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December 1, 2007

"Amouage" By Luca Turin

"Amouage" By Luca Turin

In fifteen years of fragrance reviewing, I have only accepted one invitation to a proper perfume launch somewhere exotic, and that was for Amouage’s 25th anniversary, about which more below. I should add that I only received one other invitation during that period. It involved spending two days in Portofino covered in cucumber slices, and on day 3 giving a lecture on cucumbers.

The story of Amouage is remarkable. Twenty five years ago an Omani prince decided that his country, renowned since Egyptian times for the quality of its frankincense, home to the unique Green Mountain rose and on whose beaches half the world’s ambergris lands at random, needed a perfume firm that would take on the world’s greatest.

He commissioned the great perfumer Guy Robert and gave him that rarest of all fragrance briefs: an unlimited budget. The result was Gold, a magnificent fragrance based on Oman’s three great raw materials. For a time Amouage Gold was the most expensive fragrance on earth, but in recent years it has become possible to spend a great deal more and get a whole lot less. Later Amouage fragrances were less good, (though Dia for men is a paragon of dry darkness), and the recent Reflections were simply awful. A new art director has taken charge and wants to put Amouage back on track. I had rehearsed a speech exhorting him to hire the orientalist perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour for his next fragrance.
Clearly, Arabs invented luxury: every palace dreams of being the Alhambra, every bedroom a sheikh’s tent and all jewelry aspires to being sold by weight and poured into cupped hands. All else is merely luxury goods, not the real thing. LVMH executives should visit an Omani perfume store. The lead crystal bottles sitting on blue silk in wooden caskets look like presents from a future without moving parts. Half a dozen grades of the amazing rotten oud wood are available for burning. A large bottle on the shelf says "ambergris". Full of the cynical skepticism that comes from spending more than a week in the fragrance industry, I ask to smell it. It is top-class ambergris, and I treat myself to an ounce of raunchy oil.

Later, at a reception under the moon and fireworks, in a crowd peppered with bodyguards bearing silver daggers, we watched Guy Robert showered with applause. Then, like kids leaving a birthday party, we collected a bag with the two new fragrances and could smell them at last. To my relief both were very good. The feminine is a Diorella with tuberose. The masculine is a lovely incense composition, by Bertrand Duchaufour.