Initially entering the perfumery world as an unknown, the naturally born artist Christopher Chong marked his triumphant debut in 2007 with ‘Jubilation 25’ for women and ‘Jubilation XXV’ for men with no formal training or experience, and has now become a respected, wildly celebrated craftsman who defies convention and pushes artistic boundaries.
Hailing from Hong Kong via New York and London, his life is a tapestry of cultural exchange. With a degree in Comparative Literature, he’s also an accomplished opera singer. Chong now ‘sings’ various song cycles as the Creative Director of Amouage. As he describes it, “It is bottling art and emotions.”
We had our own ‘cultural exchange’ with him on the occasion of the launch of his latest – ‘Figment’.
The brand’s roots are not too far from here, in Oman, and you frequently express your love for Arabian scents. Yet, Amouage is not an Arabian perfume house. How have you balanced your own passions with the growth of Amouage across a global marketplace?
That’s a very challenging question. I’ve drawn inspiration from my own life – I was brought up amongst so many cultures; I never define myself through my culture. I think that’s why Amouage is so successful, because since becoming creative director ten years ago I’ve made sure that Amouage isn’t defined in a narrow focus. I am who I am because of many different aspects of my life experiences – Amouage reflects these. I think most of our customers are the same, so Amouage speaks to them. They can find a fragment of themselves within what we do.
How would you characterize Amouage’s fragrance collection today?
We use three words – artistry, creativity and integrity. This will never change. By maintaining these elements, we’re creating rich, opulent perfumes.
Perfumes are as much a part of the fashion cycle as are skirt lengths. What are the current trends you see the sector following?
I go to trend forecasting and I work closely with manufacturers where they share with me their new discoveries within raw ingredients. While I listen and learn with interest, I don’t necessarily follow – I do my own thing. This is Amouage. Everything I do depends on a feeling and what I want Amouage to be doing in a year or two year’s time. But you asked about trends, and I can tell you for the next two years it is green scents, watermelon scents. This is something I will never do at Amouage. It’s part of the integrity of the brand – we create our own trend.
You’re operatically trained, and we understand you have quite a voice. Do you feel there are complementary elements of art and emotion shared between opera and your life with Amouage?
Opera gave me the discipline. It’s something you must work on every day in the same way an athlete must work on himself every day. Opera gave me a very strong work ethic. And then memorising music helped me when I moved on to memorising scents. Both are very difficult – but the way you train yourself for one is the same as the way you train yourself for the other. The artistic elements of opera and perfumes are very interesting. Opera is monotonous – it’s the same music throughout – but the magic comes from our interpretation of it. It’s the same with perfumes – we’re using the same ingredients, but perfume’s magic comes from how I interpret them and create something unique, special, desirable.
What’s the inspiration behind your latest line – ‘Figment’?
I’m trying to capture a feeling, a moment. Rather than creating a type, I’m creating a moment. This year’s theme is ‘Life is Beautiful’. I find life’s experiences invariably don’t match up to the expectation – so I’m focussing on the imagination. One question I’m often asked is which countries I’ve most enjoyed. I reply that, usually, I enjoyed the anticipation – the imagination – of them more than the reality. One country I’m excited by is Bhutan – but I’ve never been, and I’m too afraid to go for fear of the reality ruining the way I feel about it. So, with ‘Figment’ I’ve captured my feelings of Bhutan, and its mountain air, the rocks and its happiness in the perfume. My imagination – my interpretation. My world.
You have standalone stores in key global cities. You are present in all the world’s leading department stores. Given this coverage, your wholesale distribution adds further to your network. How fine is the balance between exclusivity and becoming commonplace? Do you feel there are areas of the world you’ve yet to comfortably expand in to?
We are still very selective of stores and cities we go in to. We think the next big area for us is Africa. We have a growing number of African clients who insist on visiting us when they’re in London for example.
Where will your imagination lead you next?
For ten years, I haven’t had a break. I’ve been living and working constantly within my imagination. But what’s happened, what we’ve created, it’s real – it happened. It’s been the most amazing experience – really beyond my imagination. I’m still learning, and I still want to experience the same within and beyond whatever I can think of.
FIGMENT BY AMOUAGE
An extraordinary and beguiling perfume, Figment is the highly anticipated third chapter of ‘Portraits of Life’, an exuberant exploration of the second cycle of the Amouage narrative by Creative Director Christopher Chong. An expression of elusive beauty inspired by Chong’s enduring fascination with Bhutan, the Land of Happiness, this scented work of art sublimely sings the ethereal wonder that cloaks the kingdom in his dreams.