This is an historic day: the 45th President of the United States of America is being sworn in. I shan’t open political debate, but I will say that this has been a controversial election unlike any other in modern memory, and it’s provoking a lot of reaction. Knowing that I would be reviewing today I considered my choice very carefully.
As Voltaire said: ‘I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health’. I’m going to rise above flippancy, fatalism or bragadoccio and consider what to wear on A Very Big Day. When I looked in my perfume cupboard (yes, a whole cupboard, I am obsessed) I could set aside whole categories of fragrance: eau de colognes, citruses, gourmands and greens can all stay home. For the truly grand occasion I break out the big guns: orientals and chypres. My choice for today is something that I think of as a classic oriental as it has the elegant chic of a classic chypre coupled with the rich spicy presence of an oriental: Amouage Gold pour Femme.
As one of the original hyper-luxe perfumes, Gold seemed appropriate today for many reasons, not least its association with a Head of State. In 1983, Gold was the first release from a new brand launched by the Sultan of Oman to restore the Arabian art of perfumery. Legend has it that the nose who created it was given a completely open budget and a brief to incorporate some of Oman’s famous perfumery ingredients, such as frankincense – the resin of the Boswellia tree.
One problem with Touristic or Nationalistic perfumery is that it can be banal and kitsch. I’m Welsh and have no interest in smelling of daffodils (our national flower), even though Narcissus is a very useful perfume ingredient. At least Omani Frankincense is world-famous for its quality, and the obvious approach would be to set this gem attractively in a ‘solitaire’ fragrance. If the Omanis had wanted that, they could have called on a number of noses who excel at creating modern, interesting and wearable incense fragrances. Olivia Giacobetti would head my list, as creator of Idole de Lubin, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Passage d’Enfer and Penhaligon’s Elixir; though Bernard Duchafour would be a close second as the creator of two of Comme des Garçons’ Series 3 Incense: Avignon and Kyoto.
Instead, the Sultan brought in a legend. Guy Robert composed Doblis for Hermes in 1955, Madame Rochas in 1960 and Hermes Caléche in 1961 followed by Dioressence in 1969; Gold in 1983 was to be his greatest triumph. In resisting trends and sticking to his French classicist ideals of balance, sophistication and femininity, Robert launched a brand that has gone from strength to strength, and created a perfume that is still incredibly wearable and luxurious.
Spritz a mist of Gold onto your skin and brightening aldehydes lift to your nose straight away for a subtle sparkle, but nothing soapy or sneezy like White Linen or Chanel No.5. These are not the fizzing bubbles of sparkling wine, this is the tightly-controlled stream of tiny bubbles in a glass of vintage Dom Pérignon. Then flowers bloom, curvaceous and feminine, before the citrussy smoke of frankincense begins to weave through and connect the head notes to the heart of myrhh, creamy orris and jasmine. I am unrepentant about my love of complex perfumes and compositions that move seamlessly through their trajectory. Amouage Gold is polish personified. It changes gears so smoothly that you don’t notice the development by catching a new note, rather, it opens out by degrees.
If I compared the progression of this perfume to music, it is a perfectly-played scale that runs from soprano to alto, from the bright aldehydes and singing florals to the rich heart and then further on to the voluptuous base notes of civet, ambergris and musk, leavened with cedar and sandalwood. It never dips below a certain pitch that is always coherently feminine. It is tenacious and grown-up, lasting on my skin for up to 24 hours. Because of the masterful choice of ingredients that have both lighter and deeper elements to them there is always balance, even as this fascinating character opens up to you and reveals more of herself, there is always an aspect of lightness and approachability that makes it enormously wearable and relevant today.
I expected Gold to be a HUGE 80s perfume with shoulderpads like a linebacker and an attitude to match. I was so wrong. I love wearing it with jeans and boots, just like I wear my vintage beauties. Indeed, it really feels like those classics that I love so much – Madame Rochas with her strange, salty cleverness and Dioressence with her feral growl and prowl – but Gold is poised somewhere between with elegant and sophisticated womanliness. There is power here, and respect for what a woman is: long may it continue.