Ambrette Absolute (Attar Bazaar)

In his 1867 Book of Perfumes, the great scent impresario Eugène Rimmel divided all perfumery materials into twelve classifications: animal, floral, herbal, andropogon, citrine, spicy, ligneous, radical, seminal, balmy, fruity, or artificial. Several of these terms mean something slightly different than what the modern reader might infer. 'Radical', for instance, refers to scent-producing roots (iris and vetiver)-- not revolution, baby. A 'balmy' ingredient isn't one that's warm in temperature, but resinous in composition (myrrh, benzoin, styrax). Rimmel therefore classifies ambrette (Abelmoschus moschatus) as 'seminal' in reference to its being (like anise, cumin, caraway, dill, and fennel) a seed.

What a disappointment for those of us whose minds happily occupy the gutter! But before we all shout Dammit! and throw our copies of Rimmel across the room in protest of a lost opportunity for smut, let's open up some ambrette and give it a good sniff.

Hmmmmm. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

If 'seminal' meant what I think it should mean, ambrette would join musk, civet, and ambergris in the animal category. Rimmel must have been assailed by thoughts along the same lines, for he cannot help but toss off (YES I SAID IT) a reference to ambrette during a discussion of animal musks. True, he does so only to state (rather testily!) that vegetable musks never pan out properly, and ambrette smells much more like civet, in his opinion.

Time for another sniff... nope. Smells pretty durned musky to me.

Sweet. Rich. Warm. Floral. Nutty. Fatty. Spicy. Leathery. Animalic. Erogenous. Complex. These (along with "musky", excusez-moi Monsieur Rimmel!) are some of the descriptors that repeatedly shimmy to the surface when one sifts for intel about ambrette. Taken all together, they paint quite a picture, don't they? Oh yes. I can't think of a single reason why anyone -- no matter how pathologically modest -- would object to that parade of adjectives following them around for life.

Add one more adjective: exalting. Nice word, that; smacks of spirituality, of perfume-as-religion. (It is, isn't it?) 'Exalting' was first appended to ambrette by Steffen Arctander in his 1960 self-published tome, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. According to Arctander, 'exalting' fixatives are those which carry and fortify other scents, causing them to blossom outward with greater intensity.

One more sniff? Well, since you asked nicely...

The glove fits. Ambrette IS exalting-- and also exalted, and also exulting. I truly cannot think of a better skin scent than this essence. The minute it's on my wrists or behind my ears, I feel uplifted, boosted, confident, joyful. All this glory from one little seed-- amazing!

Imported from India, Attar Bazaar's Ambrette is presented as a natural absolute-- a clear liquid of palest gold, ever so slightly viscous, and remarkably tenacious once applied. It bears a blue label to keep it separate from the pink-and-white-labeled perfume oils (which include synthetic aromachemicals) and the russet-labeled "Connoisseur" line (natural, high-end single oils and attar blends). Is it pure and true, the genuine article? Is it 100%, or has it been diluted in an oil base? I have no idea. With 1.5ml of artisanal ambrette CO2 going for $40 a pop on Perfumer's Apprentice, I may have to wait until after tax season to undertake a comparison.

Or not. Because this stuff smells FANTASTIC. It's got the adjectives; it does the trick. Twentysome dollars wins you a full dram which will last for ages, seeing as how the tiniest drop persists near about forever on skin. It'll layer with anything on earth or stand on its own, proud and-- um, seminal. I'm getting everything I hoped out of it, including (I believe) a bargain for the price.

I'm happy.

That's a good adjective, yes?

Scent Elements: Just what it says on the label.