Why fragrances by Oman’s Amouage are among the most valuable in the world
It is telling that when Renaud Salmon, who has spent 15 years working in the perfume industry in Geneva, Milan, London, Paris and New York, for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Delvaux, was approached by Omani fragrance house Amouage to take on the role of chief experience officer, he jumped at the opportunity.
He left New York, where he was vice president of Marc Jacobs fragrances, and moved to Muscat, where he is now responsible for product development at Amouage, as well as everything else “you can see, touch and smell as a client”.
Such is the allure of Amouage.
“As a perfume lover, I was very aware that Amouage was one of the best fragrance houses out there,” Salmon tells The National. “When the family and chief executive approached me, basically I said: ‘If you have the ambition to create something amazing, then I’d love to join.’ In the end, what convinced me was, first, the past and history, but then also the vision and ambition. And I think that’s what we are seeing happening today – the ambition that was shared with me more than two years ago is actually materialising.”
Renaud Salmon, Amouage’s chief experience officer. Courtesy Amouage
Amouage this week announced plans to establish a subsidiary in the US, with a head office in New York. This is the latest step in a global expansion strategy that also led to the opening of offices in Dubai earlier this year. But in spite of its outward-looking approach and international aspirations, the house remains steadfastly committed to its Omani heritage.
The brand was launched in 1983, as “the gift of kings”. Amouage’s founder, Sayyid Hamad Al Busaidi, approached Sultan Qaboos with a proposition: he would create a product that would introduce Oman’s fragrance heritage to the world, something that would be worthy of being gifted to the sultan’s high-profile guests.
It would contain ingredients native to Oman, from rock rose sourced in the Al Hajar Mountains, to the finest frankincense from Dhofar, and the precious ambergris that washes up on the country’s shores. “I find this to be a beautiful idea – giving a piece of Oman to people,” says Salmon.
Amouage’s Boundless fragrance. Courtesy Amouage
While he remains tight-lipped about exactly which dignitaries have received scents over the years, Salmon does point to Oman’s important role as a mediator in regional and international politics over the past four decades – and suggests “lots of important people in this world have received Amouage perfumes”.
The Belgian national also recounts meeting his own king and queen for the first time at the Amouage headquarters in Muscat. “When his majesty Sultan Qaboos passed away, lots of important people visited Muscat and I was personally able to welcome some of them at the factory. The first time I met my king was at the Amouage factory.”
Beyond this storied history, the value of Amouage’s aromas lies in a continued commitment to those world-class ingredients first proposed by the house’s founder all those years ago. While rock rose, ambergris and frankincense do not appear in every Amouage creation, they form the foundation of the house’s scent palette.
Ambergris, or whale vomit, is a potent natural fixative that contributes to the long-lasting profile of Amouage’s perfumes; rock rose offers intricate floral notes; and frankincense provides complexity and uniqueness.
Omani frankincense is one of the core ingredients of Amouage perfumes. Courtesy Amouage
“Oman is known to have the best quality of frankincense, Boswellia sacra, and within that you have several grades and the best grade, Royal Green Hojari, represents probably 5 per cent of production and grows in a very specific area in the south of Oman,” Salmon explains.
“It’s very pure and it has a very specific scent. Lots of people know the name frankincense or incense and so on, but there is confusion around what it actually smells like, because it is used in churches and other places where it is burnt. But that doesn’t mean it smells like smoke.
“It actually has an olfactory profile that is very diverse. It goes from lemony to woody and it covers a lot of aspects. It adds a lot of depth and complexity to a fragrance and that’s what creates the uniqueness of Amouage fragrances. They are very refined, lyrical fragrances with a lot of complexity.”
The other thing that makes Amouage so unique is the concentration at which these ingredients are used. “We tend to overuse natural ingredients at a very high dosage,” Salmon says. Its eau de parfums contain 20 to 30 per cent fragrance oils and its extraits contain between 35 and 40 per cent, dosages that are consistently above the industry average.
Behind the scenes at the Amouage factory. Courtesy Amouage
Time is another element that sets Amouage apart, and its importance in the perfume production process is something that Salmon has only really come to appreciate since joining the Omani house. “I really discovered for the first time, after working for 15 years in the industry, how important time is. Particularly because I think it’s in the mentality of people in Oman. And time is the ultimate luxury.”
Amouage takes its time at each of the nine stages in the perfume creation process. “So you harvest the trees at the right time, you don’t rush,” Salmon explains. “The frankincense tree takes 15 years to produce its first optimal harvest. If you harvest after seven years, it’s too early. You take your time to harvest, to extract, to blend.
“The ageing of the fragrance is also something we do very well at Amouage. And it is something that is not really done elsewhere in the industry, because people want to rush and also because many fragrances these days contain a lot of synthetics, which don’t age.
“With naturals, it is important to age them at two stages – what you call the maturation and the maceration stages. We do three to six weeks for each step. So in total that’s three months between the time we mix things and we put them in a boutique.”
The Amouage factory in Muscat, Oman. Courtesy Amouage
Added to this, Amouage has worked with a veritable who’s who of noses since its launch, counting industry stars such as Guy Robert, Jean-Claude Ellena, Annick Menardo, Bruno Jovanovic, Emilie Coppermann and Cecile Zarokian among its collaborators.
“If you think about it, it’s quite crazy. Amouage is a house from Oman – and if you look at the perfumers that have created for Amouage, it is the cream of the perfume world. And the reason those perfumers accept to create for Amouage is because we tell them they have carte blanche. They can use the full palette of ingredients. On top of that, the creative direction of the house is about doing something exceptional and different, and they love that.”
Retailing for between $225 and $495, Amouage’s scents are not the most expensive in the world, but their value lies in their quality, creativity and uniqueness. And they will have an important role to play in the post-pandemic luxury landscape, says Salmon.
“When people start travelling again and craving those luxury experiences again, there will be this notion of meaningful luxury. Yes, it is going to be about indulging in luxury experiences again, but ones with meaning.
“Oman is this perfect mix of nature, tradition and vision for the future, and this translates into Amouage’s creations.”
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