Years ago, I worked part time at a wine store on the Lower East Side, which I quickly learned was a great place to make a little extra spending money when you have a drinking problem. I also learned that a good bottle of wine should put you back about $20, and if you’re spending a whole lot more, you’re probably not going to notice a significant difference. I had a taste for malt liquor in those days, and since a $20 bottle of wine would surely go down just the same as a $50 bottle or a $2 forty of Olde English (so, y’know, quickly), I figured he was onto something.
These days, it’s been years since I’ve thought about selecting a bottle of wine for anything more than making a good Beef Bourguignon, but I’ve come to apply this lesson to my fragrance purchases. There are obviously exceptions to the rule (certain niche houses, hard-to-find vintage fragrances, and the best of Chanel’s output are a few that come to mind), but I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to spend north of $100 for a good, thoroughly wearable bottle of perfume, and that if you’re shopping smartly, you can find quality for less than $50 per bottle.
Seeing then as the Amouage fragrances sit at a price point that—”Everything Must Go!” estate sales aside—I find price prohibitive, I’ve only tried a couple of their fragrances, Gold Woman and Fate Woman. They’re smashing, no doubt, but until I land myself a sugar daddy, I’m probably not adding either to my collection any time soon. Added to that, I always get a sense that Amouage is more about having the most expensive grapes than the most interesting wine, metaphorically speaking, so that lesson from my wine shop days always comes back to me, and I ask myself if Amouage fragrances are closer to the $20 bottle or the bottle you’re buying where you won’t notice the difference. This all, of course, brings me to today’s fragrance: Honour Woman, a sizeable Amouage sample I was able to snatch at subscription service prices.
Amouage Honour Woman is an indolic white floral fragrance made the Amouage way, which is to say it comes from some seriously quality stuff. The opening is a sour/tart burst (the rhubarb, I guess), followed by an indolic heart of tuberose, jasmine, and gardenia, and it dries down to a sweet, ambery base. It wears pretty light, or maybe I’m mostly anosmic to it, and I found that if you get get close to where you’ve applied it, it can smell surprisingly rauchy, at least early on. Still, if I search for it, I can still catch a lingering whiff of something sweet on my skin some eight-plus hours after I put it on, which is impressive as my skin seems to eat fragrances like I eat desserts these days, and doubly so when you consider I was a sweating mess for the first hour thanks to a particularly muggy early October morning in NYC. Like I said, quality stuff. This is all fine and well if hardly groundbreaking, but whenever I slip into even a casual appreciation, I recall how 100ml will set you back over $300, and I start to wonder if that’s the price I’d pay for something lacking much in the way of originality.
Moreover, I cannot stress enough how skanky this fragrance smells up close. If you catch a whiff of yourself as it wafts off you, you’ll likely get a slight, pleasing tropical white floral vibe, but if you lean into your wrist for a deliberate sniff, it’s all raunch. My first spray back when my vial came by mail was more of the fecal variety, and today was more saline, like a seminal beach breeze drifting past a fish market. I don’t consider myself a prude, and I’m in love with the idea that a high-end luxury fragrance brand is leaning into instead of away from the indole, but I seemed most notice the stank over much anything else, and everything that is intended to be attractive seems relegated to background noise to this indolic din. Maybe an overwhelming dose of indole is the high price you pay for high quality absolutes, but all your indole ain’t for sh*t (even if it smells like it) without the floral context.
And then there’s Honour Woman’s inspiration itself, which is the last act of Madame Butterfly when Ciocio-san commits suicide to preserve her family’s honor, so, y’know, yiiiiikes. I’ll be the first to admit that I love the music in Puccini’s opera and queasily appreciate it’s story as part of a problematic “old tradition” in operatic tragedy, and I’m sure volumes of criticism can be written about a still pervading cultural myopia in the fragrance industry, particularly in fragrances (like this one) that were released before our current conversations about racial and gender inequalities, so I’ll run with the simplest critique, which is I just don’t get it. There’s a lot of directions you could take take this Madame Butterfly brief, but the tuberose/jasmine/gardenia trinity seems lacking in originality or discernible relation, and I really don’t get the rhubarb. It may have been a decade or two since I’ve seen it performed, but I don’t recall any aria about Butterfly making a mean crumble.
All this said, I guess Honour Woman is worth a try if white florals are your gotta-try-’em-all thing, particularly because I’m curious as to whether anybody else has found it so…pungent. I mean,I get it; tuberose is an oft inescapable sirens’ song for me, as today is but another reminder. Moreover, I’d love to hear your Amouage recommendations in the comments below, because when it comes to fragrances, I may not buy from the top shelf, but I’m always up to try new things.