George W. Bush once declared that he didn't live in the fact-based community. Maybe he should have been a perfume marketer instead of the POTUS, because as a perfume maven, I can say that one of the most frustrating things about trying to learn about perfume is encountering how unreliable fragrance pyramids can be.
Perfumistas in the know say that fragrance pyramids are almost always partly fiction, the product of a marketer's fevered imagination. "Top notes: bergamot and orchid tears at midnight; heart notes: rose, jasmine, and the condensation from an angel's dying breath; base notes: musk, patchouli and crushed butterfly eyelashes." Um, ok...where do I get in line?!
Take Ambre Cannelle ("amber cinnamon"), Creed's animalic, spicy and warm-ambery-powdery perfume. Said to be Eva Peron's signature scent, it seems to elicit extreme "love it or hate it" reactions. (I love it. It's weird. It smells like a scarlet lady in the 40s would smell after a long night of skankin' it up, her good girl powdery amber perfume mixed in with perspiration and lust.) But those who hate it are in good company. Here's how Luca Turin dispatched with it: "Strikingly devoid of either amber or cinnamon, this is a cheap, skimpy oriental. A sort of dwarf Cinnabar. Smells like a household product." Ouch.
But here's my point: what exactly is in Ambre Cannelle? One of the reasons I sought it out — and one month ago sought out Creed's Angélique Encens — is that they're both supposed to have high concentrations of real ambergris. (Creed is one of a handful of perfumers who outright say, "There is real ambergris up in here.") Only some believe that their expensively-sourced, mostly nonsynthetic ingredients are what they say they are.
But as one Basenotes reader cunningly ferreted out, Creed's UK site and its US site list different notes! And as these other cranky Basenotes readers point out (bless their lunatic hearts), Creed, like everyone else, probably uses the synthetic ambergris Ambroxan, but justifies the $150 - $180 cost by citing the near-mythical ingredient ambergris. From Creed's UK site:
Top notes: Cinnamon leaves, juniper berry
Heart notes: Rose, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander
Base notes: Ambergris, Tonkin musk
At first whiff, I was hit with skanky amber — something a little rude, civety and haunting. The powdery aspect, as well as the skanky quality, could be ambergris. Or it could be Ambrox. Whatever it is, it is heavenly. Fragrantica calls this a "floral fruity gourmand," which sounds so off to me. It's definitely in the oriental category. Haarman and Reimer would call it a spicy Oriental; I'll call it an animalic spicy oriental.
Although Turin says there's no cinnamon here, or amber, I smell something ambery, and there is something spicy and peppery. Perhaps "cinnamon leaf" is more prominent than cinnamon itself? The opening is medicinal/herbal/leafy, what with its juniper berry, coriander, and bay leaf. (Musc Ravageur's cinnamon, for example, is much more legible, gourmand and sweet than the cinnamon here, which seems more aromatic than sweet.)
In addition, there's so much confusion around what exactly amber is. If you're in the mood for reading a really great explanation of what amber is and isn't, check out Helg of Perfume Shrine's wonderful post on amber. The Clift's Notes version is that, first off, there is no such thing as an amber essential oil in the way there is a rose or jasmine, and amber in perfume has nothing to do with the fossilized amber that's used in jewelry.
Amber, Helg explains, is a fantasy accord, a "figure of speech." This fantasy accord is usually in the oriental category of perfume, and imparts a warm, soft, powdery, sometimes animalic quality to a perfume. Natural ingredients that exemplify this quality include ambrette seed and labdanum, and amber accords usually comprise labdanum + benzoin + styrax (or vanilla) or any of the following: tonka bean, Peru balsam, clove, cinnamon, sage, juniper, or olibanum.
I usually rely on the highly-respected Haarman & Reimer guide for my perfume pyramid notes, but in cases like Ambre Cannelle when I have to rely on what I can get, I just try to keep my reviews honest and describe what I'm smelling. I loved Creed's Angélique Encens, and I love Ambre Cannelle even more. If it's Ambroxan Creed is using instead of real ambergris, I almost don't care. I'm loving it enough that I keep going back to this line with the stuffy reputation.
Ambre Cannelle is comforting and disquieting, familiar and uncanny, old-fashioned and modern, if by modern I mean it smells animalic and daring like Serge Lutens' Muscs Kublai Khan, which AC reminds me of in its cuddly skankiness dosed with ambery notes. But then again, these niche scents are hearkening back to the past, so what's old is new again...
In the meantime, if you're interested, get yourself to a Creed counter soon. Something tells me Ambre Cannelle, like Angélique Encens, is on its way out. It's out of stock on Luckyscent.com and on both Creed UK and US sites. Ugh.
P.S. Thanks to Ramses at South Coast Plaza's Nordstrom for givin' me this nice sample of Ambre Cannelle!
P.P.S. Somehow, as a teen, I got my little mitts on Creed's lovely Zest Mandarine Pamplemousse, a very clean and fresh scent. How amusing that now, as an adult, I prefer Creed's skankier offerings. A sign of maturity, or regression? I wonder what Freud would say...