Suzanne's Perfume Journal

April 23, 2012:

Exploring the Unadorned, Out-of-Left-Field Amber

of Amouage Opus VI

So many exquisite reviews of Amouage Opus VI have already been written, I’m not sure I can bring anything new to the table except to heap on it more praise. You probably already know that Amouage’s Creative Director, Christopher Chong, conceived Opus VI as an homage of sorts to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, about an estranged couple who resort to a literal form of brain washing in order to have their memories of each other erased (with the idea that by eradicating all memory of their attachment they liberate themselves from the pain of the breakup). As such, perfumers Dora Arnaud and Pierre Negrin created a perfume in which “amber narrates a story of a tragic love affair, where forgetfulness is one’s only comfort.”

Let me state up front that I love that idea—the film is a favorite of mine—but I’m going to take a different approach and come at the perfume from the opposite cinematic angle. Not to be a contrarian, but simply because I don’t wish to tread over territory that has already been so beautifully covered elsewhere. So instead of tragic love, I’m giving you Punch-Drunk Love (the 2002, Paul Thomas Anderson-written and directed film in which Adam Sandler plays against type, much the way that Jim Carrey does in Eternal Sunshine), which will hopefully land us in the same place while taking a different route to get there.

For those who haven’t seen it and might be fooled by the title, Punch-Drunk Love isn’t the kind of movie where romance proves heady and intoxicating. This is a dark and lean film that has plenty of amusing quirks yet serves up the notion of love, quite truthfully, as a refuge against loneliness, even taking it a step further: here the romantic bond offers lifeline and succor from the kind of alienation its main character can’t work himself out of, it’s so deeply ingrained. Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, an entrepreneur with an odd business—he sells novelty toilet plungers (“fungers”), which is fitting, given that his shy-to-the-point-of-skittish personality and his almost autistic way of interfacing with the world would seem to make him unsuitable for working anyplace else. Barry is highly intelligent, yet goes through life noticing every detail of the small print while losing sight of the big picture. He is surrounded by people—seven sisters who constantly berate and boss him around—while living a life of isolation. And he represses his anger to the point that it is like the stored-up lava of a volcano and released as such—in quick and violent outbursts that, fortunately, are aimed at inanimate objects: patio doors and bathroom fixtures.

Then into his life arrives the quietly delightful, Lena, played by Emily Watson, who is so drawn to Barry one can only surmise that she is desperately lonely too. (We are never made privy to the reasons why; we know little of her background, which makes the story feel all the more real, as if we are experiencing it in Barry’s skin.) Their initial encounters are awkward and nearly thwarted by him, yet Lena persists, and when they get together it’s clear that Barry has found a safe harbor in her. She quickly intuits what kind of emotional plane he is on and how to meet him on it, making for some strange dialogue between them. When they’re lying in bed kissing one another, she says “Your face is so adorable. Your skin and your cheek. I want to bite it. I want to bite your cheek and chew on it. It’s so fucking cute.” And when he responds, “I'm lookin' at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin' smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You're so pretty,” Lena doesn’t blink and is, in fact, right quick to continue their gritty pillow-talk.

Even before they meet, it’s clear that Barry is an innocent: he has a purity of heart, though the path to that heart has been buried under a mound of emotional clutter. And while the film itself doesn’t necessarily get lighter or less violent (there’s a dark plot twist that involves a phone call Barry made, prior to dating Lena, to a sex-phone service that is very illicitly trying to make him pay for it, and then some), love is what allows Barry to re-channel his anger in a way that gives him back his self-possession.

You could say that Punch-Drunk Love feels more genuinely romantic, even old-fashionedly romantic, because amidst its weirdly dark elements and its taut development, love seems almost to arrive out of left field. It exists where it shouldn’t and takes you by its element of surprise.

Amouage Opus VI operates along a similar premise. It’s an amber perfume that isn’t typical of its genre, which is to say it’s the opposite of opulent. There is nothing pillowy or romantic about it—and in some ways it strikes me as downright somber—yet it somehow manages to be all the more charismatic for it. While amber perfumes typically have a powdery, vanillic and sandalwood-creamy splendor to them, the sandalwood in Opus VI is almost undetectable, such that the perfume smells bottomless and unfinished, like rum raisins which have never known the accompaniment of cream. It has complexity, certainly—the amber equivalent of chutney, it smells like a reduction of amber, spices, herbs and fruits (notably, the aforementioned rum raisins) with some wood thrown in for good measure, reduced almost to the point of desiccation. It’s a dry yet intricate-smelling amber, somewhat masculine leaning, but not heavy enough to really declare it so. It’s a perfume that has intensity without a ballast, and while that may not sound like a strength, it is what makes Opus VI smell so compelling, because I think we are often drawn to those things we wish to complete. And if, like me, you love perfumes that have a bit of dark, male roughness to them, you will want to play Lena to this gorgeous scent and complete it with your skin.

Amouage Opus VI eau de parfum has notes of Sichuan pepper, frankincense, St. Thomas bay rum, periploca (silk vine, said to have an almond scent), cypriol (cyperus oil), patchouli, ambranum (synthetic amber), Z11 (synthetic dry wood compound), sandalwood and cistus. It can be purchased from LuckyScent.com; 100 ml for $325.

Many thanks to my scent twin and fellow perfume blogger, Tarleisio, of The Alembicated Genie for sending me a decant of Amouage Opus VI. Here’s the link to her own gorgeous review!

Film still from Punch-Drunk Love is from journeywithjair.blogspot.com; photo of Amouage Opus Vi perfume box is from LuckyScent.com.



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