In the non-perfume-related aspects of my professional life, I'm frequently reminded of a wise proverb: punish the sin, not the sinner. Journey Woman and Journey Man (both by Alberto Morillas and Pierre Negrin) have prompted me to apply that broad-minded philosophy to my scent writing, because although I haven't enjoyed getting to know them, they have, almost paradoxically, reinforced my belief that Amouage remains one of the most interesting non-mainstream brands around at the moment.
Try as hard as I might, I can't quite shake off the idea that Journey Man is simply a megaphone-loud, Grand Canyon-sized version of a generic masculine. I can't say for sure whether it owes its clean translucency to dihydromyrcenol - that most overused of 'male' materials - but it certainly feels as though it was born in a fragrance lab which was suspended in frozen animation some time in 1985 and has now been revived and blown up to frightening proportions. Yes, there's a suggestion of pepper in the upper regions of its construction and there's a hint of smoky incense wafting in and out of perception, but by and large, this is pretty familiar, man-must-smell-of-wood territory.
Journey Woman is somewhat more compelling although it, too, is excessively mono-dimensional. Its core is so strident - baggy, gelatinous honey against jammy apricot and hefty wood - that it prevents any of its other elements from being discerned and appreciated. Every now and then, there's a welcome contrast with a curious mix of sugared almond and crushed eucalyptus, but the honey is mostly all-conquering, growing sweeter as the scent develops.
So, if I found little to praise in these releases, why do I remain unwavering in my respect for the brand as a whole? Well, for one thing, both Journey Man and Journey Woman are pretty ballsy. True, as I've already said, the essence of Man can be found in several High Street creations, but the very fact that it has enlarged its principal idea to such a monolithic scale means that it can't be accused of being safe. The vast dimensions of Woman are equally worthy of admiration, even if those dimensions rarely make room for anything other than the aforementioned honey.
Both scents also represent a conscious attempt by Creative Director Christopher Chong not to allow the brand to rest on its laurels. He could easily have commissioned a couple of perfumers to come up with a predictable, mock-Arabian piece of work, full to the brim with Middle Eastern cliches. But instead, he chose to cast his eye further afield, to olfactory substances inspired by China: Man was, according to Chong himself, an attempt to explore the properties of Szechuan pepper, whereas Woman was designed to revolve around osmanthus and jasmine tea. On one level, the success of these endeavours is beside the point: the intention itself is laudable, displaying as it does a commitment to venturing into new creative territory.
Finally, both perfumes were genuinely surprising. Okay, on this occasion, the surprise wasn't especially pleasant, but at a time when I could probably predict - with depressing accuracy - what the next releases from the likes of Versace, YSL, Dolce & Gabbana and Calvin Klein are going to smell like, I'd much rather have a strong, negative reaction than a response akin to slipping into a coma. It isn't easy to create perfumes which have an impact on you at gut level. With their uncompromising brashness, Journey Man and Journey Woman prove that it's impossible to remain neutral about Amouage, which is why, whenever the brand's next releases emerge, I'm still going to be first in line to try them.
[Review based on samples of eau de parfum provided by Amouage in 2014.]