Yves Saint Laurent Opium Old-vs-New:  The Verdict


  For a few days now I have been mulling over the comments of readers and my own response to old and new YSL Opium.  We’ve heard passionate arguments in favour of the older formulation, and several positive comments about the new one ( including from yours truly). Now that friend of the blog Lisa has kindly let me borrow her gorgeous bottle of old Opium ( see photo) and I have tried both the old and the new, I feel qualified to give my opinion.

emily blunt opium

New Opium is still a wonderful daytime scent that I would happily have on my dressing table. It’s widely available and there’s nothing wrong with it at all: it’s even suitable for daywear in August.

Old Opium, which I am wearing now, is indeed the “woah there” scent that friends of the blog Sally and Lisa argued so passionately in favour of and can only be had on eBay it would seem.  It’s a whopper with sillage that could kill a canary.  It’s shamelessly blousy and glamorous: like a drunk at a party- loud and unmissable but witty and fun.  It’s powdery and classic (some would say old fashioned, I say classic) and has done a trolley dash through the Oriental Perfume Ingredients Store and bought everything.  It’s fabulous and it was in its day, a groundbreaker.

opium old

Here’s my verdict:  New Opium is indeed a shadow of the Old Opium, to the point where it is in fact a lite version and should have been labelled as such.  New Opium is excellent in its own right but the very fact that I would recommend it for daywear even in August goes to show how weak it is compared to its night-time-only- it’ll-blow-your-socks-off original. What YSL should have done is kept old Opium intact and called new Opium by the name of a flanker such as Eau D’Opium or Opium Summer (In fact confusingly there is an Opium Summer-Eau d’été- a name which would have suited the current formulation)

I therefore declare YSL guilty of murdering a perfectly good scent and replacing it with an imposter.  A good imposter, but an imposter nonetheless.  They may be cousins  but  they don’t even look alike. *gavel*



8 thoughts on “Yves Saint Laurent Opium Old-vs-New:  The Verdict”

  1. It’s not often a middle-aged lady gets to sidle up to a respectable matron at a birthday party and say ‘here, I’ve got the really good stuff for you’, sneak a small package out of her handbag and covertly hand it over. 😀

    From what I can gather, Old Opium had too many ingredients in it that were banned or about to be restricted by the ghastly goblin that is IFRA (Booo! Hiss! Boo!!!). So rather than muck about and upset their fans they did an honest revamp. It makes it easy to tell the difference when you’re buying bottles on ebay, and in the shops. It was a remarkably honourable and decent way to handle the death of the Grande Dame. Much more dignified than the demise of Miss Dior, with her silent shuffle to the back shelf and replacement by an impostor.

    MInd you, I’m not surprised they kept the name. Like Miss Dior, it’s a part of history and it’s a big brand label to abandon. Too much has been invested in it to simply walk away. And I have no doubt that there are a lot of crestfallen faces on Christmas mornings when Mum is presented with a bottle of her favourite perfume and she says ‘but it’s changed completely!’

    Fear not though, there are still glorious spice fests out there. You just have to look for them in the niche section. Creators such as Frapin, the fabulous rum and spices of Idole de Lubin, all those delicious creations of Serge Lutens and the divine perfumes from Parfum d’Empire such as Ambre Russe and Cuir Ottoman; there are balsams, resins and spicy tinctures out there, you just have to hunt.

    1. Hello middle- aged lady, its respectable matron here. Thanks for the contraband when nobody was looking. Those villains at IFRA were over-nannying the perfume industry again when they bopped old Opium on the head, concusssed it and gave it a new identity.

      I just find it baffling how, despite IFRA’s interference, a bunch of experts couldn’t mimic a decent copy of Opium original when they can create so many other miracles with scent.

      Miss Dior was nothing short of trickery. You have to be in the know to get the galbanum. I wonder how many chypre fans came home with new strawberry sweet Miss Dior and felt cheated?

      By the way, we’re not middle aged until we’re 70, which makes us both very young indeed. xx

  2. Excellent verdict M’Lud! I have been meaning to respond to your last post and thank you for including my blather in it. I’m very much with you in thinking that the new Opium should have been given a new flanker name. However, I can see Lisa’s point in that it might have been due to a business point of view. On the other hand, all the diehard Old Opium Addicts (how I love to call myself that and laughed out loud at the visual of Lisa surreptitiously handing over a package to you) won’t be buying it anyway, and all of those disappointed women who were given it as a gift, won’t bring repeat business. I do understand that companies have to appeal to the current popular demographic – which according to a recent BBC documentary about perfume is 18 to 27 (GRRRRR!!!) and how frags such as Opium, Youth Dew, Mitsy, Jicky, Tabac Blond (another reformulated mess) will not appeal to the majority of young women. I also get that they have to comply with the ghastly IFRA regulations. It just bugs me when something is changed virtually beyond all recognition (especially when it’s not for the better) and yet the same label is slapped on it. Do they think we won’t notice? Do they think we won’t care? It feels more to me that they’re just saying “Here it is – suck it up. You’re too old to fit into our target group anyway.”

    The perpetrator of this crime – that should indeed be put on trial – is not YSL, but L’Oreal who bought out YSL in 2008 (from the Gucci Group) , a move which gave them long term world license for use of their brands. They also acquired similar license for Boucheron, Oscar de la Renta, and Stella McCartmey (although Stella moved to Proctor & Gamble in 2013). They also own The Body Shop, Shiseido, Lancome, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Roger & Gallet, Helena Rubinstein and a share in Sanofi-Aventis which is Europe’s numero uno pharmaceutical company. Deep pockets, free reign. The timeline of events is interesting to me: YSL company was bought in May 2008, Yves St Laurent himself died in June 2008 and the new Opium was launched in autumn of 2009. I think he would have been appalled at what has been done to his Opium.
    I also see the irony in something that the CEO of the Gucci Group said on the sale: “This agreement would be key for Yves Saint Laurent. The strength and expertise of L’Oréal would put the further development of the brand on a faster track. The collaboration between L’Oréal and Yves Saint Laurent Couture would assure the consistency of Yves Saint Laurent’s brand image.” Consistency! HA!!!!

    I love your “sillage to kill a canary” comment. Funny too, how vintage Opium was worn defiantly in the daytime in offices everywhere and no one really commented on it (perhaps we were all too stoned on the fumes to even care…). Lisa offers some excellent alternatives and I humbly submit to the court, evidence of another: Euphorism d’Opium by DSH, which Kafka reviewed and turned me on to. I’m just glad I have enough vintage Opium from my early days of madness to last my lifetime – heck, I think it will last my grand daughter’s lifetime! (although she has a penchant for fruitchoolis at 13, I have high hopes that my addiction will have been passed on via DNA…)

    1. Dearest Sally,

      Thank you for sharing your considerable knowledge of the industry. I am learning so much from you. First of all ( and in no order of importance), I do not like what L’Oreal did to The Body Shop. The Body Shop used to be a hippy, cheap’n’chic place buzzing with students and matrons alike crowding round the perfume bar and enjoying the banana conditioner and raspberry ripple bathing bubbles . It’s now a boutique priced place that has lost many of its defining features. The ethos is still there, but high prices and mass marketing has made it less accessible.

      Secondly, yes Opium. IFRA throws the baby out with the bathwater so often that we shouldn’t be surprised, but what amazes me is that the perfume market has so many experts and all of the toys that I am baffled as to why synthetic subs can’t be found or made more easily. New and old Opium are totally different.

      And last but not least, the most depressing point of all- the perfume market is aimed at under 27s. Well that explains a lot. How about us older women with the disposable incomes and the great taste? I guess we’ll have to keep buying the classics in case they stop making them, or worse, turn the good stuff into fruity floral under-27 pleasers with the same name (you know who you are Miss Dior). It explains clearly why we “over 27s” (*cough*) are finding it hard to locate new launches that we love and sticking to the trusty classics.

      We’ll just have to vote with our purses.

      Solidarity Sally! I’m in your gang.

      warmest wishes

  3. Oh good point, Sally! Dawn Spencer Hurwitz definitely deserves an honourable mention! She’s recreating some amazing ‘hommages’ to classics that are no longer what they once were. I am desperate to try her Passport a Paris, which is reputedly a reminder of how vintage Jicky smelled. Mmmmm! And she’s just recreated the famous Jacques Fath Iris Gris…

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