I distinctly recall watching Cio-Cio San ritualistically commit suicide with her father's knife at the end scene of Madama Butterfly and thinking that despite the glorious music, the storyline lacked the tragic depths of Euripides's Medea, fresh in my mind from school. It was more simplistic too: one straight plot line, girl wins boy, girl loses boy, girl commits hara kiri. Surely, both heroines were cruelly abandonded by their foreign lovers for whom they sacrificed everything, but somehow taking one's life seemed to my childish eyes as an easy way out; eternally pining for the grave sin of filicide, uniting both tragic lovers & parents in pain, seemed vastly more weighty. But the Japanese notion of honour wanted it so and further exploration of Japonism acclimatized me with the idea in the end. Honour Woman and Honour Man, fragrances inspired ~as Christopher Chong revealed~ by the ending act of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, come as a stop at a multifarious course.
The prolific art director for Omani-based firm Amouage, C. Chong, is issuing perfume duos for some time now, having the best noses creating under his guidance: From the majestic Jubilation 25 for women and Jubilation XXV for men to the sweeping Epic for Men and Epic for Women, the rich fragrances have lured lovers of true luxury and superb raw materials creating something of a mini cult. Even when the skeleton is recognisable as belonging to a specific category met again, the fleshing out of the robust contours is impressive enough to warrant uniqueness.
In order to assess both Honour editions, it's essential to examine how they interpret the concept: Instead of playing out the scenario of Puccini's heroes in one's mind, it might be better to see the scents as a modern extention of a viewer who sees their shadows cast in the wings; oriental elements petering, but those are not reserved for the Far East, they also draw upon the Middle-Eastern tradition: incense, elemi resin, jasmine, the Spice Route, pepper worth its weight in gold and finally Indian tuberose...This amalgam of richness is woven into a tapestry that is not reminiscent of any one culture, yet stands on the edge between ancient, rich in resins & flower essences natural perfumery and the modern ethereal treatment that ensures fragrances remain contemporary as if fueled by electrified air.
Both Honour Woman and Honour Man are typically Amouage in their individual way, showcasing what natural oils can do to instil richness and depth in fragrance, possessing as they do a sort of 3D-expansion which reveals facets interlocking with each other in an olfactory Rubik's Cube.
Amouage Honour Woman, created by perfumers Alexandra Carlin and Violaine Collas, is galvanised by the power of pink jasmine, fruity, succulent and nectarous as if oozing sexy honey, floriental, womanly and seductive and yet light enough to be enjoyed during the summer. The bouquet reminded me of a less campy Vamp à NY, chokeful as that one is too of real, vibrant natural white flowers, hints of big Bazooka gum pieces laced with banana-fruit facets. Smelling Honour Woman on top, I'm struck by the swift progression from the peppery-camphoraceous green note which foreshadows tuberose (in reality spicy notes and that certain subtle root-beer touch which is so familiar to Americans) into the intensely sweet, fruity and upbeat jasmine heart that is all out nature red in tooth and claw. The white floral essences stimulate Honour Woman into a melodious cadenza that seems never ending, supremely lasting onto blotter, clothes, nostrils, soft skin, decolletage...And yet, the supporting of that floral sweetness by somber notes like green vetiver and serene incense makes Honour Woman a pliable, real femme who can yield under the power of love, rather than an hysterical madwoman who scatters her demands right and left. The success and beauty of Amouage Honour Woman lie in the balance of diva-esque characteristcs with the cool attitude of seeing the brightest morning light as the most natural thing in the world...which it is.
Notes for Amouage Honour Woman:
Top notes are coriander, pepper and rhuburb;
middle notes are carnation, jasmine, gardenia, tuberose and lily-of-the-valley;
base notes are vetiver, opoponax, amber, incense and leather.
Amouage Honour Man, composed by perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer is a decidedly spicy fragrance, with oriental-woody leanings. The intensity of its spicy top, a veritable plunge into the pepper shaker, is unsettling, grabbing you from both lapels and smacking down into submission. But oh, you want to discover what this tough story unfolds later on! Indeed, the pepper becomes almost oily, like the half smoky-half musty odour when you crack a mace, more than a tad resinous, thanks to elemi (a naturally pepper-like essence that compliments frankincense and enters into the blend of Eastern cencer incense mixes). The equally terpenic sides of this mix are soon embraced by the distinct green-rosy-camphor of geranium and blended woody notes of cedar, patchouli and vetiver, borrowing a slice of Amouage's Reflection. The cunning in Honour Man lies into presenting each note as a distinct pitch with sonorous timbre, yet also as unifying them into a chromatic scale that is heard like bass coming out from subwoofers in the larynx of some smoldering lion afar, coming closer and closer by the minute. In no way threatening, but impressive all the same, Honour Man should have lovers of Poivre Samarcande, Bang and Poivre 23 sniff appreciatively and try to unravel the complicated thread of its Eastern mythos for western men.
Notes for Amouage Honour Man:
Top notes are pink pepper and pepper;
middle notes are geranium, elemi and nutmeg;
base notes are vetiver, musk, patchouli, Virginia cedar, incense and tonka bean.
Eau de Parfum, 50ml for £120. Available at Harrods, Selfridges, Les Scenteurs and Amouage boutique, 14 Lowndes Street, SW1. Soon available stateside.
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In the interests of full disclosure I tried the new scents via official samples sent by the company