An homage to a rose, one portrayed first in shimmering light and with richness beyond imagination, then in smokiness with silver incense. A spicy, sweetly nectared, fresh rose that glows like a mix of yellow diamonds and pink rubies, before darkness sweeps over it and dries its petals. It’s a rose with a few thorny flaws as well, from sour lemon to a sharply pointed clean musk and a lathering of soap, but it is still one of the most famous, critically lauded, and beloved roses around. It is Homage from Amouage.
Homage is an attar or concentrated perfume oil from Amouage that was initially introduced in limited fashion in 2008 to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary. It soon became one of the most celebrated of Amouage’s much beloved attar collection, and was subsequently released on a permanent basis. It was also one of the handful of Amouage perfume oils that was more widely available in the West, along with its equally famous (and utterly glorious) smoky brother, Tribute.
Everything changed last year. If you’re new to the blog or unfamiliar with the Amouage attar situation, the nutshell synopsis is that the company ceased all production of its famous, extremely popular creations. Soon after I broke the initial news last year, my research unearthed that the neighboring United Arab Emirates had something called The Emirates Conformity Assessment Scheme (ECAS) which was going to be enforced that year. It was a law that would indirectly require compliance with EU/IFRA regulations for perfume. Amouage is located in Oman and, while they sell a lot of products in the UAE, I couldn’t figure out why the new law required the total cessation of all attar production in their home country, particularly given the attars’ huge popularity.
At the time, I contacted Amouage’s Creative Director, Christopher Chong, for an answer. He said he had none because the attar division is wholly separate from the one he runs which is centered on Franco-Arab fragrances. He had nothing to do with the attars, and didn’t know the story. A month or so later, however, at the launch of the new Journey duo in Dubai, he spoke with a reader, “Dubaiscents,” or Rachel Grot Watson, and had an explanation. Ms. Grot Watson posted the details of their conversation in several Facebook perfume groups, so I don’t think she’ll mind me sharing them here again as an update for all readers.
Christopher Chong told her that he’d been very impressed with my research into the UAE law and, upon looking further into the matter, it turns out that the law was indirectly responsible for the attar cessation. The simple reason was insurance. Amouage would unable to obtain corporate insurance (and, therefore, liability and indemnification coverage) unless they complied with the law and international standards.
So, it’s insurance concerns stemming from the EU/IFRA requirements that is the cause of Amouage ending all production of their attars, and not some of the other theories that have been put forth. For example, some of the Amouage’s European sales people have stated that the reason was concern over the possible dilution of the attars on eBay, while others have said that Christopher Chong wanted to take Amouage into a purely European style of perfumery and away from the Middle Eastern focus of the attars. Well, by his own words, Christopher Chong never had control over the running of the attar division, and says it’s an insurance issue.
Regardless of reason, the end result is still the same, which is that the attars are no longer being produced, and existing bottles soon sold out. It’s particularly difficult to find any bottles left in the West, which always had a significantly smaller stock to begin with and, even then, only carried a handful of the collection, like Homage and Tribute. In short, availability essentially comes down to a stroke of luck, and merely sampling a few drops is not cheap. In the case of the lesser known attars, it’s basically an impossibility unless you know someone willing to share.
I usually try to avoid reviewing fragrances that have extremely limited availability, never mind those that practically impossible to try, but I’ve decided to write about a handful of Amouage attars in the upcoming weeks. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop hoarding my rarer fragrances, and to wear and enjoy them while they lasted. I’m a little too OCD for this to be a wholly successful plan, but I’m definitely going to try to do it for the 9 or 10 Amouage attars I have samples of, simply because I fear they’ll eventually evaporate if I don’t. Plus, quite a number of people managed to get vials of the various attars in splits following the discontinuation news, so perhaps these reviews will be of interest to them.
I’m starting with Homage because it is the best-known scent, perhaps even more so than the fantastic Tribute which is my favorite creation from Amouage. I call Tribute Darth Vader’s perfect rose and the Devil’s elixir, because it is a study in darkness and smoke that is only tangentially about the flower. Homage is an entirely different story and the polar opposite. It showcases the rose front and center, and starts as a portrait in light. The notes are hard to state with any certainty, particularly as there is nothing on Amouage’s website, but Fragrantica says they include:
Taif rose, silver incense, jasmine, silver oud, orange, lemon, sandalwood and Al Andalus attar. [Al Andalus is an Amouage attar with citrus, orange blossom, and white musk. Some of it has been used in Homage.]
Homage opens on my skin with the crystal clean purity of a thousand rose petals, distilled down into a single drop. It’s a rose that is opulently deep and endlessly plush, almost as if the petals had been made of velvet and satin. Their colours skew ruby-red with beefy richness, but also yellow and gold with warmth, sweetly pink with fruitiness, and greenish-white with dewy freshness. All of them are drizzled with soapiness, as if fat, waxy aldehydes had been used, but there is also the sweetness of nectar, drops of crisp lemon, and a touch of juicy, tangy tangerine. Spiciness wafts all around, as if a pinch of buttery saffron had been used, but it’s extremely subtle and much more likely to be a byproduct of the Ta’if rose’s naturally complex, multi-faceted nuances. Hovering in the background is a streak of fresh greenness, evoking images of the flower’s green leaves, but these feel as though they were made of neroli and petitgrain woods more than anything truly leafy.
All of these facets and wisps are enveloped in a shimmering light, then wrapped up with the thinnest ribbon of a silvery, almost sweet, incense. It’s lovely, but I have to confess to struggling with several parts of it. For one thing, I’m not really a rose lover, and generally eschew soliflores centered around the note. For another, I really dislike soapiness, and there is a hefty amount of it here. Some concentrated rose extraits occasionally turn soapy on my skin, but it’s not a common, typical occurrence. Homage is subject to batch variations (as all the attars are or were), but I’ve never seen anyone mention soapiness as part of their experience, so it’s clearly due to my personal skin chemistry. Nevertheless, I’m not fond of it at all, and the same goes for the green freshness of the flower here.
On the other hand, there is a beautifully narcotic quality to the richness of the rose, something that simultaneously feels photo-realistically natural but also surreal beyond belief. Homage really feels as though you’re smelling a rose in a garden, except this is the hyper-saturated, 3D version on heavy steroids, and then some. It’s so intensely rich, so dizzyingly heady, it almost feels like a floral drug.
The rose’s sweetness verges on an opaque nectar, one that has been infused with fruitiness, spiciness, and drops of honey. I think the jasmine is largely responsible for the nectar, but the actual flower itself is really not evident on my skin, particularly for the first 8 hours. Instead, like the orange, it works indirectly from afar to amplify the damascena rose’s inherent qualities.
All of it is perfectly balanced, and seamlessly integrated. None of it feels cloying, gooey, artificial, or unnaturally sweet. Homage is simply larger than life. The astonishing thing is how the opening bouquet feels so dense, thick, and rich but, simultaneously, so filled with airy softness and radiant light as well. It’s as though sunlight were shimmering on a vast sea of golden-yellow, pink, and red petals.
The secondary elements are mere supporting actors in the first 20 minutes, characters who dance about on the distant shore, and change their nuances often. The tangy mandarin orange sometimes seems more akin to a sun-sweetened orange, but usually feels a little tarter. The brisk, crisp lemon weaves in and out, initially acting like the mere suggestion of something citrusy rather than a clear note. Still, it is far more noticeable than the incense which flickers quietly in the background. In the base, the first hint of woodiness briefly pops up, only to vanish minutes later. The neroli-like greenness soon follows it, though Homage continues to feel very much like a fresh rose at this point, thanks in large part to the advent of a very clean, white musk.
30 minutes into its development, Homage blooms on my skin like a rose unfurling its petals in sunlight. The lemon becomes more prominent, finally taking on a clear distinctness in its own right. Unfortunately for me, the soapiness and clean musk grow stronger, too. The incense and greenness weaken, while the fruitiness feels more abstract. There is a vague, insubstantial suggestion of woodiness in the base, but it doesn’t really seem like sandalwood or oud.
As Homage’s various nuances develop, the perfume’s sillage seem to bloom as well. Using drops amounting to 3 good smears, Homage is now radiating far more than the initial 2 inches with which the perfume opened, though there isn’t a scent trail, per se. Attars are often too concentrated to have more than soft projection, but Homage’s projection feels significantly stronger than the norm, even if it’s a distorted view stemming from the perfume’s enormously concentrated richness instead of actual inches.
At the end of the first hour, Homage shifts a little, turning more fruity in nature and less spicy. Homage is now very much a fresh, fruity rose doused heavily with lemon, lightly flecked by soap and clean white musk, drizzled with nectared sweetness, and then wrapped up with the thinnest ribbon of incense. The orange feels abstract, the soap is lighter now, but both the lemon and the white musk are extremely strong on my skin.
The greatest change and Homage’s second phase begins roughly 1.75 hours into the perfume’s evolution. The smoke suddenly surges to the forefront, while the oud and soft woods creep up to the edges. Homage is no longer a purely lemony, spicy, sweet rose but, increasingly, a rather dry, smoky, woody one as well. The lemon, soap, and clean musk continue to be very prominent, but the spicy, honeyed notes are growing quite weak.
As Homage turns drier, the incense vies with the rose for dominance, and the perfume no longer feels sweetly nectared or so languidly thick as a whole. It’s as though the incense had dried up some of its heavy, treacly texture, rendering the scent lighter in weight and density, though it remains very strong in its actual bouquet. My problem with the increased incense is that the accompanying loss of sweetness leaves a vacuum opposite the lemon. There is no counterbalance to it now. On my skin, the result is a sour rose, in addition to being a smoky, woody one. The dryness of the incense also seems to exacerbate the clean musk, and turns it into something very sharp and pointed on me.
The overall effect is to strip the rose of much of its lushness and velvety warmth by the start of the 4th hour. Homage is now an incense rose with sourness, soapiness, woods, and clean musk. There is almost no sweetness or honeyed nectar; very little fruitiness beyond the sour lemon; and little spice. The oud is rarely strongly noticeable in its own right, and feels subsumed into the general woods. However, there is a huge amount of silver incense, clean musk, and dryness. I’m afraid I’m not a fan of this part of Homage. The clean musk was so strong, it gave me a piercing headache that not even 3 Tylenols removed. The narcotic qualities of the first hour that made me feel almost dazed with its richness as if I were about to enter a rose coma have largely dried up. And the incense is not my favorite sort, either. It’s not the smoky blackness that dominates Tribute, but something cleaner, icier, and sharper on my skin.
Homage remains largely unchanged from this point forth until its last few hours. It merely turns more abstract, softer, and lighter, a hazy blur of roses blanketed by dryness, abstract woodiness, and cleanness. An occasional wisp of jasmine streaks by, but it is usually minor and muffled amidst the heavy swirls of silver incense. The oud is even more nebulous. Homage turned into a skin scent on me about 6.5 hours into its development, though it remained easy to detect up close for a while to come. It only became a truly gauzy wisp at the start of the 9th hour, sometimes leading me to think that it was close to fading away as a vestige of floral cleanness, but Homage clung on tenaciously. It finally died away just under 14 hours from the start.
Some of the words commonly used to describe Homage on various sites are “purity,” “clarity,” and “masterpiece.” Again and again, people rave about the singular depth and “purity” of the rose, as well as how radiantly the flower has been presented. Homage has unisex appeal, probably because it balances masculine and feminine elements so well, but a few women think it feels overly masculine on their skin. Interestingly, I haven’t come across any comments from men who think Homage skews feminine and, in fact, most of the people I know who love the scent passionately are men. A rare handful from both genders don’t understand the fuss, but the general consensus across the board seems to be that Homage is one of the best rose fragrances ever made.
On Fragrantica, one person calls it “sublime … [a] sunbeam made of scent,” while another says it is “Rose-neroli-incense heaven” with such “depth and purity” that “[d]eep is the dominant adjective for this.” One detailed review comes from “Yourfoxiness” who writes, in relevant part, as follows:
Something about this combination is simply divine. It is light. It’s not heavy, smokey incense laden, syrupy, dirty, or screechy oud. It’s the concept of golden light made perfume. That golden light that filters through just the right windows & shades, at only the moments caught unaware. It seems shameful to pick it apart, but it has very beautiful orange & lemon at first, and the accompanying jasmine is crystal clear and soprano. Similar to that in Alien, but without the sweetness. Next we have perfect rose. She could stand alone, but not here, sweetened just a bit, smartened up by the citrus which thankfully does not overpower, & backlit by amber resins, smooth incense & woods. It’s too well blended to pick anything else out. Gorgeous florals, honeyed light center & warmth. Suitable for a grand affair, and somehow light enough for summer wear. Old art, the stuff of dreams. Divine.
No-one talks about the soapiness or clean musk. No-one at all. Clearly, it’s merely my wonky skin and mine alone — which makes me feel rather like a crazy person. However, a good number of people experienced the same powerful lemon note that I did, to the point that one person describes Homage as a “citrus rose.” Another wrote that the “roses are beautiful but adorned with slightly too much citrus for my taste. The aoud note is so faint that I would not have noticed it if I did not know it was there.” A third classifies Homage as a rare “exception” to his general dislike of “citrus scents.” There are more comments in that vein, all referencing the lemon’s strength. One poster even went so far as to say that Homage was “first of all [a] citrusy scent.” I think that Homage is a rose fragrance above all, as do others, but there is no denying the flower is drenched in lemon on some people’s’ skin.
Homage may not work on me or be my personal cup of tea, but Luca Turin adores it. He gave it Five Stars in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, calling it an “incense rose,” and describing it in transcendental terms that are often used for meteorites or astral events. He called it “breathtakingly beautiful: at once lofty, tremendously radiant, and dizzyingly rich,” and a stunning “apparition” whose incense fills it “with stratospheric light and ice.” The overall “irresistible” result seems to have knocked him completely for a loop and filled him with awe.
My love is for Tribute, not Homage, but I understand Luca Turin’s reaction completely. Parts of Homage’s opening truly were dizzyingly narcotic, stupefyingly pure, densely opulent, but also loftily radiant and airy. It is one of those fragrances that is worth sniffing out just once in one’s life, if only to know.
All of this makes it even sadder that Amouage had to cease production of its attars. I’ve found places that sell samples of Homage if you’re interested, and a few sites that still have a rare bottle or two, but I feel like a bit of a sadist in reviewing the scent. I would completely understand if some of you find this to be an exercise in futility. It may be even more pointless to cover the lesser-known attars in the weeks to come, the ones not widely sold in the West like Al Shomoukh, Molook, Basmah, Mawaddah, Badr Al Badour, Rayaheen, and some others. Yet, the way that their names trip off my tongue like a melody makes me smile and, at times, I feel a little defiant about their loss. I want to remember their unique opulence, depth, and majesty. I want to wear (and talk about) fragrances that actually move me, impress me, or simply feel like the ultimate decadent indulgence, even if they don’t suit me in the final tally. Most of all, though, I think I want to mourn their loss by celebrating the grandeur that once was. I want to pay homage.