The story of how labdanum found its way into the world’s perfume arsenal is a bit like how coffee made its way into cafes.
Goats and sheep used to graze on cistus shrubs. Long before they were ever extracted as resin or oil, the thorny leaves used to cling to the goats’ beards and the sheep’s wool and were combed off to be used in incense and medicine so good it’s mentioned at least twice in the Bible.
Thanks to the goats who 'discovered' the deep, sweet scent of cistus, centuries later it has turned into an indispensable perfumery ingredient the defines perfume genres from fougères to chypres to classic Orientals and has been a longstanding cornerstone of Arabian perfumery.
Rock Rose, as labdanum is also called, is a tough plant that grows in tough environments (North African, Middle East, the Mediterranean) and can be tough to work with. Plum jam sweet but dry, dark, with a deep resinous tone, cistus extracts are honey-like in texture and sweetness, as if honey got injected with a deep herbaceous chord?
It's a key ingredient in 'amber' perfumes, and labdanum derivatives and isolates often have 'amber' in their names. Used as both fixative and an independent note,, its tenacious texture coupled with the resinous sweet, echo-of-ambergris scent, labdanum is a good…… starting point.
I'm particular about my vetiver, my sandalwood and frankincense—but I'm even more particular when it comes to amber.
Labdanum derivatives have come to define the scent of ambergris far more than ambergris itself. I have my doubt as to why because I find the smells are quite distinct. It's similar to what happened with musk, where the baby powder soapy scent of modern muscs bears little resemblance to the scent of actual deer musk.
That said, ambergris and labdanum work wonders together, which is why both are staples in my atelier. Labdanum is also a good fixative, which better explains why it acts as an ambergris substitute. And if I had to choose one botanical that comes closest to our sperm whale's precious contribution to our aromatic arsenal, labdanum would be a top contender.
And that's where most would begin and end with amber notes. Labdanum alone does the job. Don't be surprised to find out that many famous amber perfumes are mostly just labdanum.
But crafting an amber accord is a different story. Many frag junkies go as far as a dash of styrax, some vanilla and citrus and call it a day—because the deeper you go into the amber world the more difficult it gets. Benzoin can kill the distinct sweetness; cedarwood dries it out, oakmoss sucks out the 'amber' entirely, while vetiver turns the whole thing muddy.
A composition that keeps the distinct cistus sweetness and that oozing resinous core of labdanum—and builds on it… that's the challenge. And after you're done, will your formula retain any fixative properties?
I've spent more time than I should admit to on amber chords. EO Amber is one that came to fruition over several years, adding, subtracting, and tweaking. Where others would add 'labdanum' to the scent pyramid to account for the 'amber' aroma……… that's the trouble with those breakdowns! My amber note isn't labdanum; it's THIS—a whole perfume in itself.
If the EO DNA ever had you wondering why you don't smell a simple scent pyramid, EO Amber is a clue as to why. Where others may write labdanum in the breakdown, you'd need an entire sub-prism to explain this note… a pyramid within the pyramid with the pyramid.
So, you won't be able to go down a checklist and pick out notes of labdanum and cypress and styrax and vanilla. EO Amber is a unique note; a new note. One I personally made and use instead of 'labdanum' or any of the 'amber-something' derivatives you'd find in a perfumers supply catalog.
Whether you want a deeper smell into your EO Parfums or simply enjoy a great amber aroma, EO Amber has plenty to share. Enjoy!
*Just like the blue lotus, frangipani and jasmine are limited and unique to EO (and the actual ingredients I use), so too I've only apportioned a limited amount of EO Amber to be sold.
It’s perfect. Amber has always been one of my favorites. – Darinca, Australia