A Filigreed Drop of Bright

– a review of Amouage The Library Collection – Opus VI

Say that fabled word – amber – and a whole slew of associations come to mind. Those plush, sensuous, ornate magic carpet rides into some equally legend golden sunset of complex, heady perfumes, all the many Occidental dreams contained within the word ‘oriental’, every single one of them adding up to the name of a color, a category, a gemstone and a reverie. Amber in perfume conjures up words like animalic, leathery, sweet, smooth, heady, take-no-prisoners opulent. It can be a Beethoven scented symphony, or an elegant Chopin sonata. We know those notes so well, so well…but love those familiar fragrant phrases no less.

Once upon a time not so long ago, it was one of the two base accords in perfume that made me run for the hills screaming. Amber was far too obvious for my pseudo-intellectual green-chypre tastes, too animalic and possibly too hot to handle, too. There were secrets in those scents I simply wasn’t tall enough or pretty enough or just woman enough to handle, so I stayed well away and well within my comfort zone. I wasn’t an amber woman. Never. Ever.

Yet revolutions happen and perspectives change. My own seismic shift occurred when a small sample of a ground-breaking amber found its way into my hands, onto my skin and under my nose, and in one sniff, that stubborn continent of personal inclination whirled and eddied and changed forever. I started at the very apotheosis of amber, and if I were going to cross that line into amber love, then by golly, it had better be worth it!

Famous last words.

Here I am with still another amber, yet another subterranean seismic shift.

This amber is an Amouage.

Amouage, with all its storied heritage and maximalist approach to perfume, is a house that often slays me in ways both great and small.

No one, but no one, wraps such astonishing frankincense around such story-telling genies, and every Amouage I’ve ever met has always told a story. Even this one, even now, even as I wrestle with these words, Opus VI wants me to shift into narrative mode and tell another fragrant tale of filigree and fable, of moment and futurity, a story of a most unusual, unnerving amber.

Do you think you know something of ambers, do you have certain expectations of what an Amouage amber might be? Are you painting an olfactory image in your mind as you read, of all that word contains and adding the prerequisite five hundred percent?

If you’re anything like me, you are. As you are, that djinn in the bottle jumps up and down with unconcealed glee, anticipating the delicious moment it will subvert every expectation you have.

Opus VI is not your usual amber. If ambers are usually silk-smooth concoctions that wrap around your skin in a velvet touch, then you are in for a surprise.

It begins with a suggestion of the same green and bitter facet fans of Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan might recognize, with a detectable bay leaf burst and a spicy jolt to the nose, and veiled behind it intimations of that well-beloved amber glow on the far distant horizon. But half the thrill of any journey lies not in arriving but enjoying the ride.

As I do, as I wonder where I’ll be taken along the way, a thick, glorious ribbon of incense weaves around me like a cat on stealthy feet and blooms. There is no other way to describe it and no way to precisely describe its effects except to say that if I owned a fainting couch, I’d need it in 3…2…1…

But the journey isn’t over and my own perilous downfall is just beginning. As I’m taken through the shifting scenery that exudes from my skin, the djinn decides to undo me even further.

Nothing like the ambers you know and love, nothing like that well-beloved sweet caress of benzoin or tolu, but a different, woodier, spikier creature that takes all amber clichés and slants them in a different direction and puts them on a darker, moodier path. My nose tells me patchouli and sandalwood, something that reminds me of rich, bittersweet chocolate and something I can’t quite pinpoint but who cares when my axis has shifted and my continents have realigned?

There is nothing I can do and nowhere left to go except to laugh at my own pretentious attempts to nail this perfume to the floor of my words if it slays me. That djinn hides a story it wants me to find, but this is no tale of Sheherazade, no travel back in time, this is very much here and totally now, a thoroughly modern reinvention of what is often such a hackneyed phrase, but Opus VI is no cliché.

It has taken what should be obvious and made it new. It has surprised me and delighted me with that half-hidden veil of amber, glimpsed behind a wooden screen, and filigreed a future full of possibilities upon a huge surprise it took me no time at all to fall so very hard for in all those fatal, fragrant ways.

I have tried and very much liked the opera of volumes I through V. But the number VI did me in, changed my perspectives and possibly even me as well.

Love will do that. Especially when it takes you by surprise, as surely Opus VI did when it filigreed all my future possibilities and wrapped them…in an amber.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Amouage.

Opus VI of the Library Collection was created by Amouage Creative Director Christopher Chong in collaboration with Dora Arnaud and Pierre Negrin.

For the review I wish I could have written, may I recommend the incomparable Persolaise.

Amouage Opus VI will soon be available from the Amouage website, Les Senteurs, Luckyscent & First In Fragrance.