Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel and Fendi. Alexander Wang of Balenciaga. Olivier Rousteing of Balmain.
Like fashion royalty, creative directors in the clothing realm elicit instant recognition and seemingly immediate adoration.
But in the perfumery world, this position is only beginning to be understood – not a nose, and not a marketer, the fragrance sphere’s creative directors do a similar job to their fashion counterparts but somehow manage to go under the radar.
This is changing in the case of Christopher Chong, creative director of Omani luxury perfumery Amouage, a quietly iconic presence at an international brand that has maintained its position as a scent superstar.
In the early ‘80s, Amouage began as a way to preserve Omani culture, heavily steeped in perfumery, founded by the Sultan of Oman. The name, a fitting medley of the French word for love and an Arabic word that means “waves”, came to define the Middle Eastern scent. Amouage perfumer Guy Robert’s first perfume for the brand, Amouage Gold, was a powerful and modern statement.
It’s been more than three decades and three dozen fragrances since the first perfume. The brand has become a status symbol amongst those in the know. When Chong joined in 2007, he helped the brand go international and remained current with the times. He electrified the perfume house, updating the flaçons and creating innovative scent concepts.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in New York, later moving to London, Chong has an unconventional and thoroughly modern background. His education was steeped in literature and cultural studies; he even explored singing opera as a lyric baritone. The ease with which he references, for instance, Chinese influences, belie a mind fascinated by cultures.
As creative director, he is the captain of the brand’s creative barque. Products are rumoured to take as long as two years from conception to execution, one wonders how the brand keeps things under wraps. Chong explains, “We don’t really have to take many precautions because it’s very hard to imitate Amouage even if others want to,” he says simply. “We use very expensive and exclusive ingredients and spend a lot on the packaging. Most brands don’t want to spend so much on developments. I guess this is the best way to protect an Amouage fragrance. Lastly, it’s the complexities in the scent itself that’s impossible for most to imitate.”
Filling us in on his latest scent for Amouage, Sunshine for Woman, Chong opts for a simple explanation. “It celebrates happiness and good energy,” he says. This is typical of his description of scents – having taken a whiff of the newest creation, his description was right on the nose.
It’s safe to say that, while Amouage is not reticent about its Middle Eastern roots, it has also grown bigger than its founding location, its influence reaching beyond its borders. Chong says the move from an Oman-based image to an international brand, which was executed mainly over the past decade or so, was in fact not difficult. Luxury, it seems, is an easy bridge transcending language and political borders. “It’s as difficult as any brand originating from France, USA or Australia,” he says.
“The brand can overcome any difficulties such as stereotyping and discrimination if it has integrity.”