Coty Ambre Antique and a Prize Drawing

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January 8, 2008:

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

My perfume collection is small by the standards of most perfume aficionados, but one of my pride-and-joy purchases is the vintage bottle of Coty Ambre Antique I acquired last year.  Created by perfume pioneer François Coty in 1905 (or 1910, by some accounts), this fragrance has become, true to its name, an antique.  Finding a bottle is extremely difficult at best, even on Ebay, where one can often find a pricey vintage bottle of the equally sought-after Coty Chypre, but rarely the vintage Ambre Antique.  You are more likely to find one of the limited-edition reproduction bottles of Ambre Antique done in 1995, under the license of Coty, by a company called Private Perfumery, which produced 3,500 Lalique-designed flacons of the fragrance that were then sold at the exclusive Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman department stores.  And if you’re fortunate enough to procure one of those reproductions, you’ll likely have to shell out several hundred dollars.  By comparison, my vintage bottle was a steal.

There is not a lot of research or information available on Ambre Antique, at least not on the Internet, and I have had to make a point of studying photos of other vintage Coty bottles to determine the time period for my bottle.  I believe my bottle to be from the 1940s, and quite possibly earlier, as it is similar in style to some Coty bottles that were produced around 1935.  Considering that the fragrance I have is at least 60 years old, it is in remarkable condition.  While it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of top notes, it is every bit of what its name implies: a true, deep-bottomed amber.  When I first began wearing it, I was mostly attuned to its vanilla-y aspect: it reminds me of the golden French Vanilla ice cream that my mother used to serve at formal dinners.  Over time, as my nose has grown more adept at picking out perfume notes, I now detect a pitchy aspect to the scent—and by pitchy, I mean a dark, coniferous note (like pine pitch) which lends the fragrance more complexity than I originally perceived.  This is not to say that Ambre Antique is a complex scent—it isn’t—but neither is it as simple as I originally thought.

Finding a list of perfume notes for Ambre Antique is no easy feat either.  Reading from Luca Turin’s esteemed Dutftnote blog that ran from 2005-2006, he stated under a posting titled “The Ultimate Minimalist Fragrance” that “perfumers understandably take pride in achieving wonderful effects with as few materials as possible: for example, Coty’s Ambre Antique contained only four (natural) materials and smelled great.”  However, Turin doesn’t state what those four materials were, and it’s not clear where he got his information.  One of the blog’s commenters, a person named Octavian who also seems very knowledgeable about historic perfumes and perfume chemistry, lists the notes for Ambre Antique as bergamot, jasmine, iris, methyl ionone, opopanax, labdanum, olibanum, patchouli, heliotropine, vanilla, vanilline, civet and ambreine.  I find this a believable list of notes: opoponax (also known as “sweet myrrh”) and patchouli both have an herbaceous quality and, combined with the sharpness of civet, could result in the resinous pitch note that I smell.

One of the things I like to do with Ambre Antique is to layer it with Serge Lutens Un Lys, which would probably strike some as being unbearably sweet—and upon the first ten minutes of application, it is.  However, as the two scents begin their drydown together, the Ambre Antique provides a deeper, darker base for the latter scent, and it’s a combination that works well on “scent-eating” skin like mine, where longevity tends to be a challenge with delicate scents like Un Lys.

Now!  I would like to make it possible for a lucky someone to try Coty Ambre Antique.  As a thank-you to my readers, I will be holding drawings from time to time.  This week I will be giving away a 1 ml sample of Coty Ambre Antique—along with a carded sample of L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Amber Extreme, a modern amber scent, for comparison.  To enter, drop an email to me at saying you’d like to be in drawing.  The drawing will close at midnight on Sunday, January 13th, and the winner will be announced (and contacted) early next week.  Drawing now closed.

Image: my own photo.