Roja Dove Amber Extrait: Willy Wonka’s Amber

"Chocolate on My Mind," Painting by Pamela Van Laanen. Source:  AbsoluteArts.com (direct website link embedded within.)

“Chocolate on My Mind,” by Pamela Van Laanen. Source: AbsoluteArts.com (website link embedded within.)

The joys of chocolate and sandalwood, encased in golden amber. That is only one aspect of Amber Extrait which merges the wonders of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with the luxury version of a Starbucks line-up: Earl Grey tea, hot chocolate, a white chocolate chai, and a vanilla latte sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts, all enveloped in multi-faceted amber velvet. Yet, at its heart, Roja Dove’s Amber is almost as much about sandalwood as it is about chocolate or its namesake note. There is a Mysore-like bouquet that is, at first, milky, then creamy and spiced, before finally turning smoky. It is a significant part of the fragrance, and one reason why Amber is hardly the simple soliflore that its name suggests.

Amber (sometimes called “Amber Extrait”) was released in 2014. On his website, Roja Dove describes the fragrance and its notes as follows:

Source: Neiman Marcus.

Source: Neiman Marcus.

“Seductive Enveloping Opulence”
RICH, SOFT, VERY SWEET, & WARM

“Amber, a blend of exotic materials, crafted to give us a glimpse of the mysterious Orient. I blended a rich, velvety note of black chocolate with the soft sweetness of an amber accord to create an edible olfactive delight”. Roja Dove

TOP: Bergamot, Geranium, Lavender, Orange
HEART: Cocoa, Rose
BASE: Amber, Benzoin, Cedarwood, Coumarin, Labdanum, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vanilla.

Source: layoutsparks.com

Source: layoutsparks.com

Amber opens on my skin with crisp bergamot, orange, and amber, laced with streaks of cedar and vanilla, sprinkled with fresh lavender, then blanketed with a thick layer of semi-sweetened cocoa powder. The bergamot smells like Earl Grey tea; the orange is lightly candied or comfit; and the cedar is dry but aromatic.

Yet, the primary sense one has in sniffing Amber in the opening moments is of heavy cocoa. It is almost like the smell of hot (milk) chocolate, only this is far less sweet and much more complex. Something about its interaction with the benzoin and toffee’d labdanum creates a beautiful nutty aroma, like toasted hazelnuts. At the same time, the impact of the vanilla on the chocolate creates a frothy, white chocolate chai quality. If it sounds as though I’m describing a Starbucks line-up, there is a little of that happening here but Amber feels wholly like perfume, not a plethora of sweet drinks.

Photo: "TheCocoaPod" Source: annmariekostyk.com (direct website link embedded within.)

Photo: “TheCocoaPod” Source: annmariekostyk.com (direct website link embedded within.)

What is impressive, though, is that nothing about Amber feels like heavy-handed gourmand excess. The cedar’s dryness, the lavender’s aromatic freshness, and the bergamot’s whisper of crispness all ensure that the scent never skews into cloying saccharine sugariness or gooey syrup. Instead, they mix with the amber in a way that reminds me of a cocoa-blanketed cousin to Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier‘s Ambre Precieux, only in much richer form. The lavender plays the same role here as it did in that fragrance, while the cedar acts almost like the myrtle. (As a side note, I don’t think Amber resembles Ambre Precieux Ultime because the aromatic elements are milder here than they are in that fragrance.) In both Amber and regular Ambre Precieux, the balance skews towards an identical mixed amber accord of labdanum balanced with heavy benzoin and vanilla. The result is a quasi-gourmand centered on golden warmth and balanced sweetness, only the Roja scent has citrus, candied orange, and chocolate components piled on as well. It is a heavier fragrance than Ambre Precieux, though not substantially so because Amber isn’t as chewy, dense, or hefty as I had expected. It’s airier in feel than, say, Profumum‘s Ambre Aurea, to give one example, and definitely lighter than Roja Dove‘s own Amber Aoud (which is also sweeter in nature).

Javanol via Givaudan.

Javanol via Givaudan.

One thing I don’t like is the synthetic twinge from the woods. Initially, I thought the cedar was to blame, but it takes only 30 minutes for the sandalwood to emerge as the culprit. It smells like something aromachemical with a smoky undertone that feels harsh in the face of the rest of the notes, all of which are uniformly smooth. It also stands out from the creaminess of the scent as a whole. My guess is that something like Javanol has been used, either by itself or in conjunction with Ebanol. The Perfumer’s Apprentice describes javanol as “a new-generation sandalwood molecule with unprecedented power and substantivity. It has a rich, natural, creamy sandalwood note like beta santanol.” To me, it always smells smokier and more intense than the greener, blander Ebanol. Whatever the exact source or ingredient in Amber, the woody note has a nuance of chemical harshness right from the start, and it only grows stronger in the perfume’s heart phase.

Molten Lava Cake. Photo & Recipe: Spicie Foodie. (Website link embedded within photo. Just click.)

Molten Lava Cake. Photo & Recipe: Spicie Foodie. (Website link embedded within photo.)

On the other hand, what is truly intoxicating and thoroughly addictive is the rest of the opening bouquet. Half of Amber is a decadent chocolate lava cake with zesty but candied orange, while the rest smells like the frothy milkiness of a vanilla-amber chai latte tinged with Earl Grey, festooned with extravagant, hefty dollops of milk chocolate, white chocolate, darker cocoa, and toasted hazelnuts. It swirls and dips all around you, rich but sultry, golden and warm, an enveloping mass that feels as heavy as velvet but as light as luxury cashmere. With 3 small sprays from an atomizer, roughly equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottler, Amber projected 4 to 5 inches at first, but the scent trail was much more, approximately twice that amount, sending out tendrils whether I moved or stayed still.

In a way, Amber would almost be comparable to a Russian nesting doll or to an onion with all its layers, each of which peels back to reveal something else, except each note interlocks here, laced together side by side in perfect harmony. You can pick them out individually, but none of them are hazy or ill-defined. However, not all notes are created equal, and some stand out more than others, especially after 30 minutes when Amber begins to shift its focus. The aromatic lavender, bergamot, and orange retreat to the sidelines where they weave in and out of the top notes, working indirectly to great effect but no longer a strong presence on center stage. Joining them is a caramel-nuanced ambergris that is just barely salty, marshy, and musky. It adds yet another subtle layer of richness, complexity, and depth to the scent which continues to be dominated by the cocoa. In the base, the synthetic sandalwood grows smokier and starts to trickle upwards. From afar, though, Amber’s scent trail is primarily a golden, sweet blend of creamy chai cocoa and mixed, benzoin-heavy amber, laced with woodiness, nuttiness, and a streak of vanilla.

Amber’s second stage begins roughly 90 minutes into the perfume’s development and is essentially a transitional bridge. The fragrance is turning woodier, as the sandalwood arrives on center stage, wafting synthetic smokiness but also a quiet touch of spiciness. The amber continues to be quite obviously a mix of labdanum and benzoin with a small touch of ambergris. The latter now takes on a caramel undertone, while the benzoin emits a touch of cinnamon. By the start of the 2nd hour, the amber’s individual parts start to overlap and become harder to pick out.

"Fire and Ice," by Pamela Van Laanen. Source:  AbsoluteArts.com (direct website link embedded within.)

“Fire and Ice,” by Pamela Van Laanen. Source: AbsoluteArts.com (direct website link embedded within.)

Amber’s main stage begins in the middle of the third hour, and marks a fundamental charge in the focus and balance of notes. Amber is now centered on spicy, smoky, Mysore-like sandalwood lightly covered by creamy cocoa and then enveloped within an amber cocoon instead of cocoa-amber with only tiny streaks of woodiness and a hint of smokiness. The milky chai, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon-dusted benzoin, and toasted hazelnut elements still remain, but they’re quieter now, more like small fireflies darting about the periphery instead of strong, central chords. The aromatic lavender, citrus and candied orange have essentially vanished.

Artist: Helen Abbas, Mosaic Collection, Summer 2013, "(Erdowaz) Slate." Source:  IslamicArtMagazine.com. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Artist: Helen Abbas, Mosaic Collection, Summer 2013, “(Erdowaz) Slate.” Source: IslamicArtMagazine.com. (Website link embedded within photo.)

The sandalwood’s smokiness increases significantly by the start of the 5th hour, with a concomitant rise in the perfume’s dryness. Amber feels thinner in body, as well as less gourmand, ambered, warm, and sweet. The cocoa is much weaker as well, while the amber accord is hazy but for a subtle booziness that has appeared within its midst. Amber Extrait is now primarily a very smoky, quietly spiced sandalwood, dusted with a thin layer of cocoa and lightly splashed with boozy cognac. If it weren’t for the very synthetic nature of the main note, I’d be quite happy about this new development. But I’m a Mysore snob who isn’t enthused by sandalwood substitutes or chemical smokiness, and I find the perfume to smell rather synthetic at this point. Still, since most people don’t share my issues, I suspect many will find Amber’s middle stage to be as enjoyable as the gourmand opening.

"Javascapes" by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: Behance.net (Website link embedded within.)

“Javascapes” by Photographer Daniel G. Walczyk. Source: Behance.net (Website link embedded within.)

Amber Extrait’s drydown begins near the end of the 8th hour. The vanilla re-emerges to alleviate the sandalwood’s smokiness and the perfume’s slight dryness. The result is a creamy, smoky sandalwood laced with equal parts vanilla and cocoa, much like a soft-serve ice-cream swirl. In the base, the first hints of spicy patchouli start to appear, but the perfume is becoming increasingly abstract and it’s difficult to pull out the individual elements. Amber is slowly turning into simple creamy woods infused with spicy patchouli, quiet smokiness, and a hint of cocoa. Once in a while, I think there is a light dusting of cinnamon from the benzoin, but it feels ghostly and everything is quite indistinct. In its final hours, Amber is merely a wisp of sweet woodiness and warmth with a vestige of spicy goldenness about it.

Amber has great longevity, moderate projection, and good sillage. With 3 small spritzes from an atomizer equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume lasted just short of 15.5 hours. The perfume’s initial projection of 4-5 inches dropped to about 2 inches after 2.5 hours, but the scent trail was still at least half a foot. Extraits generally cling to the skin more than eau de parfums and turn soft sooner, but Amber took 7.25 hours to turn to a skin scent and, even then, required little effort to detect it up close until the end of the 10th hour.

On Fragrantica, there are only three reviews for Amber, but they are all very positive. The most detailed account comes from “Houdini4” who writes in relevant part:

I’d describe this as a musky, gourmand amber like the kind of wonderfully light accord you’d find in a designer fragrance but very natural and of much higher quality. [¶] IF you’re expecting the typical, hot, sticky orange elixir or the dry, dusty old library then prepare to be shocked and amazed by this. [¶] I absolutely love this fragrance and if I could afford it, even at half the price… I would consider getting it for sure. [¶] The opening is fresh with orange and citrus notes then the powdery gourmand wave of chocolatey cacao, soft vanilla and spices then a very good base of amber. [¶] Just because it’s called Amber do not make the mistake of thinking its linear or like something you have in your collection…it more than likely isn’t.

On Basenotes, reviews are more mixed. In one thread, two people found Amber to be nice but disappointing. The first wrote: “nothing reall[y] stuck out about it to me.” The second said: “The Extrait disappointed me overall. The drydown is nice but getting there takes a while and it’s a rather boring journey. Longevity is excellent, it really does last for ages. Not for me though.” In another thread, though, “Amberflash” wrote very highly about the scent: “I am very picky about Ambers. This is the very best. Warm, milky, sweet but with muscle and sophistication.”

I think Amber is pretty original if you consider it as a chocolate and sandalwood take on the namesake note. There aren’t a lot of those around. It certainly isn’t a pure amber soliflore, and it’s more complex than the simple name would lead you to think. This is one of the instances where I really wish I were less bothered by aromachemicals, because I really loved (loved!) the many facets of the chocolate. I wasn’t the only one who found the scent to have a synthetic component, though. A family member noted it before I even said a word. Still, if you love chocolate gourmands, Ambre Precieux-style ambers, the white chocolate note in Coromandel, and Mysore sandalwood recreations, I think you should give Amber Extrait a sniff. I think a number of you would find it utterly delicious.

Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Osswald NYC. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Amber is a pure parfum that comes in a 50 ml bottle for $395, €365 or £275. In the U.S.: It’s sold at Osswald, as well as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Outside the U.S.: In the U.K., you can buy it at Harrods’ Salons de Parfums, Selfridges, or Roja Parfums which also offers a 2 ml sample for £15. In Europe, it’s available at Jovoy and First in Fragrance (for below retail at around €306). Italy’s Sacre Cuore has a number of Roja Doves, but not this one. In the UAE, Amber is sold at the Paris Gallery. For all other locations, you can use the Roja Dove Locations listing which mentions more stores from Poland to Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine. There are no Canadian, Asian or Oceania vendors. Samples: If you’re in the U.S., you can test Amber by ordering samples from OsswaldNY which has a 3-Sample program. The price depends on the cost of the perfume, but their samples are more generous than most places. You can also order by phone number is: (212) 625-3111. Surrender to Chance does not carry Amber.

17 thoughts on “Roja Dove Amber Extrait: Willy Wonka’s Amber

  1. Another wonderful review of a scent from one of my very favorite houses! Very much appreciate the post.

    Despite my hesitance to venture into the world of amber, I recently gave this one a wearing. The opening blows my mind, and really captures the complexity of chocolate without becoming too sweet. As a chocolate lover, this is the first perfume I have ever tried that has actually made me salivate. Top marks for this reaction!

    Unfortunately I also got a synthetic vibe from something in the dry down (probably the scratchy sandalwood, as you suggest) that bothered my nose. It was especially jarring for me because it was juxtaposed with the luxurious smoothness of the rest of the composition. Oddly it reminded me of the sandalwood element used in Nasomatto’s Duro, though I am certainly not experienced enough to pinpoint why.

    Overall it was an enjoyable experience mainly because the first few hours were heavenly. That chocolatey note…. Mmmmm!

    Thanks again :).

    PS: I’m still working on trying to understand Absolue Pour le Soir. It is growing on me even more! I’ve ordered samples of Cologne pour le Soir out of sheer curiosity, and will be trying (and posting) on Hard Leather once I’ve got a good feeling for these two.

    • I’m rather glad to hear it wasn’t just me with the synthetic note, since most people think my nose is overly sensitive to aromachemicals. So I think it says something that you detected it as well. (I think it *also* says just how far you’ve come on your perfume journey since you started 6 months ago!) Nasomatto also uses powerful aromachemical wood notes in many of its fragrances, and I think Duro probably has Javanol or one of the other strong sandalwood substitutes as well. Here, in Amber Extrait, it is exactly you noted: a jarring contrast to the almost undulent smoothness of everything else. It’s stands out like a sore thumb, imo, and it really tempered my feelings about the scent as a whole. But, yeah, that multi-faceted chocolate is AMAZING!!!

      Regarding the amber, I wonder if you wouldn’t do better with a mixed benzoin-amber accord rather than pure labdanum/cistus. “Amber” recreated from benzoin-vanilla-resins mixes is less hefty, rich, hot or musky than labdanum or ambergris, so perhaps that would be easier for you. Have you tried Ambre Precieux which takes a fluffy, mixed amber accord and laces it with aromatic freshness from lavender and myrtle?

      BTW, re. Absolue Pour Le Soir, if you end up falling hard for it as a personal indulgence that you wear mainly at home, you can still find it at many US retailers, even if MFK has discontinued it (and reportedly Cologne Pour le Soir as well).

      • It is indeed the smoothness of Roja’s work that I love. The two that I own (Danger Pour Homme Parfum and Vetiver Extrait) are both silky smooth, and while I have no doubt that there are synthetic elements in the perfumes, they are at least blended in such a way that I can’t detect them. Amber Extrait is different because the woods element is scratchy, which instantly puts me in a suspicious mood. That juxtaposition bothers me. Be screechy OR smooth! Consistency is important. At some point I might succumb to a bottle simply as a pre-meal treat. Who knows? With that luscious chocolate, maybe I’ll be convinced to skip dessert.

        I don’t think it contains amber, but I noticed that the new MFK Oud Satin Mood contains both benzoin and vanilla. Do these ingredients have to be intentionally blended together to smell like a proper amber or is the smell recreated by simple combination? I’d be interested to give it a shot, in any case. Oddly though, most of Roja’s perfumes seem to contain labdanum, and my favorite (Danger) has a massive dose of ambergris at the top. I adore these! Am I being inconsistent? lol.

        I haven’t yet tried Ambre Precieux, but the addition of lavender seems like it might work well as it does in Roja’s Amber Extrait. I do like that combination because it prevents the chocolate element from going into the sugary sweet body spray territory. Adding myrtle is especially intriguing. This might be another one to add to my lengthy sampling list!

        I did not know that Cologne Pour le Soir is discontinued :(. Have you tried it after your review of the Absolue? I figured this one might also suit my tastes (and my weather) since it is less “warm”, but I still (inexplicably) adore the Absolue. I’d like to try the cologne first, however I’ll probably end up picking up a bottle of the Absolue for my own collection.

        May I say again how much I appreciate your reviews of the Roja Dove line? I find myself reading and rereading these often since you can unpack their complexity better than anyone else.

        Thanks :).

        • You’re very welcome, NeoXerxes. And, yes, I have tried the Cologne Pour Le Soir. In all honesty, it didn’t sweep me off my feet. It was okay, but the roses were quite a significant part of the scent and I’m not a rose person. Essentially, the Cologne was a lightly/barely animalic, honeyed rose fragrance with an almost spiced potpourri accord and some powderiness. The honey was less, it was lighter in general, the rose was stronger, and the strong sandalwood, spice, ylang and jasmine elements that were such a part of APLS were not hugely evident. The honey is nice, though, and the animalics so minor (in my eyes) that the scent would work better in summer. But it is not a masterpiece creation, imo.

          Ambre Precieux definitely has an aromatic, refreshing quality to it which might work well with your tastes. In terms of the issue of benzoin/amber, etc., the explanation is really like this: the main, key real “amber” note is labdanum (also known as cistus). One perfumer/nose essentially told me that nothing else counts — and that would theoretically include ambergris (which despite the first part of its name) is something wholly different. In her eyes, that isn’t really “amber” in the same way.

          Most scents involve what is essentially an accord that is created through a mix of the key labdanum note with vanilla and some sort of resin, usually benzoin. It creates a fluffier, sweeter and more diluted bouquet than hardcore labdanum which is a note that — at its extreme — can have almost a goaty leatheriness, masculine muskiness, and dark heaviness. Mainstream scents usually use some sort of benzoin accord that has very little labdanum, and/or often cheap synthetics that are almost primarily benzoin-like fluffiness in nature. In the middle, some niche scents use labdanum mixed with darker and/or smokier resins than something like Siam benzoin. They usually go for the richer, heavier Tolu or Peru Balsam, sometimes for the smoky leather of Styrax (which is also a big part of something like Shalimar and Habit Rouge). At the other extreme, hardcore or “edgier” niche creations may opt to use powerful aromachemicals like Ambrox (also known as Ambroxan), AmberMax, etc. These often have a woody (cedar-centric) nuance, sometimes a leathery undertone. Many claim to replicate the smell of ambergris. (Not imo!)

          I didn’t find Roja Dove’s Danger to contain a massive dose of ambergris that I can recall (it’s been a while), but he does like to use labdanaum as a base in many of his fragrances. However, he usually combines it with something else, be it a resin, Tonka and/or vanilla. (Like Danger, which essentially recreates big parts of Guerlain’s Heritage. You might want to read my review of that scent one day.) Roja Dove was influenced heavily by his time at Guerlain, and their signature base often includes tonka but they also like to use Tolu balsam and/or styrax.

          What it sounds like to me is that you like “amber” accords that are either mixed or strongly diluted, be it with fresher elements or with the softening power of benzoins/vanilla. I think you can take some gourmandise, but not the heft of pure labdanum, like the sort in TF’s Amber Absolute and Sahara Noir. What would be interesting for you to figure out is how you feel about dark resins like Tolu or styrax, both of which are favorites of mine for their sticky, balsamic darkness and, in the case of styrax, its smokiness. (It’s often used in conjunction with leather or castoreum, or by itself to create a sense of subtle leatheriness.)

          Okay, enough with the off-topic explanations of amber. 🙂 I hope that helped though.

          • Thank you for shedding light on how amber is reproduced in perfume! I’ve read a few texts on the subject (in various perfume guides) but could never figure out what you just explained. I’ll make it a mission to sample some of the ones that you suggest (and ones that you mention in other reviews) to get the feel for character of the note. For whatever reason, amber is hard to grasp for me, probably because it is paired with many other ingredients. One that might be a good start for an exploration of resins is Chypre Palatin (that’s one of my favorite reviews of yours, by the way), which uses both Tolu Balsam and castoreum.

            Incidentally, you seem to have nailed my taste exactly on the type of amber I dislike (at least, dislike at this time). One that produced an instant shudder is Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain. You note in your review that this has a heavy labdanum accord that doesn’t seem to be paired with anything that dilutes it (you describe it as “pure labdanum). Your explanation of the types of ambers clicked perfectly, so now I know what sorts of scents I should be examining more closely.

            I also read your review of Heritage. There is something in its style that reminds me of Danger – or perhaps the other way around – but I found it to be very sheer, perhaps more synthetic, and certainly less complex. You noted that there was a reformulation and oakmoss was removed, which is probably what gives Heritage a much more airy character than Danger Pour Homme. There is a shared DNA there though, definitely.

            Thanks again for your time. I appreciate the detailed explanations, which were most helpful.

  2. Sounds divine. I love amber fragrances, they are my absolute favourite, but I love the gourmand aspects of this one too. One day I’ll get to try the Roja Dove fragrances, but for now they are out of my reach, geographically and financially!

    • I hope you get the opportunity, Pollytechnic, as they are truly very high-quality scents that are usually very complex, smooth, and beautifully luxurious.

  3. Beautiful review Kafka. Given the pricing for Roja Dove, Mysore sandalwood should have been used. From sampling last summer to now, I am finally detecting “synthetic” notes and coming around to the idea of the use of chocolate/cocoa in perfume. Funny that you reviewed an amber today because in my latest sample pack was Farmacia Annunziata Ambra Nera. One of your lemmings was back on Luckyscent hitting the ” try a sample ” button again. 🙂 Sometime in the future I would like a full bottle of someone’s amber.

    • I was surprised myself that he didn’t opt for Mysore, but I figured he wanted to keep the price down. Amber Extrait may be expensive, but it’s actually NOT as expensive as several other Roja Doves whose price is $480 for the same 50 ml size. (The $725 perfumes are for 100 ml sizes, so they’re not really equivalent.) Perhaps he didn’t want the Amber to be so widely different in pricing as the other Extraits, but given that Roja Dove’s core clientele don’t seem to really care about the expense, I think he should have used Mysore and just raised the price.

      Is Ambra Nera in the new Luckyscent pack? If so, that’s great. It’s such an under-appreciated scent, imo. Hopefully, this way, more people will get to try it, since I know the Luckyscent packs are hugely popular.

  4. This is wonderful! Thanks for this review. I’m an avid lover of amber and this just sounds delectable. A richer Amber Precieux is something I have to try, even if that candied orange appears here and there with its orangeness! But a synthetic sandalwood, ayyyyy, is a thorn in my already highly depressive heart. I think that what you describe after the 3rd hour is what I want to experience <3

    • Are you a huge fan of chocolate in perfumery? If so, I hope you get a sample, my dear, because you might enjoy Amber Extrait quite a bit. Otherwise, you might be disappointed by the perfume’s split focus because it’s not a hardcore, pure amber, amber, amber.

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