Few niche fragrance lines today are as devoted to opulence as the Omani firm of Amouage founded in 1983. Rich, multi-nuanced baroque tapestries of scent, so textured you feel like you can touch them, Amouage perfumes remind us of how perfumery used to be before restrictions and leaning-tricks gave perfumery its contemporary meagre look. The three upcoming additions Opus I, Opus II and Opus III in the "Library Collection" (which we announced the other day) do not disappoint.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce them to you, writing down my impressions as I test them again and again on my skin these past few days. A few of you might get to try them out in the special preview scheduled in a couple of days (details at the bottom), the rest are urged to seek them out later on when the launch officially. They're true to form and one among them is truly surprising.
Artistic direction is everything when it comes to positioning a perfume brand: Remember Christian Astuguevieille for Comme des Garçons, Lutens for Shiseido and his own eponymous line etc. Likewise, the multi-faceted ~opera, fashion and semiotics among his studies~creative director Christopher Chong has helped Amouage gain the credibility which niche lines are (sometimes only) dreaming of: unflagging consistency, luxury, specific vision, collaboration with top perfumers. His musical background I guess is the reason why the three new Opera (or musically referenced, Opi) were thus baptized. The library standing as the capsule for keeping the creative process contained in tangible, approachable form.
Initially I was a bit sceptical when I heard of a new Collection, especially with arithmetical numbering: These days niche frag "collections" are a dime a dozen and for some weird reason everyone wants to bring out one, semi-establishing themselves as authors of a body of work at the drop of a hat. But in the case of Amouage there is already a line-up of impressive creations, thus crossing effectively that motive off the list. Still, three fragrances in one go seem like one or two would overshadow the rest. But if the Arabian-inspired house has proven anything to us, it's that more is sometimes more, after all! There is nothing minimalistic about Amouage and the new triptych will find its dedicated fans as well, walking the fine line between wearability and artistry successfully.
- Opus I is the most surprising new Amouage in the Library Collection, not from a structural point of view but one of juxtaposing two antithetical elements which miraculously fuse into one another in a case of reverse engineering. Although officially classed as a chypre, Opus I feels like a lush floral with a jarring, really great bitter bigarade top note (like traditional bitter citrus rind confit, almost Roudnitska drool-worthy) which contrasts with tuberose and dominant ylang ylang; both flowers treated into a mentholated ribbon flowing in the wind underneath a plummy accord which is round, fleshy, pudding-rich. The bitterness of bigarade and the tarry notes offsets the salicylates of the flowers, while the sweet elements (tonka, plum accord) brings out the nectarous qualities. The most pyramidal of the three, where there is a clear and distinct progression from top to heart and then slowly segueing into base.
- Opus II promised to be evocative of "old books, dark wooden shelves and antique leather armchairs" and only because I already knew that from the announcement of the new line, I purposely jumpled the samples around, as if.... Proclivities are almost hard-wired and both nature & nurture seems to conspire making me always gravitate towards such compositions. If I were to sum it up I would proclaim Opus II a spicy incense fragrance and in that field it plays seamlessly. The core of frankincense reveals a zesty freshness the way the natural resin tears have a lemony, orange-y freshness as they smoke serenely on the censer. Contrary to Opus I, which starts refreshingly bitter and turns sweeter and lush, Opus II goes for the reverse: A warm, soothing opening of rosy spice and absinth liquer (see our Series) becomes cooler and more celebral as the time passes; while the final warm sweetish remnants on skin project at a low hum like bass heard from a distance. Unquestionably my favourite, it reflects what Christopher had said: "The Amouage customer is an international traveler who has picked up antiques and items of furniture while travelling around the world and has built a home reflecting a global approach to design, but housed within an Omani-inspired space."
- Opus III is built around violets, clearly detectable from the very start, taking on nuances of both candied petals and greener, leafier verdancy with a sage-like tone. The aromatic top has a quirky nuance, with pungent, bracken and honeyed tonalities, turbidity set against a woody base. Even though violets are usually thought of as feminine and retro-glamorous, reminiscent of makeup paraphernalia, here they're treated in both directions of sweet and mainly green, rendering the finished scent suitable for both sexes. Opus III feels linear, united into one ultra-complex chord which projects with unwavering assurance.
All three fragrances in the Library Collection bear the sign of Frankincense, the emblem of the luxurious fragrance line, sensed in various degrees and they all smell full and rich, the way we're used to from the Sultanate of Oman.
The three scents in the Amouage Library Collection are extremely lasting on skin (a full 12 hours and they were still going strong!) and leaving a delicious trail behind without becoming intruding or cloying. Please refer to this post for the exact notes of each.
A sneak preview of the "Library Collection" Opus I, Opus II and Opus III will be taking place at Aedes de Venustas, 9 Christopher Street, New York on Thursday, July 1st, 2010 from 5-8pm and cocktails will be served. It's worth the trip if you're near. The sampler set is endearing, small sprayers encased in pearl white silk-lined matchboxes.
All photos by Elena Vosnaki. Click to enlarge.
Painting of The Queen's Library at St.James's Palace, from The History of the Royal Residences, engraved by Richard Reeve, by William Henry Pyne.
In the interests of full disclosure I was sent 3 preview samples by the company.