Some of the greatest things happen by chance. Far from being on the radar, it is the unforeseen events or unexpected meetings that can change the course of one’s life. For Christopher Chong, creative director of international luxury fragrance brand Amouage, meeting David Crickmore, chief executive officer of the coveted perfume company, in 2007, was just one of the many chances that have occurred in his illustrious career spanning art, fashion and opera.
“A lot of things happen to us by chance. You could spend your entire life preparing to embark on a certain career and it ends up being nothing but a broken dream,” says Chong. In 2006 Amouage was going through a period of transition and looking to reinvent itself. Chong happened to be in the same intellectual space as Crickmore. “The company needed to refocus on the wonderful perfumes of French heritage from the early 20th century. At that time, it was looking for someone to head the change in its DNA, without following any textbook precedent,” adds Chong.
The debut of Chong’s perfumes came in the form of Jubilation for women and Jubilation XXV for men. Chong cites the success of these perfumes as “the best moment of my perfume career. I didn’t have to follow the textbook definition of what a perfume should be or how to create it. I approached it fearlessly.” Chong, who has now been creating perfumes for almost a decade, says that “to maintain noticeability year after year, with so many new brands being introduced to the market, is now the real task and challenge.”
Photo courtesy of Amouage.
Photo courtesy of Amouage.
Chong attributes the success of Amouage to his unique approach, akin to conducting a grand opera with all the emotions felt by the audience. “Opera draws from life, but it’s larger than life,” says Chong. “Music shares the same structure as perfume. We talk about notes, chords, phrasing and compositions in both disciplines. And as with opera, creating perfume is not a single person’s achievement. It requires teamwork,” he adds.
Music shares the same structure as perfume. We talk about notes, chords, phrasing and compositions in both disciplines.
The success of Amouage rests in its appeal to people who are confident and not afraid of individuality, choosing a scent that is both unusual and different. “I impart a bit of myself into each perfume. Each story represents fragments of hopes and dreams,” says Chong. “Most of us are not equipped with the vocabulary to articulate what we smell. As a consequence, it often takes people time to really appreciate the complexity of our fragrances.”
Notes of various spices and woods are combined in curious juxtaposition when composing a new scent. As Chong discovered early in his role, some fragrances are not always immediately embraced by customers, but after experiencing them a few times, they become loyal devotees. “I remember one customer saying to me that she didn’t like Amouage when she first discovered the brand. But two years later, wouldn’t use anything else.”
The complexity of Amouage fragrances stems in part from the perfumers and creatives Chong works with: Karine Vinchon Spehne, Alberto Morillas, Pierre Negrin, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson and Annick Menardo, just to name a few. Some of these perfumers, such as Vichon Spehne, have a background in chemistry, while others studied biochemistry or physics before training to become perfumers. Irrespective of their backgrounds, the most important criteria in the selection of a perfumer is their ability to interpret Chong’s brief. “It’s vital that they understand my moods and vision from the beginning so we can form the creative synergy. I also expect an openness as well as a sense of mutual trust and honesty in the collaboration,” says Chong. A story, a remnant of a memory, the phrasing of a musical composition or a sentence within a conversation can all be starting points. The process akin to “bottling art and emotions”.
For Amouage’s latest perfumes, Myths, the men’s version was based upon an accord that was taken from the women’s edition. “I was inspired by a period in the history of the Beijing Opera in which men play both male and female roles. It was an interesting experience creating such tension,” says Chong, noting the history of gender fluidity in Chinese culture. In contrast, Opus IX gave Chong the freedom to create his own soulful interpretation of the camellia flower—as the flower has no scent in its natural form. “This is a dream for any perfumer. You need to have the creative freedom to bring your imagination to life.”
While perfumes remain at the core of Amouage, other luxury pieces, such as leather goods and handbags, have slowly become part of the brand’s repertoire. As Amouage develops more standalone stores around the world, the company is keen to enhance the shopping experience. “We keep our leather products to basic forms, but always working with amazing craftsman from Florence. As with the perfumes, it’s always important to use the finest ingredients or materials,” says Chong. Whether releasing a new perfume or accessory, Amouage espouses both their heritage and the essence of their current vision, ultimately creating a sense of continuity in the brands narrative. “This adds more meaning to the fragrances, making you fall in love with the philosophy of the brand as opposed to just one fragrance,” says Chong.
For Chong, it’s that magical moment when he knows a fragrance is complete that gives him the greatest satisfaction. “It’s that moment that keeps you moving forward. But it’s also the pleasure of meeting customers who wear my creations and appreciate the artistry,” adds Chong. Rather than having a single muse, Chong finds inspiration in everyone he meets. “I believe each person has qualities that are uniquely his or her own. These special qualities I find in others inspire me to see life as a nonstop and ongoing learning process.”
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