Thursday, 18 March 2010

YSL OPIUM: Death of a Classic


Created in 1977 by Yves Saint Laurent, Opium was a controversial release at that time; in part because of its evocative name and that which the perfume itself represented in popular culture, released on the heels of an era of psychedelic drug use. Yves Saint Laurent came under fire particularly from Chinese-American communities who felt the name and its associations insensitive... which in turn served to publicise the perfume even more. Opium embodied exotic enchantment with its narcotizing florals, deep spices, warm woods and spiralling resinous heart. To this day, it is revered as one of the classic orientals and a yardstick against which other oriental releases are still measured.

My exposure to Opium has been life-long. For as many years as I can recall, my mother has spritzed her decollitage with this mysterious elixir, and I have grown into an adult with its perfume profile imprinted clearly in my subconscious. Few oriental style perfumes even come close to the success of Opium, whose rich heritage has been beautifully documented in advertising media for almost 40 years. In that time the packaging and striking perfume formula has been largely unchanged. Until today.



Now, just two years since Yves Saint Laurent was bought from the Gucci Group by the cosmetics giant L'Oreal, the unthinkable has occurred. 2010 has seen a new Opium flacon and packaging presentation hit the shelves, and whilst I could never fault the original, the new bottle and media campaign both succeeded in catching my eye.
Sadly, the perfume itself did not appease my nose. Nor did it live up to the olfactory fingerprint that the original formula has left on my psyche.
Ô rage ! Ô désespoir!
Why have they messed with perfection?! I find the new formulation a travesty. The EDT has suffered the most, but the EDP has also been afflicted with a mess of accords that simply have no business being there. Somewhere between the plum, cloves and carnation; the rose, the myrrh, the sandalwood and the animalic castoreum, there now resides a ghastly synthetic mess that I can only begin to describe as powdery, bitter elastic bands. As far as the perfuming arts are concerned, I feel this is every bit as repugnant as the little black moustache French artist Marcel Duchamp added to a reproduction of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa during the Dada art movement in 1919. A cheeky bit of vandalism callously applied to a master creation. Only, here the justification of such a defacement is not at all clear.


I think if Yves were still alive today, he would be outraged. The perfume that personified his name and his brand - a scent that has been cherished the world over - has also met an untimely end.
As per the terms of L'Oreal's purchase, they have taken over the long term license for not only YSL, but also Boucheron, Stella McCartney, Ermenegildo Zegna and Oscar de la Renta.



16 comments:

queen_cupcake said...

This is sad news indeed. Luckily I just purchased a fine vintage batch of Opium and will be hoarding it for the rest of my perfume-lovin' days, it seems. ...I just had a terrible thought: what might L'Oreal do to Y? [Shudder]

Dimitri said...

Yes indeed!
Hang on to that Opium for dear life, cupcake. However, some comfort comes with the knowledge that there is a fair bit of the "old stock" still on the international market. I do feel for the children of our children though...

Pete said...

Yes, YSL heritage slowly fades away- discontinuation of Nu and Rive Gauche PH Intense, reformulation of M7, launch of boring Parisienne and now your review.
Luckily, L'Oreal has just sold Oscar de La Renta brand to designer himself, so this part feels safe now.
Wonder what is coming up for the Boucheron- their scents are rather hard to find in some countries nowdays. Regards!

Persolaise said...

Oh God, really?

How much more depressing can things get?

Right, time to ask my wife to guard her existing bottle with her life!

The Scentimentalist said...

Dismal news! I have never been a wearer of Opium, but am now minded to stock just one solitary, vintage bottle. The mind boggles as to why they do this ...

SeeJaneSell said...

Quel dommage :(

Opium was my gateway perfume- at age 13 my next door neighbour, an impossibly cool & stylish woman, wore the parfum. I wore it for years but that was a long time ago. The soap & body powder were especially delicious. Funny to read your post as I've been craving it lately- the parfum. Hopefully I can find some vintage...

Flora said...

Oh no, not another one! Guess I had better get a bit of vintage Opium very soon, it will be in high demand for sure now. Why would they do this to an iconic perfume?!

Anonymous said...

I feel completely out of it. I've worn Opium for ages and have always kept a good supply. Imagine my surprise when I opened a new bottle... Where can one buy the original? Please help!!!!

Dimitri said...

Anonymous, ebay, online discounters or discount retail outlets are your best bet.

Dana Harms said...

Oh good...there are others who share my pain! Opium is one of my all-time fav fragrances so you can imagine my dismay after trying the new formula :( Dana

Anonymous said...

I was low on Opium,a scent I have worn and loved since the 70s, and my husband bought me some for Christmas. My reaction on opening the bottle was "What on earth???" That washed out bottle was the palest of imitations but I consoled myself that it was some misguided attempt at updating the packaging. Then I depressed the atomizer and was hit by a sickly, insipid scent that had nothing to do with the original. What on earth were they thinking when they tinkered with the original formula, lost the original scent, and called the resulting abortion by the same name?

Dimitri said...

I am so with you, Anonymous!
The new version is an atrocity. Fortunately though - there is sufficient of the old formula on the internet. But of course it is only a finite amount... :-/
Dimitri.

pookie said...

why?????? why didthey change the formula???I want the old opium..... it 's not like we're asking for world piece... I read that a perfume panel in Brussels has required certain carcinogeous ingredients be removed from certain perfumes..is this true????

Anonymous said...

Why mess with a complete, absolute classic? If it works - & it did - why 'fix' it? the new Opium is well on the way to becoming the Titanic of the parfum world. Did it not occur to the company that Opium sold (past tense) so well because it was gorgeous? I don't buy it any more.

Louise Bourassa said...

I discoverd all those messages about Opium today. Now I feel not along thinking about the atrocity to change this unique fragrance. I wore this perfume for more 25 years until they change the bottle. Can we still find
vintage bottle?

Andrea Limie said...

I smelled this obnoxious aberration for the first time today when asking a patient at work what perfume she was wearing (taking care not to insult her choice of scent). She exclaimed "It's Opium!" To which I replied "That is NOT Opium". She then stated that she thought it smelled different. Other patients came forward, perturbed, questioning "Where is the deep, spicy, earthy orange thwack that used to almost catch in your throat, the warm treacle and deep evening wood atmosphere it conjured up. The evocation of impending and inevitable seduction; an exotic eastern, sensual and dangerous caress of deep musk that punched you in the gut yet was as smooth as silk?". An unexpectedly spontaneous and glorious reminiscence. I told them "I will find out what is going on!" And hurried to my computer to demand information from Google. Cradling my horror and incredulity, I returned to the ladies to inform them "they no longer make the original". "Boo. Hiss" was the reply - well something similar. The very same patient who had purchased this unutterable stench encased in its hideous, redesigned bottle, informed the gathered throng that she will be "returning it to the shop tomorrow for a full refund". Hurrah!!! What a travesty. They could not leave it be and had to mess with the recipe! Shame on them. End of an era. Very sad. X