Yves Saint Laurent Opium

...a brick house of a spice bomb.

I'm sitting here in a cloud of Yves Saint Lauren Opium. Said cloud has been billowing from the merest dot of eau de parfum on the back of my left hand. I'm thinking, “Bring it, you brick house of a spice bomb, you crazy clove-carnation carry-on! Dig this dusty incense!”

But I'm also thinking, no way in hellfire does Opium speak “teen”. There aren't any reference points in mall perfumes to provide a context for Opium's opera house theatricality. And in this time of mainstream brands stooping to conquer with their endless kiddy-pleasing caramel-fruit smoothie scents, it's almost shocking to encounter Opium's positively monolithic spice.

Curiosity about the youth-of-today's stance on Opium led me to MakeupAlley, where I waded through the depressingly predictable “old lady” slag-offs on this 1979 release. (It makes me wince that our mothers and grandmothers are linked with disgust and revulsion by the casual use of this perfume pejorative.)

There was, however, a fairly respectable fan club among the younger crowd for Opium, including 19-year-old EternityintheRain, who wrote:
“I wore this perfume before my mother hid it away in her closet because I used it more than she did. To be exact, she locked it away again two days ago. I wore it when I wanted a confidence boost or to be dramatic. [To wear it], you have to have a certain type of personality that is kickass to be 'worthy' of it.”
What a great tribute to the “Opium effect”! And what a great Opium slogan:
Opium: Lock it away, or asses will be kicked.

Check out the kickass women in these three Opium commercials:

Opium is available from Perfume.com


  1. It's a shame it's been reformulated, it's lost the whole Animalic Castoreum it had going on before :(

  2. I find Opium such a difficult scent to come to terms with. When I smelled it on a woman not long ago I was overwhelmed with "it's dated and too obvious!" But is it because my nose has become unacustommed to really spicy scents over the past 20 years?

    When I was a teenager a friend's mother supplied us hwith er perfume left overs - among them Cinnabar and heavy duty chypres and we wore them happily. And a class mate cited Opium as her favorite scent. I would be hard to find a 14 year old girl today who'd like Opium!

    But we're not teenagers anymore - and still I find Opium difficult. The spices are so....well, spicy, and I'm missing something dirt-y to balance them out. And I can't pick up on that in Opium. It's too dry, somehow, for me - for lack of a better word. Like inhaling powdered Christmas spices by accident.

    Maybe Nick provided the answer - maybe it's the absence of animalism that I'm missing and not the presence of spices that I'm regretting. The first would probably take the latter to a place where I could better understand Opium. Hm. What to do?

  3. I wore it way back then and I loved it. It was certainly richer and more animalic. I remember wearing it along with some other heavy hitters like Cinnabar and Ciara right before college, in the late seventies. All of my friends wore it. I'm not sure that we had the confidence or sophistication, but we didn't care one bit.

    You've just provided me with the push that I need to start trolling ebay for a vintage bottle. My family won't mind. Even my son's female friends are starting to tolerate and perhaps appreciate the more complex notes of the vintage scents that I wear. And they certainly don't have the nerve to call me an old lady! Well, at least to my face.

  4. Maybe my nose was overloaded, but when I tried this about a week ago I got a nose full of barbecue sauce. And not good barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce your dad makes at home by mixing cloves into ketchup.

    I may go back and give it another try, but the sugary tomato-y-ness of it scared me off.

  5. Junelady and Melissa, you've both touched on something that's so interesting about what we consider our perfume "choices": when we're young, we pretty much happily adopt whatever is a la mode, little to no critical thinking involved.

    To look back now at what we wore as budding fumies: the Opiums, Rive Gauches, Cristalles, Aromatic Elixirs, etc - it all seems impossibly sophisticated for young teenagers. But that was all that was available back then, so perhaps we weren't quite the fragrance savants it might seem.

    Junelady, like you, I'm thinking that Opium restored to its bestial best might make it more of a living perfume, and less of a dusty monument.

  6. Anne, your cloves and ketchup comment made me laugh, because my husb and I have a running joke about "redneck recipes" (variations on the kind of food we grew up with). The "barbecue sauce" certainly qualifies.

  7. Anne, I could actually smell the cloves when I read your post. A good thing, not at bad thing, although the mixture of cloves and the vinegary ketchup did take me by surprise. And that's a good thing, too.

  8. That's an interesting idea. No critical thinking involved. Well, some thought was involved, but mostly of the rebellious adolescent nature. A lot of the girls in high school wore scents like Love's Baby Soft or maybe Babe by Faberge. But I couldn't go with the crowd. Or at least that crowd. Mine fancied itself to be artsier, more bohemian etc. Clove cigarettes and Opium. Smoke and eugenol. It's a wonder we can smell anything at all after all that.

  9. Melissa - it's a question of first picking your team, and then the appropriate accoutrements await: a clove cig, a beret, red lipstick.

  10. Vintage Opium rocks!

    The intervening years would have toned it down to a smoulderingly opulent melange of spicy cinnamony near-fruity goodness.
    The castoreum rears its aged head amid the fleshy flowers much later.

    I haven't tried the current formulation, but diehard fans swear it has been ruined.

    Time to trowl the web for vintage bottles!

  11. *GASP*. I'm shocked Katie! How could an aspiring Queen of Sheba like you not have smelled Opium until a few years ago? It simply boggles the mind!!!

    I had never really thought about it before watching your video but it dawned on me that Opium is probably the fragrance the really shaped my olfactory tastes. For as long as I can remember my mother has had a vintage bottle of the EdT in the classic Opium packaging stored away in her closet. I don't ever remember her wearing it in my lifetime, but she must have gotten use out of it somewhere along the line because to this day the bottle is only half full. I always loved stealing a whiff of it every now and then. A few times I even got adventurous and dabbed a bit on my wrist, and I'm convinced it works for men if worn sparingly.

    As an aside, I'm 24 and I suspect that my appreciation for Opium is mainly because it's so unlike anything people of my my generation and younger have ever been sold, or in many cases, exposed to. A fragrance this operatic, complex and heady is completely foreign to us young'ns.

  12. I love the original Opium parfum (not so much the reformulation), and I think (given today's soft fruity florals for women) that Opium reads almost more as a gent's fragrance, in the same way that the original Bandit parfum is a spice bomb that is fabulous on either sex. (I actually see a lot of similarities between these two, the major difference being that Bandit includes a sumptuous leather note in addition to rose carnation and spices. They both have the same PRESENCE and density). I just love these older bolder fragrances, and I guess I'm fortunate that neither my mom or grandmother ventured that far into the spice jungle -- I have no old lady associations.

  13. Scott and Spike - I'm with you: Opium's skyscraper spices are man-wich portions, and I can easily imagine it being worn by gentlemen. I'm wearing a schmear of Serge Lutens Boxeuses at the mo, and while it's not a spice bomb, it does have the "presence and density" of Opium, with its thick peach/violet stew served over toasted leather. It would seem that all of Opium's children live in the House of Niche.

    Haha, Spike, I know, shocking that I didn't have a proper sit down with Opium until recently. It's a bit like the time that I "discovered" Fleetwood Mac after ignoring them the whole time I was growing up.

  14. I'm with Spike on this one: Opium is so thoroughly unlike anything currently marketed to young things that it simply smells of itself, and not so much "of an era" as "of a different dimension". It occupies its own space on the shelf, and doesn't have an equal among the other, lesser YSLs, or Calvin Kleins, or Burberrys, or what-have-you. Being exposed to the likes of Opium after growing up with the screechy, thin aquatics and greens of the '90s is like listening to a symphony on a Bose system after a month of MP3s on an iPod shuffle. With $5 earbuds.

    And yeah, Opium is totally, deliciously wearable by men in the here and now. The carnation and clove call to mind nothing less than...Old Spice. Yeah, baby. (After purchasing my bottle, I wore Opium to work and got compliment after compliment on my "aftershave".)

  15. Darryl, I smell an Old Spice brick in Opium's Great Wall of China, too! Dig your hi-fi metaphor.

  16. OK, so I found my sample of Opium yesterday when tidying up and I'm wearing it today - and I'm actually guite enjoying it - to my surprise.

    Before applying it I promised myself not to focus on the dustiness of the composition - it would be a long day wearing something that I had already deemed too dusty for comfort.

    So, here I am, getting whifs of delightful orange and spices. It might be the orange (or mandarin, perhaps) that could make Opium enjoyable for me in the long run. There's also the pleasant absence of that bedroom-where-someone-needs-to-open-a-window-quality - could it be patchouli? I can do without that in an oriental scent.

    Now that appr. 7 hours have passed since application the general impression is a soft, welcoming and slightly sweet (a good thing in my book these days) cushion of baked spices. Very much not a trendy thing that's going on here. But who cares on second thought? I wear No. 5 with a happy, innocent smile on my face too often to point fingers in that direction.

    And Katie, I missed your point about "old lady scents" the first time around - you are so right! How dare they? One day they'll be - or know - "old ladies", too, and someone will write "Whew, and then I smelled that typcial old lady perfume - what's it called, Lola, no Daisy, no...wait a minute..." But there's youth for you - never aware of their own mortality and the fact that they, too, if all goes well, will age and become the target of a new generation's need to distance themselves from anything remotely related to human frailty.

    Back to Opium: I have the EdT version. Can anyone educate me as to the difference between the current EdT and EdP versions?

  17. Opium was my signature scent in the early 80s...so afraid to sniff the new reformulation. I love me my Opium!

  18. BF, I know - you want to shield yourself from the disappointment. Life is hard enough as it is.

  19. sigh, you said it sister. but then again, the older I get, the wimpier I get; by the time I'm 60 I'll be a puddle on the floor - though of course, I'll be a very well scented puddle

  20. Although, now I kind of regret not having been on the Opium trail in the 80's - I was one with Chanel no. 5 for years - I can see now that there's also an upside to it - I don't know the orginal formulation, and so I'm free to take Opium for what it is now. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Maybe more often than I like to recognize.

    Bloody Frida, did you wear the EdP or the EdT and do you have anything in your collection these days that does for you what Opium used to do?

  21. Hello Junelady - I'm not sure what I bought back in the day - EdP or EdT but the latest bottle I have is of the EdT.

    L'Air de Rien does for me what Opium did for me back then - brings me to another heady time and place...ahhhhh! thanks for asking!!!!

    (I THINK Fragrancenet.com still has the old version...I'm going to attempt to buy another bottle of the non-re-formulated juice soon)

  22. Junelady, the EdP wasn't released until 2003, so I presume the EdT is what Bloody Frida wore back in the day. I've smelled the current EdP, and it's slightly thicker, creamier, and less tingly with orange and spice as the EdT. More pronounced carnation and vanilla as well, to my nose. Essentially the same scent, but denser and less prickly. It's very nice, actually, and I wouldn't mind a bottle for those days when the EdT isn't quite, you know...THERE enough. (I like my orientals dialed to 11. Go big or go home, right?)

    Bloody Frida, almost all the online discounters have bottles of the old (post-2003) juice, and eBay has some even older. And I came across an older EdT bottle in, of all places, a supersize grocery store down the street from my house. You'd be surprised what can turn up when you pound the pavement and check out stores that might have older stock.

  23. Darryl, thanks for the info. You make the EdP sound very tempting! While I enjoy the orange note in the EdT, I can practically smell the thick, creaminess of the EdP through the screen. I haven't been a vanilla fan in the past, but I'm learning to appreciate it in some scents - and a thick business-meaning oriental seems like the perfect place for vanilla. And yes, orientals need to be big - otherwise they kind of defeat the whole purpose of an oriental, I think. An oriental that will not own up to being one is a depressing thing, for sure.

    Bloody Frida - we all need reminding that there is more to life than grey november days, bills to pay, sticky kitchen floors and papers that we're too tired to read. Please tell me a little bit about L'air de Rien - I'm not at all familiar with it.

  24. This is all such great information, everyone! Thanks, Darryl, for the analytical breakdown between Opium EdT & EdP, as well as the tip-off on where the older stuff can be found.

    The description of the newer EdP as "creamier and less tingly...pronounced vanilla" than the EdT could apply to Chanel Cristalle EdP vs the original EdT, as it happens. It seems that the way the Flanker Factory makes perfume classics "friendlier". Whether it works, or even needed in the first place, is for another rant altogether.

  25. Junelady, I've got a review of Miller Harris L'Air de Rien and Un Petit Rien here:

    And given your comment about not liking the "bedroom-where-someone-needs-to-open-a-window-quality" in an oriental, I don't believe L'Air de Rien would be your flavor of fun. L'Air is completely airless.

  26. Katie, I just read your No Air, No Nothin' review + comments which were all a perfect way to end a week where there has been some tip toeing through the proverbial tulips regarding the possibility - perhaps - of engaging in the preliminary stages of the several times referred to gettin' somethin'-somethin'. Talk about comic relief for this slightly confused but still somewhat optimistic female (I love the American gender specific references!)

    But to stay on topic - no, you're probably right - the description of the sweet-ish exhaust fumes of the imaginary producer of L'Air de Rien is spot on targeting what I don't like.

    Sweaty arm pits - love it - exhaust fumes - no, thanks. And what, one might ask, makes one attractive and the other repulsive - the answer is - if only it would! - blowing in the wind (-ow)!

    I might still try and get some samples of both LdR and the honey beast for educational purposes. I sincerely believe that stimulating the parts of the brain that deal with smells is good for us - like learning a new language - .

  27. Junelady - that's it exactly: submitting to smell adventures does stimulate the brain - and in fact is a version of learning a new language. It's fun to find yourself getting more and more scent-fluent every day.

  28. Thanks Darryl - and are you going to start up blogging again? And Junelady - I don't get any exhaust fumes from LaDR - but I am unable to discern a lot of notes. I'm mostly an emotional perfume enthusiast!

  29. Bloody Frida, I believe Junelady's referring to human "exhaust fumes" (per my review), if that offers any clarification.

    "Emotional perfume enthusiast" is the best way to go.

  30. Yes, I was referring to Katies review - and "exhaust fumes" was my euphemism.

    I am, probably literally, hundreds and hundreds of miles away from L'Air de Rien - I'd need a passport to try it for myself - which of course shouldn't stop any real fumie :-) And then there are samples to lay my paws on, of course.

    I can definitely relate to being emotional about perfume - I constantly suprise myself in terms of what I think I like but then end up liking anyway wholly or in part - intellectual musings aside. Both aspects of enjoying perfume are a lot of fun.