A ROADSIDE CONVERSATION
Who is Renaud Salmon? A quick glance at his career ought to tell you a lot about the man. For the past two years, in his role as Chief Experience Officer, he has steered the creative rebirth of Amouage, one of the world’s most luxurious perfume houses. He is the mind behind Perfect by Marc Jacobs and Dolce by Dolce & Gabbana. Belgium-born and business-trained, Salmon stands out as an artistic genius with a keen taste for photography.
After a life spent travelling between Milan, New York, Paris and London, Salmon has traded his fast- paced cosmopolitan lifestyle for something else entirely. His time now spent drawing inspiration from life in Oman, an often overlooked, remote patch of land lined with pristine beaches, endless sand dunes, tropical jungles and dreamlike mountain scenery.
We recently had the opportunity to connect with Salmon on one of his long cross-country drives to ask a few questions and dig a little deeper into what makes him stand out as a visionary.
1. How has living in Oman changed your approach to your work?
I would say in two significant ways. Firstly, I live in the cradle of perfumery. I really am present at the heart of what we are all passionate about, when you have the impression of creating from the nerve centre everything takes on a different dimension. In Oman, we’re creating in a context where perfume has deep social, historical, and economic ties, which means that we are not working towards making a futile or accessory product. Secondly, I feel touched by a form of rebirth, which is why my first collection is called Renaissance, because I feel reborn and renewed in my creative process. Again, in Oman your whole frame of reference is turned upside down, your convictions are shaken, which can be extremely pleasant and motivating because it opens horizons and explodes the field of possibilities from a creative point of view. For example, I like taking pictures a lot, and I realised that my best ones are often taken after I’ve moved to a different city because I’m looking around with new eyes. It’s like being in my hometown and seeing a passer-by taking pictures that I would never have thought to take, because their frame of reference is different than mine. To create with a new and fresh eye has a huge impact on one’s creative process.
2. How, in concrete terms, does this sense of “mission” manifest itself for you?
I think it does when you realise that Amouage is really linked to Oman, to the royalty and its institutions and the country as a whole. Most of all, you come to understand that Amouage has a certain prestige here in Oman. The citizens and employees have high expectations, they are curious to discover the newest creations and wonder if the House will remain at the forefront of perfumery. And beyond that, is the realisation that whatever you touch or are inspired by is anchored in a culture and a history that goes far beyond and above you. You decide one day to distil a rose and suddenly, here you are impacting the entire life of villages, calling into question age old rituals – it’s pretty amazing. The connections between nature, the State, its history, and economic sphere are all strong. You don’t run a perfume business here like you would in the United States or elsewhere. Here you are part of the local life, you are part of nature, you have a role to play in the cultural influence of the country, maintaining your commercial status while keeping a link with, helping, and fostering local communities. I didn’t realise I was signing up for that when I moved here.
3. You mentioned photography: to what extent do the landscapes of Oman inspire you to create?
The thing to emphasise is that Oman is a country of very strong contrasts. Whatever the country evokes in you stems from these contrasts and they are felt even more strongly because of the proximity of these very different landscapes: the sea, the mountains, the forests and the deserts. Oman is also a land where you have to deal with natural elements in their most extreme expression: the very high altitude, the very high temperature, the very high drought - I’m lucky to have access to that.
4. Is contrast important to the way you work?
In a way I feel that I have a romantic view of nature. I feel like I’m feeding off it and getting emotions from it. I start from a romantic study of a relatively specific element, something very often inspired by Oman. I then put it on paper, and I try to understand to what extent, what I observed is part of a pattern that could be observable on an international scale, which is often the case. I look at something specific and draw a global pattern out of it so that it can speak to everybody. And saying this brings me back to a thought that I often entertain: isn’t all creation, in a way, autobiographical? I am here at Amouage to serve the vision of the House and that of Oman, but I think that you can’t help but put some of yourself into a creation. That isn’t to say that I want to make my perfumes autobiographical but I’m convinced that what I’ve created for Amouage contains a part of me. Having something that becomes ‘macro’ in scale somehow allows me to step, or hide, behind the creation and be more comfortable with my personal expression. That is where it’s important not to stay too specific and too literal – I avoid anything postcard-like.
5. Would you then say that the variety of landscapes here allows you to explore several parts of yourself?
Yes. It’s good because it allows me to have a diverse expressive
register and not to confine myself to a style, as I would have had if I
lived in a linear or one-dimensional country.
6. Has a landscape or panorama ever struck you to the point of inspiring a frank and direct accord?
If you take Crimson Rocks for instance, it was exactly what happened. Crimson Rocks was about standing at high altitude while feeling super comfortable, without a sense of aggression or dread. The majestic Jabal Akhdar mountains outlined by the red of the sunset were the perfect analogy for that mountain rose. The colour I was looking at had nothing to do with the sun, it was the roses awakening in the dusk light and invading the mountain slopes with their vivid hue and fragrance. The perfume makes a lot of sense because it all fits together. Standing there at nightfall, you are surrounded with vegetation and bees buzzing, busy making honey, which is sweetness and comfort. Vegetation translated into deep woods, honey translated into a Sidr Honey accord and of course, there was the Rose, translated into just that – a spicy Rose accord. By contemplating nature, a rather logical and faithful accord emerged.
7. One last question, if you’ll allow it: you always seem to be driving somewhere, whether in Oman or Europe or anywhere else in the world. Why do you like it so much?
Because driving prevents me from looking at my phone and allows
me to breathe and to think. There is a lot going on when you are
driving alone and in silence, a lot of ideas that come from this feeling
of travelling, of “going somewhere”.