There is a saying that change always comes bearing gifts. When Amouage announced the closure of its first “cycle,” a series of perfumes that established the brand’s reputation for luxury and innovation in niche perfumery, I was interested to see what gifts this new cycle would offer up. The new Amouage perfumes were more personal. They referenced Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong’s personal interests and stories. From this new direction came Journey Man and Journey Woman. Both are excellent fragrances but to me they still felt synonymous with Cycle One. Then came the Midnight Flower Collection, which was inspired by a personal loss Christopher experienced. With it’s uncharacteristic notes of gourmand candies, this anomaly in the Amouage aesthetic was a giant leap from what Amouage fans were used to and the collection paved the way for Sunshine Woman and Sunshine Man. Proving that change is never static, it is constant, Amouage has continued to move away from its median of Eastern spices, resins, opulent floral extracts, exotic woods, leather and musk. Cycle Two’s promise is now starting to bear mature fruit with the 2016 launch of Myths Man and Woman. Opus X, Amouage’s latest addition to its Library Collection, pushes the brand’s envelope even further.
Amouage’s Library Collection has always been Christopher’s perfume sketchpad. When I interviewed him in 2014 he described the collection as being a place that allows him to explore. “I see it as my couture. It gives me the opportunity to be experimental.” Each sequential Opus is about a different olfactory theme, usually an ingredient or accord that has not been covered in the brand’s Main Collection, which is designed to appeal to a slightly broader demographic. Opus X is all about rose, one of modern perfumery’s indispensible raw materials. It’s a perfume story that has been told countless times before so it’s a challenge for perfumers to continually reinvent. Christopher Chong worked with Firmenich perfumers Pierre Negrin and Annick Menardo to tell his story and the result is one of the most original rose fragrances I have smelled in a long time.
The Red Violin, a film by French Canadian director Francois Girard, is Christopher’s inspiration for Opus X. The movie chronicles the journey of a red violin, made by a master violinmaker in 17th century Italy on the eve of his child’s birth. It’s to be his final masterpiece. After his wife dies in labour, the violinmaker mixes his wife’s blood into the varnish he uses to finish his instrument. The movie follows the violin over centuries and across continents as it passes between owners, each in pursuit of their own idea of perfection.
Like the four strings of a violin, which run parallel to each other, Opus X plays four distinct rose notes, which combined create a rich rose harmony. The first note is honeyed Rosa centifolia, which famously blooms every May in Grasse. The second note is a soft rosebud accord, which adds green and dewy freshness to the entire bouquet. The third note is a bloody rose accord, a reference to the violin’s red colour. The fourth note is rose oxide, which smells of roses and rusted iron. This iron flower is further enhanced with geranium and a metallic accord that shimmers in the base. A subtle leather note and a varnish accord evoke the body of the instrument and its casing. A touch of Laotian oud and ylang ylang give the fragrance depth and Ambrarome gives the entire fragrance a vintage charm. Ambrarome is derived from labdanum, a Mediterranean shrub. The shrub’s resin smells spicy, incense-like and ambery. Ambrarome takes only the dark, animalic notes of the shrub’s resin and discards the rest. It smells faecal, unsettling and even dead. In Opus X it brings a melancholic spirit to this tensile structure of roses and bloodied varnish.
This is Amouage at its most avant garde. Opus X is a challenging fragrance and I think it would be hard to go from wearing CkOne to Opus X. It requires a little bit of experience to fully appreciate. The fragrance doesn’t comment on gender and blocks any preconception that a rose perfume is a women-only domain. Some highly experimental indie perfume start-ups are tackling similarly ambitious themes with their creations but in many cases their lack of technical skill as perfumers and humble financial resources leads to a crude result. Success has provided Amouage with no shortage of resources; Opus X has a big budget juice filled with very nice raw materials.With Pierre Negrin and Annick Menardo as perfumers, both masters of their craft, and Christopher Chong’s visionary direction, Opus X was always in good hands. If you like the idea of a rose perfume that offers thorns as well as flowers, I recommend this one.
Perfumer: Pierre Negrin, Annick Menardo
Creative Director: Christopher Chong
Release Date: 2016
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Floral