Amouage Honour Woman

[Note: This post resurrected from the WayBack Machine, here.]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Amouage Honour Woman

Is it fair to review a scent before you’re even gotten to the drydown?

Well, after reviewing a scent that I hadn’t even smelled, I suppose it’s almost reasonable.

I have been waiting for samples of Amouage Honour for a long time.  While a few reviewers received very early samples in May, I had to wait until Parfums Raffy got them in just recently.  But as soon as they did, I was on it.  Early reports of Amouage Honour Man seemed to indicate a good dose of pepper, and I’m something of a pepper lover.  I was hoping that Honour Man might be just the thing to kick Epic Man and Jubilation XXV out of first or second place in my Amouage rankings.

But even more importantly, I was interested in the art.  Many scents are produced under a creative director.  This seems to be particularly important at Amouage, where scents are produced under Christopher Chong.  Chong is often actually referred to as the artistic director.  I’m a big believer in fragrance as the Eighth Art – enough that eighth-art proponent and volatile blogger Octavian is pre-forgiven no matter how much he curses those too-modern Guerlains and Chanels that I love.  As much as I want mainstream pleasers like Bleu de Chanel, I also want fragrance ART, and scents like Honour are among my most important fragrance drugs.

Emblem blatantly borrowed from Octavian Coifan – 1000 Fragrances

So…… what did I think after sniffing this one?

Good things.  Very good things.

The women’s Honour is highly original. It’s very Amouage, but the “stereotypical Amouage stuff” is married to a white floral, which just seems weird as hell, and frankly impossible. Nevertheless, it works.  In fact, it works really well.  There is a characteristically Amouage base, serving as a background to the painting, which pushes all the right buttons for those who love this house. But there is more. Much more.

Honour is artistically true. That statement actually deserves some explanation, to be fully appreciated. So let me digress.

To some extent, it’s easy to fake art in fragrance. You only have to get close as in hand grenades, and perfume clichés will do that just fine, thank you. Most folks can’t even spot the difference. The juice smells good, the girl snuggles up, and the world declares it a blockbuster. If it also smells halfway like the name, and the name isn’t blatantly obvious, laurel wreathes and honorary diplomas appear amidst the panties and room keys tossed onstage.

But let’s just say – for the hell of it – that you really tried. Well, to be perfectly honest, scent is a pretty strange medium for art.  Fragrance is long on feel, but short on plot. So much so, that trying to do an opera in a single fragrance isn’t just mad – it’s impossibly mad. It’s as crazy as leaving a swatch of the fat lady’s butt-covering fabric on center stage, and calling her done. Try to imagine that the make-or-break checkbox for a Broadway musical was which version of febreze was chosen by the custodian. Yeah. You begin to get an idea of just how perverse the whole enterprise actually is.

But what if you tried anyway? What if you gave up on plot, but went all the way on feeling? What if you really did try to swaddle the porky gal in velvet so perfect that people just stood up and cried? What if you cleaned up as if opening night really DID depend on it? What if you suddenly elevated the most menial job in the troupe to the one that couldn’t fail, and it turned out that was the one that sent the critics racing for their cell phones during intermission?

Ah, yes. Now THAT is an artistic challenge. THAT’S what I mean by art in fragrance.

Honour takes up that challenge. It aspires to give you the feeling of Madame Butterfly the opera by giving you the feeling of Madame Butterfly the person – of her predicament – of her passion, her sorrow, and her honor – in fragrance. It tries to capture a time, a place, a mood. So for starters, there is no Hello Kitty here – although one could easily argue that Kitty and Honour draw their purity and ink from the same well.  Honour Woman is reserved and pure in a traditional Japanese way. The scent never crosses boudaries of numerous kinds, leaving it with a restrained and pure feel – creating the abstraction of honor in fragrance. It never lets this go – not for a second.

Although there is a burning floral beauty at the center of the scent, it is never allowed to run free as a brushfire. The color themes of the fragrance – a burning red flare enveloped in a furious flurry of white – are expressed resolutely in scent.  And why not?  It’s clearly one of the most ingenious compressions of an abstraction like “honor” into something that fragrance can handle that I’ve ever seen.

For me, the most important aspect is the texture. Texture in scent is a hard thing to put into words, but people who talk scent know what I mean. There is something in the base of Honour which echoes the organic and hand-worked natural beauty of traditional Japanese fabrics and materials. These things have a certain not-quite-perfect beauty – like laquerware – which is essential and reflective of the truth of Eastern culture, yet these are lost in the polish and complication of Western artistry and craftsmanship.

Every prior interpretation of the scenario of Madame Butterfly loses this truth to some extent, even if inadvertently. Even the plot of the opera itself reflects a subset of Western values, though they be in self-examination of other ones. As such, I really feel this fragrance understands Madame Butterfly better than other artistic interpretations. In the place where the medium actually can tell the story better, it does. But what’s even slicker is that this need for a greater truth is used as a path to bring the Amouage fragrance ethic (incense, resin, amber, and the whole middle-Eastern schtick) into Madame Butterfly. It’s not just an excuse to do it, but a way to say something more than the opera itself seems to say. I have to admit – that’s pretty impressive.

And then there is the whole white / butterfly / powdery / purity thing, which Candy Perfume Boy very astutely likened to pollen. And the fact that the floral notes are kept JUST right – the perfect restraint – to say all the necessary things. Creed’s Windsor may not need to shout, but Honour Woman need not even raise her voice. I could go on and on with minor points of artistic rendition and feeling, but you get the message. Some people clearly sweated bullets to get this right.

Most importantly to most folks – yes – it does smell good. That pretty much goes without saying for Amouage, although whether it’s good enough for the price? That’s your call.  Don’t expect to pay for real art with pocket change, but don’t expect every work of art to be must-own, either.  It’s your right to say “meh” to any performance of Madame Butterfly.

What I really like about Honour Woman is that it’s such a radically different white floral – different enough that it is easily wearable by a guy. Put crudely, there’s nothing like it, so there’s absolutely no way anybody can accuse you of smelling like a chick.  There are bits and pieces of a lot of men’s scents in here – just enough that I could actually wear this to work, and people would tell themselves that it was some kind of high-end “white woody powder” analog of D&G the one Gentleman. I don’t think I could bear to tell them what it really was, even though the art is the best part of it.

“Um – no – this is a women’s fragrance based on Madame Butterfly. It reminds me a bit of Cashmere Mist, but the symbolism and the mood are really the important things here.”

Would I have enough honor to tell them the truth?

I think I may just bring my sample with me and let it speak for itself.

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