Synthetics are the backbone of modern perfumery and Ambroxan is probably the most well-known of these ingredients. That’s partly due to its prominence in hugely popular fragrances such as Dior Sauvage and Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 in recent years.
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The history of Ambroxan is a fascinating one. There was a time when perfumers would use ambergris (the substance excreted by the sperm whale and which hardens into a waxy, solid substance after floating in the ocean) for its animalic sensuality.
Due to its rarity and high cost, an alternative had to be found by chemists. Enter Ambroxan – obtained from sclareol, a natural component of clary sage – in the 1950s.
So what does the Ambroxan fragrance smell like? Depending on how it’s used, it can range from fresh, mineral, salty and woody to ambery, sweet, creamy, musky, and animalic. Apart from its versatility, perfumers also use it as a fixative to boost the performance of their creations.
Almost all fragrances which have “ambergris” as one of their listed notes (including niche varieties) actually refer to Ambroxan or any of the other chemical equivalents (for example, Ambrox Super, Ambroxide and Ambrofix).
If you want to smell Ambroxan in its unadulterated form, get your nose on Escentric Molecules Molecule 02 EDT. Juliette Has A Gun Not A Perfume EDP is composed only of Cétalox, a close relative of Ambroxan.
The name of the perfumer is included in brackets after the name of the fragrance in this best Ambroxan fragrances selection.
Our Shortlist For Best Ambroxan Fragrances
Hermès Eau Des Merveilles EDT (Ralf Schwieger & Nathalie Feisthauer)
So you think Ambroxan is over-used and best avoided? This 2004 release from the French luxury brand will convince you otherwise.
Softly sweet orange makes a fresh statement in the intro. It’s given a peppery-balsamic spin with elemi (the resin from the Canarium luzonicum tree).
Effervescent and warm, the amber element (aka Ambroxan) in this truly marvellous creation (FYI: “Merveilles” is French word for marvels) is complemented by the vanilla tones of benzoin in the drydown.
For some reason, this is officially a female fragrance, yet part of what makes it unusual is the absence of any typically feminine floral notes. Trust us, it’s 100% unisex and a modern classic to boot.
Frédéric Malle Outrageous EDP (Sophia Grojsman)
Sophia Grojsman is the legendary perfumer behind creations such as Estée Lauder White Linen EDP, Lancôme Trésor EDP and Yves Saint Laurent Paris EDP.
As you can tell from its flamboyant name, this 2007 release from the Paris-based niche brand sees her in delightfully playful mode.
It opens with fresh notes of bergamot, tangerine and green apple. Although not officially listed, we reckon there’s also slightly soapy aldehydes in the mix. The spice of cinnamon adds warm powderiness, without getting overly sweet.
It’s in the drydown that this scent reveals it true magic, thanks to a combo of musk and Ambroxan fragrances. The effect is sparkling, sensual yet clean, and thoroughly addictive.
Le Labo Another 13 EDP (Nathalie Lorson)
You know you’re trendy when you’re commissioned by the editor-in-chief of the highly regarded fashion and culture AnOther Magazine to create an exclusive scent for them.
Synthetics are amped to the max in this 2010 release, which is actually a very good thing.
The soft woodiness of ISO E Super and muskiness of Ambroxan are clearly evident, while the fruitiness of pear and jasmine are also present in the mix. The naturally derived musk ambrette seed absolute adds a silky dimension.
Not just another fragrance – that is for sure.
Creed Aventus EDP (Jean-Christophe Hérault)
What more is there to say about one of the best Creed releases, in 2010, that hasn’t already been said a million times? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Firstly, we’re glad its creator is at last getting the credit he deserves for his part in its phenomenal success.
Secondly, while it’s rightly held up as the exemplar of pineapple perfection, it wouldn’t be Aventus without the Ambroxan fragrance.
We contacted perfumer Jean-Christophe Hérault and this is what he had to say: “Ambroxan is really key to Aventus. When Olivier Creed asked me to create a masculine perfume, he asked me to use Helvetolide, a musk he loves.
I accepted, of course, and added: “I love Ambroxan myself, so I will begin the creation with a 50/50 mix Helvetolide and Ambroxan. More than that little story, Ambroxan gives Aventus part of its signature, long- lastingness and diffusion.”
But wait there’s more: “I still love Ambroxan, it’s one of my favourite ingredients. A few years ago, the marketing people in International Flavors & Fragrances [the company he works for] called me ‘l’homme-broxan’.”
You don’t get any more authoritative than that.
Ormonde Jayne Ambre Royal EDP (Geza Schoen)
The London-based niche brand founded by Linda Pilkington is synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. We’re yet to try an Ormonde Jayne fragrance we don’t love.
Many of their releases were created by Geza Schoen (the perfumer behind cult niche brand Escentric Molecules).
This 2016 EDP enchants from the start with the freshness of bergamot and orange blossom at the fore.
There’s more floral intensity from notes of rose and jasmine, with the powderiness of orris butter in support.
If anyone knows their way around Ambroxan, it’s Geza Schoen (after all, he released Escentric Molecules Molecule 02 EDT, featuring the synthetic in its unadulterated form). Here, he uses it to enhance the rich depth of the drydown featuring patchouli, an amber accord and cedar.
We have one word to describe it: wow!
Versace Pour Homme Dylan Blue EDT (Alberto Morillas)
This 2016 release from the Italian fashion brand is one of their best in recent years.
Ambrox is the star here, unashamedly and unapologetically, and gives this Mediterranean-inspired scent an amber vibe throughout.
It makes a strong statement from the fresh and spicy opening of bergamot, grapefruit and black pepper notes.
Notes of papyrus and incense add a sensual smoky dimension.
The warm and spicy drydown sees a combo of musk, tonka bean and saffron in action.
Detractors might say this fragrance (as with Versace Eros) is too popular for its own good. We say credit where it’s due.
Vilhelm Parfumerie Do Not Disturb EDP (Jérôme Epinette)
Okay, so we don’t quite get the connection between the inspiration – “deep in the basement of Studio 54, a place with no boundaries and a Do Not Disturb sign on the door” – and the execution of this 2016 release from the NYC-based niche brand. But we most certainly love every drop of it. And that’s what counts, right?
It gets going with an intriguing combo of fresh and spicy schinus molle (that’s pink peppercorn to you and me and, by the way, not related to black pepper) and the powdery earthiness of carrot and iris. Jasmine brings floral freshness to the blend.
Patchouli meets an Ambroxan fragrance and white musks in the drydown for a sensual finish.
For another hit of Ambroxan à la Vilhelm Parfumerie, we also recommend the 2020 release Body Paint EDP.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum (Francis Kurkdjian)
In the unlikely event that Francis Kurkdjian had to submit a CV for the position of Dior in-house perfumer, you can bet Baccarat Rouge 540 featured prominently under list of achievements.
Apparently, this 2015 release is now the world’s most complimented / sought-after / copied scent.
Of course, as so often happens in fragrance-land, the more popular a perfume becomes, the more it’s hated online (let’s call it the Law of What Goes Up Must Be Pulled Down), and that’s partly why we’ve gone with the even more exclusive extrait de parfum version from 2017.
Whichever one you choose, kudos where it’s due to this blend of saffron, hedione, ethyl maltol and Ambroxan that was created for the 250th anniversary of the crystal company Baccarat.
Mercedes-Benz Select EDT (Olivier Cresp)
We’ve been enjoying the fragrances from the German luxury automotive brand for some time now. Master perfumer Olivier Cresp (creator of Mugler Angel EDP, Gentleman Givenchy EDP and Tom Ford Noir de Noir EDP, among others) has produced several scents for the company, including this 2018 release.
The fresh opening pairs the bright citrus of bergamot with the tart fruitiness of blackcurrant.
There’s a fair amount of greenery after that, thanks to notes of apple and mint.
Ambrox accentuates the patchouli-muskiness of the drydown and contributes to the classy feel of this fragrance without being heavy-handed or overly obvious.
Penhaligon’s Terrible Teddy EDP (Quentin Bisch)
Part of the appeal (and the price) of Terrible Teddy is its rhino head top. It’s a 2019 release from the British niche brand’s Portraits Collection, a humorous take on the idea of fragrance families.
The scent itself is the very definition of simplicity. Incense + leather + Ambroxan.
In perfumer Quentin Bisch’s capable hands, it adds up to create a warm and seductive affair. There’s enough smoky, animalic, musky, ambery depth in this EDP to give it oomph and to warrant its price tag.
The 2020 release, The Inimitable William Penhaligon EDP (inspired by the intrepid company founder), features the Ambroxan fragrance in a lesser role.
Matiere Premiere Parisian Musc EDP (Aurélien Guichard)
Is this 2019 release from the French niche brand a musk fragrance or a fig fragrance? Either way, we love it.
It opens with the distinctive greenery of a fig leaf note (prominent throughout) and then layers of musk.
The main ingredient is ambrette seed from Peru, the naturally derived musk distilled from the seeds of a variety of hibiscus, known for its woody-muskiness. It’s given a woody dimension with Virginian cedar.
Judicious use of the synthetics Ambrettolide and Ambroxan enhances the musky profile of the scent and its tenacity.
The result: a chic Parisian affair.
Atelier Des Ors Blanc Polychrome EDP (Marie Salamagne)
Let’s get the bottle-ogling out of the way first. With the gold flakes and curvy design, French niche brand Atelier des Ors has some of the snazziest bottles in the biz.
This 2020 release is a modern take on the classic cologne style but at 20% concentration, it’s more powerful than most.
The intro features bright citric notes of lemon and mandarin, while rhubarb adds an element of vegetal greenery.
There’s more fresh greenery from notes of petitgrain, jasmine, lavender and fig leaf.
Settling with earthy moss, clean musk and wafts of a warm Ambroxan fragrance, it’s beautifully refreshing and chic stuff.
Louis Vuitton Imagination EDP (Jacques Cavallier Belletrud)
The French luxury brand made a grand return to the fragrance biz in 2016 after an absence of several decades. It has made up for last time with several standouts, including this 2021 release.
The opening hums with the spicy freshness of Calabrian bergamot and Nigerian ginger.
Tunisian neroli gives it citric greenery, while Ceylon cinnamon adds contrasting spicy warmth.
Jacques Cavallier Belletrud uses an overdose of Ambrox and the aromatics of Chinese black tea to create something modern yet timeless.
We wouldn’t expect anything less from the creator of classics such as Bvlgari Aqva Pour Homme EDT, Cartier Pasha de Cartier EDT and Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme EDT.
Kilian Apple Brandy on the Rocks EDP (Sidonie Lanceusseur)
If anyone knows his booze (and we mean that in a good way), it’s the heir to the Hennessy fortune.
Originally released in 2013 and now part of the Paris-based niche brand’s Liquors Collection, Kilian Apple Brandy On The Rocks lays on the luxe vibe (with, ahem, price to match).
The EDP’s fresh and spicy opening (bergamot, cardamom) gives way to an apple brandy accord, with lots of fruity-liciousness and vanilla woodiness.
An earthy oakmoss note keeps this 2021 release on the right side of sweetness, while the Ambroxan fragrance gives the cool and chic composition musky sensuality.
Juliette Has a Gun Pear Inc. EDP (Romano R icci)
Like Escentric Molecules, Juliette Has A Gun caused a bit of a sensation when it released a fragrance, Not A Perfume, featuring just Cétalox, a close relative of Ambroxan.
That 2010 release and its 2019 follow-up, Not A Perfume Superdose, are well worth checking out. But it’s the 2021 release, Pear Inc., we recommend for its summery vibe.
True to its name, it delivers a juicy and fresh pear opening with just the right amount of sweetness.
A large dose of Ambroxan gives it fizz, while musk keeps it clean.
Romano Ricci sure loves Ambroxan fragrances, as you’ll also find it in other worthwhile creations of his, including Lili Fantasy EDP, Anyway EDP and Another Oud EDP.
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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.