Amouage’s Library Collection is Christopher Chong at his most experimental. When I interviewed him in Sydney last year he described the collection as being his “couture.” As Amouage’s Creative Director of nine years, Christopher recently adjusted the brand’s compass and all new perfumes now include a more personal narrative. The next “cycle” emerged last year with the release of Journey Man and Journey Woman, and Opus IX is the first Library Collection perfume to imbibe the brand’s new spirit. Naturally my interest was piqued to smell Amouage couture reborn.
To create Opus IX, Christopher collaborated with Firmenich perfumers Nathalie Lorson and Pierre Negrin. Both perfumers come with impressive resumes and Negrin is no stranger to the brand having engineered a number of Amouage perfumes prior to Opus IX. This ninth Opus draws from Christopher’s passion for Opera. It is an art form that influenced Christopher’s perfumes before the Journey duo; the former student of opera dedicated Honour Woman to Madama Butterfly. The way Amouage perfumes are constructed could also be described as operatic with their rhythmic olfactory punctuation that separates notes into clearly defined scenes. Linear is not part of the Amouage vocabulary. The story of Opus IX is told in three scenes that form classic head, heart and base notes. The perfume references Verdi’s three-scene opera La Traviata, the story of Violetta, a mid-19th Parisian courtesan stricken with (spoiler alert!) tuberculosis. It is a tragic love story as most operas are and Violetta is the archetypal Pretty Woman. Verdi wrote his Opera by adapting the novel-turned-play, La Dame aux camellia, an eloquent reference to the way the courtesan signaled her availability to clientele. For 25 days of the month she wore a white camellia and for five days she wore a red camellia. The original novel caused a stir with conservatives in 19th century Paris but it also created a trend for growing the exotic flower in home gardens. Coco Chanel was famously obsessed with the flower and since the 1920s, the camellia has been one of Chanel’s motifs. For Opus IX it is Violetta’s red camellia that has captured Christopher’s imagination. The perfume is presented in the usual Opus silhouette but it bold red.
The specific performance of La Traviata that inspired Opus IX is also provided. Reference is made to a 1958 performance in Lisbon, and to the ferocious soprano, Maria Callas, who played the role of Violetta. I speculate that Callas’ temperamental reputation was put inside this fiery red flower Christopher and his perfumers created for Opus IX. Dubbed ‘The Tigress’ by fans and media, Callas was known for her expressive presence on stage, her prima donna lifestyle off stage and the quality of her voice, which sadly degraded in the years following this performance.
Just as Raf Simons entered the world of couture through a wall of flowers (Christian Dior Couture – Fall Winter 2012/13) Amouage opens Scene One of Opus IX through a curtain of white starry petals. A wall of jasmine in all its indolic glory surrounds the wearer to form a facade of pastel cream and pink. As this wall retracts, the sharp and slightly resinous odour of black pepper comes into focus. The stage is set for the trio’s camellia accord. It is speculated that Violetta wore this unscented flower because it did not aggravate her tuberculosis so what you smell is the imagined odour of camellia, rather than a distilled or extracted scent from the natural flower. It’s hard to perceive where the jasmine ends and the intended camellia begins. So much of perfume perception is about association and my mind wanders back to my experience smelling the tomato-leaf effect of Comme des Garcons Series 2 Red: Harissa and the fiery carnation of Aedes de Venustas Oeillet Bengale. In the second scene, notes of gaiac wood and beeswax add to the spicy/oriental character of the camellia accord. Both of these raw materials have leather facets, which assists in creating a more complex and natural leather note that ends scene two. The final scene is built around vetiver with animalic notes of civet and grey amber. Their presence does not upstage the first two scenes but is supportive and grounds the shrill jasmine note that continues well into the heart of the perfume. True to the Library Collection theorem, this is the first time we have a camellia accord in an Amouage perfume but Opus IX still feels firmly rooted in the Amouage DNA, which should appease longterm fans of the brand.
Sydney’s opera theatre is always an interesting landscape of smells, which often contains forgotten classics such as Giorgio Beverley Hills and the occasional Red Door. I always smell a little bit of Coco and if I am lucky, the unmistakable Mitsouko. Perhaps it is generational but my impression of Opera patrons is that they wear perfume with gusto and I see how Opus IX fits perfectly into that culture. It may be loud but the architecture of this fragrance is refined beyond question. There are also plenty of masculine landmarks in the breakdown of notes so men should have no concerns of being accused of olfactory crossdressing by opera patrons in the stalls. In summary it has all of the darkness and depth that fans expect from Amouage but there is also a hint of a playful side, Christopher revealed in Sunshine. I’m reserving this for days when I feel the urge to wear perfume and if you see me at the opera this season, chances are I will be wearing Opus IX. Chookas!
Alternatives: Aedes de Venustas Oeillet Bengale
Creative Direction: Christopher Chong
Perfumer: Nathalie Lorson, Pierre Negrin
Release Date: 2015
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woody Oriental