The term amber or "oriental" is often used to refer to fragrances that prominently feature sweet notes, powdery notes, vanilla, cistus labdanum and animal notes. It is important to distinguish between the perfumery accord amber (a combination of vanilla and resins—most often cistus labdanum, Peru balsam and Tolu balsam), ambergris (the oxidized excretion of a sperm whale), and fossilized amber (the typically yellowish, fossilized resin of extinct coniferous trees of the Tertiary period). These terms should never be used interchangeably and, unless otherwise noted, in the context of perfumery, amber will always mean the combination of vanilla and resins.
The very term oriental is rooted in a long history of colonialism and Anglo-centrism. Both the term and the family date back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The fragrances that have come to define the family were created as portraits of a mythical east as seen through the eyes of Europeans. The great irony is perfumery in the Middle East and Far East has a rich history that predates perfumery in Europe. The oriental compositions composed by European parfumeurs bear little to no resemblance to the epic fragrances of the East. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that the mythical East was very much in vogue at the time and represented a lucrative market for parfumeurs to tap into. The origins of the family and the implications of the term aside, fragrances like Shalimar and Émeraude were like nothing the world had ever seen before. These ambery fragraces incorporated incense, vanilla, musk, animalic components and resins in a novel way and the reulting compositions that were at once sultry and seductive with a decidedly exotic flavor.