My experience of living in the Middle East taught me that Gulf Arab men tend to have no qualms about wearing scents that would be considered far too heady and overwhelming by many of the bravest perfume-loving males of the 'west'. This willingness to perceive masculine fragrance as lavish adornment has traditionally been adopted by the house of Amouage, which isn't surprising, given the firm's links with the royal family of Oman. Therefore, any new creation from the land of silver frankincense is an event eagerly anticipated by those of us who prefer, say, Antaeus to CKbe.
Memoir Man & Woman arrive hot on the heels of the Library Collection, which was notable for its departure from the usual blends of resins and thick ambers. With a core centred around the sharp, anisic sting of absinthe, the two new releases continue this trend, a fact that will come either as welcome or disappointing news, depending on how much Arabian sillage you like to project.
The presence of Memoir Man is announced with a sheer spice-and-lavender note which immediately takes on a grassy hue and leads to an evocation of the leaves and twigs of a fig tree. Hints of warm leather flit in and out of the picture before the Green Fairy herself arrives, fresh and bracing. At first, her company is welcome. But after a few hours of her high-pitched wheedling, you begin to see her less as the seductive queen of intoxication and more as an irritating Tinkerbell. She does eventually make way for a vetivert drydown - with a seamlessness that is genuinely admirable - but you end up quite glad to see her go, whereas she ought to leave you wanting more.
On paper, Memoir Woman fails to impress: its white floral opening seems frail and synthetic and its central accord of absinthe and tuberose is bilious. However, on skin, it pulls off a neat little feat of redemptive alchemy and turns out to be warmer and more finely tuned. Woody notes - which often benefit from the effects of body heat - rise up to support the heart and the mossy base, reducing their harshness without stripping them of their power. Subtle musks surround the whole with a soft embrace. The final result is by no means a masterpiece, but it's certainly a less frightening scent than the one that rises up from the blotter.
There is no doubt that artists should be permitted to change direction if they wish to explore new avenues of self-expression. However, it's naive to deny that if you turn your back on familiar routes, you need to work doubly hard to persuade your critics that you know what you're doing. Any alteration of style runs the risk of being faintly embarrassing unless it's pulled off with rock-solid confidence. So whilst these two Memoir scents are competent, they're nowhere near bold enough to convince this Amouage admirer that the decision to avoid incense and oud was a wise one.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum obtained in 2010; fragrances tested on skin.]