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You Can’t Put a Ring on It. Amouage Memoir Woman...
This week I’ve been sampling Memoir Woman while contemplating Hisham Matar’s new novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, and the two make for interesting bedfellows. Both are as nebulous as stratus clouds—both have an air of mysterious, unfinished business about them—and both linger on my mind rather powerfully for reasons I’ll get to by the end of this review.
When I first wore my sample of Memoir Woman, I was somewhat dumbfounded; from an email exchange I had with another perfumista back in December, I had the impression that this was a leather-and-incense perfume. In my experience, leather and incense tend to be declarative—even if they do not announce themselves up front, it usually doesn’t take long for them to make their presence known—but waiting for this combo to surface in Memoir Woman is like waiting for Godot. My first hit of this perfume was a hazy, masculine-leaning, green-spicy weirdness I couldn’t identify, except to say I thought I smelled cardamom and cinnamon in its midst. Somewhere around twenty minutes into its wear, I finally detected a bit of ylang-ylang or tuberose (or likely both), but overall this fragrance wasn’t giving up its secrets. Rather directly, I went to the LuckyScent website for a notes listing, which I’ll include below, but what I read in the site’s description of this perfume intrigued me even more. According to the blurb, Amouage’s creative director, Christopher Chong, conceived the two Memoir fragrances (there is also a Memoir Man, which I haven’t sampled) as “a new interpretation of the ‘space’ between man and woman, one that is almost impossible to resist.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am always impressed when a creative concept has been successfully executed. Even without the dialogue that Memoir Woman apparently holds with its companion scent (the men’s version), this perfume does indeed achieve a feeling of “space” that speaks of the personal and is deeply compelling. In other words, the hazy, green weirdness of Memoir Woman does not evoke the green space of the great outdoors, nor does it suggest the kind of neatly-defined interior space—an absinthe bar in France, for instance—one might imagine by reading its list of notes. (Absinthe, cardamom, mandarin orange, pink pepper, wormwood, clove, incense, pepper, jasmine, rose, white flowers, musk, French labdanum, oak moss, styrax and leather.) The green notes of Memoir Woman are not sharp greens, medicinal greens, or even liqueur-like greens, though the latter probably comes the closest in describing them. They are murky, warm and human-smelling without being dirty in any way; they have a gentle barbershop feel to them for a couple minutes, when the perfume is first applied, but rather quickly they segue into a smell I can’t relate to anything else I’ve ever sniffed in the natural or material world. The spices are the most pronounced component of this fragrance, and yet are fuzzy enough that the clove in it reminded me more of the softer scent of cinnamon; taken altogether, the spice notes create a sense of intimacy within Memoir Woman. Incense and leather, on the other hand, are muted aspects. Sometimes I think I am able to discern them, but they are so well-integrated into the overall composition that, at most, they provide a light smokiness and a touch of something human to this perfume.
But if spices are this perfume’s most pronounced element, the soft-focus effects of oak moss and musk are the most defining, precisely (and ironically) because they lend a shroud of diffuseness that makes this fragrance so indescribably mysterious. To my mind, they are what account for its amorphous quality and the sense of space you can’t quite put your finger on because, married as it is to the odd green-spicy fuzziness I just described, it seems to have no parameters by which it can be defined.
Which brings me to the book I mentioned at the start of this review. Anatomy of a Disappearance is a novel that feels much like its subject matter—sketchy and unresolved—but which, like Memoir Woman, is all the more powerful for what it doesn’t say, and which reminds me of the latter for various reasons. The heart of the story speaks of the troubled (or maybe I should say reticent) relationship that often exists between fathers and sons. Specifically, the story follows Nuri, a fourteen-year-old boy who has been living in exile with his parents in Cairo, Egypt, and whose life loses its bearings when the death of his mother is followed by the mysterious abduction of his father, a wealthy Arab dissident whose political ties to his homeland have cast a shadow over this family. What casts an even bigger shadow, however, are the relationships Nuri’s father has had with various women in his life—and interestingly, the way the reader comes to know both son and father is through their respective bondings to these women. Particularly to the beautiful young Mona, whom Nuri discovers and falls in love with first, when father and son, now living on their own, are on vacation at a seaside hotel in Alexandria. Mona winds up becoming Nuri’s stepmother and (because Nuri feels a certain claim to her) a bone of contention between the two men—or at least in Nuri’s eye, maybe not his father’s: By the end of the novel another woman will emerge who will provide another vantage point from which to view the relationships between its three main characters. Without giving the story away, the novel at this point takes a turn that would strike me as unconvincing were it not for this one line, spoken by a minor character in the book: “Something occurs between a man and a woman that no one can access.…A secret that even they might never know.”
I’ve observed enough relationships to realize just how true this statement is. The space between a man and a woman is something you can’t know or access or fully understand, no matter how close your own relationship to these two people is. Yet, even if you can’t draw parameters around it or get inside to ferret out its truths, you feel this space: it’s every bit as palpable as it is mysterious.
I can’t say whether this is what Christopher Chong had in mind when he came up with his idea for the Memoir fragrances, but the scent of Memoir Woman resonates with me for this reason. And while it’s not the first fragrance I would purchase from the newest additions to the Amouage line, damn if it’s not proof as to why this perfume house continues to impress me.
Amouage Memoir Woman eau de parfum was composed by perfumers Daniel Maurel and Dorothée Piot and can be purchased at ParfumsRaffy.com, LuckyScent.com and Aedes.com; 50 ml (1.7 oz) for $250.
Photo (top of page) is a stock photo from Getty Images taken by photographer Pete Pacifica.
Book photo is from Wikipedia.com and bottle image is from LuckyScent.com.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 2/18/2012.
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