October 7, 2010
These last few months have seen Ambrox, the aromachemical, getting a workout. Like the many headed hydra it seems to be showing up everywhere. From Juliette Has a Gun’s controversial release featuring only Ambrox in the bottle; Not A Perfume. To the latest Acqua di Parma Colonia Essenza which uses Ambrox as the final impression. This latter half of 2010 is starting to feel like the latter half of 2007 as Iso E Super seemed to be in every other fragrance being released. Including having its own fragrance, Escentric Molecules 01. The difference for me is that while I like Iso E Super, Ambrox on its own seems to grate on me and become annoying when it becomes too pronounced. With that as prologue I received the press releases for the two new Le Labo fragrances and there it was right at the top of both note lists; Ambrox. Upon reading further I learned that AnOther 13 was a fragrance built around Ambrox at the core. Baie Rose 26 uses Ambox as it has been used most commonly as a base note in combination with musk. These two fragrances are a good case study in how Ambrox is being used and gave me an opportunity to delve into the differences.
Le Labo AnOther 13
Le Labo is following in Comme des Garcons footsteps and partners with the bi-annual style magazine AnOther to create a limited edition of 500 bottles. AnOther is known for their photographic portraits of style makers on their covers as you can see in the current A/W 2010 issue featuring Bjork.
AnOther 13 is all about Ambrox and the other 12 notes are really nothing more than window dressing. They dart in and out but they never persist for any appreciable amount of time. In flits a little cedar and then the Ambrox pushes it away, some moss floats by only to get shoved to the ground, finally a pine note tries to speak up only to get shouted down. I’m sure there are twelve other notes here but it really feels like Ambrox and the Twelve Dwarves. AnOther 13 is not as cynical a fragrance as bottling the pure note but the notes chosen to go with the Ambrox in AnOther 13 almost make it seem like it should’ve been named AnOther 1. If you are a fan of Ambrox then AnOther 13 is going to be a better choice than JHAG Not A Perfume because if it is nothing else AnOther 13 is a perfume with real development however slight it may be.
AnOther 13 has excellent longevity, I have found Ambrox to be one of the most tenacious notes on my skin, and above average sillage.
Le Labo Baie Rose 26
Baie Rose 26 is the latest city exclusive from Le Labo and the lucky city this time is Chicago. This fragrance will only be available at the Le Labo counter within Barney’s New York on Oak Street in Chicago. Baie Rose 26 is meant to be a fragrant jazz riff and this musical olfactory composition was created by Frank Voekl who did the LA exclusive Musc 25 and Iris 39. In Baie Rose 26 his choice to put Ambrox in its more usual place in the base helps make for a smoother transition and something more enjoyable, to me.
Baie Rose 26 starts off with clove, pepper and pimento berries which provide a nice prologue to the eventual appearance of cedar. This all leads to a lush double down on rose as baie rose and rose combine in the heart. This intense conjunction of rose picks up the spicy facets of the top notes and uses them to nice effect. The base is where the Ambrox appears and, as in AnOther 13, it tries to muscle its way to the forefront of the fragrance. In the case of Baie Rose 26 the twin roses plus the musk, also present in the base, put up some welcome resistance. This points up the flaw, I think, in the Ambrox focused fragrances. I don’t believe Ambrox, or Iso E Super for that matter, were ever meant to be the star of the fragrance. I believe they were created to be, at best, a co-star with something that it could enhance or contrast. In the base of Baie Rose 26 it adds a woody contrast to the rose and allows the musk to soften some of the screechiness I find so unappealing. As a result Baie Rose 26 is a more pleasing fragrance because Ambrox is part of a group of equals instead of being the olfactory bully overwhelming all in its sphere of influence.
Baie Rose 26 has excellent longevity and average sillage.
The chance to sample the two new Le Labo fragrances unexpectedly turned into a study in Ambrox and its place in fragrance composition for me. I like Ambrox in Baie Rose 26 because it never feels like the only thing I smell. If you like Ambrox, and all that it smells like, then AnOther 13 will be more to your liking and the fleeting and barely noticed supporting notes won’t get in the way of your enjoyment.
Disclosure: This review was based on preview samples provided by Le Labo.
-Mark Behnke, Managing Editor