However, in keeping with Creative Director Christopher Chong's modus operandi, Opus VIII is far from an ordinary jasmine. In fact, when you first wear it, you could be forgiven for thinking it isn't a jasmine at all. It greets you with the dryness of tannins catching you right at the back of your throat. Theirs isn't an evocation of a momentary absence of water, but of weeks and weeks of husky, parched, life-threatening drought. Then the woods emerge, equally bereft of moisture, leaping into the frame like pieces of kindling released from a blazing oven. Next, a truly arresting freshness fills the air, part camphoraceous, part zesty, which reassures you that a respite from the bleakness is just around the corner, even as it makes you gasp for air. And then, and only then, do you notice that what you've been smelling all along, in the background - that dusty, mothbally, earthy weirdness - is jasmine. It may be devoid of nearly all its sweetness and pumped to the max with disconcerting indoles, but it's a jasmine nonetheless, as majestic, beguiling and unfathomable as it ought to be.
With faint echoes of Alien, Le Maroc Pour Elle and perhaps even Isvaraya (which I keep meaning to review here) Opus VIII constantly wrong-foots the wearer and refuses to allow its identity to be pinned down. Each time you think it's about to turn into a more conventional floral, the wide-eyed freshness reappears (perhaps a consequence of the West Indian bay cited in the official list of notes) and each time you decide that this is a straightforward woody scent after all, those white petals give a gentle shake and remind you of their presence. In other words, it sustains an engaging complexity throughout its development. But perhaps what's most surprising about it - bearing in mind that it comes from the least wallflower-like of brands - is its silence. Its presence certainly lingers for ages - no worries about longevity here - but it doesn't project anywhere near as loudly as, say, the Interlude duo or Opus V. Indeed, by Amouage standards, the scent is positively introspective... which brings us back to that Sahara-like dryness...
At a time when millions of people around the world are reflecting on mysterious manifestations in deserts and Lenten abstinence, Opus VIII inadvertently makes an apposite statement about deceptiveness and illusion. By side-stepping attempts at easy categorisation, it focusses the mind, sharpens the senses and forces the wearer to ponder on the perfume's effects and meanings. It demands mindful contemplation. That's a pretty impressive feat, as far as olfactory achievements are concerned, and it's likely to make soul-singing, scent-believers of us all... even my friend, the garlic-worshipping atheist.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Amouage in 2014; for more reviews of Opus VIII, please visit Perfume Posse and The Non-Blonde.]