Amouage perfumes don't exactly keep themselves to themselves. Bold and emphatic, they tend to conquer every lily-livered weakling in their path, showing no mercy and taking no prisoners. But Honour Man comes as a complete surprise: despite the presence of several warrior-class materials on its notes list, it is astonishingly and uncharacteristically
After announcing its presence with a tame pepper and grapefruit accord, Nathalie Feisthauer's creation moves to a blend of geranium and warm woods mingled with the firm's signature frankincense note. If this sounds safe and unspectacular, well, that's precisely the impression the scent makes in its first few minutes. So subdued as to raise questions about what guilty secrets it's trying to hide, it sits tight, stares into the distance and doesn't attract attention to itself. But then - just before disappointment sets in - something happens. The final piece of the structure slips into place and suddenly, the whole makes perfect sense.
Amouage's latest masculine refuses to shout, it refuses to strut and it refuses to fill every room it enters because it strives to live up to its name. It is the olfactory definition of honour. Suave and distinguished, it is so effortlessly confident about the quality of its ingredients and the effectiveness of its composition, that it has no qualms whatsoever about remaining subtle and distant. And by the time it reaches its statesmanlike patchouli and vetivert drydown, its intentions are clear. It doesn't wish to be worn by a twenty-something upstart whose mettle is yet to be tested. It doesn't even wish to be worn by his fifty-something dad, who still feels the occasional urge to puff out his chest. No, it has its sights set on a sophisticated older gent, a patriarch who's seen more of the world than all of his preening descendants put together. Whilst they're all clamouring for superiority, he graces them with a benevolent gaze, adjusts his cravat and waits for them to grow up. Honour Man doesn't excite me or get my pulse going, but then I tend to prefer the more diffusive end of the perfume spectrum. However, if there's a new release that might cause me to reconsider my ways, this could well be it. Try it... and see if it decides that you're worth its time.
A sense of restrained elegance can also be found in Alexandra Carlin and Violaine Collas' Honour Woman, but here, the effect is less convincing. With its white floral heart - composed mainly of lily of the valley and a lipstick-inflected tuberose - it's certainly up-to-date as far as trends are concerned (apparently, we're heading for a major 80s revival in perfumery, and nothing says '80s' like grandiose florals). But I'm not sure it knows quite who it's trying to be. In keeping with the tone set by Man, it seems to want to come across as a worldly-wise dowager - as perceptive as she is circumspect - and there are moments when it succeeds. It never resorts to predictable headiness and it keeps its mid-section grounded on a dusky, suitably mature leather base. However, it lacks the conviction of Man, at times allowing its lighter elements to project too powerfully and at others, granting excessive prominence to the earthy drydown. A greater sense of composure - of a more clear-sighted grasp of its own identity - would have helped, but as it stands, Honour Woman fails to match the innate poise of its male counterpart.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Amouage in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]
Finally, a brief word about perfume names. My views on Honour Woman notwithstanding, I must admit that when I found out what these latest Amouages would be called, the first words that came into my head were, 'Spot on!' For a house whose previous releases have been dubbed Epic, Memoir and Lyric, Honour has the ring of 'rightness' about it. (The imp in me then wondered about the chuckles that might be induced by saying that you're wearing 'On a man' or 'On a woman', but let's not go there...) So today, I'd like to leave you with this question. What's your favourite perfume name? And by that I mean: which perfume do you think has been named so well that its effectiveness - its very being - cannot be separated from its monicker?