Amouage is an ultra-luxe perfume brand which was founded in 1983, in Oman, to create modern perfumes in the Omani tradition. The original two perfumes created for the brand by perfumer Guy Robert, Gold Man and Gold Woman, would set the brand DNA for the next thirty years. Amouage really transformed itself in 2006 when it hired Christopher Chong as creative director. Mr. Chong has made Amouage into one of the most consistently artistic of any perfume house you can name. The fact that Amouage doesn’t make perfume for the lowest common denominator is something to be commended. I often refer to many Amouage releases as graduate level perfumery. Even though I believe Amouage puts out some of the most spectacularly intricate fragrances it doesn’t mean there aren’t some good introductory courses in Amouage perfume before taking on the more advanced offerings. Here are the five I would suggest starting with.
Jubilation XXV by Bertrand Duchaufour was one of Mr. Chong’s first releases in 2007. It is in my estimation one of the finest incense perfumes ever made. M. Duchaufour takes everything he had learned about making incense perfumes and creates a modern masterpiece. Jubilation XXV caresses you with a swirl of resinous smoke that comforts.
Reflection Woman by Maurice Roucel is fresh the Amouage way. Most fruity florals which can also be described as fresh are light. Reflection Woman is not light but it also not as powerful as most of the other Amouage perfumes. M. Roucel takes an aquatic green accord and mixes it with violet and watermelon. The notes complement each other quite nicely.
Memoir Man by Karine Vinchon-Spehner was the pine fragrance I had been waiting for. Mme Vinchon-Spehner starts with an absinthe top surrounded by herbal notes. A fabulous camphor laden heart carries into a mix of vetiver, oakmoss, and sandalwood. This is all kept surprisingly light like walking through the woods on a winter’s day.
Opus V by Jacques Cavallier is part of the Amouage Library Collection it replaces rose with orris as the partner of oud. It works so seamlessly you wonder why it isn’t used more. M. Cavallier also uses a very boozy rum accord with the orris early on before letting ambroxan turn it austere and dry by the end.
Homage Attar is one of the easier to find attars by Amouage. This is what Amouage stood for when they were founded to revive the Omani tradition of perfumery. Amouage has a selection of incredible attars which are straight distillations of an essential oil into an existing woody base. In the case of Homage Attar it is rose distilled into a base of oud and sandalwood. Attars are among the most concentrated forms of perfume there are and a drop or two goes a long way. Attars also wear very close to the skin making this a perfume that exists for you and those you allow to get close. If you’ve ever been curious about attars this is the best place you could start to explore them.
These are the introductory perfumes but if you find you like these great pleasures await you in the advanced levels.
Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I own.
Throughout the early years of the 2000’s there was a perfumer who I dubbed The High Priest of Resins. Over five years and seven perfumes perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make seven perfumes with significant incense accords in them. By the time he hit the seventh, 2007’s Amouage Jubilation XXV, he would have perfected his touch with these ingredients to produce a perfume I consider a masterpiece. As I look back it was definitely a process which spread across work for three brands; Comme des Garcons, L’Artisan Parfumeur, and Eau d’Italie. Each of the perfumes created for those brands allowed him to test the limits of the resinous side of his palette.
It started in 2002 with the release of Comme des Garcons Series 3 Incense Avignon & Kyoto. For those fragrances M. Duchaufour constructed two disparate incense accords. For Avignon it was the stony chill of a cathedral made of ancient stone. It carries the weight of the centuries as you feel the slightly metallic tang of the incense over the aged wood of the pews. Kyoto, as its names portends, was a Japanese minimalist aesthetic. Clean woods matched with the sweeter resins make for a truly meditative harmonious, soothing incense accord. Both of these fragrances are still among my favorites but they really were the foundation of where M. Duchaufour would start to refine the accord.
In 2004 it was his work for the original Eau d’Italie fragrance which would show the light use of incense and L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu the deeper darker side. With Eau d’Italie M. Duchaufour puts in an ethereal gauzy incense veil over the opening moments of a perfume that will turn very green and floral. It was a bit of ingenious sleight of hand as just as you think you’re headed in one direction off you go in an entirely different one. He had found a way to take the lighter accord of Kyoto and now make it float like a feather. Avignon’s incense accord is so astringent it has sharp edges to it. With Timbuktu M. Duchaufour decided to add some attenuating resins in myrrh and benzoin to soften those edges without sacrificing the impact.
By 2006 he was looking for ways to take incense and match them with florals. L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha would have a heart of chai tea, incense, and orris. This incense is the exact middle ground between the previous lighter style and the weightier version. It has a presence without being overwhelming. In Dzongkha combined with a chai accord and orris it forms a heart of one of the most underrated perfumes in M. Duchaufour’s vast portfolio. Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose has always been considered to be one of his finest creations as he replaces the orris of Dzongkha with a redolent Turkish rose. He returns to the heavier incense accord but uses elemi, opopanax and benzoin to smooth the rough edges. It gives an uplifting foundation and at this point I thought this was the pinnacle of M. Duchaufour’s incense perfumes.
Late in 2007 Amouage Jubilation XXV would prove to me there was one perfume left to draw all of this together. Throughout Jubilation XXV the experience with these notes comes back to coalesce into something transcendent. It starts with that gauzy lilting incense on top before heading into a floral and incense heart. The heart of Jubilation of XXV is a model of precision as M. Duchaufour also dusts it all with spice. By the time the deeper incense accord is on display in the base M. Duchaufour has determined it is myrrh and opoponax which provide the perfect partners to his austere frankincense.
Every one of these perfumes I have mentioned is among my favorites but it is this sense of feeling, as a perfumista, that I am following the development of an artist as he learns to fine tune his use of materials which makes this so interesting. M. Duchaufour has done this over the years as he has perfected his leather accord and rum accord over the course of many releases all leading to one which brings all of it together. It is what makes him one of the most fascinating perfumers working today and forever, in my mind, The High Priest of Resins.
I often get asked to name my top 10 fragrances and of all the questions I get asked this is probably the most difficult for me to answer. There are so many perfumes out there I admire and I always fret I’ll miss one when making any list of any kind. Now that I have my own blog I feel like I should try and sort of answer the question. So once a month I’ll share my favorite things and the five I think are the best examples of that note or style. For the first version I’m going to tackle incense fragrances.
Saying incense fragrances can be problematic all on its own but what I mean are fragrances where the incense note is prominent throughout. The five choices below all hit the spot when I’m craving an incense perfume.
Amouage Jubilation XXV- I have facetiously named Bertrand Duchaufour the “High Priest of Resins” as over a five year period starting with 2002’s Comme des Garcons Series 3: Incense Avignon & Kyoto he would refine his incense accord until it all came together in this brilliant luminous incense fragrance, in 2007.
Juozas Stakevicius (aka Joe Stat)- There are a number of perfumes which capture the church incense vibe with cold stone walls and smoky censers, none of them do it better than this one by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage D’Enfer– Most of my incense fragrances are on the heavier side and I rarely take them out as the weather turns warmer. Passage D’Enfer is the exception to that rule as perfumer Olivia Giacobetti turns in an incense that feels like it is miles away even though it is right underneath my nose. It is like an optical illusion as I expect it to get stronger every time I wear it but it just stays sheer and gorgeous.
Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande- This was the Serge Lutens fragrance which made me find a way to get a bell jar flown back here to me. From the first moment I smelled the lavender, sage, juniper berry, rosemary, and incense core I was, and am continually, in love with Christopher Sheldrake’s ability to make all of that work.
Sonoma Scent Studio Incense Pure– Independent Perfumer Laurie Erickson has captured a cross between campfire and incense as Incense Pure has a glowing heart of frankincense, smoky cistus, and myrrh. This is the most comforting of my favorite incense fragrances and it immediately makes me feel better every time I wear it.
This is one of those categories where others could come up with their top five and it would be entirely different than mine and I would admire all of the choices in that list. If you need a place to begin your exploration the five above are a good place to start your own list of your favorite things.