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One day this past May, an Indianapolis boutique owner named Heidi Woodman headed down New York City’s Hudson Parkway in a cab, dabbing a travel-sized roller-ball fragrance on her wrists and decolletage along the way to her destination in the West Village. There, she stepped inside Montmartre, a bustling brasserie of the moment. The unmistakable scent of sizzling steak au poivre and pommes frites permeated the air. At the bar, two suited gentlemen approached.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your dinner,” one said, “but you have to tell me what perfume you are wearing.”
Woodman was flattered, but unfazed. In town for a furniture conference, she would receive at least 20 similar compliments and queries that week from men and women alike. In fact, she had prepared for such an inevitability, packing her tote with handfuls of fragrance samples to pass out when people asked. In the decade since Woodman first started stocking the Indianapolis-made scent at her SoBro shop, she has replied the same way each time she has been stopped in her tracks by a stranger’s sniffgasm:
“I’m wearing Ambre.”
Or rather, Ambre Blends—a line of fragrant oils, body creams, soaps, spritzers, lip balms, and skin tonics (and, coming soon, deodorant, baby creams, and bubble washes) that has monopolized high-end boutique and salon shelves from the Mile Square to Carmel since 2003, when northeastside native Ambre (pronounced “amber”) Crockett launched the company. A small-batch fragrance-maker who started out mixing up scents in her bathroom doesn’t sound like the stuff of a million-dollar business, but that’s just what Crockett is poised to achieve—along with a cult-like following, an appearance on the black market, and copycats—without the help of machines, loans, publicists, or advertising.
You (or the cool blonde under the dryer across from you at the salon) may even be wearing one of Crockett’s formulas right now. Thought the scent was your own little secret, right? Not anymore. Woodman may have been Ambre Blends’s first cheerleader, but the many clients who followed helped land Crockett in her posh headquarters, a 1970s home office originally created by famed local home designer Avriel Shull. One mid-spring morning, the trim 37-year-old greets me at the door barefoot, wearing an oversizedcotton embroidered shirt and faded jeans, toting her redheaded 1-year-old son, Kingston, on her hip. Strolling through the main floor, Crockett casually points out the authentic white Eames chairs in a catalog-worthy sunroom, an angled fireplace wall made entirely of limestone, a pristine kitchen. Even with a toddler scampering about, absolutely nothing is out of place. It would be easy to hate her, and her perfectly wild, soft auburn curls, but she’s charming. She stops—and tugs and sniffs at her flowy top. She confesses she spilled her lunch. “To think, I sell Ambre Blends, and I’m giving you a tour smelling like tuna,” she says, laughing. She motions to her husband, Adam, a former commercial real-estate pro who recently joined the Ambre team as director of operations, to put Kingston down for his nap upstairs.
As we descend to the basement production floor, the smell of Crockett’s business gets stronger. Ambre Blends’s product line revolves around four fragrances. The original, Ambre Essence, still reminds me of springtime blooms and heavenly clean sheets, just like the first time I sniffed the signature scent at French Pharmacie a few years ago. Both notes also evoke memories for Crockett, a haute hippie in the mold of her flower-child father, Terry, who insisted on naming her “Ambre” with the French spelling. His yang, Crockett’s mother Lesley, is a custom drapery designer who required cleanliness and organization; their striking midcentury tri-level on the northeast side always had a fresh aroma that Crockett loved.
As a teen, she didn’t enjoy perfume like her peers did, though; Fahrenheit cologne by Dior, ubiquitously spritzed at her high school, Lawrence Central, gave her migraines. “It was a loud and obnoxious synthetic scent,” she says. “Once I smelled it, I couldn’t get any work done.” Instead, Crockett frequented head shops, which among the hookahs and hand-blown glass pipes also carried rootsy oils and fragrances that were easier on her nose. Crockett parlayed that preference into a career in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she moved in 1997 after daydreaming through a semester of classes at IUPUI. There were more free spirits like herself there, one of whom inspired her to enroll in massage and aromatherapy classes. “I wanted to make people feel happy and good, and I noticed there was money in the field—and I’d have a lot of free time,” says Crockett. She also apprenticed as an herbalist and learned the traditional art of soaking garden-grown plants like echinacea, lavender, and peppermint and then extracting their essential oils to create bath and body products. She began tinkering with her own lines, particularly one based on amber, a resin traditionally derived from fir trees.
From a tender age, Ambre had felt drawn to her namesake. She wore a stone amber pendant around her neck and loved the warm, alluring smell—as did her massage-school clients, who complimented her amber-based oils, creams, and incense. Before 1997 was over, she had developed her first proprietary scent: Ambre Essence. But it wasn’t until she refined her second fragrance in 2000, the floral Invoke Essence, that orders for her products really started pouring in. She began to take her craft more seriously, logging notes and finessing formulas.
Missing her family, Crockett returned to Indianapolis in 2001. She opened her own massage practice in her home and bottled small batches of essential-oil blends in her bathroom for clients and friends. It wasn’t until two years later that Uber’s Woodman gave the then–26-year-old her first big break. Woodman had sniffed out Ambre Essence on one of Crockett’s friends who was shopping in Uber and demanded to know the name of the scent. She immediately ordered about $1,000 worth of products for her boutique. Uber customers quickly bought out the supply.
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