Fans of floriental powerhouses in the classical tradition, take note, Opus 1144 is one for you to try. It is a bold, complex fragrance with a divaesque character that harkens back to the great Guerlain legends, Shalimar and L’Heure Bleue, in their most concentrated vintage parfum form, as well as to modern creations by Mona di Orio and O’Drui. At its heart, it’s structured much like a millefeuille dessert where tart, lemon curd custard lies sandwiched between layers of dark, smoky styrax and balsamic-coated, musky leather, all dusted with vanillic powder in a haze of jasmine and iris floralcy.
Opus 1144 is many things, sometimes all at once. It is a lilting choral extravaganza where grand, bold opulence and monumental density dip into airiness and delicacy without ever losing strength. It’s a chiaroscuro of light and dark, masculinity and feminine, gourmand and oriental, hard and soft, acrid and sweet, cloying and beautiful — and I’m not completely sure what to make of all that, no matter how many times I wear it. In all honesty, there are many times in the first four hours when Opus 1144 leaves me simultaneously repelled and riveted, drawn in compulsively and with great admiration, but also put off and hesitant. One thing is undeniable: it’s something that any fan of the classics and of powerhouses in the floriental genre should try for themselves.
Opus 1144 is a new 2015 extrait de parfum from Unum. As I mentioned in my review of the High Church incense fragrance, Lavs, the perfume house was founded in 2013 by Filippo Sorcinelli, who is also the nose behind its three fragrances and who originally began by making vestments for Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. Unum’s long description on its website about Opus 1144’s inspiration and compositional structure is in Italian, but a translated English version is available on Neos1911, one of Unum’s handful of retailers. In a nutshell, “Opus 1144 is the celebrative outcome of the Gothic style,” with notes symbolically intended to underscore that aesthetic.
Based on that translated description and on the note list on Twisted Lily, Opus 1144 appears to contain:
Elemi, Jasmine, Bergamot, Mandarin Orange, Iris, Orchid, Cashmere Wood, Musk, Ambergris, Vanilla, Leather, Sandalwood, Benzoin, and Styrax [mentioned by Unum in its description but not included in other lists] .
Opus 1144 opens on my skin with thick waves of bergamot and syrupy vanilla, layered like a feuilleté with smoky, leathery styrax and a thinner slivers of actual leather, then dusted with vanillic benzoin powder, and placed within a slightly indolic jasmine cocoon. The citrus note is somewhat sharp and bitter, far closer to a lime for the first two hours than to actual bergamot. The mandarin orange takes a few moments to appear, then wafts in like tart, pithy pulp dabbed in minute amounts. It sits on the sidelines next to an indistinct woodiness that, once in a blue moon, takes on an aromatic elemi quality. Most of the time, however, it is simply faceless — mere abstract woodiness whose character and presence are overwhelmed by the heavy and occasionally acrid “lime.”
The jasmine feels equally obscured, even though Opus 1144 is definitely, undeniably, and profoundly floral. Yet, the jasmine’s distinctive, personal character, especially its syrupy sweetness, are so submerged within the deluge of equally syrupy vanilla that they essentially become one. Above all else, Opus 1144 is so well-blended that its notes not only flow one into another, but it’s sometimes hard to know where one ends and the other begins. It may actually be too well-blended because, as with Lavs, a lot of the elements are either barely noticeable in any individually distinct manner, or never show up at all.
For the most part, though, Opus 1144’s opening bouquet is centered on a triptych of jasmine, vanilla, and bergamot/lime atop thick layers of darkly balsamic, leathery, smoky, resins, all dusted with vanillic powder. There is a grandness and boldness that evokes classical French Haute Couture, while the actual scent reminds me enormously of the vintage Shalimar extrait that I have from the late ’70s or early ’80s. Age has concentrated its notes into a thick, dark syrup, heightening the leathery underpinnings as much as the floralcy and the vanillic sweetness, but age has also given the citrus top notes a certain acrid quality. It’s much the same way here, though, given what happens later in Opus 1144’s drydown, the acridness may stem from the smoky, incense-like styrax in the base; as I said earlier, it’s hard to know where one note ends in Opus 1144 and the other begins.
What I do know for certain is that I find the opening to be simultaneously disagreeable and fascinating. I’m drawn in by the wonderfully ridiculous heft and intensity of a Shalimar on steroids, and by the sense of a Wagnerian crescendo during the Ride of the Valkyries. In fact, Opus 1144 would perfectly suit Maria Callas singing Wagner in one of her ball gowns and festooned with jewels, dramatic makeup, and full-on diva power. All those comparisons are my highest form of praise for a fragrance, and yet…. I’m also utterly repelled by the vanilla’s cloying sweetness, by the sharpness of the lime-like bergamot, and by an acrid quality that feels super-sonic in its dark pointedness. The latter stays for a long, long time, almost straight through to the end, and is one reason why I’m more ambivalent about Opus 1144 than I should be.
However, for the first 90 minutes, the vanilla is just as problematic. For someone like me with a very low threshold for sweetness, the vanilla skews well past the “cloying” category and sometimes — just sometimes — verges more on the “suffocating.” It’s a multi-faceted note that isn’t easy to pigeon-hole because it’s simultaneously: like dark vanilla syrup; as sugary as thick vanilla icing; but also as creamy as a custard, with a viscosity as thick and dense as molasses. Its power in conjunction with the bergamot and the rich, sweet, but sometimes faceless jasmine floralcy ends up reminding me of O’Drui‘s Eva Kant, only Opus 1144 has far less going on, is in no way herbal, and has more classical purity with its Shalimar resemblance.
For hours to come, Opus 1144 continues as a lemon curd custard millefeuille layered with smoky and leathery resins, changing only in its nuances. At the end of the first hour, the tiny splinters of woodiness in the background turn into larger streaks, weaving around quietly, in and out, but rarely feeling like a solid or constant force. Once in a blue moon, a tiny pop of a juniper gin-like note pops up in the distance, undoubtedly from the elemi. The smoky styrax and leather darkness of the base fluctuate in strength, as does the vanilla powderiness that is strewn over everything on top. As for the main trio of notes — the jasmine, vanilla, and bergamot — they are woven so tightly together, they’re essentially like a triple DNA spiral. That said, the vanilla and “lime”/bergamot frequently shine brightest and seem to have the greatest individual clarity. It’s the jasmine that is hardest to explain, because it shimmers like a mirage, present without a doubt and, yet, it often feels more abstract than concrete, if that makes any sense. It’s too strong to be an elusive note, but it often feels submerged into its partners.
Roughly 90 minutes in, Opus 1144 starts to shift, turning smoother, softer, and with better modulated notes. The vanilla is slowly becoming more of an aerated fluffy custard or thick mousse, rather than a cloying syrup. The bergamot no longer seems quite so sharply pointed, though a vestige of lime-like tartness still remains. Even the acrid quality lessens to a degree, though every time I think I’m finally free of it, it surges back as strong as before. In the base, the smoky, leathery streaks are more rounded, their sharp edges smoothened out. To my surprise, Opus 1144 is changing in body as well. While it is still a significantly rich, strong scent, it feels airier as compared to the solid, opaque density of its start.
These are all minor things and nuances, but a more radical shift occurs at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd. The iris sweeps in like a haughty dame, ushering in a floral powderiness in her wake that grows more pronounced with every moment. It does not resemble make-up powder, has no orris-like lipstick aroma, and most certainly does not resemble scented baby powder on my skin, either. Instead, it’s sweet, slightly vanillic, with a cool, hushed floralcy to it.
What it does is to transform Opus 1144 into a total hybrid of vintage L’Heure Bleue extrait and vintage Shalimar extrait. At the same time, the styrax in the base starts to creep upwards, smudging the soft, airy petals of jasmine and iris with black smudges. All the notes are now interlocking and overlapping, creating a seamless mélange that oozes the regal sophistication of a Grande Dame in the most classical French way. It’s from this point forth that I start to sniff Opus 1144 with ever-growing appreciation and admiration, not only because vintage L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar parfums are old favorites of mine, but because image upon image of famous icons of the past are flashing through my brain, first and foremost, Rosalind Russell as the stylish, larger-than-life force of nature, “Auntie Mame.”
And, yet, there are echoes of a modern fragrance reverberating loudly at the start of the 4th hour as well. As the vanilla turns ever more into a creamy custard mixed with mousse, as the “lime” finally softens into pure lemon, and as the iris powder flies over everything, Opus 1144 consistently calls to mind Mona di Orio‘s Vanille, except with vintage L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar blanketing it.
Opus 1144’s next major shift occurs about 5.5 hours into the perfume’s evolution. The leather suddenly charges up from the depths like an elephant, with the ambergris clinging onto its back like a blanket. It pushes the jasmine, bergamot, vanilla trio out of the way and onto the sidelines, as it trumpets a clarion call of Russian leather made from smoky birch tar and probably a good heaping of isobutyl quinoline to give it an ambery, woody undertone as well. The ambergris is not a concrete, individually pronounced note, but it lends a vague goldenness to the leather and, more importantly, an almost humid, earthy muskiness.
Like a charging bull elephant, the leather takes over this stage of Opus 1144, smelling often like rawhide covered with a humid thickness that is a little hard to describe. Styrax circles around it, adding to the quiet smokiness of the scent which is now darker, drier, and more masculine in nature. To my surprise, there is barely any floralcy except for small wisps in the background and an occasional (quite ghostly) suggestion of creamy orris butter. There is barely any vanilla either; all sense of fluffiness or gourmandise has quite vanished. Yet, the acrid streaks remains, along with splatters of bergamot.
It’s a short stage, perhaps an hour or 75 minutes at most, and then the old core of Opus 1144 returns. The leather’s rawness, intensity, and earthiness fade away, leaving something smoother and more golden. By the end of the 6th hour, Opus 1144 essentially smells of lemon mousse streaked with musky leather and dark, balsamic resins. Slowly, the leather melts into the resins, swallowed up by a golden warmth that starts to pervade the lemon-vanilla mousse, taking it over. The jasmine has completely disappeared.
Roughly 8.5 hours into the perfume’s evolution, the bergamot’s tenacious hold finally comes to an end as the amber conquers all, aided by a creamy orris butter that glides over the skin like satin. The vanilla custard has disappeared, too, replaced by a simple, bourbon sweetness that bears a quiet smokiness from the styrax. A light sprinkling of iris and vanillic powder remains for a short while, but the iris (perhaps orris butter?) is rapidly becoming simple textural smoothness and creamy butteriness. It transforms the amber into the most wonderful thing I’ve encountered in a while, though I suspect the sandalwood probably has something to do with that as well, at least indirectly since I never once detected it in any visible way.
The end result is gloriously golden, buttery, and creamy ambered satin, stroked by gentle fingers of slightly bourbon-ish sweetness, then wrapped with the thinnest ribbons of smoke and soft, musky leather. It’s seductive, cozy, and compulsively, addictively sniffable. If only it didn’t take almost 11 hours to get to this point! This wonderful stage lasts for while without change, until the scent finally dies away as a blur of golden warmth with a vestige of sweetness.
Opus 1144 has superb longevity, good projection, and enormous sillage during the first few hours of its life. Using 3 large smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance initially opens with 3 inches of projection and about 4 inches of sillage, but both soon balloon rapidly. As the fragrance is warmed by the skin, roughly 25 minutes, the projection grows to 5-6 inches, while the sillage wafts across the length of a room. On one occasion when I tested Opus 1144, I had dinner at my parents’ house, and was told that the scent trailed behind me from one room to the next. By the end of the 2nd hour, things settle down a little, with the projection dropping to between 2 to 2.5 inches, while the sillage is about 6 inches. When the 4th hour comes to a close, the projection is about 1.5 inches, the sillage is about 4 to 6. Opus 1144 only turns into a skin scent after 7.5 hours, but it’s still easy to smell up close until the middle of the 10th hour. All in all, the fragrance consistently lasts over 12 hours on me, ranging from 12.75 with a few light, tiny smears equal to 1 small spray, to just under 14.5 hours with the equivalent of 2 good sprays.
Opus 1144 is too new to have received a lot of reviews, but everything I’ve seen thus far has been enormously positive. On Fragrantica, there are only 3 comments at this time, all admiring. The one from “Alfarom” is the same text that is posted on his Nero Profumo blog. He calls Opus 1144 a “bold and complex fragrance” that was so “multi-faceted” it was hard to describe. He compared it to some of what he called Amouage‘s best women’s or oriental scents (Opus VI, Epic Woman, and Lyric Woman), and rated Opus 1144 a good 8-8.5 out of 10. I suspect those numbers would be higher if he, like me, hadn’t struggled with the sweetness of the opening which he called “challenging”: “so incredibly thick and powerful to the point to make yourself questioning your sanity.” I couldn’t agree more, just as I agree with his advice to “hang in there” and let the opening phase pass to get to the rest of Opus 1144 which he described, in part, as follows:
The overall sweetness of the opening is remarkably tamed down by a plush musky-leathery bone-structure that, together with smooth creamy / woody notes and resins starts lurking in the back to then slowly drive the fragrabce towards what is in my opinion its real essence: the majestic drydown. There’s definitely something classically french about Opus 1411, something familiarly comforting while all this is paired to a dark nature that gives this composition a brooding character. Like falling into an abyss of powdery decadence. An endless echo that gets lower and lower in tone as time goes by…and it goes on and on and on for hours…darker, more dusty, drier. It’s quintessentially gothic and agrees with red / purple velvet and black marble.
I’m less enthused by Opus 1144’s middle stage than he is (because of the continuing acridness on my skin), but I do agree that the very end is “majestic,” even if it didn’t skew gothic and dark for me, but golden, plush, and creamy like satin.
I think my experience may have been a touch closer to that of “Colin Maillard,” who provides the second, detailed analysis for Opus 1144 on Fragrantica. He says it is probably his personal favourite from Unum line, “despite the really bold opening which may be off-putting at first.” (God, it really is!) The rest of the fragrance he describes, in part, as follows:
The opening is triumphally bold and powerful: a thick, nearly overwhelming dusty-ambery blend (“ambery” à la Goutal’s Ambre Fetiche) with creamy candied-floral nuances (elemi and flowers) and a whole citric-astringent side of citrus and bergamot, perfectly opposing a warm and sweet vanillic base also comprising sandalwood (speaking decently-aged Shalimar here) … in turn juxtaposed to dirtier, almost skankier notes of benzoin, jasmine, salty ambergris (forget ambroxan, I mean salty, slightly animalic-aqueous ambergris), and something that reminds me of tonka – a sort of sweet-exotic almond touch. Thick, radiant and deep, gourmand-ish on one side (this even comprising a weird sort of balsamic vinaigre feel), almost chypre-sque on the other; slightly waxy – meaning both powdery-iris and leathery as in Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque – monolithic but somehow almost “lascivious” thanks to its softer-darker sides, slightly reminding me of the (few) best aspects of Mona di Orio style – that sort of dusty, antique vibe, just less baroque and more austere (and, ok, uncomparably better executed here).
The drydown is equally great, and for me is quite the key to get the whole beauty of this fragrance. After the citric-vanillic opening it enters a sweeter phase echoing tonka and resins (echoes of “guerlinades” again), then an un expected drift towards an incredibly beautiful powdery-dusty drydown with darker shades that is as much uplifting, peaceful and mesmerizing as looking at the dust floating in the light of a Middle-European cathedral. Complex but so fulfilling from the very first sniff to the very final drydown [….] [Emphasis to names added by me.]
I have the strong, strong feeling that Opus 1144 will be one of those polarizing Love It/Hate It fragrances. “Alfarom” mentioned at the end of his review: “If you’re drawn to bold and complex fragrances, Opus 1144 is a mandatory stop and, trust me, it won’t leave you indifferent.” And I couldn’t agree more. It won’t leave you indifferent. At all.
After four wearings, I still can’t make up my mind what I think about Opus 1144. There are parts I love, and there are parts that repel me, even as they simultaneously draw me in — albeit, sometimes I’m drawn in simply from confusion at what on earth is going with some of the individual notes. I’m completely torn on Opus 1144 for myself, though I would buy it in a heartbeat if the opening stage were brief, the acridness didn’t continue to the middle part, and if the final hours made up a major portion of the scent.
One thing I am quite clear on is that you should not go anywhere near Opus 1144 if you like airy, fresh, clean, light scents, or if you think any of the vintage Guerlain classics smell “old lady.” If that awful phrase is your reaction to big, heavy, opulent scents, you’ll be horrified by Opus 1144, so don’t even bother with it. On the other hand, if you think vintage Shalimar (parfum, not even the eau de toilette) is a thing of beauty right down to its styrax, animalic leathery heart, and if you think vintage L’Heure Bleue is majestically haunting despite its powderiness, then you should order a sample of Opus 1144 immediately. Same if you have a passionate love for Mona di Orio’s citrusy, powdered Vanille, the Ambre Fetiche mentioned by “Colin Maillard” up above, and/or ultra heavy, big, divaesque Valkyrie florientals with a very classical profile.
Whether or not you actually end up liking your sample of Opus 1144 may depend on two things: your tolerance for that challenging opening, and your patience. If you love or can tolerate gourmand sweetness, and if you don’t mind a lot of bergamot “lime,” I think you’ll have a much smoother path than someone like me who has a very low threshold. Even so, I have to repeat again, I think Opus 1144 will be one of those Love It/Hate It polarizing scents.
Then again, you may end up feeling completely torn, just like I am right now. Try as I might, I can’t shake a certain unease I feel whenever I wear Opus 1144, as well as a feeling of, “I should love this passionately, but I really don’t think I like it.” But, then, 20 minutes later, something happens, and I’m riveted all over again, before some other aspect (like the acridness) repels me once more. It’s an exhausting waltz that continues for far too long for my liking, all the way past the 9th or 10th hour, until that glorious finale appears to soothe my frazzled confusion. Would I actually want to go through all that if I owned a bottle? Would I even want to pay for one to begin with? Opus 1144 is technically great value for its price of $220 or €175 for 100 ml of hefty, dense, high voltage, high sillage, long-lasting parfum. I’m just not sure it’s really for me. It should be — Wagnerian, baroque fragrances with a vintage Guerlain bouquet that conjure up Maria Callas singing in jewels and an opulent gown have my name written all over them — but… no. I think I’m leaning towards, “No. No, I don’t like it.”
At the end of the day, my confusion and ambivalence is probably a testament to the power and complexity of Opus 1144. I’ve been wearing perfume for quite a few decades now, I cut my baby teeth on big, flamboyant powerhouse legends, and, at this point, I generally make up my mind very quickly how I feel about a scent. Generally. All I know for certain about Opus 1144 is that she’s a stand-out, a high-quality, full-throttle scent with character, and quite a diva to boot. Like all divas, that makes her a handful and a challenge. Sometimes, you can admire a diva, shout “Brava” at her, but you may not actually like her as a person or want to take her home with you. Still, Opus 1144, “Brava.”