Imagine yourself immersed in a field of lavender that stretches out for miles like an aromatic, herbal, and medicinal sea of purple. A nearby citrus orchard adds a neon Pop Art explosion of colour from saccharine-coated fruits that strongly resemble pink Pez candy. The landscape is dotted by green clumps of herbs that smell like thyme and rosemary, and lies at the base of snow-tipped Alpine mountains blanketed with juniper trees hanging heavy with ripe berries. Their strong scent is redolent of gin and, later on, a fiery, green eau de vie liqueur. A brisk, chilly wind takes their scent, mingles it with the pink, powdery, candied Pez, and casts it like a thick blanket over the fields of purple.
A short distance away, something dark and brooding makes its way forward, a rushing river made thick and heavy with treacly, smoky licorice. It slashes through the lavender like a knife, oozing blackness amidst the neon colours. The wound is eventually healed by silky vanilla crème anglaise that rises from the base to act as a bridge and mediator, bringing the two parts together in a swirl of aromatics, smoke, and cream, before ending up as simple sweetness smudged with smoke. This is the story of Sunshine Man, the newest fragrance from Amouage.
Sunshine Man (hereinafter referred to simply as “Sunshine“) is an eau de parfum that was created by Pierre Negrin and Fabrice Pellegrin under the direction of Christopher Chong. It was released in August as a counterpart to Sunshine Woman, and is the second release in Amouage’s higher-end Midnight Flower collection. On its website, Amouage describes the scent and its notes as follows:
Sunshine Man is a spicy and aromatic fragrance expressing a retro-chic interplay of freshness and sensuality.
Top Notes: Lavender, Orange Brandy, Everlasting Flower [Immortelle].
Heart Notes: Bergamot, Juniper Berry, Clary Sage.
Base Notes: Cedarwood, Tonka Bean, Vanilla.
Sunshine opens on my skin with a canon blast of dried, herbal, and medicinal lavender coated with candied fruit and candied powder. They’re followed by the crisp and aromatic notes of juniper berries that simultaneously evoke snowy Alpine forests and a well chilled glass of gin. A slice of effervescent bergamot adds a sparkling brightness to the cocktail.
Unfortunately, the brisker, cooler notes are drowned in Sunshine’s candied sweetness for much of the first two hours. Every time I’ve worn the fragrance, I was instantly reminded of Pez and its powdery, candied aroma. It’s the sort of grainy, pink sherbet quality that is hyper-saturated here to the point of flashing neon Pop Art pastels. I have the strong suspicion that it stems from the “orange liqueur” note because it smells identical to what I experienced with Andy Tauer‘s Eau d’Epices, a fragrance that contains “red mandarin” as a top note. With Sunshine, I never smell oranges or orange brandy in a clear, distinct fashion, just a hyper-saturated, vaguely fruited sweetness engulfed with candied powder and sickly sugar. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Pez, someone on Fragrantica (“Salvas”) described the scent as Malabar pink chewing gum, and it’s definitely that as well. (Unfortunately.)
And, yet, at the same time, Sunshine is intensely herbal. It’s not merely the lead lavender note, but flutters of other things on the sidelines. In both my tests, the opening minutes bore strong touches of rosemary and thyme to my nose. I don’t think it stems from the clary sage which typically smells either like leathery lavender or herbal shaving cream and soap on my skin. (To my relief, there is no soapiness here at all.) Whatever the source, the herbal bouquet feels multi-faceted and more layered in the opening moments than just mere lavender. What I can’t detect, though, is the immortelle. There is none of the usual maple syrup on my skin, nor the dried flower aroma that it sometimes bears.
What there is instead is gin — and a lot of it. Juniper berries are the primary source for gin’s flavour, which I have to confess is the alcohol I like the least and which typically makes me nauseous but, to my surprise, it works fantastically well here. There is a chilly briskness that feels more forest-y and snowy than anything else, and I think it’s the indirect result of the cedar slowly stirring in the base. Its subtle woodiness brings out the juniper’s tree side in addition to its gin. Both complement the lavender beautifully, making the juniper my favorite part of Sunshine’s first few hours.
Sunshine changes in incremental steps. After 30 minutes, the lavender grows even stronger, and its medicinal herbaceousness is suddenly laced with a sticky darkness that smells like black licorice. The bergamot’s sliver of tart, lemony briskness retreats before the onslaught, but the juniper remains strong. I just wish that it wasn’t so overshadowed by the sugary Pez/Malabar gum which now takes on cloying saccharine sweetness after 25 minutes that I find to be extremely difficult to handle. Granted, I have a very low threshold for such matters to begin with but, my word, it feels more like the artificial syrup you pour over a snow cone ice than “orange brandy.”
And, yet, 75 minutes into its development, Sunshine does take on a liqueured quality. It’s not the orange sort, but more like a gin-ish eau de vie with green aromatics and a smoky, slightly resinous undertone. It reminds me enormously of the mastic/lentisque eau de vie (a fiery, colourless hard alcohol) that Marc-Antoine Corticchiato used so dramatically in Parfum d’Empire‘s Corsica Furiosa. That is another very aromatic, green fragrance that bore a strong gin bouquet on my skin mixed with an intentional slug of Corsican eau de vie brandy that smelt smoky.
It’s a really nice touch that helps to separate Sunshine from Dior‘s reportedly discontinued Eau Noire which was also centered on a lavender-licorice-immortelle combination. But there are other differences between the two scents beyond the fiery, green alcohol. I find the lavender in Sunshine to be far stronger, harsher, and more aggressively medicinal in nature; it was softer, smooth, and almost creamy at times in Eau Noire. Plus, the Dior never had juniper gin and heavily candied sugariness, while its immortelle definitely smelt like maple syrup in a clear, distinct fashion. That is not the case here. Furthermore, despite some shared notes, Eau Noire feels more like a gourmand in its overall balance of notes, while Sunshine skews predominantly towards the aromatic side in feel and focus. Not even the eventual emergence of the vanilla changes that. Sunshine is always first and foremost an aromatic scent on my skin. That’s not the case with Eau Noire. Finally, I think Sunshine’s aromatic focus makes it skew more towards the masculine side (though a few women on Fragrantica prefer it to Sunshine Woman), while I think Eau Noire’s gourmand character plants it firmly within the unisex zone.
Sunshine slowly begins to shift into second gear midway during the 2nd hour, though it takes a little while longer for its contours to crystallize. The scent is growing increasingly dark, sweet, smoky, and strong. It’s much less brisk, chilled, fresh, and crisp. While it’s still intensely sugary at the start of the 2nd hour, the Pez candy/Malabar chewing gum are gradually being overtaken by a more liqueured sort of sweetness. More importantly, the treacly licorice and the smoky eau de vie start to seep over the aromatic, herbal, lavender bouquet in small waves.
They turn into an ocean roughly 2.5 hours into Sunshine’s development, eclipsing the brightness and the neon glow of its opening precisely like the eclipse that Christopher Chong wanted to evoke. Shortly thereafter, the licorice, the smoky eau de vie, its resinous mastic-like underpinning, and the juniper gin all merge into a single, multi-faceted accord. The way they coat the lavender’s aromatic buds is particularly nice next to the emerging ripples of vanilla-tonka cream in the base. By the start of the 3rd hour, the candied Pez sugariness has faded to a mere glimmer of juicy sweetness that is finally balanced and naturalistic rather than nauseating. (Sorry, I can’t handle extreme sweetness.) The cedar stirs in the base, sending out small tendrils every now and then to wrap around the lavender’s stalks.
The best part, though, is the slowly emerging tonka-vanilla creaminess. This is a particularly nice version of vanilla, in my opinion, smelling more like silky crème anglaise instead of the heavily sugared, caramelized crème brulée sort or even the repulsive vanilla-frosted icing found in things like Pink Sugar. The first hint of the note occur roughly 3.5 hours into Sunshine’s development, though it’s merely a thin thread that is bracketed between thick walls of herbal lavender and that smoky, boozy, sugary, licorice-y dark accord.
By the end of the 6th hour, however, the vanilla has become the glue that quietly fuses together Sunshine’s two parts. Like a Photoshop filter, the vanilla has not only bridged the gap, but smoothened over the edges, turning Sunshine into a hazy blur of creamy, herbal lavender melded with licorice and liqueured smoky darkness. There really is no way to separate any of the three notes.
This is Sunshine’s third gear, and I find it interesting for a few reasons. More and more, the vanilla plays some sort of ghostly function that I can’t easily explain. It’s there — and you can absolutely tell it’s there — and, yet, it’s also not. It acts almost like a seamless glue that holds the pieces together, but it frequently isn’t a clearly delineated presence on my skin because it’s eclipsed by the smoky darkness that moves across the crème anglaise first as a mere shadow, then as a muffling, thick blanket that drowns it out completely.
In fact, from the middle of the 8th to the 11th hour, I can’t detect the vanilla at all. It’s vanished as though it had been swallowed up in a black hole of smokiness. The latter is still infused by an aromatic, herbal greenness, but it is turning from wide swathes into increasingly thin streaks. As for the smoke, I find it raspy, scratchy, and rough when smelt up close. From afar, it’s still oddly sugared, though never to the ridiculous levels of Sunshine’s first two phases.
Christopher Chong has said his inspiration for Sunshine Man actually was an eclipse and its movement across the sun, and I find it impressive that he and his perfumers effected his vision so concretely. A solar eclipse really is a fitting description for what happens to Sunshine at several stages, the bright opening of the 2nd phase smeared by encroaching waves of that multi-faceted black accord and now here. I’m not so keen on the disappearance of the vanilla, though. Those 90-minutes or so when Sunshine evinced clear swirls of crème anglaise vanilla with lavender, sticky licorice, and smoky, gin-ish, resinous eau de vie booziness were really nice — and I say this as someone who doesn’t actually like intense licorice notes, not to mention whopping amounts of medicinal lavender.
Eclipses move over the sun (or moon) but then they also move away, and that is what happens with Sunshine’s drydown phase. Slowly, millimeter by millimeter, the smoky, sugary, and still aromatic, dark accord inches its way to the sidelines, leaving the vanilla exposed. Sunshine’s final stage begins roughly 11.5 hours into its evolution, as the silky vanilla cream begins to trickle out. By the middle of the 13th hour, what’s left is an utterly delicious smoky vanilla that is never too sweet, never too sugary, and never too dark.It’s still crème anglaise, but it’s been smudged all around its edges with blackness that is no longer raspy or scratchy, simply a perfect counterpart to lend the vanilla some addictive darkness. There is no longer anything aromatic about the scent; all vestiges of lavender and greenness have finally faded away. It’s a simple bouquet of smoky vanilla and nothing else, coating the skin like the thinnest lacquer. In its final hours, all that’s left is sweetness with ever fainter threads of smoke.
Sunshine Man has monster longevity on my skin, strong to moderate projection at first, and some serious sillage. Using several good, wide smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, Sunshine opened with 3 to 4 inches of projection and about 6 inches of sillage, but those numbers soon shot up as the materials were warmed by the skin. Within 30 minutes or less, the projection was roughly 5-6 inches, but the scent trail was an arm’s length, often extending even more. At the end of the 3rd hour and start of the 4th, things settled down a little: the projection was about 2 inches and the sillage was comparatively softer, though still strong at about 6-8 inches. After 8.75 hours, Sunshine hovered just above the skin, but it took a full 10 hours (!!) for the fragrance to turn into a skin scent. Even then, it wasn’t hard to detect it up close for a short while to come. It was only from the 13th hour onwards, when the smoky vanilla phase really blossomed, that I had to exert some effort, needing to put my nose right on my arm to smell the notes. It really was like the thinnest lacquer, but it clung on tenaciously with the lifespan of an elephant. In total, across my two tests, Sunshine lasted between 19 and 22 hours, depending on whether I used the equivalent of 1 spray or 2. However, you should be aware that longevity and sillage reports are all over the map on Fragrantica, both in the comments and in the voted numbers section for those two categories.
As a whole, reactions to Sunshine Man are very mixed on both Fragrantica and Basenotes. A discussion thread in the latter and Sunshine’s official Basenotes page offer opinions at both ends of the spectrum, just as they are on Fragrantica. The deciding factor seems to be the level of sweetness. Do you interpret the citruses as a glowing supernova of brightness? Or do you find it to be like candy that, to quote “Jack Hunter” on Basenotes, “could give you toothache it’s so sweet”?
Another issue, in my opinion, is how wedded are you to the former Amouage DNA and style? I don’t think this factor is as determinative in driving people’s widely divergent opinions, but it certainly comes up on a few occasions in comments on both sites. And I think they’re right. At this point, Amouage seems to have completely shed any vestiges of its Middle Eastern skin, emerging as a purely European brand whose new fragrances take comfortably approachable, commercial profiles and give them a twist. The attars are discontinued, the Omani incense hasn’t shown up in ages, and the Middle Eastern spice mix-oud combinations are a mere memory. There’s nothing wrong with purely European fragrances unless you are deeply committed to the Amouage of old, in which case I have a feeling that Sunshine Man will probably disappoint you.
My own feelings about the fragrance are deeply mixed. Putting aside the elaborate opening story, I find parts of Sunshine to be very enjoyable, while others repel me. My instant reaction in the opening minute is a deep appreciation for the bright, definitely sunny, glowing, and briskly aromatic freshness, but it’s followed pretty damn quickly by a small wince as the sugary candy arrives on scene. That eventually turns into a full shudder as the glowing citrusy brightness turns into something like an Andy Warhol Pop Art painting that has been manipulated, over-saturated, and distorted in Photoshop into a loudly garish and very lurid mess of sickly neon. It’s too, too much for my tastes. As a slowly recovering lavender-phobe, I’m also not so keen on the harshly medicinal aspects of the plant which is one of the things I dislike most about it. I know quite a few regular readers feel the same way about lavender, so I must add that the sweetness is helpful in making it more bearable. It’s just that the candied sugariness grows so ridiculously out-of-whack that it becomes its own problem. Even people with a far greater tolerance than I for sweetness will find it cloying, in my opinion, unless they’re a hardcore gourmand lover.
On the other hand, there are parts of Sunshine that veer between pleasant and genuinely enjoyable. The whisper of vanilla after 3 hours is a nice hint of things to come, while the mastic-like, aromatic, fiery eau de vie liqueur is truly excellent with its smoky overtones and resinous, balsamic layers underneath. The actual, full-on vanilla phase in the drydown is lovely, thanks to the puffs of smokiness and the perfectly balanced, silky crème anglaise. (It’s such a relief to avoid the common, overly singed, caramelized creme brulée variety that is everywhere, and to have the rarer French Bean eggy or ice-cream version that appears here.)
Plus, it’s nice that Amouage is trying its hand again at the aromatic green genre of perfumery, and I like the counterbalance of smoky darkness, even if it’s not the incense sort that characterized the brand before. It’s interesting to have the green and medicinal traits juxtaposed next to sweetness and darkness without the scent being a real, full-on gourmand, too. Sunshine may share some DNA with Eau Noire, but I think the differences are important. It feels like something new after the recent releases.
However, in all candour, I keep wondering how much of my appreciation stems from the fact that I’m so damn happy not to be smelling yet another jasmine-pepper or white floral bouquet. Opus VIII was intellectually interesting and nice but, after that, it felt as though the DJ was playing the same genre in increasingly uninspired fashion. I found Journey Woman‘s attempts to don a Chanel suit to be neither particularly interesting nor impressive; I abhorred the wholly generic, commercial, overly chemical muddy soup that was Sunshine Woman; and Opus IX finally bored me into apathetic numbness. As I mentioned earlier, I actually don’t like hefty amounts of lavender, licorice, or gin very much but, after the last lot of Amouage, bring them on! What a relief.
What I don’t wonder about is whether this smoky, green-black, aromatic scent is so fundamentally different or compelling as to validate a $400/€350 price tag. For me personally, relief or no relief, nothing in Sunshine warrants that figure. It’s a solid, often evocative, and occasionally very enjoyable fragrance with some ups and downs. But it never once swept me off my feet with admiration or lust — and I think some measure of coup de foudre is necessary for a $400 purchase. In fairness, part of that obviously stems from my personal issues with some of the notes and with the sweetness levels. Plus, cost assessments are a very personal, subjective valuation, so you may feel very differently. Still, I would be really surprised if the average person thought Sunshine Man were distinctive and special enough to warrant $400. (For regular readers, I have to add that, no, I don’t think my “Roja Dove Rule” applies here, because I don’t think Sunshine Man rises to that level of quality, smoothness, or luxurious richness.)
You should try Sunshine Man for yourself if you love lavender in all its facets (including the medicinal ones), aromatic green fragrances, licorice, and candied sweetness. Fans of Eau Noire may also want to give it a sniff, though I don’t think they should expect a true gourmand scent or the same level of smoothness. If you have serious sweetness issues, I don’t think Sunshine will be for you.