Amouage‘s new Renaissance Collection marks the beginning of a new era for the Omani brand; its most popular release, Crimson Rocks, is the subject of today’s review. One of four fragrances, Crimson Rocks eschews Amouage’s old system of having twin Man/Woman fragrances on the same theme. Instead, there are four new unisex fragrances, each with a different focus. Crimson Rock’s focus is a cinnamon-spiced, honeyed, slightly gourmand and very woody desert rose which eventually becomes a honeyed, spicy, rose-tinged woody amber.
Before we get to the details of Crimson Rocks, however, I’d like to spend a little time discussing what Amouage describes as its “transformation for the future.” As many of you already know, Amouage has been through a number of changes since 2019, including a shake-up in leadership. For one thing, Christopher Chong has left the brand. The four new Renaissance Collection fragrances are the first launched under new management and herald the era of Renaud Salmon.
CHANGES AT AMOUAGE:
The changes at Amouage began in 2019. In June of that year, Christopher Chong announced that he was stepping down as Creative Director to pursue other interests. Amouage’s Chief Operating Officer (CEO) also stepped down in 2019 and Marco Parsiegla was appointed in his place in November.
In February 2020, Renaud Salmon stepped into Christopher Chong’s shoes. Amouage’s February 2020 press release has a great deal of information about Mr. Salmon, his background, and his new role, as well as the purported purpose behind the company restructuring:
Redefining its position in the high-end fragrance industry, Amouage has been undertaking a transformation that will re-write the book on perfume creation and its relationships with the next generation. Key to this has been the appointment of Marco Parsiegla as Chief Executive Officer, and now, the debut of a new role to its leadership team, the Chief Experience Officer (CXO). Taking up this prestigious post is Renaud Salmon, whose career includes work for some of the most well-known global luxury houses like Delvaux, Louis Vuitton, Dolce&Gabbana, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs.
[¶][…] Belgium-born, Renaud Salmon started his career as an intern at Belgian luxury goods house Delvaux, and has since worked his way through many of the world’s leading luxury brands. With a business background, but trained in fragrances and photography, he progressively became the trusted right-hand of world-class fashion designers, creating coherent fragrance universes. Having worked and lived in Brussels, Geneva, Milano, London, Paris and New York, Salmon brings an international energy to Amouage. In his role, he will be responsible for every aspect of the brand’s consumer touchpoints, including product creation, brand image, communication and merchandising. A special focus will be on the digital and social elements to reach the next generation of Amouage consumers around the globe.
One thing to note about Renaud Salmon’s position is that it comes with a different title and a slight twist in terms of control. His new role at Amouage is not called “creative director” with implicit solo control and authority but, rather, Chief Experience Officer (CXO) where he will be at the helm of the “Amouage Creative Collective.” (It sounds like the Omani Borg, if you ask me.) The press release explains further:
Key to [Amouage’s transformation for the future] has been the appointment of Marco Parsiegla as Chief Executive Officer, and now, the debut of a new role to its leadership team, the Chief Experience Officer (CXO). Taking up this prestigious post is Renaud Salmon, whose career includes work for some of the most well-known global luxury houses like Delvaux, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs. His role at the iconic brand positions him at the helm of what will be known as the “Amouage Creative Collective”, a diverse team of creative experts who will lead the journey towards the brand’s re-imagined future.
Enlisting a hub of exceptional artists, from perfumers, photographers, videographers, designers, to editors, the “Amouage Creative Collective” is a groundbreaking approach to fragrance creation, transcending the constraints of a single creative director. A mix of established names and emerging figures, the team will unify the strategic and creative ambitions of the house, have creative freedom on all its interactions with consumers, and be the voice of the brand. The idea, believes Pasiegla, is to re-imagine the way fragrances are crafted, communicated, purchased and, ultimately, enjoyed.
There is a heck of a lot of focus in those words on marketing, imagery, media, “brand’s consumer touchpoints,” and “brand image, communication and merchandising.” And, remember, this is Amouage’s own blunt admission of where they want their fragrance company to go, they’re not my perceptions or opinions of what the brand cares about!
I don’t think that’s a good sign. In fact, I confess, my heart sank deep in particular at this part of Amouage’s press release: “A special focus will be on the digital and social elements to reach the next generation of Amouage consumers around the globe.” When taken as a whole with everything else mentioned above, Amouage is literally telling us that its emphases will skew heavily to marketing, digital popularity, PR, imagery, and influencer social media — à la Tom Ford. What I’m not hearing, however, is about the paramount importance of olfaction or of pure olfactory substance as the main or singular driving force. Even on Amouage’s boutiques page, there is an unexpected mention of market growth and its implied financial success: “One of the fastest growing brands within the luxury fragrance sector, double digit growth over the last 10 years.”
Again, when everything is taken as a cumulative whole, including the brand’s own admission on how it plans to direct and channel its “transformation into the future,” I’m not hopeful. I was once, though. When I first heard about the Renaissance Collection and the shake-up at Amouage, I had hoped that they would mark a return to the early days of Amouage and its glories like Gold, Ubar, the attars like Homage, Badr Al Badour, or the glorious Tribute, or even some of the Christopher Chong knockouts like Fate Woman. We’ll see what happens but, based on my experience with Crimson Rocks, I fear that my hopes may have been misplaced.
Crimson Rocks is an eau de parfum that was created by Domitille Michalon-Bertier and released in September 2020. Amouage’s Twitter account sums it up as: “A luxury Floral Spicy Oriental creation, containing 25% of pure fragrance oils.”
Amouage’s website offers a more detailed description of Crimson Rocks, its inspiration, and its notes:
Crimson Rocks conjures the majesty of Al Hajar mountains in all their glory at dusk. Standing tall at the top, one is engulfed by a sweet sense of peace.
For this fragrance, Amouage brought to life an intense Rose, one that is resilient to withstand extreme weather yet gentle, welcoming and just like the mountains it calls home, rooted to stand the test of time. Texturing the Rose are red notes of Cinnamon and an earthy Jujube Honey Accord which along with Oakwood and Cedarwood paint the Al Hajar mountains in deep crimson hues.
Ms. Michalon-Bertier elaborates further on the materials:
I have used two different and innovative Rose extractions, allowing their majestic scents to unveil directly in the top note and then to reveal other facets in the heart of the composition. It is textured with Cinnamon Essential, which ‘smells red’ in my mind, but also with a surprising Jujube Honey Accord, recalling the specialty of the region. Finally, I have built a potent dry down with the heady, addictive notes of Oakwood, enhanced with Vetiver and Red Cedarwood.
Crimson Rocks’ official note list is as follows:
TOP NOTES: Pink Pepper CO2 & Cinnamon Bark Essential.
HEART NOTES: Rose Essential, Rose Ultimate, & Jujube Honey Accord.
BASE NOTES: Oakwood CO2, Cedarwood Atlas Oil & Vetiver Oil.
Crimson Rocks opens on my skin with a cinnamon-drenched rose followed by huge amounts of oaky woodiness that smells similar to the wood of bourbon or cognac barrels. The cinnamon is also somewhat woody, like that of cinnamon tree bark, but it is not so extreme on my skin as to resemble Red Hot candies or fiery cinnamon sweets. (It does, however, skew that way when I tested Crimson Rocks on a paper strip instead of skin. It also skews into Red Hot territory for many others, according to what I’ve read.) On me, the cumulative effect of everything is a spiced, slightly boozy woody-rose or a rose-woody fragrance. The two central chords — the rose and the woods— are co-equal in focus for the most part but there are also consistent shifts throughout Crimson Rocks’ opening on my skin where the woods sometimes overpower the rose and vice-versa.
Other elements quickly appear, though they are secondary notes like the cinnamon. Within minutes, a beautiful, boozy, sticky, extremely syrupy, spiced honey accord bursts on scene, followed by tiny vetiver leaves that spring up around the main bouquet. The vetiver smells earthy, smoky, grassy, and woody all at the same time. The honey is a little musky in its sweetness and spiced, Middle Eastern-style, but it wasn’t until I did a test of Crimson Rocks on paper that the undertones became clear: buttery saffron imbued with somewhat fiery pink peppercorns. Interestingly, neither the pink peppercorns nor the saffron showed up in any distinct way when I tested Crimson Rocks on skin and, in both cases, I wouldn’t say that they were significant notes.
Last but not least in Crimson Rocks’ opening bouquet is a slightly medicinal, slightly antiseptic-smelling, arid but also fuzzy and golden woody-amber aromachemical that appears and runs underneath all the other notes. I am far too drastically disabled by such materials to ever do an in-depth study and become an expert on which woody-amber is which but here, judging by the effects on me and by my past experience with fragrances whose note lists are candid, I think there are two separate things at play: Ambroxan and Amber Xtreme, both hidden within the Jujube honey mix or accord. For me, Ambroxan typically imparts the sensation of small hot needles up my nose every time I take a deep sniff from my arm, but it is the Amber Xtreme that always, each and every time, causes the strongest, most unpleasant reactions: sharp pains through my head, twitching in one eye, a raspy throat and nose that feel as though sandpaper had been taken to them, followed later by dizziness, a searing migraine, and nausea.
However, given that I have an abnormally heightened sensitivity to powerful woody or woody-amber aromachemicals and atypical strong physical reactions as a result, I’m not certain anyone normal would detect it, let alone be affected by it. On the other hand, a fragrance friend without any of my issues also couldn’t handle the forcefulness of the synthetic materials and Crimson Rocks and ascribed his nausea to Amber Xtreme. It’s an aromachemical that even Luca Turin seems to dislike and one that he once called the most nuclear of all “Power Tools.” I will try to write the rest of the review without repeated emphasis to the initially antiseptic, synthetic twang or its later bone-dry, smoky, woody amber tonalities, but don’t take my silence to mean that the synths are not there. I’m simply trying to shove its unpleasantness under the carpet since most people do not experience or smell what I do.
While I like the cinnamon, sticky honey, boozy, and oaky aspects of Crimson Rock’s opening quite a bit, I think it’s worth spending a brief amount of time talking about the rose which is also pretty. For me, it’s a completely different rose than the one in prior Amouage rose-based fragrances like, for example, Lyric Man, Epic Woman, Homage, or the fully gourmand honeyed, saffron roses in some of Amouage’s old attars like Al Mas and Asrar. For one thing, Crimson Rocks doesn’t have a green rose like in Lyric Man, imbued with a variety of notes ranging from the pungently biting and green (galbanum), to the slightly herbal, citrusy and incense laced. Similarly, Crimson Rocks’ rose isn’t a spicy, richly jammy mixed rose bouquet accompanied by a surprising note of pickles like in Epic (or by ylang-ylang as in Lyric Woman). And, unlike the attars, the honeyed cinnamon rose here is neither a clean, aldehyde-sprinkled 3D rose soliflore like Homage, nor centrally paired with loads of either buttery, spicy, or buttery spicy gourmand saffron like Al Mas or Asrar. Cinnamon, honey, and woods are its dance partners, not any saffron buried deep within the mixed Jujube honey accord.
While some people experience Crimson Rocks’ rose as a gourmand scent, it really isn’t on me because the dry woods and wood-amber aromachemicals cut into much of the sweetness on my skin. I would call the fragrance semi-gourmand in its first few hours due to the honey but, when taken as a whole from start to finish, the “gourmand” label doesn’t apply to my experience at all.
Crimson Rocks is a pretty linear fragrance on my skin when considered from start to finish. The opening that I’ve described doesn’t change for two hours except for tiny, brief, momentary shifts in emphasis from rose-woody to woody-rose. At the start of the 3rd hour, those constant fluctuations end and Crimson Rocks shifts into a fragrance primarily dominated by its woody elements, with the rose becoming part of a co-equal bunch of simple secondary notes: honeyed, cinnamon spiced, sweet, and rosy floral, with undercurrents of earthy-woody vetiver, warmly golden amber, and arid woody smoke running in the base.
Crimson Rocks doesn’t change much from there for hours to come and, even when it does, it’s essentially an even more simplified version of the same. At the 4.5 hour mark, it is an increasingly blurry but seamless, simple, linear bouquet of cinnamon, honey, woody oak layered with dry, somewhat smoky woody-amber aromachemicals, decreasing wisps of earthy vetiver, and a muted semi-gourmand red rose.
From the start of the 6th hour until the 9th hour, Crimson Rock’s core essence can be boiled down to an amorphous, blurry, dry-sweet, cinnamon, honeyed woods atop an increasingly glowing base of warm, slightly sweet Ambroxan. Yes, there are still traces of the rose but they’re now heavily subsumed within that central warp core. The only major changes now are that the woods smell more of smoky cedar than bourbon oak barrels and that the Amber Xtreme has taken many steps back to let the fuzzy, golden warmth of the Ambroxan shine forth. From afar, the latter is somewhat nice when mixed with the honey and cinnamon.
Crimson Rocks’ drydown begins roughly 9.25 hours into its development. In essence, the amber part of the woody-ambers take over and become the central focus. The bouquet is now primarily a golden, honeyed, sweet (but also sweet-dry), spicy, fuzzy, minutely musky amberiness smudged at the edges with a soft cedar-ish woodiness. It’s nice, though I can’t appreciate it as much as I would like because my throat and nose feel painfully raw. In its final hour and moments, all that’s left of Crimson Rocks is a dry-sweet, spicy goldenness.
Crimson Rocks had good longevity, initially big sillage that took a few hours to turn softer, and generally soft projection. Using several generous, wide smears from a vial equal to two good sprays from an actual bottle, Crimson Rocks opened with a big blast: a cloud that extended roughly a foot of length from me in the first 45 minutes and that smelled powerful, rich, deep but also paradoxically voluminous in a diffuse, airy way. However, the projection right off my arm was smaller, only about 3 inches, 4 at best. Also, none of my family could smell Crimson Rocks on me when I stood several feet away at the end of the first hour. At the 2.25 hour mark, the sillage and projection drop, becoming far softer and more personal. The sillage has shrunk to about 4-5 inches while the projection is now about 1.5 inches off my arm. At the 4.5 hour mark, the scent trail is close to the body and Crimson Rocks barely projects off my arm. That said, due to the strong aromachemicals in the base, it is a strong, potent fragrance when sniffed up close. In the 7th hour, Crimson Rocks is approaching skin scent status; that happens fully at the 8.5 hour mark, though, again, the fragrance isn’t impossible to detect if I put my nose right onto my arm. In total, Crimson Rocks lasted just under 13.75 hours on my skin. (On paper, it seems to last forever, but that is often the case with fragrances that have nuclear woody-ambers.)
On Fragrantica, the majority of the reviews posted thus far are positive and the scent has a 3.96 rating out of 5. As with other sites, Fragrantica posters who have tried all four Renaissance Collection fragrances seem to like Crimson Rocks the most. Also, it is popular with both men and women. Be that as it may, there are also a few disdainful or shrugging remarks from those who find the fragrance either mediocre or similar to other things that they’ve tried. Interesting, one of the people who considered Crimson Rocks to be mediocre, “Mak-7,” specifically mentioned the aromachemicals he experienced: “some aromachemical has been added that is really popping to me from both, the test strip and skin.”
Obviously, your sensitivity to woody-amber aromachemicals like, for example, Amber Xtreme, is going to impact your view of Crimson Rocks. An old Twitter fragrance friend told me that he had “the same experience” as I did with the fragrance, adding
I cannot imagine being forced to bear it. I tried because someone I respect a lot gave it a very interesting review, but the woody-amber aspect was just too much. It may very well be both Ambroxan and Amber Xtreme, but I am not as sensitive to the former as you so think it’s … [¶] Something more like the latter? At least that’s what giving me the [vomiting, green-faced emoji].
My friend can wear a lot of scents that I cannot, including those with a number of different amber synths or wood-ambers, and he doesn’t get the sort of severe physical side-effects that I consistently do, but even so, Amber Xtreme seems to be the one thing that consistently makes him feel queasy and retreat. In short, I’m not the lone weirdo in terms of what I experienced with Crimson Rocks. We may not be the norm or the majority but, if you share my issues to a big degree, I would advise you to skip Crimson Rocks.
Assuming that people have no issues whatsoever with nuclear woody-amber synthetics, I can see Crimson Rocks appealing to a few different groups. I think it will be a hit with: men and women who love semi-gourmand to gourmand woody, floral woody, or rose-woody-amber bouquets; people who love both cinnamon and honey fragrances, even if the cinnamon can skew to Red Hots on occasion; and people who don’t expect Crimson Rocks to be a predominantly pure rose oriental and who enjoy dry, spiced, honeyed woods just as much. There is quite a bit of overlap between these groups, obviously, but I will say again that I think Crimson Rocks is wholly unisex, so it’s not gender that matters so much as the lens through which you want your rose and woods presented.
Out of an abundance of fairness and to be crystal clear, let me say that I thought Crimson Rocks had a number of pretty facets, even with my physical allergic reaction.
However, even if I had zero reactions to the materials in Crimson Rocks, I still wouldn’t wear it. I find it to be far too simplistic, linear, and boring for the price in question: $340, £260, €300, or C$440. Let me say bluntly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with simplicity or even linearity if you adore the scent in question but, for me, the raw materials have to be great and the price also has to be commensurate for the bouquet in question. Personally, I think Crimson Rocks falls short on those grounds. I also find that it drones on in a monotonous fashion.
Then again, the lens through which I perceive Crimson Rocks is highly impacted by the difficult physical experience I had while testing it and by the fact that I’m not a hardcore rose lover, so I will be the first to say that I cannot pretend to be completely objective. Mine is just one view amongst many — and the vast majority of people seem to love Crimson Rocks.
In short, if you don’t mind certain ingredients, if you absolutely love sweet-dry, honey- and cinnamon-soaked roses, oak, cedar, amber, and a dash of vetiver, then you should give Crimson Rocks a test sniff.