Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Romance of the Rose

I’ve long been a fan of Amouage fragrances, especially the über-opulent Gold. (The crystal flacons outfitted by Asprey aren’t a bad touch either.) But times change and, with them, landscapes and peoples. Not thirty years ago the various sheikdoms which skirted the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula were sleepy if, in some cases pretty, backwaters; now, with few exceptions, they are boomtown economies fueled by unfathomable petroleum wealth. Those of the Romantic inclination lament this, preferring the rusticity of the past and Frankincense Route associations to proliferate. But modernity is a mixed bag. The camel has been replaced by the Rover, the souk with shopping trips to Europe and America. But a tradition of perfumery remains.

Many have heard the story of Amouage’s founder, HH Sayyid Hamad bin Hamoud al bu Said, creating a perfume house at the request of his sovereign – a perfume house that would reflect the fragrance heritage of Oman and its prized materials, silver frankincense from Dhofar and cistus from the Jebel Akhdar, the “Green Mountain” towering above Muscat. Not long after, Guy Robert, titan of French perfumery, was commissioned to create the perfume which became Gold (1982).

Fast forward twenty-five years. Creative Director Christopher Chong worked with perfumer Daniel Maurel to create a men’s and women’s complement to the masterpieces of the brand’s inception: Lyric Woman and Lyric Man. Both take rose as their point of departure. Both are expertly constructed. One takes my breath away.

The press release tells me that Lyric Woman takes its inspiration from the lyric-spinto voice (e.g., Callas), but when its scent wafts up into my mind what I hear is a boy soprano. And he’s not singing a Mozart mass – he’s singing 15th century polyphony in the ars subtilior style. Lyric Woman isn’t jubilant but, rather, dark, poignant, even fragile. It warms its wearer, but not to titillate or amuse. It invites her or him into mysterium. A precious rose blooms in its heart but, as in religious iconography, that heart is pierced and magnified by an accord of geranium, cinnamon, jasmine, orris and ginger. Lyric Woman does not move in the traditional progression from head note to base. Rather, the silver frankincense, patchouli, musk and vanilla are present like a continuous progression of bass chords against which the voice rises into a crepuscular au-délà.

I can’t help but think that moving from the Eighties superfluity of Gold, Amouage has enacted an unconscious pilgrimage from the Land of Robert to the Land of Lutens circa 2000. Given the latter’s back-pedaling of late, one can only hope that the Chong-Maurel collaboration yields long and plentifully.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ars Subtilior. It was the only music my father wanted to listen to. And Bach of course. He used to fill tapes up to the hilt.
He's dead ten years now. I miss him dearly.

October 24, 2008 at 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Vetivresse! You've been tagged! It's your turn!

October 26, 2008 at 8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully written review, and the fragrance does sound amazing. Thank you!

October 26, 2008 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Hi C., I've just tagged you! I'm sure you know the rules of the game (if not, see Grain de Musc). I'll bet I'm not the only one... Looking forward to your post!

October 26, 2008 at 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop it! Between you,NST and the Posse you are breaking down my resistance to the Amouages. Some are at Nordstrom and I have simply refused to even sample them, fearing I might fall in love.

But now I shall have to do so........if I break the bank it'll be All Your Fault!:-)


October 28, 2008 at 8:21 PM  

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