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Amouage Opus IV: All That and More
Gonna tell you a story that you won’t believe
But I fell in love last Friday evenin’
With a girl I saw on a bar room TV screen
Well I was just gettin’ ready to get my hat
When she caught my eye and I put it back
And I ordered myself a couple o’ more shots and beers
She was five foot six and two fifteen
A bleach blonde bomber with a streak of mean
She knew how to knuckle and she knew how to scuffle and fight
And the roller derby program said
That she was built like a ‘fridgerator with a head
Her fans call her “Tuffy” but all her buddies call her “Spike”
—lyrics from Jim Croce’s song, "Roller Derby Queen" †
It’s really not fair of me to preface my review of Amouage Opus IV with the lyrics to Jim Croce’s “Roller Derby Queen.” Not fair to the perfume, that is. Opus IV is opulent and classy, and of all the perfumes in the opus series, this is the one that smells like the very place you’d expect to find an opus: it smells like a grand library, one with floor-to-ceiling bookcases constructed of rare hardwoods that have been polished to a high sheen with lemon oil, housing rare manuscripts printed on parchment and vellum, and where reading tables hold deep vases filled with roses. Or at least, that’s the way I imagine a very grand library to smell. My actual experience in that regard is somewhat limited. The grandest libraries I’ve ever been in have all been university libraries (which mostly means that they were large), and the most fragrant library I’ve ever encountered was in a monastery in Switzerland, where the books were all bound in leather and the parquet flooring was polished to a high sheen but creaked every time a step was taken across it. It was the noisiest wood floor I’ve ever encountered and I remember it well, because the monk who was giving the tour would address the American tourists first, in English, and then address the other tourists in German and French. As soon as the monk finished speaking in English, all of the American tourists began walking around the library, either not noticing or not caring that their movements made it impossible for the other tourists to hear. It was rather embarrassing to be among the Americans that day.
But getting back on topic—I started off this review with the lyrics to Roller Derby Queen for a reason, and it has to do with the absolutely ginormous opening that Opus IV delivers—an opening that is large even by Amouage standards, and which originally had me thinking that I probably wouldn’t be wearing, let alone reviewing, this perfume when I first tried it on last year. This is too big, even for me!, I thought on previous occasions, and then a couple months ago I tried it out again and found myself loving it and craving it the way I do most Amouage perfumes. And I probably wouldn’t have questioned this love—I probably would have written some gushing and overblown review, trying to connect this perfume to a grand theme—a review where we are not only in a grand library, but we are there with Barbara Streisand’s Yentl. Because that’s perfect, right? Yentl singing in her full-on, Barbara Streisand voice, in a library that is colossal and fragrant and the very source of empowerment … and my analogy dovetailing so nicely, not only with this particular opus perfume but with Amouage’s overall theme for the The Library Collection, in which these perfumes aim to “defy categorisation, transcend gender and allow the wearer to create their own unique narrative.”
Well, actually, yes, it would be perfect on many levels, but you know what? I haven’t stopped laughing since I read something at another blog last week—and that was Blacknall Allen’s delightfully witty essay about Amouage perfumes , in which she compares them to Maserati race cars, with their heavy horse-power openings that she finds overwhelming. And she’s right—so many of the Amouage fragrances are that way, and while I find them exhilarating, I can certainly understand how others might find them overwhelming or even beastly. I’m being truthful when I say that Opus IV smells like my idea of a grand library, yet I could just as convincingly couple it to Jim Croce’s roller derby queen. What’s for certain is that it’s a heavily-freighted fragrance and cacophonous to the point that it’s one of the more difficult Amouage perfumes to describe. Its opening smells mostly of industrial-strength lemon oil combined with an equally strong amount of coriander oil ... in a good way. Though the coriander has a spicy green smell that grows spicier over time, on initial application it reminds me of the collective smells of various wood polishes and flooring waxes I have smelled in my day. Coupled with citrus notes of lemon, mandarin and grapefruit—and the sharp, pine-like aroma of elemi—Opus IV’s top notes make me think of wood, in spite of the fact that I’m not sure there’s a true wood note in the fragrance. By association, I imagine myself standing someplace where I smell the wood paneled walls of a library—or the waxed hardwood of a roller-derby rink of yore.
(The notes for Opus IV, by the way, are listed on the Amouage website as listed as top notes of coriander oil, lemon, mandarin and grapefruit; heart notes of elemi oil, cardamom, cumin, rose berries, rose, and violet leaves; and base notes of peru balsam, labdanum absolute, frankincense, animalic, and musk.)
As the heart and base notes emerge, Opus IV becomes spicy in a way that is hard to put one’s finger on. It’s not the kind of spice one associates with food or with Christmas potpourris: attended by a green astringency, this spiciness is something I can only describe in metaphorical terms as the olfactory equivalent of energy. Its vibration reminds me of the feeling of being in an elevated state, yet there is just enough of a lick of the animalic that when it collides with the spicy greenery, one detects an invigoratingly pagan vibe. Here is our roller derby queen bearing down on the competition!
This excitement goes on for hours, and then as it dries down I get more library than roller derby queen. There is a quiet waft of rose that softens this perfume—and a light vanilla aroma that issues from the Peru balsam and lends a cottony smell to the scent, reminding me of the smell of good cotton paper. The green notes never fully depart and gently fade out in a way that makes them smell woody. Though I’ve read some mini reviews at some of the online fragrance forums which speak of the animalic and musk notes being prominent—to the point of making the wearer feel like he or she smells unwashed—there are just as many that agree with my own assessment: these “unclean” notes are not very pronounced. I suppose it depends on skin chemistry, but to my nose, Opus IV in its far dry down stage smells like good paper, wood, spice, a little incense, with the animalic notes giving the faint impression of something aged—a light mustiness that is nuanced and fits well into the overall scent scheme.
The library scent scheme, of course. That said, if the animalic notes were heavier and this perfume really did smell like a roller derby queen, I’d probably still love it. There are some things I will always be attracted to: long-legged men, 70s music and really big perfumes. These are the things that make my world go round and round—and my small life seem infinitely larger.
November 12, 2010:
Amouage Opus IV eau de parfum can be purchased from LuckyScent.com; $325 for 100-ml. My review is based on a sample I acquired from the Sens Unique boutique in Paris, as a free gift with purchase, last year.
Photo of Roller Derby Girls is from blondeepisodes.com; bottle image is from Basenotes.net.
†Lyrics excerpted from the 1975 Jim Croce song “Roller Derby Queen” from his album Photographs and Memories. Copyright 1974 R2M Music.
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