I made my first trips to New York City in the 1970’s. I experienced a very different Big Apple. There was uptown and there was downtown. In between was the insanity of Times Square which was crammed with sex shops and porn theatres. You didn’t stop to take pictures bathed in neon back then. If you moved uptown there were the museums and upscale shopping. Downtown was the grungy counterpoint. The beginnings of punk rock were emerging in a place which embraced it. Moving between them was like traveling between two worlds. Anyone who experienced this carries an inward smile at how this has all been tamed with retconned history. While at the same time being turned into another roadside attraction. This was my experience as a young man.
The two new perfumes from Amouage, Imitation Woman and Imitation Man, are based on Creative Director Christopher Chong’s visit to New York City in the same time. It was the first time he would see snow. He observed the cultural melting pot as his family moved from uptown to downtown. In the press materials he says, “Imitation is a personal account of how one moment and one experience can alter a child’s perception of the world.” Working with perfumer Pierre Negrin for Imitation Woman and Leslie Girard for Imitation Man it fells like they encapsulate Mr. Chong’s reminiscence with two very different bites from The Big Apple circa the 1970’s
One thing about both perfumes is they function as a pair which felt to me as Uptown and Downtown. Except quite cleverly the perfumers made sure to put a little of the other in each. If Imitation Woman takes you to the Upper East Side it makes sure to thread a bit of the Bowery through it. The converse is true for Imitation Man.
Imitation Woman opens on a blast of hairspray aldehydes over a floral trio of rose, orange blossom, and jasmine. It is the scent of perfectly coiffed society woman. Then M. Negrin sneaks in a bit of the Battery with a duet of licorice and blackcurrant bud. The latter is amplified to its sticky urine-like level while the licorice acts like a punk walking on Madison Avenue. It all returns to the wood paneled safety of sandalwood and patchouli.
There was a cocooned decadence which defined Uptown NYC in the 1970’s. It was over-the-top with no risk. Imitation Woman gets that as the exuberance is on display but within there is a reminder it isn’t as safe as you think.
Imitation Man is rough around the edges right away. Black pepper and nutmeg create a piquant reminder you aren’t Uptown anymore. You shrug your shoulders into your black leather jacket. Mme Girard infuses it with castoreum to make it seem like the snarl from any Punk waiting for a show in the Bowery. Then some of those Upper East Side “tourists” come slumming, trailing their floral smells of rose and powdery orris; trying to live life on the wild side for a night. The real scents of the area return with vetiver and patchouli leading the charge. Underneath it all is a simmering myrrh, a resinous bit of rebellion in progress.
At this point the Punks were just finding their footing as Downtown was about to put its Doc Martens footprint on the music scene. Imitation Man captures the burgeoning scene just before it is discovered.
I like both versions of Imitation, there is an authenticity which tracks with my memory of NYC in the 1970’s.
Disclosure: this review is based on press samples provided by Amouage.