We are now two years into a phase that Amouage’s Creative Director, Christopher Chong, describes as his “Second Cycle” for the house’s Main Collection. Storytelling plays an important role in the fragrance industry and these new fragrances draw their content from Christopher’s personal narrative. His cultural ancestry, life experiences and passion for different art forms, in particular music and opera, are key influences. Last month Amouage launched the Myths Collection here in Australia, which embodies the spirit of the Second Cycle as well as being, in my opinion, some of the most avant-garde work to feature in Amouage’s Main Collection so far.
Fans of Christopher’s work tend to be attracted by his flair for creating intensely rich, brooding fragrances in collaboration with the perfumers he works with. Sunshine Woman (2014) was an unforecast break from Amouage’s moody opulence, which is understandable given it was a tribute fragrance that followed a personal loss. The Myths Collection moves back to familiar territory with two new fragrances that are full of depth, contrast and plenty of shadow. Myths Woman was created with Nathalie Lorson, one of IFF’s star perfumers and Myths Man was created with Robertet perfumers Daniel Visentin, Dorothee Piot and Karine Vinchon-Spehner.
The Myths Collection is built around a theme of Surrealism. Christopher talks about these fragrances being an expression of “life as a dream.” The story also contains references to classical Beijing Opera with its symbolic and rhythmic movements. The dragon, which is the only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac, is represented by Myths Man. The Phoenix, a symbol of peace and prosperity that has appeared in Chinese art for over 8000 years, is represented by Myths Woman. Together these two mythical creatures are said to create a metaphor of yin and yang. The idea that fragrance can be a surreal experience is a concept I connect with. When I smell a fragrance, thoughts, olfactory connections and memories of past experiences flood my mind. It’s a surreal collage of disorderly snapshots, pulled from the unconscious memory. It very rarely looks like the neatly packaged fragrance description you find communicated on most brand websites.
Although the sensory experience of fragrance can be conveyed through the language of top, middle and base notes; the less tangible, emotional experience of fragrance is something brands and marketing teams are often challenged to define. Storytelling with fragrance is an area where niche fragrance houses have typically excelled. Their stories are what kindled my interest in perfumery a decade ago. The culture of niche fragrance has changed over the past few years and the line between niche, luxury and mainstream is becoming increasingly blurred. Storytelling still plays an important role in niche fragrance but niche fragrance houses are more risk-averse than they were a decade ago. Even though niche fragrance is marketed as being artistic and original, a lot of new niche fragrances are taking a safer route by revisiting olfactory themes that have been tried and tested with their target audience. The beauty and quality of Amouage fragrances is unquestionable but I have to admit, I’ve never thought of Amouage as being one of niche fragrance’s provocateurs. Amouage’s recent launches have changed that perception. Opus X is a brutal rose fragrance and Myths Man has an eerie tension. When I read about Myths Man earlier in the year, I pictured dragons dancing gracefully like the brush of a Chinese calligrapher. When I smelled it for the first time, it was a different experience and I was reminded of the Game of Thrones scene, where Tyrion approaches Daenerys’ dragons. His simultaneous exhilaration and paralysis from fear sums up Myths Man’s adrenaline-charged top notes and the ominous cloud of ash that covers the base. I can’t wait to see what Christopher Chong and Amouage create next.
I’ve heard perfumers talk about building a hint of something familiar into their formulas, an accord or a note, to help their audience connect with the fragrance. Familiarity provides a context. Without context, the fragrance can come off as being too abstract or weird. Myths Man feels much more unhinged from any familiar fragrance structure compared to Myths Woman, which is very nostalgic. I feel like it could easily be some fragrant goddess, lifted from the archives of a forgotten perfumer who lived during the early 20th century.
Myths Man opens with a chrysanthemum flower surrounded by wet, ozonic, vegetal green notes. It’s a stark contrast to the base, which is dry, ashen and grey. At times, especially towards the front, these two extremes seem to be at odds with each other. The energy-charged top notes push against the sullen ash and leather notes coming from underneath. The top of the fragrance is spiked with peppery elemi resin, which leads on to orris, rum and rose. The classical leather accord, which is bitter and phenolic, helps to maintain a modicum of familiarity and it gives the fragrance masculinity. The base includes vetiver and a hint of labdanum resin. For me the standout note of Myths Man is the ash accord. It’s a dry, mineral note that smells of cold ashes from a fireplace. This unusual note whispers its presence at the start of the fragrance and dominants at the end. Ashes have symbolic meaning in numerous cultures and religions. I can remember Ash Wednesday from my Catholic schooling. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” the priest would say as he smeared the foreheads of his congregation with ashes. Ash is a sign of penance and renunciation in other world religions. Shaiva sadhus smear crematorium ashes on their bodies to remind them of the non-permanence of the material body. There is a similar ascetic quality in the way this ash note plays out in Myths Man. It goes hand in hand with the cold leather accord, which trails the fragrance to its end.
Narcissus notes in fragrance are few and far between, mostly because it’s a difficult raw material for perfumers to work with and for consumers it can be an acquired taste. Of the fragrances that list narcissus as a compositional note, very few rely on the flower’s natural extract. Instead the perfumer creates a heavily photoshopped accord that weeds out the flower’s tendency to smell animalic and urinous towards the dry down. There is no such editing in Myths Woman. The fragrance opens with plenty of narcissus and another challenging raw material, violet leaf absolute. Some work has gone into tidying them up around the edges but for the most part, this is nature untouched. The opening glows a cool green, which is accentuated with galbanum resin. Myths Woman gets progressively warmer as a spicy carnation note starts to round out the floral bouquet. Gradually the entire thing comes into focus as the chypre notes rise up to meet the receding floral notes. At this stage some of the more challenging notes of narcissus and violet leaves start to show. These notes pair well with the slightly smoky leather note in the base and animalic ambergris. About five hours later, narcissus and to some degree violet leaf turn feral. The culprits are the botanical’s phenolic smelling molecules, namely para-cresyl acetate and para-cresyl phenyl acetate. I grew up around horses and for me the odour of horsetails (horse hair and stale urine) comes to mind. It’s a note I can’t imagine too many women requesting at their local fragrance counter however these smells are all around us in nature, in flowers and in animals. I think it’s wonderful that fragrance house’s like Amouage are willing to explore these more challenging raw materials, which are presented in a beautiful and respectful way.
Naturally, creating fragrances that are different and more challenging to appreciate will have an effect on commerciality. The Myths Collection isn’t shocking or totally alien to what has come before but I do expect the collection will polarise opinions. Even for me, while I’ve enjoyed writing this review, and I respect the originality of the collection, I am not sure if Myths Man is a fragrance I’ll be wearing everyday. I need to be in the mood for it. I am more attracted to Myths Woman, which I think is an excellent men’s fragrance. The leather and all the animal references reduce the prettiness of the floral notes, which are often construed as feminine. The mossy woods in the base hark back to some of the early 20th century chypre fragrances for women, which are often more masculine than today’s men’s fragrances. Myths Woman reminds me a little bit of a classic Lanvin fragrance from the 1930s, which is now deceased.
Further recommendations: Olympic Orchids – The Devil Scent Project, Tauer – Lonestar Memories, Penhaligons – Ostara, Hermes – Narcisse Bleu, Lanvin – Scandal (the original, not the current version)
Perfumer: Myths Woman – Nathalie Lorson. Myths Man – Daniel Visentin, Dorothee Piot and Karine Vinchon-Spehner
Creative Director: Christopher Chong
Release Date: 2016
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Myths Woman – Mossy Woods. Myths Man – Woody Oriental
Australian stockist details: Agence de Parfum