Christopher Chong amouage Imitation perfume agencedeparfum launch

Smells like the ’70s | New York stories | Fragrance flashback

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

A pumping new perfume stumbles into the disco dawn

Christopher Chong’s latest exotic perfume for the Oman-based Amouage pays homage to high-voltage 1970s New York — with its celebrities, glamour, energy and artistic daring.

The newbie, Imitation (Woman & Man), evokes a time when nightclubs like Studio 54 were heady playgrounds for grown-ups; when Andy Warhol and his posse had proved that little was truly original and that imitation was an art form in itself.

Amouage Imitation Sydney launch Vintage Luggage Company Christopher Chong perfumer

The Sydney launch, in Double Bay, of Amouage Imitation

The era’s luminaries might not have been there in person at Imitation’s Australian launch at the Vintage Luggage Company in Double Bay (among Louis Vuitton trunks, Limoges porcelain, Lalique vases and Baccarat crystal butterflies) on a coming down kind of mid-winter’s day, but they beamed back from black and white photographs arranged on flower-bedecked tables (look at that fuschia pop!) in the courtyard. Flashback. Bianca Jagger, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Debbie Harry, Jerry Hall, Barbra Streisand, Grace Jones, Liza Minnelli, Brooke Shields. All as shiny as a mirrorball. And Andy Warhol on the hunt for portrait commissions.

So what does hard partying smell like? Start by layering rose, ylang ylang, orange blossom and jasmine over blackcurrant buds and liquorice over incense, sandalwood and patchouli.

And don’t forget the aldehydes: big, full-bodied, organic compounds that inform a perfumer’s olfactory palette.

The aldehydes, fragrance classification expert Michael Edwards reminded the assembly upon introducing Imitation, captured fragrance’s evolutionary spirit.

Flowers Imitation Amouage launch disco celebrities

Imitation pays fragrant homage to 1970s nightclubbing

Aldehydes are the game-changing scientific compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms that bond to evoke flowers, fruit, grass, vanilla, patchouli, cedar … the list is endless. They were part of the science that delivered what are referred to as aldehydic fragrances such as Chanel, Joy, Arpège, Rive Gauche, Chanel 22, and in the 1970s Chanel 19, Mary Quant’s Havoc, Babe by Fabergé, Estée Lauder’s White Linen.

As far as perfumes can be, Imitation is autobiographical. Chong came from Hong Kong as a child to the Lower East Side of NYC, which was then a lot rougher and less preppy and civilised. He was intrigued by the way people managed to stumble out of nightclubs to a creaky dawn and head on off to work.

Indelible images and scents in his young mind were of neon, graffiti, smoke, leather. And the amalgamation of cultures.

Chong’s pathway to perfumery was anything but conventional. A student of literature, language and European thought, with a special interest in opera (he’s a lyric baritone) and Roland Barthes’ science of semiotics as applied to fashion, he was one of those left of field hirings that turns out to be pure gold.

Amouage CEO David Crickmore, in 2006 looking to turn the company into a competitive international luxury brand, was taken by the way Chong saw music and perfume as sharing a language. The way the notes of an aroma reminded him of operatic scores, their nuances like musical notation.

“I have to say that I am inspired more by music, especially classical than the actual ingredients,” Chong has said.

Amouage library perfume middle east christopher chong

Encapsulating the link between perfume and music notes

Amouage’s history of richly evocative perfume dates back to the legendary Amouage Gold, commissioned in 1982 from French perfumer Guy Robert (creator of Chanel 19, Calèche, and Dioressence, among others) who, like Chong, was multi-talented – an author, gourmet chef and, according to his contemporaries, a fine jazz pianist.

The Sultan of Oman asked Guy Robert to create the ultimate perfume, drawing on Middle Eastern ingredients such as agarwood, incense, musk, rose and spices. Money was no object. The result was the 1983 fragrance that Robert regarded as his finest.

Perfume aficionado and reviewer Luca Turin declared it “the richest perfume in existence.” He described the floral powerhouse as “a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other.”

Michael Edwards was in Oman in 2008 for a celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of Amouage Gold, at which the Sultan presented Guy Robert with a magnificent gold jewel-encrusted sword.

Edwards is impressed by the way Chong has taken the creative baton and run with it, directing the formulations of indelible scents like Jubilation, Epic, Opus, Reflection, and – the Excess All Areas go-to – the heady Figment.

Amouage Imitation woman sydney launch agence de parfum

A nod to neon, nightclubs and graffiti

“I like Imitation,” he said, “because it is Christopher’s view of what life was like in New York in the ‘70s. As a young boy he remembers being transferred from school in Hong Kong to school in New York. He remembers going to school in the morning, and all the night revellers stumbling out of the nightclubs. He remembers the neon, the graffiti, the rough characters.”

If Imitation were a song? Most likely Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff: punchy, agile, lingering.

Amouage Woman and Amouage Man are distributed in Australia by Agence de Parfum and is available from Libertine Parfumeries and selected David Jones stores; rrp, $399; stockist inquiries: or (02) 8002 4488

Photos: Susan Skelly & supplied






Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

'Smells like the ’70s | New York stories | Fragrance flashback' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.