Oh, Binary! Gold Man by Amouage

Take this line by Susan Sontag as a starting point: “[w]hat is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.” What does this mean, and why does it matter? I think there’s something of a Postmodern slick to this line, demonstrating the necessary reliance of a concept on its other. For instance, masculinity gains its excess of value – that which makes it excellent, essential, excessive – with the presence of something indeterminately and indescribably feminine, and vice-versa. Masculinity par excellence, requires the feminine. Femininity par excellence, requires the masculine. To rupture this binary from its opposite is to obliterate what makes the thing itself so worthwhile.

What becomes apparent is the instability of this binary. In a quest for the best (or the better) masculine, one pushes towards the feminine. At some point, you’d image that this would topple into the feminine. And so, what becomes of the scent? Do we dare label it? Do we accept the limitations and the overall futility of the binary? Thus resorting to sous rature: that is, drawing a line through a word because it longer represents the concept it used to signify – masculinity no longer has any meaning, nor does femininity. What we thought it meant has become contingent, and can therefore be done away with.

What has this got to do with Gold Man? Exactly this. There is nothing masculine nor feminine about it tout court. It is everything – it is both – and thus it is nothing. It is simply Gold Man under erasure, as the concept <man> is no longer adequate nor appropriate: it no longer signifies <man>, because the concept itself has been questioned and challenged. It survives only sous rature.

Attention is now paid to the scent itself. Its top is that of an unforgiving dryness that has a dusty quality. This luminous fizziness reminds me of Champagne in its properly refined sense: ultra brut. Not all Champagne is excellent – excellent Champagne is a challenging drink. It is not fresh, nor is it glossy, and never is it sweet. Rather, Champagne of this sort, like Gold Man, is wrapped in a dusky shading: its Chypre base is undeniable, made all the more interesting with civet and its echoes, and the bright top lighting is replaced with the moodiness of chiaroscuro, where light is swallowed into darkness.

It is no easy task to dissect Gold Man, because it forms a tight unified whole. It must be talked about in time and through time, as its value comes from its development, typical and true of many other Chypres (viz. Mitsouko; Vol de Nuit; Pour Monsieur). Chypres uniquely go through perceptible dramatic change as it develops. And Gold Man in particular is a loaded scent that forms a single idea, where the notes rearrange and restructure themselves through time, developing slight variations on a central theme with a persistent thematic thread from beginning to end. Breaching past the soft aldehydic light, there is a movement of unsweetened and mature ‘fruit’ tones that derive from the very flower notes that contain them (so, it’s not really fruit at all – a clever effect), like that of lily of the valley with its excess of sweet green sharpness, the unctuous multicolour of jasmine, and rosehip with its deep fruitiness. The total effect is something warm, blushing even, and it wants to move and expand until it reaches equilibrium.

And so it does. This grand theme is not present so much or at its fullest extent until a little moment later. The dusty aldehydes lessen and that non-specific fruitiness retreats into the detectable background – and what remains is a work where all the pieces are in correct arrangement. The theme overall is that of powder, and whilst that’s correct, that’s too reductive, and perhaps too simplistic. It’s a movement all towards this theme, where all notes are oriented towards this fantasy idea. It is a powder spiced resplendently with civet and that unmistakable sense of refinement it carries, then enriched with the extravagance that florals are solely capable of, then carried to excess with exquisite resins and austere Silver frankincense, which offers this intriguing effect of seeping into the otherwise empty spaces of this fragrance. Because of this, this Chypre makes a tilt into the Oriental category and the pictures of the exotic Middle East emerge. This is tethered to an impressive base of orris in its elegantly woody register, which I assume is achieved via a sprinkle of vetiver and patchouli, gently engulfed and strangled softly with oakmoss, and coddled in a haze of sandalwood that feels light but never not present.

Gold Man places me at the limits of description. Its complexity is manifest but deceptive. Its construction is faultless, and a scent like this represents a wonderful summary of an entire epoch of perfume: that great era of symphonic florals maximally layered until you’re left with one coherent idea, but one very complex, and very good idea.


Addendum: A Note on the Criticism That Surrounds Gold Man:

It is plain that Gold Man is one of the greats of perfumery, insofar that it was a great temptation of mine to write about Gold Man as if it were the fragrance emblematic of good taste. And I think this is an interesting angle, and I do not think it is wrong to make this argument. Similarly, I do not think that it matters (in relation to the quality and creativity of the fragrance itself) that the perfumer Guy Robert had carte blanche; but it certainly reveals what’s possible with such freedoms. I certainly think Gold Man is up there, but to make this assertion without justification or careful thought is a highly unhelpful one for analysis and blogging purposes, as I don’t want to come across as if I were pontificating, occluding all of those other wonderful fragrances out there when edification ought be prime. Nonetheless, I have assessed the situation that surrounds the discourse of Gold Man – and it is grim. Check it out for yourself, but, be warned, and by all means, be weary of those who issue absolute evaluative comments without much consideration, not realising that absolutes (including evaluatively positive superlatives) are the most expensive of all possible locutions and comments. Moreover, reject those who do not give Gold Man a go, or those who dismiss Gold Man because it smells like all that is less-than-desirable. I understand this perspective, sure, I myself once shared this sentiment, but any properly intelligent person with a knack for smelling things must challenge themselves, and open up their own horizons to the broadest range of meaning and wholesome inclusion. This includes not only strange, unfamiliar, and exotic notes, but also a rejection of silly gendering practices. In sum, reviews of this scent have been (by and large) unproductive and not at all useful.

Therefore, criticism and commentary of the sort that I beg for and attempt to provide is beneficial because it allows one to correct injustices leveled against fragrances: asserting the force of the better – and more rational – argument. This is a contact sport to me – but not in an aggressive guise. It’s self-defence: a disposition to use reactionary force only when it is so required, with a goal to move towards the correct and the charitable. Good criticism is a rejoinder directed against an imbalanced and inequitable discourse, where the level-headed and reasoned critic occupies a privileged position from within this discourse, with the rightfully entitled power to comment on the misgivings that they are capable of identifying.

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