I wonder if Christopher Chong - Amouage’s unfailingly flamboyant Creative Director - wanted to call his latest scent duo Nostalgia. If he did, perhaps the more fiscally-minded forces at the brand persuaded him to move away from such a wistful word; after all, scent marketeers try to avoid sorrow as much as movie studios shy away from sad endings. Then again, ‘nostalgia’ wouldn’t have been quite the right label for these intriguing creations anyway, because although many aspects of their personalities are rooted in the past, there is an almost palpable drive in both Imitation Woman and Man to look to the future and to reject simplistic notions that everything was so much better when we were younger.
A great deal of the ‘futuretro’ feel stems from Chong’s fearlessness when it comes to using strange synthetic materials. For instance, Imitation Man (composed by Leslie Girard) follows, on the face of it, a relatively conservative (for Amouage!) structure of spices, dark florals and leather, not unlike the equally elegant Honour Man. But nothing’s ever quite what it seems in this most idiosyncratic of perfume houses. Or, to put it another way by borrowing the scent’s name, all seeming imitations come with many surprises up their well-cut sleeves. So here, the floral heart is given an unsettling grin with the addition of a scalpel-edged citron note. And the leather base is dolled up with a weird violet accord so luridly lipstick-like, it’s almost an invitation to don false eyelashes and head off to La Cage Aux Folles. Yes, it’s 1978 Jim, but not as we know it.
Pierre Negrin's Imitation Woman is bolder still. On paper, the mention of jasmine, sandalwood and, crucially, aldehydes suggests that this might be a cousin of No. 5. But Amouage explored that territory to devastating effect with their debut - Gold Woman - which may be why Chong was determined that this diva would be fashioned into an aldehydic floral unlike all others. Frederic Malle’s Superstitious had similar aspirations, although I’d argue it didn’t quite meet them. Imitation, on the other hand, is a powerhouse of conviction. The candle-waxy aldehydes are pushed to such extremes, some will no doubt complain about a lack of balance. But I’d say their bizarre excess is precisely the point here. When seen against the backdrop of the ylang ylang and the blackcurrant bud, they seem both ‘vintage’ and avant-garde, as though dreamt up by a newly-reincarnated Stravinsky. And it is their unsettling personality that makes ultimate sense of both scents’ names. They’re dissemblers, toying with past glories even as they weave their own singular tales. And yes, they are olfactory time machines and they certainly take you on a trip, but as you look around at your destination, you can’t help but wonder if you’ve gone backwards, or into some otherworldly future theme park of late-20th century life. Either way, both of them mark a commendable return to form for the brand. Amouage is back. Accept no imitations.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Amouage in 2018.]