Up close and personal

Life Imitating Art

Amouage Creative Director, Christopher Chong reveals the inspiration behind his latest masterpiece, ‘Imitation’ for Man and Woman.

This launch is taking place in new york city. Why new york city in particular?
This is the fourth chapter of the second cycle of the Amouage narrative. The second cycle tends to be autobiographical and New York City is where I spent my childhood and teenage years. I wanted to reveal the truth of who I am and how this environment influenced me when I was in my formative years. It shaped the way I think and how I perceive the world. It was the neighborhood that we lived in when we immigrated to the United States. I still draw inspiration from it to this day. There’s beauty in its truth, even if its truth is flawed.

Would you say it’s new york that made you what you are now?
I would say that it’s the lower East Side specifically that shaped me. It has been gentrified over the past 10 years but before that, it was a tough place to live in. It was most commonly known as a ghetto. If you came there, you had to be prepared to fight. That neighborhood taught me how to defend myself and prepared me to face the real world when I left New York. I learned how to embrace changes no matter how difficult or challenging they are. It gave me my survival instincts.

So, you drew your ingredients from the place itself?
It’s not just about the buildings or street art. You have to translate the cultural element of the period. You have to ask yourself: “what was the popular olfactory style back then? What did people wear? What spices did they use?” You also have to understand their lifestyle. The 1970’s were so decadent! People back then had a sensual quality to their lifestyle. So, the inspiration comes from translating those elements into an olfactory one.

The word ‘imitation’ might have a negative connotation for some. Why imitation?
Because everything is imitated. Even Andy Warhol imitated. Imitation was a big movement in the art world, and he became an iconic artist for turning normal boring objects into subjects. Imitation has always been there, even back in the days of Oscar Wilde who famously said: “life imitates art”. I personally don’t believe in the concept of originality. Everything already pre-exists. What we do is imitate.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind imitation for woman?
I was inspired by the fragrances women wore in the 1970’s. The woman of that era was always sensual. Even if she was having a bad day or spent the whole night partying, the next morning she would still look beautiful and amazing. I was also inspired by the opening of Studio 54 in the late 70’s. All the major celebrities were there. I asked myself, what would a celebrity like Bianca Jagger wear in those times? So, I created this strong floral aldehyde of a very sensual tone. It opens with strong white floral, goes into blackcurrant buds called Cassis, which were popular in those days, and then dries down to this sensual incense evoking the end of the night or the end of the party kind of tone.

Is amouage considered a GCC brand?
Amouage has always been an international brand, ever since it was founded in 1983. Even though it’s based in Oman, nothing local is used for its products. The focus was always on employing advanced technology and experimenting with styles before selling it to the Western world. To me, I don’t see the need to limit its image as strictly a GCC brand. This process is more about human taste. However, I would say that it’s the first and only successful perfumery brand to originate from the GCC and succeed on an international level. We are also the only brand using genuine oud in our ingredients.

Would you ever consider making the leap from perfumes to fashion?
No, I wouldn’t. People have already tried that and it seems to never work. We did explore something similar to that with accessories, but that was different. With accessories, you’re offering something extra for your loyal customers. It’s a connection that dates back many centuries, for example, when people who wore leather gloves took them to the perfumers to get them scented. That’s the relationship we try to form with accessories.

Designing a new perfume is a meticulous process. How do you know when to stop and say: ‘This is it’?
I do have a tendency to keep wanting to change things, and it ends up damaging the formation instead of improving it! The only way to know is to let the formula tell you. It’s just like editing a book or writing music. The composition of it will tell you when it’s time to stop.

Is amouage being taken to new geographical areas, saleswise?
We have covered most regions and are now slowly delving deeper into the Asian market. It’s a real challenge because fragrances are not part of the Asian culture. For example, while in the Middle East, people historically have considered some scents to be spiritual cleansers, the Chinese see it as something else completely. And in Japan, people don’t have a fragrance culture, but they do have it as part of gift giving. However, the world is evolving, so the fragrance market may be more embraced in those regions in the near future.

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