Opium by YSL

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Writing about this fragrance reminds me of a funny anecdote. A few months back, I was asked to make an Opium smell for use in incense. I made the fragrance and sent it to the US based client. He loved the smell, and asked for its MSDS (Material safety Data Sheet) -- basically a document which is required to import chemicals in the US, and which lists all the materials which have a hazardous effect on either man or nature. I prepared the MSDS and sent it across. To my shock I received the following reply, and I quote:

“Dear Akshay, We love the smell but there is one problem. In the MSDS, you have not mentioned opium as an ingredient. If Opium is not present in your fragrance, kindly add the same and please send across a sample.”

Ha ha ha! It took me not less than 20 emails to convince him that:
A) Opium is banned,
B) Opium is just the name of the smell,
C) It is not possible to add opium to a perfume,
D) If I do that, both you and I will be in trouble with the narcotics department.

So anyways, coming back to the perfume, Opium is what is now called a Floral-Oriental fragrance, or simply a “floriental”. The love YSL had for all things oriental was well known. He was the first designer to use Asian models for his shows (also the first to use Black models and Pacific ones), and Opium, launched in 1977, changed women fragrances forever.

The brief given to the perfumer said - “Make a perfume which represents “Flowers of Fire”. On being asked what it means, YSL said - “Close your eyes, push on your eyelids, and you’ll see the flowers of fire.

YSL wanted a fragrance that was extremely loud, strong and very VERY long lasting.

The basic smell of Opium was very similar to the best selling perfume of the time – You’re The Fire, by Yardley (1973).” The body of the fragrance was the smell of Carnations, with traces of Ylang-Ylang, Tuberose, and Rose. But to make the perfume stand out, the perfumer added a host of fruity and spicy smells -- Plum, Peach, Raspberry, Tangerine, Orange Clove, Cinnamon, and Coriander -- making the perfume very strong and extremely heady.

To counter the extreme strength of the perfume, heavy oriental smells of Precious Woods, Sandalwood, Vetiver, were added. But the crowning achievement was adding a substance known as Myrrh. Myrrh has been famous from the time of Cleopatra, as it was the favorite smell of the Egyptian queen. And Myrrh made the fragrance very sweet and extremely long lasting.

The magic of Opium lies in the fact that it is a combination of totally different smells added together, and then made to love each other.

Opium was also the first fragrance to lift its concentration up to levels previously unheard of in France. French Perfumes at the time (unlike American ones) were made at 4-5% concentration. But Opium was launched at 28% concentration.

The result was a perfume you just had to spray once in the whole day, it was strong and lasted and lasted and then lasted some more - a perfume for Women, not little girls.

Though not one of my personal favorites, Opium remains one of the longest lasting perfumes in the market and has a wide appeal across the globe. The smell has been modified for use in candles, incense, potpourri and almost all other functional products.

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