January 30, 2011
I have read at least four interviews with Christopher Chong, (whose name has become synonymous with Amouage) in as many years. Most of the interviews I read seemed rather redundant, (which considering the low Western profile of Amouage's owner, the Royal Family of Oman, is understandable). If you are reading this, you might think Amouage is just a perfume company. Perhaps, you will be surprised to learn that in the Middle East, Amouage is a status brand and is known for its extensive line of luxury products as well. You might,like I did, draw a correlation between Christopher Chong to Tom Ford (I never interviewed Mr. Ford but I believe he is as hands with his eponymous brand as Christopher Chong is with Amouage).
Perhaps there aren't any earth shattering revelations here, as some of my questions were not answered by Christopher (due to confidentiality reasons associated with his position). Yet there is much I am delighted with that which illustrates a more personal side of his life. Christopher and I have one thing in common besides a love of fine fragrance; we were both born in the Chinese “Year of the Rooster”. Rooster people are very observant, most of the time they are very accurate and precise with their observations. Roosters have a very keen "sixth-sense. And we dress well!
1983, Gold, 1988 Gold Cristal (discontinued), 1989 Hand Polished Crystal (discontinued), 1993, Gold Cologne (discontinued),1996 Silver Cristal (discontinued), 1997 Salalah (discontinued), 1998 Silver Cologne, 2001 Dia, 2003 Ciel, Eau d'Amouage (discontinued), 2004 Esprit d'Amouage (discontinued), 2005 Arcus (discontinued), 2006 Cirrus (discontinued), 2007 Reflection (This is when Christopher Chong joined Amouage;he named and created the marketing campaign for Reflection)
Christopher Chong’s collaborations: Jubilation 2007, Lyric, Homage (attar), Ubar (reworked) 2008, Epic,Tribute (attar) 2009, The Library Collection (Opus I to IV), Memoir 2010 and The Library Collection – Opus V 2011
Welcome, Christopher. Please tell us where you were born, allow us a glimpse into your personal life
CC: My career is best described as unconventional, more like a quilt with various diverse pieces sewn together in unexpected ways. I was brought up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan as an immigrant from Hong Kong.
After I completed by degree at New York, I moved to London to start my post-graduate studies at the University of London. During that period, I began my multi-disciplined transition by undertaking a number of courses at London College of Fashion and also began my training as an operatic Lyric Baritone.
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky, Composition #7
Why did you pursue a perfumed path?
CC: I could not fulfill my responsibilities at Amouage without my checkered past, especially music. For me, perfume is about articulating the different colors of emotions and personal history. It is all about the present reconciling with the past. Perfumes are more than beautiful scents. It is a philosophy defining who we are and how we want to represent ourselves. I sang the notes in the past. Now, I tell stories with fragrances.
You’re most vivid childhood memory of Hong Kong?
CC: Street markets
British Singer Beth Ditto
Three words on London
CC: Wit, quirkiness and eccentricity
There are very few Asians in “fragrance”, how did you break in to an industry that is mostly white, male and French?
CC: I believe that tradition is changing, especially with the young generation of perfumers. I have started to collaborate with perfumers who are not white, male and some are not even French. The industry has to change its tradition in order to make progress. It’s all about inter-cultural exchanges and understanding these days. Most perfume manufacturers have set up offices in China. I believe very soon we will see a new breed of perfumers and perfume executives coming from China.
Jason Wu, Vera Wang, Philip Lim
It’s the same with fashion. When I was living in New York, it is very difficult for a Chinese-American to start his own label. Look at what’s happening now in the New York fashion scene. The New York Times has anointed the new fashion generation as “the Asian mafia”.
I have never planned to enter the perfume industry and I didn’t even know that such jobs existed. It happened by chance that I was talking to the CEO of Amouage four years ago about operatic music and he was interested in hiring someone from an unconventional background. He felt it would be interesting and good for Amouage to hire a creative director who was not restricted with traditional perfume training and experience.
When did you begin your role as Creative Director of Amouage?
CC: I started about four years ago with Reflection, which was our transitional period to the rebranded image that we have today. Perfumes I have collaborated and directed include Jubilation, Lyric, Epic, Memoir, Homage, Tribute, re-worked Ubar, The Library Collection plus nine different fragrances for our Home Collection.
CC: It means waves of emotions from the Arab word amwaj.
CC: I want a collection that gives me the freedom to explore. With the main collection, there is a signature Amouage accord. In the 'Library', I want it to be a collection that is inspired by the art of living with the freedom to develop and to challenge knowledge.
There are many that create a cult following around ‘les nez’. In my interview with Maurice Roucel, he was very passionate about the involvement and quality of the brief and the role the creative director must play. Your thoughts?
CC: Let’s hope that it is not just a cult and it is here to stay. Perfumers have been sidelined for many years for their work. It has been so boring to see the supermodels as the brand ambassadors for so many fragrances. I love with what’s happening now. It’s about time we see intelligence and the creators behind the fragrances.
The creative director is a role that has not been widely recognized and understood by the public. He/She is the one who starts and manages the process of a new fragrance from beginning to the final product on the shelf. He/she comes up with the design of the fragrance, selects the perfumers, works with the perfumers on selection of ingredients and composing accords, and tells the perfumers that he/she wants it to smell like this. In addition, the creative director designs and manages the promotion campaign, and all aspects of the bottle and packaging. I can go on forever listing the responsibilities of the creative director. Some, like me, even take on an executive role of heading Public Relations, Marketing and being the brand’s spokesperson.
CC: I think the best way to answer this question is to clarify how we select perfumers. We never select a perfumer based on his/her prestige or name. It is all based on how the first submissions match the brief. This initial step is done without knowing who the perfumers are. I am not influenced by a well-known name. Apprentice or Master, it makes no difference.
I recently spoke with a 'passionate perfumista' friend who was comparing Jubilation XXV for Women to Aedes for Aedes because it was created by M. Duchaufour. Is there a correlation?
CC: I can’t judge because I haven’t smelled the Aedes for Aedes. I do my best not to smell other fragrances because I don’t want to be influenced. One explanation is that everyone uses similar ingredients and accords. If it’s coming from the same perfumer your friend could smell M. Duchaufour’s signature accord which is apparent in all his work and makes him stand apart.
What is the ‘signature’ of Amouage that evokes the brand, no matter who the nose is?
CC: The signature is rich and elegant incense and woody accord with the best available IFRA approved natural ingredients.
Kindle or paperbook?
CC: Neither. IBook on Ipad.
Last song you downloaded?
CC: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra
CC: One of my all-time favorite artists who combined athleticism with artistry and took it to whole new level is Michelle Kwan. I admire her artistry, mental power, integrity and intelligence
Coffee or tea?
CC: Both. I drink a lot of coffee when working with formulations. It is always green tea when I am doing interviews with the media.
What is your creative process; let’s use Memoir Woman and Memoir Man as examples…
CC: My creative process is very personal. It begins with a feeling and then this feeling is elaborated into a story. I am inspired by everything around me. Finally, I articulate this feeling and story with examples of music or films in order to evoke the moods. With all my creations, it is a tale of travel. This could be a geographical travel or an emotional one. In Memoir, I drew inspiration from my academic background in which I have spent many years studying literature, cultural thoughts, psychoanalysis and philosophy. With all my work, I impart an aspect of myself into the fragrances as my way of breathing life into them.
Which fragrance from Amouage was the most challenging to bring to market and why?
CC: Memoir Woman was the most challenging because I wanted to develop a fragrance that a man would want to wear. The process started with creating a man’s and a woman’s and then combining the two.There were too many tensions in balancing the accords. This is where I thrive to beautify the flaws, rather than to eradicate or to hide them.
If you can choose just one aspect of the Middle Eastern culture that fascinates you personally what is it?
CC: They make me feel very welcome, especially the Middle East media.
Favorite vacation spot?
CC: I wish I have the time to think about that. I haven’t been on vacation since I “married” Amouage. My dream is to explore Japan – the entire country.
What defines a great fragrance?
CC: It has to be wearable. There’s no point to have a fragrance that is so ground breaking and artistic that it alienates the customers. Also, a great fragrance should be able to relate to the wearer with a story
Have you ever attempted to create a perfume and if so, what was the result?
CC: Well, I have done so since Jubilation. I hope my contributions of setting up the moods/stories, selecting ingredients and re-working the balance and formulation would consider me as co-creator. Just as in fashion, who is the real creator – the creative director, pattern maker, draper, or head seamstress? It is a collaboration and team work. I don’t give myself credit for it because perfume creation is just one aspect of my job. I also oversee all subsidiary collections – home fragrances, bath and body products, and small leather goods.
Which Chinese sign are you?
Me too… I am a Fire Rooster and you?
CC: Well you told me an Earth Rooster, and the description you gave me was pretty much spot on
When you are in NYC next where we shall dine?
CC: I heard The Lion is wonderful or having a hotdog at the steps of the Metropolitan Museum.
A hot dog is fine. But first I would love to see Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand Exhibition which is concluding April 10, 2011. In closing, what is next for Amouage?
CC: We are thinking of a standalone store in New York City one day. And Opus V!!!
Editor's Note: February 3, 2011 is Chinese New Year and the 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit. According to the astrologers, in 2011 Earth roosters like Christopher will be the luckiest in professional field, full of enthusiasm, energy and transform the most ambitious projects into reality.
– Michelyn Camen, Editor-In Chief
Please enter a comment about something new you learnd about Christopher Chong, the Amouage perfume you own and love (under Christopher's collaboration) and/ or your own Chinese Zodiac sign. Three winners will be eligible for the Opus Discovery Kit I-IV (#V is not available until Spring). Draw ends February 4, 2011. Draw sponsored by www.amouage.com
Extra credit if anyone knows which 'art/s' inspired by title..