They say you shouldn’t bottle up emotions, but they’re not Christopher Chong. “I like fragrances that can stir hatred,” he confesses. When we tell him that quote would make the perfect opener for this story, he laughs in agreement. “Alamak, why not?”
Christopher Chong is the Creative Director of the luxury perfume house Amouage, a brand with a portfolio of luxury scents catered for a niche market. It takes character to pull of an Amouage perfume, like Portrayal for Men and Women, two newly launched scents that have brought Christopher to Malaysia for what he tells us is his sixth time to date.
As we sit down for a nice long chat at the Colonial Cafe in The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Chong points out to a bottle of Portrayal placed on the table before us. “Amouage scents are created from stories. This perfume is about time travel, so I wanted to create a complemetnting sci-fi aesthetic,” he reveals while twirling little bottle around, as it catches the light for a prism-like effect.
Chong’s own narrative began in Hong Kong where he was born, before moving to New York at a young age. His accomplishments extend proudly to include degree in Comparative Literature, having started his own modelling agency, pursuing a Master in Arts, Literature, Languages and European Thought and a number of courses at the London of Fashion, as well as his operatic training as Lyric Baritone.
Still, perfumery was in the cards all along, as Chong recalls his first ever scent created by boiling flower petals. He reflects back on his childhood, owing inspiration behind the Amouage scent, Journey, to Chinese movies on VHS. “My parent’s couldn’t afford babysitting. To be sure that we didn’t sneak out to play on the street, my mum had these movies on tape that she’d make us sit inside and watch. Then she’d call us every couple of hours asking us to describe the story, to see if we really did watch it.”
I don’t like fragrances that everyone else likes. I don’t want my fragrance to represent who I am, I want it to be an extension of my personality. And I want my fragrance to take me to that next level in discovering myself.
The process of perfumery is like seeing a shrink or a therapist. I remember many years ago, an Australian newspaper interviewed me and in it they called me the ‘Sigmund Freud of perfumery’. I loved it! I thought it was so different. It goes back to my days in university when I studied literature, philosophy and cultural studies — psychoanalysis was a big component of that. The human mind is so fascinating to me. I create perfumes with this in mind, taking the wearer and myself on a voyage of self-discovery, uncovering truths about oneself.
I would wear a perfume that isn’t quite my style. By doing that, it makes me work harder to find out why I don’t like it, and to think outside the box. Personally, I don’t like gourmand styles as I find them too sweet. But by wearing it, can it help me find elements of myself that reflect the hatred? It becomes my therapy.
Sometimes, or it could be from fragments of literature or opera, like the scent Honour for Men and Women which was inspired by the son in Madama Butterfly. I wanted to explore the darker side of the opera, so the story with Honour is about the son’s spiritual voyage in finding closure for his mother’s suicide. Her final words before taking her life were, “If I cannot live for love, at least I can die with honour.”
When I worked with the perfumery in France to create this, I said to them, “This is about death”, naturally assuming that they make fragrances to evoke joy. They said back to me, “That’s okay, we’re French.”
I designed Opus VII from the Library collection for myself and wore it for a whole year. People kept giving me positive feedback about it but it was never intended for the market.
“I don’t want my fragrance to represent who I am, I want it to be an extension of my personality. “
I thought it was too kinky.
The theme was ‘bondage’ but not in a sexual way. I asked myself what the sexiest organ in the human body was, and it’s the brain. Then I wondered about the most powerful way to dominate someone. The answer was to capture their mind — that to me was the sexiest form of bondage. The fragrance has notes of orris root, rum and leathers and it’s actually one of our best sellers.
Journey — as I mentioned was inspired by my childhood watching Chinese VHS movies — is a story that takes place in Shanghai, 1940s. That’s my favourite era, by the way. It’s about a young girl arriving in Shanghai with just one suitcase. Back then, Shanghai was known as the ‘Paris of the Far East’. So she starts working at a nightclub, very innocently and even naive as a coat check girl. She gets seduced by the glamour and starts working as a cigarette girl, and then a showgirl after seeing how men lavishly shower the burlesque dancers with jewellery.
The triad boss falls in love with her and she becomes his mistress. One day, there was a gang war and the boss was gunned down. Worry took over the triad but suddenly, there she was walking down the stairs with a cigarette holder in the hand. She had assumed the given role of Shanghai’s new lady boss.
The fragrance is a journey from her innocence with notes of osmanthus, travelling to seduction represented by jasmine, and finally a smokey ending with tobacco.
No, this is my script. I made it up.
Malaysia is hot, it’s spicy; so I would use spicy notes. And it’s country is also a destination of contrasts — we’re sitting here in a colonial mansion amidst all the metallic sky high risers, so it’s a blend of spicy and… what is the national flower of Malaysia?
Okay, I’ll definitely use that flower but I’d turn it into a metallic floral spice to represent modernity. The fragrance would be about how Malaysia maintains its traditional heritage while looking forward into the future.