One of the things I’ve enjoyed when looking at older paintings is these were the social media of the day. There were no photographs to convey what far-off lands and peoples looked like. Western civilization saw the rest of the world through the interpretations of a painter. One movement which began in fin de siècle 18th century is grouped as the Orientalist paintings. These were fascinating because there were artists who would make the arduous journey to the Middle East and paint from experience. Then there were others who would create from the tales told to them without ever leaving home. Creative director at Amouage Christopher Chong was interested in converting this dichotomy into a perfume; Opus XI.
In the press release he likens the Orientalists who never visited the country as the first example of “fake news”. How do you turn that into a perfume? The answer is you get perfumer Pierre Negrin to do the same trick with perhaps the most Middle Eastern perfume ingredient there is; oud.
In perfumery there is an Orientalist separation of real oud and oud accord. Real oud speaks for itself. Oud accords represent themselves as “real” oud in many fragrances. Instead they are comprised of a few well-known ingredients which create an oud accord without ever using a drop of real oud. The purpose of making an accord is you don’t have to work around the more irascible qualities of the real thing. In Opus XI M. Negrin juxtaposes authentic oud with an oud accord.
Opus XI opens with the real oud as M. Negrin particularly enhances one of those difficult aspects of its scent. To do this he uses the unusual perfume ingredient of marjoram which has a soft green herbal-ness. It acts as a magnifier of the medicinal qualities of the real oud used in Opus XI. There is a richness to it while the medicinal effect is made prominent. Now that you’ve traveled to the real source M. Negrin then creates a parallel oud from styrax and a Firmenich exclusive Woodleather. The latter comes from a suite of recently synthesized molecules designed to have an oud-y scent profile. This is the real oud scrubbed of its problematic medicinal facets. Leaving behind a dry oud-like woodiness. To add back a metered amount of the rougher edges is where the styrax comes in. M. Negrin roughs up the Woodleather to a facsimile of the marjoram and real oud. What you get is a compelling perspective on oud as the two versions harmonize.
Opus XI has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I’m not sure but this might be the shortest ingredient list for an Amouage perfume. It is no less interesting for that. The idea of having a discussion of Orientalism through perfume via oud is outstanding. I have spent many weeks enjoying and thinking about Opus XI. If you love oud this perfume is one you must try.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Amouage.