One Thousand Scents

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Orient Express: Yves Saint Laurent Opium

Estee Lauder rather sniffily called Opium "my Youth Dew with tassels", and there's a family resemblance, for sure, but Youth Dew starts out with a certain unshakeable horribleness that I can't quite put my finger on; I think the blend of top notes is just too highly citric and too aldehydic--it seems like an unpleasant contrast with the spicy-floral-balsamic notes underneath--whereas Opium gets it right, tempering the citrus notes with plum and pepper. (Estee Lauder released Cinnabar, a near duplicate of Opium, a year later, trying to capitalize on Opium's brash Orientalism with their copy of a copy--as if Youth Dew hadn't been a copy of Tabu to begin with!)

Jan Moran lists the composition of Opium thusly:

Top Notes: Plum, hesperides, clove, coriander, pepper, bay leaf
Heart Notes: Jasmine, rose, carnation, lily of the valley, cinnamon, peach, orris
Base Notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, myrrh, opopanax, labdanum, benzoin, benjamin, castoreum, amber, incense, musk, patchouli, tolu

The top notes are immediately distinctive--they're like no other scent; a brash, almost shocking blend of citrus and spice notes. A shot of rose leaps out almost immediately afterwards (I always smell this when I smell Opium) and is rapidly subdued by the other floral and balsamic notes, which blend to form an indistinct floralcy: you can't really single out any of the floral elements. Flowers or no, there's nothing especially feminine about Opium, to my nose: the floral notes are just something else floating around in the warm, spicy oriental bath.

What's really astonishing about Opium is that list of base notes; it's practically a catalogue of all available base notes--the only thing missing is civet (one of the four animal-derived base notes; the other three are castoreum, ambergris, and musk). They combine (and combine flawlessly) to make a scent that's nothing short of a sexual invitation, panting and sweaty-browed with lust.


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