Generic white flowers, tinged with darkness, before their light is blanketed by a solar eclipse of chemical smokiness. That’s one way to see Sunshine, the latest fragrance from Amouage. Or, as Luca Turin put it in his negative One-Star review for Sunshine, a “Chemical Floral” that you should “Avoid.” The other camp consists of those who think the fragrance represents sunshine, joyous brightness, and happiness. I am not one of their number.
Sunshine is the debut fragrance in Amouage’s new Midnight Flower Collection, and is an eau de parfum that CaFleureBon says was created by Sidonie Lancesseur under the direction of Christopher Chong. It was initially released in limited fashion in 2014, primarily in the Middle East and then later in parts of Europe and Australia. On March 2nd, it became available in America and worldwide.
On its website, Amouage describes Sunshine and its notes as follows:
Sunshine for Woman, a magical moment of joy is like a ray of sunshine smiling upon a bouquet of white floral.
Top Notes: Blackcurrant Liquor, Almond, Davana.
Heart Notes: Osmanthus Absolute, Jasmine, Vanilla, Magnolia.
Base Notes: Cade, Patchouli, Blond Tobacco, Papyrus.
I was excited at seeing that list because Davana is one of my favorite notes and one that I wish were used more often in perfumery. The Davana is a lush Indian flower that always has a liqueured apricot aroma on my skin, which means it pairs well with the apricot nuances manifested by the osmanthus. As for Cade, it is one of the ways in which a leather note is recreated (similar to birch tar), and often has a lovely smokiness that is redolent of campfires and singed woods. Both elements are significant parts of the scent on my skin.
Sunshine opens as a fruity, osmanthus floral with cade smoke and tiny streaks of tobacco. The osmanthus is creamy, almost petal soft, and thoroughly slathered with apricot liqueur from the davana, then lightly sprinkled with earthy cassis (black currant) and slivers of fresh almond. The whole thing rests above a dark base of cade smoke and tobacco, though the cade fades in and out during the first 10 minutes. When it’s present, it feels quite synthetic and has a subtle chemical nuance underneath. For the most part, though, Sunshine opens as a pleasant fruity floral with only a glimmer of darkness.
Within minutes, Sunshine’s fruity and floral components fuse together, wiping out the clear shape of the osmanthus, and leaving only a soft, indistinct, white floralcy covered in thick cassis jam preserves and liqueured apricot atop the thinnest layer of smoky darkness. The almond retreats to the sidelines, while the cassis grows stronger and sweeter. It occasionally reminds me more of blackberries than black currants, but then green and earthy nuances pop up. As a whole, it’s an odd note on my skin; on both occasions when I tried Sunshine, it briefly evoked thoughts of musty, musky, fetid staleness, though it didn’t last for long and, thankfully, never turned into the cat pee and ammonia that cassis can sometimes emit.
The flowers’ identity are quite hidden by the jammy, fruity sweetness. Occasionally, the creamy, white bouquet has flickers of something vaguely humid and tropical about it, but that’s as far as the magnolia’s presence is visible on my skin. The osmanthus is completely subsumed within the davana’s apricot liqueur. The jasmine is noticeable mostly as another form of floral syrup and sweetness, rather than a clear, individually distinct note of its own. In all honesty, I can’t pick out a single one of the flowers amidst the fruited haze.
All of it is pleasant, even maybe pretty at times, but also pretty underwhelming to me. It’s too sweet for my tastes, too shapeless, too generic, and too uninteresting. It also reminds me enormously of another fragrance, though I can’t pinpoint which one despite 2 days of pondering the matter, perhaps because Sunshine is so damn indistinct and prosaic in feel. I would be less annoyed if it weren’t for two things: 1) this is Amouage, and I expect better from them; and 2) this perfume comes with a whopping $450 or €355 price tag. I normally save price discussions for the end of my review, but the cost of Sunshine had me rolling my eyes each time I took a sniff of the perfume, particularly once it developed into an unpleasant, synthetic haze.
45 minutes into its development, Sunshine shifts again — for the worse. The chemical aroma of the cade grows stronger in the base, and starts to send out tendrils of burnt leather upwards. It’s harsh, raw, and pungent. By the time the 1st hour ends and the 2nd begins, it has fully infiltrated the white florals with the smell of smoke that feels like raw, tarry pitch with burnt woods, a trace of leather, and a hint of meaty, earthy muskiness. All of it smells fully chemical in nature. As the smoke now balloons around the top notes, it cuts through most of the excessively gooey sweetness of the fruits, leaving only a small amount that is no longer clearly identifiable as cassis or davana. Instead, it’s merely a random fruity sweetness that occasionally peeks its head out from behind the chemical cade smoke. Even the flowers feel quieter now, less creamy and soft. Sunshine is now basically a mix of raw smoke, burnt woods, and pitch tar lightly infused with generic white flowers, and generic, liqueured fruitiness.
By the start of the 3rd hour, there’s been a solar eclipse, the florals have fled for the hills, and the perfume is centered primarily on darkness. It is a haze of cade smoke with blackened woods, spicy patchouli, and streaks of tobacco. A glimmer of something liqueured and sweet remains, though Sunshine never feels either sweet or fruited in the way it once did. Once in a blue moon, the florals try to creep back in, but they’re largely unsuccessful and hover in the distant background as a heavily muffled, muted suggestion more than anything else.
As the perfume progresses, the only thing I’m really struck by are the chemicals involved. At one point during the 6th hour, there were noticeable whiffs of something resembling both acetone nail varnish and medicinal antiseptic wafting from my skin. A touch of creaminess returns to the base, but it’s weak, insubstantial, and doesn’t last long. In essence, Sunshine is now merely a mix of various dark, smoky aromas with a wisp of boozy sweetness and an occasional hint of something floral. The perfume remains largely unchanged for the next few hours, merely turning drier and woodier in nature. In its final moments, all that’s left is vaguely smoky woodiness.
In essence, Sunshine’s structure reminds me of a sandwich with rotating pieces that eventually get picked off, one by one. During the first 45 minutes, it’s a full sandwich that has one thick, piece of bread on top being the slathered fruity mix of cassis and apricot jammy preserves; a thin layer of wholly generic, indistinct, vaguely creamy white petals; and an even thinner, weaker, bottom slab of bread being the cade. Then, things switch in size and order, with the floral layer sinking to the bottom, growing weaker in the face of smokiness that has become the middle layer and emits the first wisps of something harsh and chemical. By the start of the 2nd hour, Sunshine is a two-layered sandwich of fruity, smoky and dark elements atop an ever weaker, ever thinner slice of florals. It merely devolves after that, as if a solar eclipse had swept over the sky, leaving only the thick base layer of the sandwich. The other elements are briefly sprinkled on top in the tiniest of ways and like irrelevant garnishes before vanishing at the start of the long drydown which begins at the 6th hour. What’s left is the olfactory equivalent of Marmite (my apologies to the Australians and Marmite-lovers out there), only this Marmite is unpleasantly chemical in its smokiness.
Sunshine has generally soft projection on my skin and good longevity. Using 3 good smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume initially opened with a strong but airy bouquet that projected 3 inches. That number dropped to 1 inch after 75 minutes, and Sunshine became a skin scent at the end of 4 hours. All in all, it lasted just a hair over 10.5 hours on my skin, though I had to put my nose right on my arm to detect it after the 8th hour.
Early reaction to Sunshine has generally been positive, but there is a one notable and glaring exception: Luca Turin. The famed perfume critic gave Sunshine a One-Star rating (which he defines as “Avoid”) in his online column for Style Arabia. There, he wrote:
ingredients: blackcurrant, tobacco
Amouage has produced some of the best feminines in recent memory: Lyric , Ubar  and Fate , all of them luxuriant, dark, moody compositions. This is definitely not one of them. I have no idea whether sales of the above-named masterpieces came up to expectations, but Sunshine feels like the sort of “safe” white flowers fragrance that bean counters demand to replenish coffers depleted by artistic license. Sunshine somehow manages to be both banal and distinctively unpleasant. By a mysterious alchemy of synthetic raw materials, the overall impression from top note to drydown is one of staleness, and as the fragrance progresses, a long-lasting accord emerges that smells very much like cork taint in wine. A peculiarity of beauty is to be adjacent to happiness, and conversely, this sort of unattractiveness suggests unrelieved, shabby melancholy. Appropriately enough, the bottle is in a faded chrome yellow that clashes with the sad pale blue of the box.
chemical floral [Emphasis in the original and from him.]
On Fragrantica, the comments are mixed but tend towards the positive. One person calls it “GORGEOUS” (in all caps), two others say it is “delicious.” To wit,
Amouage Sunshine opens up bright and a little medicinal for the first minute or so but quickly turns a little powdery, then changes into a zesty punch. I would say it’s a floral, berry combo with a gourmand feel. Its juicy sweet and has that cocktail drink vibe without the alcohol. Super feminine and chic but fun and youthful at the same time. I can see myself wearing this all year round, it has a warm creamy concept to it so it’s not specifically for summer. It’s delicious but in a non food-y way.
In contrast, another commentator found the medicinal aspect to last and be like “cough syrup” before it “finally muted to something more pleasant after 7 hours when the white tobacco, patchouli, and juniper soften the edges.” Someone else experienced mainly tobacco, and noticed a distinct difference in terms of how Sunshine appeared on a tester strip versus their skin (where it was “boring”).
The camp that loves Sunshine with whole-hearted enthusiasm is best represented by “Musette” on The Perfume Posse. For her, Sunshine felt like “the brightest gold,” and she wrote with enthusiasm about how it was “a grounded, warm scent, with a core of burnished brightness.” Patty White was a bit more ambivalent in her review because the perfume had elements of “freshness,” which she isn’t generally keen on, but she ultimately liked Sunshine, too, because of its happy brightness. She wrote, in part:
It goes on all sparkly and fresh. Yeah, there, I said it, the part that I want to hate. I haaaaaate fresh perfumes. But I don’t really hate this exactly. I sorta hate it, but it is liquid gold and sunny and bright and, yikes! still fresh’ish. […]
Then I get it – it is what a happy perfume should be. It has some of the same elements that I’ve come to hate in the overload of fresh, happy perfumes that line the commercial counters, and then it goes to some other place. […][¶] Then I do what I always do when something is under my skin. I breathe and relax and let it be what it is. Embrace the freshness because that is a part of all of this. It’s not Amouage Sunshine’s fault that it’s perky and happy and joyous. […][¶] Yeah, I’ve decided I love it, despite its freshness.
I feel as though we’re talking about two completely different perfumes. On the one side, there is Luca Turin, some of the Fragrantica commentators, and me with our tales of darkness (tobacco in their case, cade in mine) and synthetic chemicals (or “medicinal” aromas for some of the Fragrantica posters). On the other, there is the “perky and happy” mix of “freshness,” brightness, and sunshine laden flowers. It’s really like night and day. Clearly, skin chemistry is going to make a difference, particularly if your skin accentuates base elements. Mine does, which perhaps explains the preponderance of the cade.
Yet, even when I did experience the white flowers in the opening phase, I thought Sunshine was a generic fruity floral that was incredibly boring and reductive. Amouage always had a Franco-Middle Eastern approach to its regular (non-attar) creations, but the focus now seems to have shifted to towards purely Western perfumery. Even worse, they’re losing the Amouage signature in favour of a very commercial profile that lacks distinctiveness. Journey Woman was a prime example of that, and might as well have been a Chanel Exclusif. I don’t mean that as a compliment, by the way. Amouage didn’t become one of my favorite houses because of safe, approachable, conventional bouquets, and certainly not for anything resembling a Chanel perfume. Yet, many people adored Journey Woman precisely because it was so approachable (and unchallenging), and I saw a number of comments from people who said it was the first Amouage that they didn’t struggled with.
I think the change in style is deliberate, and part of an attempt to court a new, Western audience to increase profitability. If so, then they’ve succeeded, as Amouage told The Moodie Report that
it has posted ‘very positive’ sales results for its Journey masculine and feminine fragrances which launched last August. The fragrance house said that Journey has fast become one of its bestselling fragrances.
Sunshine is a further continuation of the path set by Journey Woman, for probably the same financial reasons, except I think it’s worse than Journey and costs much more. I wouldn’t wear Sunshine if it were given to me for free, but $450 seems especially high for a fragrance that, to quote Luca Turin, “somehow manages to be both banal and distinctively unpleasant.”
I think reaction to Sunshine will be firmly split, and will probably depend on two things: your skin chemistry, and how you felt about the old Amouage style. You should try it for yourself to see and, hopefully, on your skin, it will be pleasantly pretty.
Amouage was always one of the houses that I loved and respected the most, but if this is the company’s new direction, if they’re leaving their Middle Eastern roots to adopt safe, bland conventionality in the Western style for profit reasons, then they’re going to lose me. There are plenty of Western brands that make “pleasant” or “pretty” perfumes for less. Sunshine is strike two for me. I really hope there won’t be a third.