The Silk Road’s legendary spice route from China to Arabia winds its way across the face of Epic for Men from Amouage. It is a very unisex fragrance that is an enjoyable swirl of spices, woods, incense, golden sweetness, and creaminess, but it is neither the fragrance that I expected nor very “epic” in nature. Not now….
Epic Man (hereinafter just “Epic”) is an eau de parfum that was created by Randa Hammami and released in 2009. The inspiration was two-fold: the legendary Silk Road and Puccini’s Turandot opera which is set in China but based on a tale involving a Persian princess and a deadly riddle. First in Fragrance has the company’s complete press description:
The theme of this latest Amouage fragrance is the legendary aria from Puccini´s unfinished opera, Turandot. The legend says that one day the composer Puccini completed the opera and then buried the completed work somewhere in the sands along the Silk Road. The last act of the opera, it is said, was an incomparable aria, which could not possibly be sung by a human voice…
The legendary city of Ubar in Oman is the starting point for a journey in search of this missing aria, which leads us along the Silk Road through the Orient and over the highest mountains in the world – to China. The way of the ancient caravans, that carried silk and other treasures over many hundreds of miles, where tea, gold, pearls and jade from China where exchanged for precious silver frankincense from the Oman – a legendary land where the valuable raw materials can be found that were used in the composition of this new Amouage fragrance.
pink pepper berry, frankincense, cumin, cardamom, saffron, mace essence, nutmeg, myrtle, geranium, myrrh, oud, sandalwood, patchouli, leather, cedarwood, musk.
Epic has been around for six years at this point and many of you are very familiar with it, which is why I’m stating right at the top of the review that I strongly believe it’s been neutered through poor reformulation into a shadow of both its intended target and its former self. It’s not only because I’ve read reformulation comments elsewhere, but primarily because of what appears on my skin. It is a far cry from what I expected, lacking both its powerhouse reputation and the bold, intense, genuinely epic nature of Epic Woman. More importantly, its main notes on my skin don’t comport with the overwhelming majority of votes on Fragrantica. The notes that it does emit are not very high on everyone else’s list. My sample was purchased last year, and something is definitely not as it should be for a scent that is intended to be “epic.” The women’s version was — at least back when I reviewed it — and most definitely evoked China for me, but the men’s version is quite a different kettle of fish.
Epic Man opens on my skin with aromatic, fresh myrtle and green geranium, splattered with crisp, bergamot-like citruses. A quiet sweetness follows, smelling like spicy patchouli dusted with warm saffron and just a whisper of pink pepper berries. On my skin, the latter usually manifest with the syrupy gooeyiness similar to fruitchouli, but not here. They’re merely drops of slightly sweet fruitiness. The whole spicy, aromatic, sweet bouquet is wrapped up with thin ribbons of synthetic incense and even thinner strands of oud, both of which weave in and out from the outlying edges.
Within minutes, Epic changes. A lovely veil of nutmeg descends, accompanied by aromatic cedar and the tiniest pinch of cumin. They overtake the piquant geranium, while the citrusy tonality is replaced by a caramel nuance that resembles labdanum amber. To my surprise, the incense fades rapidly as well, leaving a bouquet that is primarily spices, woodiness, and warmth. A subtle, though extremely muted, dustiness lurks in the far background. It’s a nod to the Epic Woman’s powerful chorus of dusty wood, but it’s only one-tenth as prominent here as it was it in its sister scent.
Amouage’s Man and Woman pairings are never identical scents, and rarely simply a heightening of certain shared notes, but they are often connected by an olfactory theme, a vein that runs through both scents that makes them a logical duet. Epic Woman is a divaesque blend of multi-faceted woodiness and spiciness with almost operatic incense. Far before I knew of the Turandot connection, it made me think of the dusty, ancient wooden rooms that I’d seen in the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, as well as the courtyards filled with a literal fog of incense at the Lama Temple on Buddha’s birthday. The scent had massive, walloping amounts of guaiac wood laced with oud, then blanketed with what felt like half the Silk Road’s treasury of spices and every Beijing temple’s stock of incense.
I see little similarity to Epic Man. There is almost no oud whatsoever on my skin, even though 239 people on Fragrantica chose it as the primary note. The incense is initially minuscule and, while it does play a big role later on, it’s only a shadow of what occurs in Epic Woman. What little pink pepper berries there are quickly vanish. It is the third most prominent note chosen by everyone else, whereas Epic Man’s main olfactory chord on my skin later on — sandalwood — is actually 13th on everyone’s list. There is another important difference that we will get to in a moment, one of the main reasons why I suspect reformulation, but, for now, let’s just say that Epic Man is barely evocative of the Silk Road and doesn’t feel like a companion piece to Epic Woman. It is significantly warmer, sweeter, less dry, and more rounded in nature. As a whole, everything feels mild, tame, and soft, though it’s a thoroughly enjoyable spicy-woody scent.
In many ways, it feels easier to wear than Epic Woman. It’s not solely because it lacks the pickle note that the guaiac created on my skin, or because it’s a simpler, gentler scent. It’s primarily because Epic Man resembles a commercial, designer fragrance. To be precise, it reminded me of Dolce & Gabbana‘s The One For Men. I no longer have my bottle to do a comparison side-by-side to see what differences there may be beyond the lack of ginger and tobacco, but The One came to mind every time I tested the Amouage. They’re not brothers, but they feel like cousins for the entire first 2 hours of Epic’s development. The two fragrances split off and diverge after that, primarily because Epic turns drier, very smoky, and less sweet, but the early resemblance surprised me.
I have not seen anyone else remark on such a thing, which is why I think Epic Man once smelled very different. The “Alpha Male” scent that everyone else describes; the powerhouse with an overwhelming focus on strong oud, and so much frankincense that some people found it difficult to wear or unbalanced; the streaks of castoreum animalics and leather that a few people noted in hefty quantities right from the start; and the “epic” character with massive projection… not on my skin. Not now. Now, Epic Man calls to mind a non-gingered cousin to The One for the first two hours, and then becomes a hazy, almost generic blur of spicy woods with incense, creaminess, and warmth for the rest of its lifespan. Surely that can’t be right?!
Even the projection doesn’t accord with what I’ve heard. Using 3 large smears equal to 2 good sprays with an actual bottle, Epic opened with 2 inches of projection, maybe 2.5 at best. I actually applied 2 more, smaller smears to ensure I could detect all the nuances, amounting in total to 3 large sprays from a bottle or 4 smallish ones, but that merely increased the projection to a solid, definite 3 inches. The numbers dropped to 2 inches after an hour, and to 1.5 inches after 90 minutes. Epic Man became a skin scent at the 3.5 hour mark. My skin has issues with longevity, not projection, so this is rather unexpected for a scent that 99 people on Fragrantica think has “heavy” projection and 47 people think is “enormous.”
Kinship to D&G’s The One and soft projection notwithstanding, I really like Epic Man in its early and late stages. It’s easy and enjoyable. Usually, Amouage’s women scents are sweeter, warmer, and spicier on my skin, while the parallel men’s version is typically exceedingly dry, often louder and smokier, and drenched with oud or wormwood. It’s the reverse here. The choice to eliminate the guaiac seems to have been pared with a reduction in the incense (at least in the current formulation), and a more moderate use of spices than that used in Epic Woman. The cumin and cardamom are practically nonexistent on my skin; the nutmeg is never bitter; the mace isn’t pungent; and the saffron is nicely balanced. Really, it shines in Epic Man in the best way possible. It’s never buttery, gooey, foody, or even fiery as it is in some fragrances, including several scents and many attars from Amouage itself. It lacks the screechy quality of Safraleine or, at least, Safraleine used with a heavy hand. Instead, it’s simply a gentle, semi-sweetened, spicy warmth that serves as a bridge between the woodiness and the more nebulous, indistinct blur of other spices.
In fact, I confess I have great difficulty separating many of Epic’s elements a mere 20 minutes into the perfume’s development because they all merge into 3 basic camps. There is: spiciness (dominated by saffron); woodiness (that is strongly laced with brown, woody, spicy patchouli); and slightly sweetened warmth. The patchouli is frequently without shape in the first hour, lacking any individual clarity and delineation, but what is most diffused is the incense. It feels fully merged into the general woodiness for all of Epic’s first stage, occasionally popping up on the sidelines to wave hello before sinking back into the overall shapelessness. The oud is virtually imperceptible on my skin, while the early aromatics like the myrtle seem swallowed up by all the rest. For the most part, Epic is primarily a spicy woody scent with some sweetness and warmth, and feels merely like a higher quality version of a mainstream designer oriental.
Still, despite its tame, unremarkable character, Epic is polished and enjoyable. I’d wear it myself were it not for a synthetic quality that bothered me right from the start and that become quite prominent later on. I can’t pinpoint the exact source, but I suspect it’s the frankincense. It might stem from the oud which is most definitely a Westernized version instead of true Middle Eastern agarwood, but the wood is so imperceptible on my skin, it might as well not exist, while the incense had a dodgy quality at the outset.
Epic shifts fractionally at the end of the first hour and the start of the second. The spicy, woody patchouli surges back, regaining its individual clarity and shape, and dominating Epic’s focus. In the base, a quiet creaminess begins to stir, smelling like generic sandalwood or lightly spiced, white wood. It soon seeps upwards, intertwining with the other notes, and turning Epic into a triptych of spices, spicy woods, and spicy patchouli, all laced with creamy softness. The incense makes a return as well, though it is fully mixed into everything else, and continues to have a synthetic sharpness. The saffron is melted into the mix, while the patchouli is smooth, refined, lightly wooded, slightly smoky, semi-sweetened, and golden. There is nothing earthy, musty, dusty, green, or camphorous about it at all.
For the most part, this is Epic’s core scent and one which continues with only a slight break until it’s very end. The break occurs at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the third when the incense surges onto center stage, shifting the balance of notes, and turning Epic drier in nature. It cuts through some of the sandalwood’s creaminess and much of the scent’s quiet sweetness. It also ends the resemblance to D&G’s The One. Yet, ultimately, this is only a shift in the equation, not a wholesale change in Epic’s focus. It is still a creamy, woody fragrance, but it is also a strongly smoky one now, too, and only has the lightest dusting of spices. Basically, the spices and incense have changed places in terms of their significance. The incense does not feel as smooth as it is in other Amouage scents, but has a sharp, synthetic quality that I don’t enjoy. Another noticeable change is that Epic feels almost thin on my skin. While the sandalwood has deepened the scent to a small degree, it’s generally not full-bodied or particularly rich, but wispy and soft.
Epic’s strong smokiness only lasts about 2 hours, and then the fragrance returns to its core bouquet at the end of the 5th hour. It is essentially a recreation of the facets of Mysore sandalwood: creamy sandalwood laced with smokiness, spiciness, and soft warmth. There is nothing else, and the scent eventually fades away in much the same way a little over 9.5 hours from its start. As noted earlier, Epic had become a skin scent after 3.5 hours.
On Fragrantica, Epic generally receives very positive reviews. However, some recent 2015 comments mention not only weak projection, but changes to its character. One poster notes very little oud in the reformulation, leaving mostly spices and incense, while another says Epic was once his “favorite in the Amouage lineup, but after the reformulation sadly it is not at all the same.” He does not specify how it has changed. A third commentator thinks the reformulation replaced a “jarring” sandalwood focus with a heavy oud base, but since the original Epic was reportedly dominated by oud above all else, I’m not sure how accurate his perception may be. A fourth poster states that he detects “absolutely no difference in smell between the old and the new versions,” only changes in sillage and longevity. I never tried the original 2009 Epic, so I can’t comment on the specific ways that it may have changed, but I think you should be aware that some sort of reformulation has taken place.
While I found the current version of Epic to be very enjoyable at the start, its largely mainstream/designer profile, the rapid blurriness of the notes, the prominent synthetic qualities later on, and the sharpness of the frankincense mean it is not a scent that I would purchase for myself. However, I think it is absolutely worth testing if you love spices, incense, spicy patchouli, sandalwood, and woody orientals. I think a lot of people would find it enjoyable, easy to wear, versatile, and unisex.
In my opinion, and for me, the current Epic — a spicier, smokier, non-gingered cousin to The One — is not worth its expensive retail price, but I’ve found the fragrance offered at huge discounts on sites that ship worldwide. Epic Man costs for $250, €195 or £160 for a small 50 ml bottle, but there is one reputable discount retailer (that I’ve used myself in the past) that sells the large 100 ml bottle for as low as $155.99 in a sealed box, or for $149.24 unboxed. (See, the Details section at the very end.) Either way, it’s a good deal for someone who is keen on the scent. So, if you love woody, spicy, smoky orientals or sandalwood, give Epic Man a sniff for yourself.