Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Opium by Yves Saint Laurent c1977

Opium was launched in 1977 by designer Yves Saint Laurent. It was created by perfumer Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac of Roure after 30 tries to get it right. After a successful year of sales in France, YSL introduced Opium to America. It is a beautiful, rare and mysterious Oriental fragrance dripping with spices from distant Siam, Katmandu and Samarkand.




The Controversy:


 When it was introduced, it sparked vicious complaints by many who wanted to ban it or have the company simply change the name of the perfume. Even some Chinese Americans were against YSL for choosing the name Opium, they wanted a name change and a public apology from Saint Laurent for "his insensitivity to Chinese history and Chinese American concerns.".  Many people thought that Yves Saint Laurent was condoning drug use by choosing the name of the illicit drug. Organizations and countries protested the use of the name and appealed to Squibb who owned the Yves Saint Laurent fragrance division to change the name. The government of Queensland, Australia objected to the name and banned the sale of the fragrance in their state.

In the United States, the national ministries department of the American Baptist Church had protested the marketing of the perfume, saying that the use of the word “opium” was offensive. They further stated that the advertising for the perfume suggested that opium was somehow glamorous. However, I find it interesting as the church had 11,000 shares of Squibb common stock.

 Although Squibb initially was not keen on the perfume’s name, Yves Saint Laurent stated that it was “Opium or no perfume.” Yves also stated that “when a woman loses her mystery, she is all finished forever, she has lost the most important thing she had.” He then went to explain that the perfume was not meant to achieve a mood of drug sated decadence, but because the word evokes all the most exquisite, poetic, Oriental images that for years have occupied his mind. Opium epitomizes “a release of imagination, and ability to fantasize and dream, a certain quality of opulence and luxury that is delirious, romantic, as sensual and mysterious as the farthest reaches of the ancient Orient itself.” On the package Y.S.L. reportedly insisted that the name Opium outsize his own.

 The perfume was billed as a “mysterious, sensual and incredibly feminine, Opium is a unique blend of rare oils and essences designed to evoke visions of the fantastical and colorful legends and the lore of the Orient. A fabulous , disturbing fragrance, audacious, disconcerting The first perfume to be truly wild and sensual.” The French advertisement for Opium read "... for those who are addicted to Yves Saint Laurent".

The Launch:


 Opium had the biggest and most extravagant introduction the world had ever seen used for a perfume, headed by designer Rennie Reynolds. A spectacular gala was thrown for the launch, on a Chinese junk, the four masted, Peking, which was berthed at New York's South Street Seaport. On their way to the lavishly decorated boat,  some 800 or so guests strolled along a walk strewn with rose petals and lighted by dozens of Chinese lanterns.  Once they ascended the gangplank,  their eyes were treated to a beautiful scene: a thousand pound bronze statue of  Buddha, 30 huge Chinese fans, big canvas cushions,  rattan deck furniture, and gold, red and purple streamers hung from the masts and blew in the sea breeze. A spectacular "orchid forest" awaited them on deck, made up of dozens of bamboo spikes covered with white cattleya orchids and strewn with straw at the base.

A grand fireworks display sparked the end of the gala that night. Whether instructed or not, 27  guests took home some of the large Chinese fans as free party favors. Guests were given a beautifully printed, limited edition booklet with text by Yves Saint Laurent, citing poetic associations about the name of the perfume.

Several hundred guests then went onto Studio 54, which was decorated like an opium den. The discotheque's lobby was filled with beds and floor cushions for lounging while guests snacked on morning fare: omelettes and champagne.

The Press Material was upon creamy paper embossed in gold, terracotta, and blue, arrives in a black lacquered paper folder closed with a black silk tassel wrapped around with a faux cinnabar  medallion. The descriptions of the perfume are no less than breathtaking, "an audaciously sensual fragrance...warm, slightly animal notes...exotic..spellbinding..incredibly sensual, feminine, sensual and wild.."

Inside a purple colored folder, Opium "invites you to the Wilder Shores, to Smyrna, to Samarkand, to Khafiristan and Katmandu. Set sail with us to the mysterious Orient.. frightening and serene...wild and voluptuous..for which of us has not, in our most secret dreams, fought sword to sword with Samurais..walked the veiled bazaars of Baghdad...swept through the skies on the pigtail of a blue Djinn."

The Perfume:


Stores had requests for Opium even before it was stocked on their shelves and when they did finally carry it, they perfume sold like hot cakes resulting in sell outs everywhere. Squibb reported that Opium had made $3 million in sales during the first four months. However, on the other hand, many women were afraid to even try Opium. Some women thought that they might get in trouble crossing the borders wearing the perfume Opium.

The fragrance composition:

So what does it smell like? It is classified as an oriental fragrance for women.
  • Top notes: mandarin orange,  plum, attar of cloves, bay leaf, coriander and pepper
  • Middle notes: jasmine, rose and lily of the valley, carnation, cinnamon, peach and orris root
  • Base notes: East Indian sandalwood, vanilla, cedarwood, myrrh, opopanax, labdanum, Javan benzoin, Siamese benzoin, and castoreum, ambergris, incense, musk, patchouli, tolu and vetiver

Its top notes are a mixture of fruit and spices, with mandarin orange,  plum, attar of cloves, coriander and pepper, as well as bay leaf. Its floral middle notes consist predominantly jasmine, rose and lily of the valley, in addition to carnation, cinnamon, peach and orris root.  It is underlined by the sweet woody base note containing sandalwood, cedarwood, myrrh, opopanax, labdanum, benzoin from Java and Siam, and castoreum in addition to amber, incense, musk, patchouli, tolu and vetiver. The maker also hinted that there was a touch of opium, whether this is true or not, it is interesting.

The bottle:


In 1977, Pierre Dinand designed the Oriental themed perfume bottle which was encased in a cinnabar colored plastic inro case, based on an antique Japanese design which held perfumes, herbs, medicines and other substances under a kimono. The bottle was manufactured by Pochet et du Courval with plastic by MBF Plastiques.

Ancillary products:


Opium was available in the following:
  •  1/4 oz Parfum flacon
  • 1/2 oz Parfum flacon
  • 1 oz Parfum flacon
  • 1/4 oz Parfum Vaporisateur de Sac
  • 1/8 oz Parfum Pendant Flacon
  • 2 oz Eau de Toilette flacon
  • 1.2 oz Eau de Toilette Vaporisateur Naturel
  • 2.3 oz Eau de Toilette Vaporisateur Naturel
  • 6.6 oz Body Moisturizer
  • 6.6 oz Rich Body Creme
  • 5.2 oz Satin Body Powder
  • 6.6 oz Luscious Shower Gel

Opium's Legacy:

Opium has spawned several flankers throughout the years:

Success spawns imitations:

Based on the success of Opium, other perfume companies wanted to have their “versions” of the fragrance. Rochas introduced us to Mystere, Estee Lauder brought out Cinnabar, Lancome introduced its Magie Noir, Roberto Cavalli brought us Oro, Calvin Klein had his Obsession, and Christian Dior launched Dioressence.

Limited Edition:


Opium arrived on the market in a new flacon in autumn 2009. Design of the flacon was developed by art director YSL Fabien Baron and Stefano Pilati. The new flacon features a sprinkle integrated inside its stopper. Notes of this edition are bergamot, mandarin, jasmine and myrrh. The new bottle is accompanied with advertising campaign the face of which is Karen Elson.

Opium pour Homme:


YSL launched the male version of Opium, called Opium pour Homme in 1995, created by Jacques Cavallier of Firmenich. Its main note is set by vanilla, with black currant, galangal, star anise, ginger and pepper, fusing with basic notes of cedar and Tolu balsam. Its bottle was designed by Jérôme Failliant-Dumas.


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