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Sometimes I smell a perfume and I just don’t know what to make of it. Whilst many fragrances I smell can provoke an immediate reaction – filing themselves neatly in to piles of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘ew’, and ‘oooooh’, some take time, and some forever remain in a purgatory land where an opinion is the absolution never to arrive. OK, so I’m being a bit dramatic (just a tad, mind) and this is all a very longwinded way of saying that sometimes, it takes me a while to make up my mind about a fragrance.

Aaaaaand you can probably guess where this is going, right? Yes, when it came to Opus XI from Amouage, the 11th instalment in the brand’s Library Collection (where Amouage does its most unusual and often challenging work), I found myself unsure what I thought, even after spending a considerable amount of time with it. Opus XI was created by perfumer Pierre Negrin – it takes inspiration from the Orient and presents oud, one of perfumery’s most popular materials, in an entirely new guise. It’s a singular perfume that brings nuances to a material that could easily be described as tired, forging something that really is fascinating.

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“I am an endangered species”

– Christopher Chong

If you read yesterday’s post you will know that luxury house Amouage have just launched a brand new duo of fragrances – Imitation Man and Imitation Woman. Inspired by the glamour of 1970s New York City, these hazy, hedonistic fragrances speak of Amouage Creative Director, Christopher Chong’s personal journey to the city in this most iconic of decades. Moving to Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1975 as a young immigrant, NYC presented an entirely new set of experiences for Chong, who was fascinated by the fashion, art and subcultures that quickly surrounded him. In Imitation he celebrates these elements but also the freedom of growing up in such a fascinating metropolis at an audacious time.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join Amouage in the Big Apple for the launch of Imitation* and during my stay I got some time to sit down with Chong to quiz him about all things Imitation, Amouage and perfume. This was my first time actually meeting Christopher Chong, but after several years of social media interaction it feels like we have known each other for quite some time and he had always struck me as an olfactory visionary with a strong character. So when it came to meeting face-to-face I was not disappointed! Below you can find our chat, which covers the inspiration for Imitation but also details how Chong works with perfumers to translate elements from real life into olfactive form. Enjoy!

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– Glamour and Grit –

The exciting thing about Amouage is that one never knows where Creative Director Christopher Chong is going to take the brand next. His artistic vision is like no other’s and with his creations for Amouage he brings in concepts abstract to olfaction – notions such as death and gender identity – and crafts them into fragrant forms. The results are fascinating and it would be safe to say that nobody makes perfume quite like Amouage and Christopher Chong. These are rich, complex and sometimes challenging compositions that not everyone will love, and therein lies their strength. So yes, I’m always fascinated to see where Amouage goes next.

Well that ‘next’ turns out to be a time-travelling epic to 1970s New York City, the city and time in which Christopher Chong grew up. Arriving in the Lower East Side in the mid 1970s, the sights, sounds and scents of New York have clearly had a formative impact on the Creative Director, who this year brings us Imitation, a new duo of fragrances that represent the “subcultures of an iconic era”. With Imitation Man and Imitation Woman, whose names are inspired by Andy Warhol and his imitative art, Chong takes us on an olfactory odyssey of glamour and grit, evoking “audacious freedom” through the smooth velvet of the masculine and infamous nights out at Studio 54 in the women’s. They make for quite the pair, I tell you.

I was lucky enough to be invited to New York City to join Amouage for the launch of Imitation Man and Woman, with a wonderful opportunity to explore Christopher Chong’s neighbourhood on the Lower East Side (it’s THE place to stay in NY if you’re going, trust me). I was also lucky enough to spend some time with Christopher for an interview, which I will publish tomorrow. But for now, let’s get our heads and noses around the latest olfactory coupling from Amouage – Imitation.

1,000 Roses for Zweibrücken (2012) by Ottmar Hörl
1,000 Roses for Zweibrücken (2012) by Ottmar Hörl

Under the direction of Christopher Chong, Amouage has positioned itself as a renegade perfumery that creates daring yet luxurious perfumes. Where many perfume houses at the top end of the scale are content putting any old juice in a fancy bottle, or just a juice that is likely to please many, Amouage seek to drive the face of perfumery forward, always developing fascinating, novel and unique fragrances. Of course, not everything they do is going to appeal to everybody, but that’s exactly the point and being divisive is always a key element in being truly great. So with Amouage it’s not guaranteed that one is going to fall in love with a fragrance however, what can be relied upon is that whatever they create will never, ever be boring.

The Library Collection is where Christopher Chong really stretches his legs. The collection now consists of ten fragrance, with this tenth edition, ‘Opus X‘, entering the fray as yet again, something entirely different. So far we’ve fallen asleep in a wistful dream of mimosa and violet in Opus III, reimagined our memory of amber in Opus VI, donned a cracked leather jacket of emerald green in Opus VII and inhaled huge waves of jasmine silk in Opus VIII. To say the journey of the Library Collection has been incredible is an understatement and with this tenth instalment in the series, one is treated to something incredibly special.

Opus X was created by Pierre Negrin, a familiar nose for Amouage’s most recent creations and Annick Menardo, the legend behind Dior’s Hypnotic Poison, Lolita Lempicka and YSL’s Body Kouros, to name just a few. I’m just going to say it: this is a dream team of perfumers and it shows in the results. Opus X is an intelligent take on rose that is not afraid to be evocative of unconventional things, specifically; blood, varnish and metal. It’s a rose like no other, one that is awe-inspiring in both its size and its uniqueness. As Persolaise says in his review, Opus X is ‘striking’.

Painted in Red - Christopher Chong, Creative Director of Amouage
Christopher Chong, Creative Director of Amouage

Amouage has put out some great work under the creative direction of Christopher Chong. With his innate ability to pair the traditions of classic French perfumery with artistic inspirations from the worlds of opera and dance (amongst many others), he has a flair for bringing out the best in the perfumers he works with, drilling down into their talent to create symphonically beautiful fragrances that range from the staggering to the bizarre. Amouage may have started as a house steeped in Middle Eastern tradition, but Chong has made it an international brand that absorbs a multitude of cultures from a wide variety of places.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the brand is the Library Collection, which houses a number of ‘opuses’ (now nine in total) that present compositions that celebrate ingenuity, the search for knowledge and the arts. The range from the wispy and ethereal violet of Opus III, to the harsh cracked, black leather of Opus VII, with a whole world in between. The collection strikes me as a space where all that matters is the composition and the inspiration behind it. The scents don’t need to find a huge audience and can therefore, be as unique and challenging as they need to be. It’s a refreshing direction from such an established house.

This year, Amouage is adding Opus IX to the collection. Inspired by La Traviata, the fragrance is described as a “soulful interpretation of the camellia flower”¹. In all honestly (and I could be being totally ignorant – stranger things have happened), I’ve not known camellias to have much of a fragrance however, they do have a wonderfully showy and flamboyant appearance, and Opus IX captures this bravado in a brightly coloured fragrance that utilises unusual ingredients.

Amouage's Journey Man & Journey Woman
Amouage’s Journey Man & Journey Woman

I may be a bit behind on the Amouage-front, but I still cannot believe that the time has come (and now passed) for the house to launch their annual pair of fragrances. Last year’s duo, Fate Woman and Fate Man, were definitely a divisive pair, with some perfume lovers falling madly in love with the scents and others finding themselves not too impressed. My feelings were somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, seeing them as high quality outings, but perhaps not the most stimulating offerings from such a dynamic brand.

This year Amouage is launching Journey Woman and Journey Man, two perfumes inspired by “Shanghai deco, Chinese cinema and film noir” and for the first time, housed in striking two-tone bottles of rich red and gold. These new fragrances mark the end of the first cycle of the Amouage narrative and as much as they smell like Amouage fragrances, they don’t appear to be as noticeably bold as the perfumes that have proceeded them.

Journey Woman and Journey Man mark a change in the Amouage aesthetic, not only with the two-toned bottles, but also with their fragrant signatures, both of which are unusual takes on the house’s staple oriental opulence. With this new duo, Amouage moves forward into unchartered territory, speaking in the language of subtlety and scenting the air with an understated sense of panache.

Expect the Unexpected: Opus VIII by Amouage
Expect the Unexpected: Opus VIII by Amouage

I never know what to expect when a new Amouage lands on my doorstep. The entire output from the industry’s most luxurious of houses is complex, intricate and grand beyond much else found in perfume stores. This complexity means that they’re not always the easiest perfumes to pin down and I personally find that one has to spend a fair bit of time with an Amouage before they can truly say they know it.

Amouage’s latest edition to their experimental Library Collection, ‘Opus VIII‘, is no exception and much like the wickedly dangerous, galbanum-soaked leather jacket of Opus VII and the delectably intense, salty amber of Opus VI that have preceded it, this beguiling perfume created by perfumers Pierre Negrin and Richard Herpin in conjunction with Creative Director Christopher Chong, is perhaps the most labyrinthine composition to have ever exited Amouage’s doors.