Cultural Kaleidoscopes and the Art of Amouage.


I am fascinated by the kaleidoscopic scents of the Omani perfume house, Amouage, particularly their richness, their exoticism, their depth. Perfume blogs rapturously describe the experience of an Amouage perfume, lingering on their every notes, the olfactory chromatic scales and crescendos with a couple of da capo al fines thrown in for good measure.
Kafkaesque’s blog is particularly detailed in this regard and I delight at the synesthetic descriptions when reading her visual interpretations, comparing the sensual journey to a modulation of colors and a morphing of the mental images it triggers. (For example, the visual interpretation of Fate’s development from bright yellow fields of bright yellow daffodils to a melted honey-colored amber and crumpled cream satin sheets).

The name Amouage is derived from the Arabic amwaj, meaning “wave of emotion” and yet is written and pronounced as if its etymology were French – and of course the linguistic proximity to “amour” is not lost on us. In parallel, some of the original offerings were based on notes of frankincense and myrrh, traditionally grown in Arabic countries. At the same time, the “noses” were French (Guy Robert, Jean-Claude Ellena) and the aesthetic had a distinctly French structure as they are often compared to traditional French perfume houses – the Eiffel Tower dressed in sumptuous Sheik’s clothing or Sheherezade in a Chanel suit. These original scents, released in the late 1980s, are grand and reminiscent of old time glamor, yet the house founded in Oman was always instantly recognizable as Arabian with the intent of conveying richness, spice and a long storytelling tradition.
Over time, the brand has evolved – with a goal of appealing to a cosmopolitan, modern individual with an appreciation for art. Christopher Chong, the creative director, is a cultural kaleidoscope himself, having been born in Hong Kong, raised in New York and now living in London. According to some of the interviews I have read, he flinches a little at the brand being pigeon-holed as distinctly “Arabian” as his goal is to appeal to consumers from all cultures.
It must not be forgotten however that quite frankly frankincense, damascene rose and sandalwood, key components of his artistic creations often associated with Arabian scents are a key aspect of its original exotic essence and appeal. I agree though that during his oversight the brand appears to have become known for its multicultural aesthetic drawing on inspiration from the Italian opera Madame Butterfly (Honor), the cinematic interpretation of the Red Violin (Opus X), Chinese opera (Fate). The osmanthus note in Journey is a nod to 1920’s Shanghai underground society, Epic’s richness illustrates the treasures that adorn the Silk Route and have been collected along the way.
And perhaps this is why the perfumes intrigue me so much – apart from the fact they smell delicious, different and daring. After all, many of us – myself included – no longer carry experiences limited to a single country or speak with an accent specific to one place. So, perhaps we should embrace Amouage’s development and its individual scents as a reflection of ourselves. This includes those of us who have traveled far from our original home – perhaps via South America or Asia; perhaps as British who see themselves as European, whether pre or post-Brexit; or as Venezuelans who now refer to a different country as mi casa.

While we retain the flair and flavor of our country of origin, in the meantime, we have traveled on literal and metaphorical journeys that have led is to not only discover additional flavors, notes and spices, but also to take them on as part of our essence, our tone and our tempo. Which then creates its own Amouage….amwaj…a wave of emotion indeed.

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