Perfume Review: Amouage Memoir Woman

Memoir Woman was designed as part of a pair of fragrances, as is common with Amouage, and the two fragrances were meant to explore the “timeless narrative of man and woman.” Released in 2010, the scent was composed by Daniel Maurel and Dorothée Piot, and categorized as a “spicy leather-animalic chypre.”

Topnotes: cardamom, mandarin orange, pink pepper, wormwood (absinthe). Heart notes: clove, incense, pepper, woody notes, jasmine, rose, white flowers. Basenotes: musk, French labdanum, oakmoss, styrax, leather.

A kind friend sent me some of this wonderful fragrance. Earlier, I’d read the words “animalic chypre” and raised my eyebrows, thinking, “Well, I can write this one off the test list.” Animalic chypre is so not my style. In fact, it still isn’t, and may never be – but I’ve come to understand that Memoir Woman is very difficult to classify. Like another morpher, Chamade, Memoir Woman smells very different from top to bottom. Unlike Chamade, which can be classified as a green floral with an oriental base, Memoir is tougher to pin down. You think it’s going one way, and then you hang a hairpin turn and find yourself somewhere completely different.

Upon first spritz, my nose crinkled up and I jerked my head back. Such a strange smell! So weird – and yet so oddly appealing. I sniffed more. I kept coming back to my wrist, tracking each facet in turn. “I can’t figure this out,” I said to myself. “It isn’t a chypre. It isn’t particularly animalic. I smell a little bit of leather, but it’s not A Leather Scent, either. Is it a floral? Not really. So what is it?”

I had no answers for weeks. I rechecked the notes, while smelling. Still no understanding reached me. I read Angela’s review at Now Smell This, trying to make her experience congruent with mine – but no luck. Memoir made less sense to me than ever. I read reviews at Basenotes and Makeup Alley and Fragrantica. I read Tarleisio’s evocative story-review at The Alembicated Genie, and loved the story, but still had absolutely no idea as to how this fragrance worked. “I should hate this thing,” I mused to myself. “All those aromatics. And incense and woods and chypre components… I just. Don’t. Get. It.” I read Marina’s review at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, too, to no avail. It’s so weird, I kept saying to myself. Just weird, fifty-’leven kinds of weird.

Then one morning I put on two spritzes (neck and wrist) and headed out to my local Wal-Mart, to buy lining fabric for a dress I planned to make for my daughter. The woman cutting the fabric complimented Memoir: “What on earth smells so good?” she exclaimed, looking around. “Oh, it’s you! It’s your perfume. That’s really wonderful, I love it.” I thanked her, took my lining fabric, and went to the grocery aisles to pick up eggs and milk and salad ingredients before checking out. The cashier, too, was effusive. “I just love your perfume,” she said, learning toward me with shining eyes. “What is it?” I told her the name: Memoir. “My husband would just love that on me. You know, it smells like perfume, but it isn’t loud. So beautiful.” I thanked her and left the store, surreptitiously sniffing my wrist.

I had an epiphany about how Memoir is put together, right there in the Wal-Mart parking lot, monument to America’s taste for cheap plastic stuff and clothing made in China, the refuge for every redneck in the county buying beer at two in the morning on weekends. I will never again thoughtlessly refer to “trailer trash tastes,” not after seeing how people clearly unused to upscale perfumery enjoyed it so much!  I wore Memoir frequently over the following weeks, checking and rechecking how it morphed, enjoying it more each time, until I had worn it almost as often as I wore Mary Greenwell Plum, and it felt nearly as comfortable.

Misty Woodland
At first sniff, the fragrance is intensely green: a dark, inky green with an almost poisonously neon green curling through it like smoke, or like liquid food coloring dropped into water. The liqueur-like absinthe note is startling and vivid for a few moments, and then you begin to catch the peppery-spicy elements behind it as the Green Fairy flutters away. There is a soft, suedey leather bit apparent under that, as well as a hint of (I think) frankincense, and this phase lasts for about half an hour. It smells – oh, not like pine exactly, but it has a bracing, chilly winter air feeling about it and make you want to breathe in repeatedly, pulling the sharply aromatic scent into your lungs.

 (Image is The Harem Dance, by Giulio Rosati.  Notice how there are no lascivious guys in the room, just women hanging out.  — Okay, there IS that lute-playing dude in the back, but he’s not there to leer, he’s there to provide soundtrack.)

Gradually this bracing, cold-air aspect is subsumed by a warm, rich, floral section dominated by white flowers. The effect is that you’ve come in from the cold into a colorful, plushly-decorated room peopled with odalisques in diaphanous costume, idly brushing each other’s hair or smoothing fragrant oils into their skin, chatting pleasantly and affectionately to each other in a language you don’t speak. Fragrant petals lie on every horizontal surface imaginable, and there’s a small water feature in the corner of the room, plashing away. This is Memoir’s luxurious, almost indolent phase, all friendly-but-exotic: rose petal sherbet and velvet ottomans, tuberose flowers scattered over the mosaic floor, delicately beaded leather sandals, smiles and henna. There’s an older woman squatting on her haunches in another corner of the room, grinding herbs and spices and what-all, you don’t even know, into beautifying pastes. Incense burns in a brazier. The houris take your arm, smiling and speaking encouragingly, and lead you to a couch where they brush your hair and apply those strange spicy-herbal pastes to your skin. All you can do is nod and smile back, and offer up your face for anointing, and your hands for henna painting.

Winter Cabin 2006After a long while, Memoir’s flowers and incense fade, leading the wearer into a mountain cabin with rough wood walls and a fire in the stone fireplace. Cured pelts are stacked neatly in bundles, the result of the winter’s trapping. The snow has begun to melt outside, and on a small table near the leather sofa is a pewter plate with good sharp cheese and some crackers, a handful of dried figs, and a shortbread cookie or two. A snifter of brandy stands by the plate. You sit on the sofa and watch the flames, nibbling and sipping a little, thinking about where you’ve been. The crackle of the fire and the dripping of the snow along the gutters are hypnotic, and you drift off to sleep under a woolen blanket someone has thoughtfully draped along the back of the sofa.

Memoir lasts for several hours: one hefty spray will go at least twelve hours on me, and sometimes fourteen, from cold mountain air top through the social room of the harem, its flowers and cheerfulness, down to the smoky cabin.

Remember how disappointed I was in Honour Woman? I’d thought, “Ooh, Amouage does a white floral, I’m bound to love that,” and then it turned out really wrong for me. Well – Memoir is at heart another white floral, albeit the funhouse, wacky-dream version rather than the ikebana Japanese one. It is still, to me, fifty-’leven kinds of weird, but it’s like the strange dream you have that you’re in a house with something new behind every door, and just before you wake up, you realize that it’s really your house. You’re home.

A few other reviews of Memoir Woman: Dane at Pere de Pierre, and Suzanne’s Perfume Journal.

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20 Responses to Perfume Review: Amouage Memoir Woman

  1. Barbara says:

    What a wonderful review! Can I pre-order your novel? :)

  2. Dionne says:

    Mals, that was excellent. Just excellent.

  3. AnnS says:

    Mals – it was certainly worth the energy to read your wonderful review of Memoir! I totally agree – for me on paper, Memoir would be a big NO. I didn’t even make any efforts to try and get a sample. But the queen enabler sent one to me many months ago as a toss-in, and I was very more than pleasantly surprised how much I loved it, immediately. To me, it is the last of the three graces, one of three sisters, each the same but truly independent. To my nose, Memoir Woman belongs in a remarkable family that includes vintage Bal a Versailles and Teo Cabanal Alahine. More than the sum of their ingredients, better and more beautiful than anyone else for having the same parts, interesting to a fault, charming, seductive, joyful, easy to wear, warm & sensual, but still lush, over the top, perfectly restrained yet exuberant, deep, floral, woodsy, so well blended you can hardly imagine. Top to bottom perfection. I was hooked. I am glad to hear you love it too! There is something about the three fragrances that all smell so rich and warm and have so much atmosphere and personality.

    As an aside for good taste in unexpected places: I was wearing Ta’if the other day and went to pick up some slices of pizza for lunch from an awesome pizza shop – the ONLY restaurant/eaterie in 7 miles of anywhere else. It’s full of local workers, truckers, rednecks, local residents, ME, etc. This very stunning, very young woman who works at the counter made a comment about how good I smelled. I thanked her and she said: it smells like the new Fergie perfume from Avon. I said that I’d not smelled it but I’ll check it out because it might be a good deal. She made a comment then about how expensive this Fergie Outspoken is, and I said “Wow that is expensive.” but had to smile to myself thinking how much Ta’if cost me.

    • mals86 says:

      Thanks, Ann! Despite not understanding Memoir, I thought it was amazing and interesting and enjoyable at first sniff. Kept wearing it and saying, “So not me,” and then it sort of turned into Me…

      I can see a relation to Bal a Versailles, because it’s so kitchen-sinky, so all-things-to-all-people. Alahine is a much “clearer” fragrance in my mind, all golden light and alto-toned bells. You’re right, though: atmosphere and personality!

      It’s so nice to at least find your fragrance appealing to people who would not drop $50 on a bottle! I sniffed some things at the Walgreen’s last week, and the clerk mentioned to me that she loved Faith Hill’s new one, Soul2Soul, because it smelled like “gold flowers and skin” to her, and then she said she needed a full bottle of it when she could save up the money. (The thing’s $35.) That’s a perfumista in budding.

      • AnnS says:

        I get a lot of very sunny, juicy jasmine in Alahine, which is why I always toss it in the same group as BaV, etc…. it is very lush and “3-D” to my nose even though it’s primarily an exercise in excellent amber/benzoin, incense and woods. All three of them give me the same feeling that I am sitting next to a golden warm fire in a very opulent space.

  4. Tamara J.* says:

    Fanfffffntastic review!!
    I mean I think this my favorite one of yours my dear. :)
    I’m so glad you love Memoir because I do too but I could have never put it into words like this.
    It is just such a otherworldly beauty that I can actually wear in “my world”.

    I’ve worn it on walks in my forest, to dancing at music shows downtown ,to romantic evening dinner dates and it accommodates them all.
    I love that.

    xoxo~T

    • mals86 says:

      Thanks, sweetie!

      It IS truly otherworldly – so strange and so not-strange, so invigorating and so comforting at the same time. I can see you in it doing all those things.

  5. Lavanya says:

    Loved your review, Mals! I smelled too many amouages together at the scent bar- so I don’t remember which one was memoir. must. order. sample..I seem to have a very high threshold for weird so I am curiousss..

    • mals86 says:

      I’d be interested to hear what you wind up thinking of it. I think it’s really tough to get a good read on Amouages in general when sniffing a lot of them at once…

  6. Natalie says:

    I’m not sure what I make of this perfume, but I really enjoyed your review. I read it a few days ago, and it stuck with me. Makes me even more curious to re-test Memoir Woman.

    And if you don’t find a publisher, there’s no justice in this world.

    • mals86 says:

      It is SO strange. I wonder what you will get out of Memoir Woman upon retest… you know, it’s funny – most of the time when I love something, it’s got an emotional hold on me of some kind. This one is more of an intellectual/imagination hold. Of course the more I wear it the more I develop an emotional bond.

      (Thanks for your kind words about the publishing!)

  7. HemlockSillage says:

    Lovely, lyrical review, Mals. You’ve loved this for a while, and I was glad to know as I read your review that a sample is winging my way as we write. I look forward to trying Memoir Woman. The notes do not sound like something I would love, but the sum is greater than the parts. I’m not sure whether I should hope to have your experience, and love it, or hope not to like it and save lots of semoleans for another fragrance. It’ll be fun, either way. Be well.

    • mals86 says:

      It’s funny – when the notice popped up for this one (“new Amouages!”) on NST, I wasted no time commenting that it didn’t sound to my taste and I wouldn’t bother trying it.

      I wuz wrong. But then I’m frequently wrong! I thought I’d love Epic and Honour, and I didn’t.

      Conversation overheard on the Virginia Tech campus:
      Guy 1: She’s the perfect woman for you.
      Guy 2: There’s no such THING as the perfect woman.
      Guy 1: Which is why we must keep looking.

  8. Suzanne says:

    Memoir Woman is really a difficult one to describe, isn’t it? But the most beautiful “je ne sais quoi” I’ve smelled in a long while.

    I enjoyed reading your take on it, Mals ~ and thank you so much for the link!

    • mals86 says:

      It is odd and wonderful and difficult to pin down! I enjoyed your review as well. I’d already (finally!) written this when I read yours, but it was helpful to me in understanding, and beautifully written too.

  9. Zubi says:

    I think I found my signature (though we all know that’s a lie as I’m going to keep looking for other types of signatures!)…

    I’ve become so obsessed with this scent that I had to look up every review. Yours is the best, both in your use of language as well as accuracy.

    Mmmmm. Smoky licorice heaven is what Memoir is on my skin, and I NEED a bottle soon (using sample atm).

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