Ambra Nera by Farmacia SS. Annunziata is a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a hippy-ish, Arab marketplace amber, the kind that is comforting, but so familiar it runs the risk of being yawn-inducing. Instead, I found an amber that is the stern, bookish sister in the family of ambers – nothing soft or oozing about this one at all. It charts an unusual course from bitter herbs and green mold to dust and smoking resins, eventually arriving at a surprisingly animalic heart before drifting off into a powdery, vanillic drydown that feels both more familiar and less distinctive than what has gone before.
Ambra Nera opens on a knife edge of bitter eucalyptus, providing a camphorous pungency normally associated with patchouli fragrances. Vetiver in the base adds a rooty, almost vegetal type of freshness that floats up through the scent and leavens the heft of the resins and powder. This is a gentle, airy sort of herbal accent, not the pungent and spicy feel of the bay leaves and spices in Ambre Sultan, for example.
In other words, this is not an oriental amber. It is more suggestive of the dusty, cobble-stoned streets of a small Mediterranean village than of the souk. And Ambra Nera is as much about the ancient resins of Frankincense and benzoin as it is about the amber. The incense is slightly smoky but cold in feel, as if the censer has been snuffed out and what we are smelling are the ashy remains of the resins.
Ambra Nera is also lightly but distinctly animalic, which was a surprise for me. The animalic aspect – the effect of an unlisted leathery labdanum or castoreum perhaps – appears halfway through the middle stage of the perfume and hangs around until it is overtaken by the powdery benzoin in the basenotes. The appearance of this leathery, skanky note is a jolt to the senses in what is essentially a dusty, stern church amber, kind of like someone whispering a filthy limerick in your ear during high mass. But the animalic accord is brief, and soon Ambra Nera settles back down into its basic character.
The drydown is extremely powdery and vanillic, which may be a problem for those who usually steer clear of powder notes in fragrances. I don’t mind the powder too much, but I admit that I am less fond of this last stage of the perfume, as it feels like too much of a departure from its more interesting and masculine beginning and heart. Still, all in all, this is a very interesting amber perfume, and one that is likely to appeal to anyone who likes spooky, gothic fragrances. Bookish and intellectual, it lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from the typical sexy marketplace ambers, and is all the better for it. It also contains a nice surprise in its heart – a warm, animalic accord that seems to contradict the cold, dustiness of the scent’s essential character. I like Ambra Nera very much, and although I own a lot of amber fragrances, there is nothing quite like this in my wardrobe.