Ambre Vie by House of Matriarch (2012) is a simple, good, reference amber fragrance, full of nuance despite being mostly single-minded in subject. Perfumer and owner Christi Meshell works only with natural essences, and ages her creations for a time before release. As was the case with Kazimi (2016), the continued aging and strengthening of the base threw the entire composition out of whack for me, making it a total bust for the price asked. However with Ambre Vie, this continued aging only works to the perfume’s benefit because the base is amber and the perfume is all about that amber. The perfumer actually talks about something of a reverse dry down because of how heavy the natural amber compound is, and how it shows up first, only to slowly recede as the floral top notes come into view later into the wear. I can actually vouch for this, and I’ve seen it a few times elsewhere along my “perfume journey”, which is pretty neat. At very least though, this does have some kind of dry development at all, which Kazimi clearly did not, so I’m left to think my experience with that one was but a fluke and not representative of the entire house offerings. If this is what I can expect from other House of Matriarch releases, color me excited.
The opening is that lush, rounded, and sweet amber powered by costus, labdanum, spices, and resins. It’s a very complex amber shown here, and I’m not going to be able to break down everything in it, but really I shouldn’t be able to if it’s done well enough. From here, that reverse dry down thing the perfumer mentioned does gradually happen, as davana and artemisia complicate and at the same time smooth the amber, adding slight leathery animalic qualities from the former, and herbal floral facets from the latter. Broom nettles and tagetes further add floral brightness to the amber as it settles, then tonka and frankincense add smoky sweetness to the mix. Natural sandalwood brings up the rear here, and whether or not it’s mysore makes no difference to me, as it smells great nonetheless. I’m very happy with this, as it’s a warm, rich, floral amber that is just sweet enough to be cozy, and just animalic enough to be complex, being a balance of all things expected from an amber made in the old way.This all combined is why I say it is a reference amber, a real center of the graph type of representation that you can use as a baseline to judge other ambers natural or synthetic. Performance is all day, but projection won’t knock anyone over with judicious application. Best use is in winter for me as a feel-good smell.
Granted, I’m still on the fence about all-natural fragrances because as I’ve seen time and time again, they tend to break down no matter how well they’re stored, unless you are loaded enough to blow through a handmade perfume like this in under a year. Collectors and hobbyists are the real folks to watch out for this phenomenon, since we tend to keep perfumes for years and slowly go through them since we have larger collections which we rotate through, rather hammering down then replacing a single signature scent. If you do this, you probably won’t have to worry about Ambre Vie loosing much of its complexity over time, since you’ll expend it before that happens. For me, working off a sample that was produced around the time that House of Matriarch switched to blue uniform bottles (2015-2016ish) and released Kazimi, I can see the continued aging of the sample since then has only rounded the corners further on the amber, and made the davana a little more present than it probably once was. The price is obviously very steep here at $360 for 50ml, but you pay to play for artisanal exercises like this anyway. I catch mild Wiccan/New Age vibes from the house and owner, so if there’s a little bit of witchcraft going on here, I’m ready to draw the circle myself and summon some more goodness like this to my nose. Expensive, albeit high-quality amber of ancient design, execution, and character. Thumbs up