Focus on Ambergris
When Sarah was in California recently, Sebastian Jara—aka The Perfume Guy—invited her to join him in San Francisco for a YouTube video focussing on ambergris, one of perfumery's most mysterious, luxurious, and expensive ingredients.
Natural ambergris is the ultimate in luxury recycling. This unique substance is waste produced solely by sperm whales and has long been treasured by perfumers for its fragrant qualities. Technically it’s a sperm whale fecal stone. Sperm whales’ bodies protect their digestive tracts from the sharp beaks of their favourite food—giant ocean squid—by coating these razor-sharp dietary byproducts with unique secretions. These are then excreted into the water by the whales.
This “whale poop” then floats around on ocean currents for years or even decades, all the time absorbing mineral elements from the sea, forming into ball-like shapes, rounded by ocean waves in much the way that driftwood is.
"...one of perfumery’s truly sustainable ingredients with an almost zero-carbon footprint."
When it eventually washes up on the shore, it becomes a more solid substance, dried by the sun. For centuries, canny beachcombers have collected these treasured chunks, long desired by perfumers for their warm, salty effect that some describe as smelling rather like warm human skin. Not surprisingly, it’s also historically been considered an aphrodisiac and was included in sumptuous dishes and drinks for the rich and the powerful. In fact, it still is in some of the world's most upmarket restaurants.
Good news for whale lovers: you can’t remove ambergris from the dead body of sperm whales, nor can you hassle them to produce it: it comes to pass when it comes to pass... Furthermore, ambergris' unique fragrance qualities are only acquired during the long time that it bobs around on ocean currents.
The bad news for perfumers is that this makes its supply pretty unpredictable—and therefore very expensive. In fact, natural ambergris is one of the world's most expensive perfume ingredients.
Over the centuries, traditional coastal communities have naturally figured out where tides are most likely to wash up the precious material. But, its supply still remains difficult to predict, not to mention that it has to be spotted on the beach before a particularly high tide washes it back into the sea. This hand-harvested aspect of natural ambergris makes it one of perfumery’s truly sustainable ingredients with an almost zero-carbon footprint. Not surprisingly most fragrances that cite ambergris as a note use synthetic versions.
Real Ambergris used in Atlante Perfume
Sarah Baker’s Atlante is one of the ambergris perfumes featured in the video that uses natural ambergris harvested in the Bahamas. And, its story is as warming as the note: the natural ambergris used in Atlante was bought by perfumer Sarah McCartney from a fishing community that had been devastated by a hurricane and its purchase contributed to the fishermen being able to buy a new fishing boat because their old one was destroyed in the storm.
Not surprisingly, this complex, oceanic fragrance, inspired by the birth of Venus, the goddess of love born from the sea, is one of the house's bestsellers.
Use this code for a 15% discount on Atlante: ThePerfumeGuy15
To learn more about ambergris and some of the best fragrances out there that use this warm, oceanic note, be sure to check out the video.