A Light for the Dark

– a review of the Amouage Epic Woman candle

Everyone past a certain age knows that love – the kind of love that changes you forever, the kind of love you never expected – will some day creep in on stealthy feet when you least expect it. Some day, maybe a rainy day, you will look up, your heart will stop for five breathless beats and …wham! Pow! You have been hit by that coup de foudre, that punch that knocks you sideways and never leaves.

Perfume, too, is no exception. In a year full of revelations, I’ve stuck my nose in marvels I never knew existed, been taken on journeys I could never have imagined. Opportunities have opened up for me, connections have been made and friendships distilled in the virtual alembics and fertile crosswires of perfumes and phrases.

It all began that night I decided to invest in a few samples of all those wonders I was tired of reading about, because really, nothing could be so wonderful, so fabulous, so much the epitome of everything that makes me literally incensed enough about perfume to write about it and share that passion.

I have never been so thrilled to be proven so wrong in my entire life.

In that sample pack were two Amouages. I had read about them, read about that maximalist sensibility, the very best of absolutely everything, the all-out opulent swoonability of them all, and the time had come to see if one post-punk attitude problem had grown too old and too jaded to swoon.

No.

What happened was no less than astonishing. Ubar was first since I had a hunch about it, a hunch that it might be perfect for me. Except that instead of writing a straight-up review, I wrote a story of a courtesan and a conjuror perfumer in ancient Alexandria, the captured essence of a life told in a perfume, and I don’t know where that came from, either.

Next I knew, it happened again. Only this time, it was Epic Woman. And it was…an epic story of an immortal rose that traveled from East to West and from Samarkand to a hidden, secret valley in Oman, where it blooms to this day, exhaling all its storied past if only you are lucky enough to find it.

Since then, my Amouage reviews have been told as stories, not because I want to write them out that way, but because they want to be written out in narrative form no matter what I do. I suspect it’s meant as a compliment, but it’s a hard way to write.

Epic I did love, and I did wear, although at times, it seemed to wear me. Glorious stuff, but maybe I just wasn’t…Epic enough? Too mundane, too ordinary, too short, too…blonde?

Other marvels, other wonders wandered in and out of my cabinet and into my treasure boxes, and sometimes I wrote them as stories and sometimes I didn’t.

One day, I frightened several small children at my local post office when I came to collect a package I only knew came from London. This was before I saw the box. The second before I screamed.

It contained a candle and a note and the scent inside that emerald green glass was…Epic Woman. I’ve kept it on my desk, which is where I write and sometimes on my nightstand when I want to feel decadent. As I would write, even when it wasn’t lit, I would catch a trail of something so haunting, so beautiful, it would remind me why I love what I do, even as I tear out my hair trying to get my words to fit the page.

It would burn when I wrote, and many things I’ve written since have been accompanied by that emerald glow and the scent of Epic Woman, and somehow, it crept all the way into my synapses and all the way into what I need and aspire to be. In this year of reinvention, when I’ve started over on so many levels and in so many ways, that trail of fiery spice and burning flower and glowing incense and oud was the New, Improved, Intrepid edition, the trail of that woman who banishes the ghosts and conjures genies and transforms them into possibilities and hopes in a half-darkened room, lit only by a desk lamp and an emerald green glow.

The scent is thicker than the perfume, with more of the glorious, opulent base, but it’s perfectly true to the scent. I think my wick had a bad hair day the day the wax was poured. It flickers, despite being kept trimmed and draft-free, stationary and carefully burned in the ‘Fame and Reputation’ section of my Feng Shui-ed desk. The only mishap was when a moth somehow landed in the unlit candle. Hairy Krishna was all over it in an instant. He scratched the glass but he caught the moth.

My living room no longer smells like little boy and the orange pomanders I make with ribbon, cloves and oranges. Now, I breathe as I type…the possibilities I create, the hopes I now have, the connections that I treasure and the many inspirations that find me.

I’ve been a woman for quite some time, have become rather good at it, even. In a momentous year, I have become intrepid, audacious, daring.

Thanks to a flickering, emerald, hyperfragrant glow, on this darkest night of the year, I look up and I discover…that I’ve become Epic, too.

The Epic Woman candle is available from First in Fragrance and the Amouage website.

Disclosure: The candle was sent by Amouage for my consideration.

Epic Woman and Epic Man were created in 2009 by perfumer Daniel Maurel and Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Image of Winter Solstice sunrise: Paleocave

Image of candle: Amouage.

Becoming Violetta


a tale – and a review – of Amouage ‘Lyric Woman’.

When ordinary mortals contracted laryngitis in the rainy month of November, it was an everyday occurrence. When the reigning diva at Covent Garden contracted laryngitis four days before the premiere of the season’s much anticipated ‘La Traviata’, it was an unmitigated disaster. La Diva would be indisposed for a month. The demanding role of Violetta was quite out of the question.

So the director had no choice but to call in her understudy, a decision that did not make him happy as he looked at this young woman with her wild hair and her wilder eyes. Like her, he was young, brash, arrogant as all directors must be, imported at great expense from Vienna, where his extravagant production had received rave reviews.

There were rumors of this young woman with her crystalline soprano voice, a voice fully up to the challenge of Violetta. Rumor had it she sang in a metal band in her spare time, songs vastly different from the peerless flight of Verdi’s score. Her voice wasn’t the problem. Her looks – unorthodox though they were – could be amended with makeup, wigs, all the paraphernalia of theatrical illusion.

No – the problem was her attitude. She was the understudy, she knew every inflection, every note, every aspect of Violetta the Paris courtesan. What she didn’t know or couldn’t feel was Violetta’s fire, her ardor, that mad passion that fuelled her love for Alfredo and led her to denounce him, even as she knew her own death breathed its own cold fire down her neck. She needed to become the instrument, she needed to breathe, to feel, to be…Violetta.

Alfredo, a dishy Italian fresh off a sell-out smash at La Scala, was also at his wits’ end. The premiere was tomorrow, the world would be watching, and this young thing could not feel Violetta, could not color her breathtaking voice with her pain, her gaiety and lust for life.

“Very well,” sighed the director, “Once more…from
‘So take what the moment of pleasure will grant for there’s nothing, nothing but this…’
he beckoned to the pianist in the rehearsal hall, and again, from the top, Flora, Gaston, the Baron, Violetta and the entire chorus began to sing.

He would be slaughtered by the press in two days. He could taste it. Triumph in Vienna, disaster in London. If something were not done, he’d be doomed to amateur productions in Stoke-On-Trent. Or Linz.

“Signore…” Alfredo’s silky tenor stopped him on his way to lunch. “An idea…I have it. This young girl…she is too young, too green to know such things. She needs – an education, prestissimo. I think I know how…” Alfredo whispered his suggestion in the director’s ear.

He would not have even dared to think of such a thing. It would be costly, of course. It would also be a small, trifling price to pay to avoid Stoke-On-Trent or even Linz, and certain disaster.

Late the next afternoon, having stretched her vocal chords far beyond anything she could have guessed they could stand, the young soprano eyed her bare face in her makeup mirror. In the corner on a mannequin hung a breathtaking silk dress in a mouthwatering shade of burgundy, as rich and deep as a perfect Romanée Conti, waiting for its chance to glow onstage.

Violetta eluded her, just as she always had. She herself didn’t have that experience, that worldliness, that knowledge in her blood, the knowledge it took to wear a dress like that red dress, the wisdom of a nineteenth century Paris courtesan, who only loved to please and who lived for pleasures. This was a different time, this was a very different world. How could she know? Every note she knew, every nuance, every quavering breath, but Violetta herself she would never know, never feel, never be, and this was her moment, this was her time, this was her one chance to grab the world’s attention and show her brand of magic. She would fail, she could feel it in her bones.

La Diva could rest secure in her sickbed at the Savoy and know the unknown understudy had not supplanted her from her throne.

There was a knock on the door, and her dresser opened the door to a delivery boy from Harrods, who handed over a small package.

“For you, Ma’am. It didn’t come with a card, so far as I could see.”

One small, exquisitely gift-wrapped box. Inside, a bottle of perfume, as dark-red and beautiful as the silk dress on the mannequin, heavy and somehow ominous in her hand. It glowed in the lights from the makeup mirror like a secret, ruby treasure waiting to be discovered.

Like herself, she realized with a start. She opened the bottle. A rose, a rose of infinite darkness and limitless ethereal light and spice, she thought, and then she breathed deeper, as if she were about to touch that elusive F6 note hovering just above her range, just out of reach, and then, all the secrets of a Paris courtesan of two centuries ago flew from that dark red bottle and into the room, the secrets of spice and wit, of dark and light, the sweetness of true love and all of one life’s ephemeral pleasures filled the dressing room, filled her lungs, her heart, her very soul, and the ghost of Violetta was there beside her, playing hide and seek in the burgundy folds of an opulent silk dress. “I am here,” that ghost seemed to breathe, “and while I am, I shall help you to become what I was, what I should be, what so few have ever understood about such a woman as I.”

She had never known that perfume could be so evocative, that a scent could whisper such a story of both sacred and profane, of sacrifice and joy. This was the secret that eluded her these past four days of frantic rehearsal, this was her Violetta, her moment, her time.

When she arrived at the party, her hair in snaky, luminous curls and her shoulders gleaming pearls in the dress, she hit those notes with a crystal-pure tone so flawless, so happy, so utterly the soul of Violetta that the orchestra nearly stopped playing. The audience was astonished to hear it, the director flabbergasted to see such a transformation in such a short time, the chorus on the stage transfixed by the sound. This was not that quirky, gawky girl of a few hours before. This was Violetta in all her glory, singing

Flora, you darling! My friends, what a pleasure!’

As Alfredo stood waiting in the wings to enter, he turned to the director and sotto voce, he whispered: “A change, no? You are young and Austrian, you would not understand. A woman can do only so much to convince herself. For the rest, she needs a perfume.”

This was her moment, this was her time. And ever after, she never went on stage without it.

Notes for Amouage Lyric Woman: Bergamot, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger, Rose, Angelica, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Orris, Oakmoss, Musk, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Frankincense.

Photo: Man Ray, Kiki de Montparnasse as ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ (1924)

All thanks to Olfactoria, who gave me the opportunity.