Amber perfumes. Guerlain's got one. Dior's got one. Serge Lutens and Andy Tauer owe a great deal of their brands' popularity to one. Indeed, many fragrance houses - both niche and mainstream - have had a go at creating one, either by adding a twist to the basic formula or by tweaking the standard ingredients. In Western cultures, the genre is invariably read as 'Arabian': the smoky sweetness of the vanilla + labdanum combo evokes stereotypical imagery of the sort in which a crescent moon picks out the silhouettes of robed figures walking along the crest of a dune. To Occidental noses, the resins and balsams seem like light years away from the relative greyness of urbanised Europe. All of which makes it rather interesting that the one brand without an amber fragrance in its line-up is Amouage.
In some ways, this isn't at all surprising. The Omani firm has done its best to downplay its Middle Eastern heritage from the day it came into being. After all, if you ask Guy Robert to kick-start your range with an aldehydic floral, the last message you could be accused of sending out is: 'Here be Ali Baba Land.' Under the creative directorship of Christopher Chong, this refusal to be pinned down by the aesthetics of a single geographic location has been turned into a major selling point: recent releases from the firm have emphasised the influences of China, Puccini and Baudelaire. Indeed, the brand's desire to be identified as 'international' rather than 'Arabian' would suggest that the absence of an amber fragrance has been the result of a conscious effort rather than an accidental quirk of the tastes of its decision makers. But now, almost thirty years after Robert's creation hit the shelves, the Powers That Be have relented and given us an Amouage amber.
Don't get too excited: it's not part of the main line. That would probably have been deemed too kitsch, too soon. Instead, it's been granted sixth place in the Library Collection, alongside the shocking animalics of Opus V and the yuletide spices of Opus IV.
Simply by virtue of the fact that it takes amber as its central theme, Opus VI feels familiar. One of the main pleasures of wearing this genre of fragrances is similar to that offered by listening to a favourite melody: even though you know which way the notes are going to go, you still gain considerable enjoyment from hearing the piece reach its conclusion. Dora Arnaud and Pierre Negrin have exploited this to the full in their formula, ensuring that no matter what else may be happening in their scent's structure, the base doesn't lose sight of the requisite amber vibe. But familiarity notwithstanding, this is an Amouage perfume, which means two things.
Firstly, it contains a frankincense note, as rich and resplendent as in any of the brand's other fragrances. And secondly, it doesn't want to fall too neatly into a single olfactory family, so it reduces the prominence and the smokiness of the amber by including an abrasive wood aspect and - somewhat unexpectedly - a gourmand-like chocolate liqueur facet. Contrary to what you might be thinking so far, all of this works. The disparate elements come together to create an effect that, initially, seems to borrow a little bit from Guet-Apens, Vanille Absolument, Idole and Frapin's 1697. It then adds some individual touches of its own. And finally it says, 'Yes, we may be in Ali Baba Land, but this is no fairy tale. The buildings are made of glass. The desert is covered with vegetation. The people come from all over the world. And the wind is carrying the scent of the future." It may not be wholly original, but Opus VI is modern, appealing and above all, thoroughly enjoyable to wear.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Amouage in 2012.]
I'm very pleased to announce that thanks to the generosity of the team at Amouage, I am able to offer three readers of Persolaise.com a chance to win a special 30 ml bottle of Opus VI. To enter this draw, please leave a comment on this post on the subject of culture clashes. I won't reply to each comment, so as long as you keep to the topic in question, you can consider yourself to be in the draw. As always, please read the terms and conditions before you leave a comment.
My thanks to Amouage for offering these fantastic prizes.
Draw Terms & Conditions
i) the draw will be closed at 10 pm (UK time) on Thursday 15th March; ii) the winners will be selected at random and announced on this blog on Friday 16th March; iii) readers from anywhere in the world are eligible to enter; iv) by entering the draw, you indicate that customs regulations in your country permit you to receive an alcohol-based perfume; v) the winner will have to provide his/her postal address, which will then be passed on to Amouage; vi) the winner's address will not be kept on record by Persolaise, nor will it be passed to any third parties, apart from Amouage.