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Ambra Mediterranea by Profumi del Forte: Amber with a Five O’ Clock Shadow

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Profumi del Forte’s Versilia Vintage Ambra Mediterranea is a woody, smoky, and resinous amber that I see as the John Wayne of ambers – uncompromisingly masculine, rough around the corners, and utterly compelling. Nothing soft or vanillic here. You won’t find people on Fragrantica or Basenotes describing it as the perfect ‘cashmere sweater’ scent. No, this is an amber with dangly bits between its legs and a five o’clock shadow.

Amusingly, the presentation of this fragrance is at complete odds with the character of the scent itself. The bottle is a slim, white classical-looking thing with what looks to be the paw prints of a pussycat all over it. It’s just straight up fricking adorable. The press babble – ‘gentle luminous notes remind us of the Mediterranean breezes’, and so on – is more than a little misleading. If you ask me, the people at Profumi del Forte have missed a prime marketing opportunity here. If they’d put it in a matt, black bottle with horns on it and wrapped it in leather, I bet you anything it would have been catnip to all those overgrown schoolboys on YouTube looking for ‘panty-droppers’ and ‘beast mode projection’. As it is, this fragrance only seems to attract attention among hardcore amber fans. That’s a pity, because this is a truly great fragrance, and would make a superb masculine.

Ambra Mediterranea explodes onto the skin with a burst of bitter smoke, charred woods, and something a bit dirty and leathery. Smelling it blindly, I would have thought this was oud, but there is none listed here. Instead, I am guessing that an unlisted labdanum in the amber accord must be combining with the orange rind smell of frankincense and the bitter-resinous smell of coriander pods to create that dark, leathery feel. I find the opening challenging, to be honest. It’s quite filthy. Very masculine. It reminded me somewhat of the dark opening to Ambre Dore by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, which does in fact have some oud in it.

The opening notes loosen up quickly, thinning out to reveal a curl of frankincense smoke and more of those resinous coriander pods. It is herbal and smoky, and not a million miles away from the spice rack top notes of Serge Lutens’Ambre Sultan at this stage. It then unspools further, revealing a heart of molten amber, hot and chewy. The amber has a thick, toffee-like feel to it, but it is never edible or delicious like that of Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier’s Ambre Precieux. The smell is too woody, dry, and resinous to ever be delicious. I am referring to the texture alone – this is truly one of the thickest, chewiest ambers I have ever tried.

It is also completely dry, by which I mean unsweet. Although the scent does lose most of its opening harshness, the perfume never becomes powdery or vanillic. In fact, the dry down is as throat-catchingly resinous as another famous leathery amber, the wonderful Ambre Fetiche by Annick Goutal. Longevity is simply incredible, as it often is with these resinous ambers, with the scent lasting close to fourteen hours on my skin. ‘Beast-mode projection’ indeed!

It’s impressive stuff, and definitely something that every fan of amber must try at least once. Having said that, it is not the stuff of my dreams. When I am jonesing for a ridiculously thick amber, I reach for the boozy Ambre Russe (Parfums d’Empire), and when I need incense and herbs in my amber, I reach for Ambre Sultan. And, well, call me a total girly girl if you must, but I really enjoy the salty-sweet caramel finish of Ambre Precieux and the gossamer-light, second skin of Ambre 114 (Histoires de Parfums). I never thought I would say this, but I don’t have enough room left in my wardrobe for another amber. I am totally covered. I had wondered about this, and whether it would supplant my desire for the others, but nope, it does not.

But on its own terms – if you are looking for a deep amber and your tastes run to the unsweet, masculine side of things, then I would say that this should be right at the top of your to-sample list.

My name is Claire, I'm a 39-year old mother of two, and I am a freelance writer and consultant. I love perfume, any perfume, practically all of 'em. Other interests such as writing, reading, and painting fall tragically behind the perfume. It's a hobby that tends to be all-consuming (of both my time and my money).

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