting, any weather (I can wear this outside in Texas summer on the days when I can't face another white floral) and easily available for less than 40 bucks, this perfume is worth a sniff if you haven't tried it yet. And the bottle is nice enough to make an appropriate gift. If you're considering shelling out over 100 dollars for Molecule 2 or Not a Perfume, or a lot more than that not Baccarat Rouge, spend a little time with this first.
I too was enticed by the listed notes and after two separate tastings (yes, tastings, because this is so sweet I can taste it) I decided that they just aren't all detectable by my nose. Before I read the other reviews I thought maybe it was my amateur nose. Guess not.
I get a TON of sweet synthetic vanilla, and the slightly naughty sweet tanginess of benzoin. Pink peppercorns are there too, but the bouquet garni must have been prematurely removed from the soup. Watered down white musk too.
I was hoping for the kind of feminine perfume that I (a guy) could pull off, but this isn't it.
Glad my sample was free.
What a disappointment Ambre Gris turned out to be! I was really looking forward to trying it: from descriptions I had read, I had been expecting a very potent spicy vanilla fragrance, but instead found it to be an extremely boring vanilla one. On my skin it smells identical to Givenchy's Pi - nothing more I can really add to that. Such a shame when Balmain have brought out "could be anything" fragrances like this, when they have discontinued several very distinguished ones in recent years, such as the original Ivoire