Wednesday, March 29, 2023 | Ramadan 6, 1444 H
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The seven villages that inspired a new generation of fragrances

Renaud Salmon has travelled across Oman visiting different destinations. As a French man in Oman, he has become fascinated by Oman’s story, its hidden oasis, fantastic people and the country’s unique characteristics that led to several realisations including different places having their soul.

“We went to Salalah. We were going around Khor Rori because it is part of history where the trade of frankincense happened. There was a sign there saying it’s where the ships in ancient times used to dock and while in the middle of this ancient land, I thought, how amazing it would be if we can capture a boatful of frankincense in small bottles,” he said.

That idea will eventually grow into a full brief for different master perfumers of which he was the creative director. As the chief experience officer of Oman’s beloved Amouage, it is his role to envision not just the experience but the direction of where the perfume industry is headed.

In another instance, Renaud found himself in the beautiful village of Al Ulya.

“I always tell this story of how I love going to oasis. When you go to Birkat al Mouz or you go to Al Ulya or one of these places with wadis and date palms, you enter the place and it feels very generous, it feels very green and that’s what your eyes would see. But one of the first things you might notice, or you might not see it right away but would smell it. At one point, you will notice the smell of smoke because somewhere, people will burn these palm leaves. So instantly, your brain would connect the place with the smell of beautiful burnt palm leaves,” he said.

“So, that’s the exercise. Trying to capture memories. A lot of us capture these with our cameras and our phones. For us perfumers, I thought about the smell, about the sound. When I visit places, I notice these little details, are the birds singing somewhere, are the waves crashing on the shore and in the end, bring all of these together as an experience on a perfume,” he said.

From his initial trip to Khor Rori, Renaud reached out to three master perfumers that can help him capture the different experiences in a bottle.

“Over the years, I’d been in Oman and I’ve taken a few trips in the country and discovered amazing places. All of them are beautiful, inspiring stunning. They have traditions, they have very special people and characters and every fragrance connects that story with one key ingredient that I believe represents the soul of that place,” he said.

Seven villages will eventually become their inspiration: Wakan, Aqor, Barka, Khor Rori, Al Hamra, Al Ulya and Kumzar.

Cécile Zarokian, Julien Rasquinet and Dominique Ropion crafted the perfect blend that drew inspiration from the Sultanate’s rich traditions, rare natural treasures and inherent passion for fine fragrance.

“Overall, what we wanted to do is pack experiences of all these different places in bottles. That’s what this is all about. People may not be aware of these scents when they are in Oman but internationally, those are the things that people can recall,” he said.

“When I talk to people about Oman, when I meet people around the world, and I show them either a picture or a snapshot, they either say, wow, I did not know that there is so much depth and richness in Oman. So yes, it’s capturing the essence of these places but also putting a little bit of fantasy to it because the goal is not to create postcards,” Renaud said.

“When you visit Wakan, the literal way of bringing Wakan to life is to use notes of apricots but I felt it’s too literal. Wakan is about the apricot blossoms that are fragile — fragile in the sense that if you miss it, you would have to wait another year to see it. What we did is we turn to orris to help us create an experience and mix with other essences, when you smell a bottle, you know it captures the essence of that place,” he said.

The smell of Barka, Renaud explained, is capturing that trading era where the place used to be the centre of trading spices with China, India and the region using vanilla as a key ingredient. To capture Al Ulya or the villages of Bahla, they have to turn to saffron and a mix of other spices that relive the full experience.

“These new attars revolved around sourcing local ingredients, taking local inspiration but at the same time, doing an international take on it. Our ambition with our new Attars was to stay true to their noble and precious reputation, taking advantage of their history while infusing them with Amouage’s innovative creative approach. It is the Attars strength and their resonance that has allowed us to reinvent them for a changing olfactory landscape without denying their identity,” he said.

It is evident that Renaud is smitten by Oman and this reflects strongly in his masterful creations. He also became an avid traveller of the country exploring not just top tourist hot spots even the remote ones.

“I love Jabal Akdhar. I love the serenity of it. I love the fact that you are high up in the mountains but experience a sense of comfort. I love mountains in general and usually, the higher you go, the higher the discomfort but in the case of Jabal Akdhar, it’s the reverse. I love this idea of going to the mountain to escape the craziness of life, of work and to find a sanctuary just two hours from Muscat — to disconnect and enjoy the sunset on top of the mountain. I think it’s a wonderful experience,” he shared.

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