Thursday, June 17, 2010

YSL "new" Opium: Death of Classic, Reformulation, Brand Repositioning (& a footnote on Belle d'Opium)

Just when we were lamenting the death of Opium, the fragrance by Yves Saint Laurent which marked our youth and stayed the course as a faithful companion, Yves Saint Laurent is busy issuing new marketing tools introducing us to the "new" Opium.
"New", because reformulation was necessary due to the IFRA restrictions on spicy ingredients (eugenol and iso-eugenol) which were necessary into the creation of the carnation heart of the memorable modern classic from 1977. If you love the older, richer bouquet with its characteristic pressed linens accord and carnation spice, stock up. I have because I love it so. [click for review]

In the new site What is Your Opium we're not spared any truths. It's up there in black and white: "This week Yves Saint Laurent unveils an addictive new fragrance. Crafted by renowned perfumers who found inspiration in a modern floral oriental. A scent born from a thousand inspirations".

They go on to reveal that each day will see a new feature or video involving the inspirations behind the fragrance, especially to the noteworthy perfumer Honorine Blanc (mentored by Sophia Grojsman) who was working on the scent for four years and talks about what she notices in the video. And they invite consumers to join: "To fête this modern elixir YSL will host an exclusive event in New York City on June 17th. Each day we’ll take you behind-the-scenes to meet the people creating this extraordinary soirée. They’ll share their inspirations and below we invite you to share yours. Tell us what inspires you". There is also a launch party, which according to Twitter, Alexa Chung and Alexandra Richards will be spinning, and rumored guests include hipsters like “The Cobrasnake” Mark Hunter and model Cory Kennedy. Todays' teaser on the Opium site has a video of the preparations. Obviously blogs are the new teasing tool for big companies to create Internet buzz.

Yet, the old is now most officially proclaimed dead...Whan Honorine talks about in the vid, "When a fragrance comes on the market, it's unique, it has its own signature, it's a true fragrance...it stays forever", sounds ironic.
Never before has a death being banged about with brass playing upbeat, inspiring military tunes!

Edit to add (19th June):
Dear sirs at YSL communication, if you're issuing something "new", old, revamped, whatever, it would be best if you were absolutely clear about what that thing is unless you do want us confused. To witness, the first email communication I got read:
Just wanted to send over a note letting you know that yesterday afternoon YSL launched a blog to help celebrate the release of their new Opium fragrance.The link is here: http://www.whatisyouropium.com/Each day on the site there will be a new bit of content released leading up to tomorrow's launch party and then following up on the event a few days afterward. Today, you can watch the 'setting the stage' video to see how the party is coming together. Hope you enjoy."
Now, a day later, they send this (please note how there was no mention of name in the above, while there is one now):
If you haven't already seen coverage from last night's YSL party be sure to check out today's Belle D'Opium blog post with event photos: http://whatisyouropium.com/day_after/And not long from now The Cobra Snake photos will be live online too".

I mean, geez, Belle d'Opium! Can you be any more misleading and contradicting? Is this a new flanker, like the summer editions? Is the whole campaign utterly confusing or what?

The bottomline is the old Opium HAS been reformulated to its detriment, as attested by many fans. That doesn't change, no matter how it's marketed.


  1. Good heavens. I'm not quite a fan of Opium but now I'm sorely tempted to hunt it down (at least in EDP strenght) and hide it in a dark drawer.

  2. Anonymous13:06

    You might as well.. even if 5 years from now you still don't like it you can sell it to someone who will, and make someone VERY happy indeed... I was never a HUGE fan, but when i heard about the new bottle some months ago i figured the new juice would suffer big time, and so I bought a nice size pure perfume (for reference sake, or so i told myself at the time). Then i received the bottle and it is, in fact, gorgeous. Ah, les bons vieux temps! cheers, Wendy

  3. Oh, this whole situation is too depressing. I think they should have just allowed the scent to die rather than insulting its memory by creating this disappointing new soup. If you'll permit a link, I posted my own reaction to the new 'Opium' a little while ago: http://makingscent.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-need-my-hit_09.html

    A very sad state of affairs indeed.

  4. Opium is one of the most genious perfume creations of all time.
    It's my top 3 along with Vol de Nuit and N5 for sure.
    But after death of Yves Saint Laurent there is no one to protect its jewels. Another one bites to dust I guess...

  5. Oh dear Helg. It's quite depressing. :( I have tried the new Opium and really, it is not so so bad but the bottle is horrendous.
    And...yes, I have stocked up on the old juice, EDT, EDP and extrait including soap, shower gel, and cream !
    if all else fails , may have to wear Cinnabar by E L !

  6. You took the words right out of my mouth, Mimi. This is when Cinnabar is finally going to win the battle, rightly or wrongly.

  7. Alexandra15:17

    I have Opium oil from Givaudan factory in a metal canister from `80s. 2-3 liters, so I think I have a life long supply (if not for 3 lives) of this beauty in original form and crazy thick concentration. You want some? :-)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I would love to buy some or trade you if that offer is still open? Thank you

  8. Alexandra, are you being serious?

  9. Anonymous18:10

    I've smelled the new formulation too and there's just something missing.I'd compare it to the movie "Invasion of the body snatchers". It's LIKE that family member you've known all your life, but there's that subtle little something missing that makes them the person you love. Like their personality is missing.
    I guess I'll be making a trip to the mall to see if any of the old stuff is left. Although the huge bottle of EDP I have should last me a little while since just a small spray might kill a lesser person. :-)

  10. Anonymous22:22

    This is getting interesting. On one hand the video suggests that Opium is now a new fragrance suggesting a total reformulation. However, looking at the US YSL site the copy says that the bottle is new and implies it is the old Opium. I have always been of the view that such practices deceive consumers and perhaps this tragedy to befall Opium may be a silver lining to bring these issues to a wider public. To treat such a beloved iconic popular classic in such a manner is a tragedy - but one that may at last attract public attention. And hopefully the attention of the consumer protection bodies to the deceptive practices. I'm going to try the new perfume and if it is different write to YSL demanding answers and then take it up in the UK with the Office of Fair Trading

    1. Anonymous05:01

      I agree, my friend bought me a 50ml Eau de Parfum for Christmas, costing £62.99, and I haven't even used it yet apart from a cursory spray on Christmas day. It just didn't smell right, but naturally, it being a very gratefully received gift, I didn't say anything. I hadn't heard that the original Opium, which is the only perfume I've worn for over 20 yrs, is no more :(

      The packaging and bottle are almost identical and if I, as a dedicated Opium wearer didn't notice until I smelled it what chance would any of us who don't know it's 'new' stand? Had I realised I would have told my friend to get me something else. Also him being a man, just went into the shop and grunted Opium at the sales assistant as that's what I asked for., there's no way they told him it was new because I know he would have called and asked if it was the right stuff.

      If its not Opium it shouldn't be branded Opium, end of.

  11. Anonymous22:25

    Actually, following on from my previous post could someone who has better internet skills set up a You tube video or website bring back old opium which might reach out to the disappointed loyal non-perfumista Opium user. Wasnt there a you tube campaign about a new version of Pears soap that long time users hated? Ditto the new Coke launch that backfired?

  12. Anonymous, don't waste your time whipping up a campaign. The IFRA regulations are making ALL of the commercial perfumers change their formulas due to ingredient restrictions. It's too bad; Opium and lots of others will never be the same. On the other hand, there are still hundreds of new perfumes being produced all the time and some of those are pretty good, if you know where to look. Thanks to Helg and other knowledgeable people, there are clues...

  13. Anonymous03:52

    yes, but it is supposed to smell like original opium? are they trying to get as close to it as they can given the ifra b.s.? or is this truly a new fragrance capitalizing on a now-classic name? i admit i didn't watch the clips.

    glad i have a small parfum and a couple of bottles of edt. though i gave away a full one of one of the limited editions cuz i wasn't wearing it.

    am weary of ifra b.s. by the way. they are ruining everything with no good reason. sourpusses.

    - minette

  14. Anonymous04:00

    just watched the clips. she mentions a "narguile" note. which of course made me think of hermes. and they keep weaving smoke throughout everything, so am i to take it that this will be a smoky sort of amber scent? i don't think of the original that way. and she also makes a big deal of making something that is iconic. of course, there is also orange, which original opium has...


  15. Anonymous06:40

    The issue is not just 't IFRA - and I don't believe we should lie down and die so easily there but it is corporate honesty and correct product labelling: they are selling a product under a well-established name (protected by their trademark) which is not the product the consumer expects, the original being in circulation for over 30 years.And what this Opium seems to be doing is going beyond just a bad IFRA reformulation but a deliberate change to the product without a clear warning to the consumer. That is deceptive and wrong.If you have a problem with IFRA then tell the consumer - Serge Lutens has been honest as eventually has Guerlain. If they want to devalue the Opium brand with a soundbite"modern" version then do it honestly with a flanker - Chanel has done it with Cristalle Vert and Eau Premiere or the original Shalimar Light Actually the summer opiums were excellent - why not reissue those?

  16. I agree 100% with Anonymous: the issue is not JUST with IFRA at all. In fact, the whole IFRA business is probably only marginally related to the point of this particular debate.

    The issue lies much closer to the territory of official trade descriptions. I don't understand how, in this day and age of alleged corporate transparency, a company can be permitted to sell one product under the name of another product without making this clear to the consumer. The food industry doesn't seem to be allowed to do this: all sorts of products (from potato crisps to cereal) flash large banners on their packaging saying their formula is "new and improved" whenever the contents are tweaked. The bottom line is that YSL is selling something that is categorically NOT Opium as though it is Opium and they're not being totally open about it. It seems strange that they're able to get away with it.

  17. Anonymous07:03

    I agree. English law - Sale of Goods Act provides that all goods must correspond with description. ie the product is what it says it is. Not new Opium masquerading as old. If goods do not correspond with contract there is a breach of contract by the seller which in basically means if you act quickly you are entitled to get your money back. And this trumps the store's refund policy.

    On that What's my opium site there is a facility to leave comments. I have just left a scathing one saying my inspiration was the original Opium not the new one. As I posted it said it was awaiting moderation. I don't think that it will appear on the site somehow. Please everyone leave messages on the site to show YSL what we think of this rubbish!

    Re the trademark issue it's extremely interesting. L'Oreal succeeded in a case preventing the selling of smell-alikes in the UK court, where the judges clearly regretted having to find for L'Oreal. How can the company protect their trademark when the official product is not the one that was put into circulation? Shame POL is down at the moment as I know someone there is a trademark lawyer.

  18. Alexandra, you mean it? If yes, then shout out loud:D
    And now I'm going to count how many Opium bottles I have (I think four of the seasonal varieties, one secret de parfum and three regulars but not sure it's for lifetime....) and to get some more.

  19. I only have a few small edt minis of the original Opium left, and one large flanker (fleur de shanghai). I would love to swap for some of the oil that Alexandra mentioned on here...
    One thing that really scared me in this post was the mention that it was the carnation heart and regulations with euginol that made it impossible to continue with the original formulation. What does this mean for other carnation fragrances? I am probably a little fanatical about carnation and get it wherever I can. Does this mean that all carnation scents will disappear?

  20. Delia13:21

    I wasn't a huge fan of Opium in the '80's, but I still remember it's singular potency.

    I tested it a little over a year ago at a department store and literally, could barely smell anything (EDT). Too many chemicals killed it some time ago, IMHO.

    As we enter an era where it's feasible, profitabiltywise, to tailor products to individual consumers, I think we'll see the sunset of luxury giants who've been coasting along on brand name over substance. They simply won't be able to compete with an artisan-ized industry.

    Substances like oakmoss and hydroxycitronellal (don't know about eugenol I'm no expert) are still available for other products and/or perfume production in smaller percentages. Localized artisans will get ahold of them and offer connaisseurs the quality products we are seeking, individualized to taste (or an old Mitsouko bottle, perhaps).

  21. I wonder if I (or we?) have sort of got the wrong end of the stick here. The latest post at Now Smell This suggests that YSL are about to release something called Belle d'Opium.

    So... they've totally transformed the old Opium, but they're still calling it Opium...

    ...and they're releasing something called Belle d'Opium which the perfumer claims is meant to represent the original, classic scent...

    Opium Eau Premiere, anyone...?

  22. does anyone know any modern niche reincarnations of Opium?

  23. Anonymous23:35

    L'oreal, king of mass market fragrance & cosmetics is running the show after buying YSL fragrance Business from Gucci Group.

    Now L'oreal being a Fortune 500 company the future of iconic quality fragrance types Yves Saint Laurent has released are now gone.

    They are going to compromise on quality, use cheaper ingredients and still charge premium. Then commercialize the product to death.

    On personal note R.I.P Opium 1977-2010

    Mr. Orient

  24. Patuxxa,

    indeed! Imagine those of us who adore the stuff.

  25. Hello Wendy!

    You did the wise thing. I have in fact smelled the new formula in the edt and edp and there is a difference to be sure. There is a woodier, more masculine feel and somehow there is soul missing there.

  26. Persolaise ,

    thanks very much for the link and confirming my own (see above) distrust of the new formula. It's sad to learn that M7 is going through a reformulation as well! Not that it ever contained real oud! (M7 was the first mass-marketed frag in which there was an "oud note" which is based on syths, hence the popularity of "oud" on all price points; please refer to my Oud/Agarwood/Aloeswood article, linked on the right hand column under Materials).

    They cannot discontinue one of the most popular products! So they mutilate it.

  27. Veronica,

    how can I ever disagree? It used to be magnificent and I love the other two you mention as well (not that No.5 has remained unscathed, but...)
    I would be really saddened to see YSL himself see his brand altered. He had already expressed displeasure at the "vulgarity" during TF's tenure...

  28. MG,

    thanks for the sympathy. It's not horrendous, but it's not Opium :(
    I wonder whether Lauder (who keeps a stricter control on the formulae on the whole) will have the joke in the end!

  29. Persolaise,

    yeah, I just responded the same to MG above!

  30. Alexandra,

    you need to mail me! (use the profile contact)

  31. Meliscents,

    there have been at least two reformulations before the latest, which makes the whole thing rather complicated. The later date EDP had been better than the older Secret de Parfum, so you could score some good stuff.
    Good luck!

  32. Anon,

    it's quite confusing: The new Opium is still named Opium and the bottle is a variation on the design of the old (unmistakably thanks to "window" and chromatic contrasts). I can't see how buyers of the old will be convinced this is what they loved, especially since -fortunately- Opium is a fragrance that keeps well and so any difference cannot be put down to oxidizing and deterioration from age etc.
    I am sure there is no lapse in manners of bureucracy, they should be legally covered, yet there will be new consumers who will have heard just how great this is and end up buying the new expecting something else.

  33. Anon,

    that would be someone other than me, as I don't know how to do it, I have done the best I can through this post. The new Opium on department store shelves is quite different, there is no doubt about it. Up till 2005 the existing reformulations were really good, there was no discernible difference that one could really tell. A couple of years ago, something started changing and now it's changed a lot.

  34. QC,

    thanks for saying so, I think indeed the best policy would be to just stop buying what is less than one bargained for and vote with their pocketbook. Buy what is better elsewhere.

  35. Minette,

    hi honey!

    Now, this isn't very clear: The clips talk about a new fragrance, but there is no new name. And if the moniker of Opium is used, then the consumer assumes it's the same. Obviously it's not supposed to smell exactly like the old, otherwise why feature the (talented) perfumer and have her talk about the inspirations? It's definitely capitalizing on an established name, which makes it a flanker. But they do not represent it as a flanker! I think this is a first in marketing fragrance...

    As to IFRA, taking into account all the big companies who produce the fragrant stuff are members anyway, it's themselves regulating themselves, which is...odd and has gone out of control!

  36. Minette,

    yeah, a narguile note denotes a smoky, milky amber and it reminded me of Hermes as well (good thinking!).
    I don't get the "iconic" if it's new stuff (how can something be iconic before it even launches?) and if it's the old and is being differentiated now, then how is it still "iconic" if it's different??!

  37. Anon,

    excellently said. In fact Lutens had revealed that on a respectable and "insider" venue, Elisabeth de Feydeau's page and I felt like they both gained several nothces of respect in my books that day! (not that they were lacking any respect by me before, of course, but you know, I was inwardly going "you people rock!")

    The problem is that they do NOT specify exactly what this "new" perfume will be. Will it be a flanker or a revamp of the old? Will it be the new bottle design (depicted) which is already circulating or not? Will it be something else? The email communicating pointing to the site was rather cryptic.

  38. Persolaise,

    there definitely seems to be some capitalizing of an established name. But this is standard practice with flankers. I don't understand why they didn't position this one as a flanker, in a different bottle, with a different name and not created this "new" Opium campaign. I'm sure they have covered the legalese side of things though.

  39. Anon,

    very good of you to mention the L'Oreal trademark dispute, because this is something that lurked at the haziness that is the back of my mind but hadn't taken form. It's weird that L'Oreal doesn't want others capitalizing on their own products/names/formulae, yet they do the same to one of their own, confusing people into not knowing what they're buying.

    Re: the site, I should think that "awaiting moderation" might be perfectly innocent. They have to have some monitoring to catch abusive content or people who cuss. One would think that a decent, legit comment would stand. At least I am willing to believe that they would.

    POL is up, btw.

  40. L,

    hoarding this old stuff never hurt anyone. Luckily, it keeps well.

  41. KK,

    all carnation fragrances are currently suffering, your worrying is not misplaced. The note was considered "obsolete" by marketing groups (shame!) and now it's destroyed by restrictions. To hell with them!

  42. Delia,

    thanks for chiming in!

    I think it was reformulated a few times, but never to the extent that it is today. Not that it was full of naturals, but there is a degree of allowing with coherence and then a let go effect.

    Both oakmoss and hydroxycitronellal are allowed in restricted quantities: the trouble is (same with eugenol) that many of the classics were formulated with significantly hightened ratios of them, which makes reformulating them a difficult process without eradicating their identity. And as I had said on my IFRA articles last spring, the issue isn't free riding for artisans either, because they have to get the materials from somewhere, and if the big companies stop using them or use them significantly less, then the producers will "dry up" and the artisans will have a hard time sourcing them out... :/
    It's a very complex issue.

  43. Persolaise,

    thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    The email communication I got from YSL wasn't clear on that score. For everyone to peruse it, here it is:


    Just wanted to send over a note letting you know that yesterday afternoon YSL launched a blog to help celebrate the release of their new Opium fragrance.
    The link is here: www.whatisyouropium.com
    Each day on the site there will be a new bit of content released leading up to tomorrow's launch party and then following up on the event a few days afterward. Today, you can watch the 'setting the stage' video to see how the party is coming together.
    Hope you enjoy."

    NO mention of this being a new flanker called Belle d'Opium AT ALL! Furthermore, there is no mention of that name on the two clips which they had up. If they want us to not be scathing, then why don't they provide clear information???
    They're still calling it Opium, they still talk about it in Opium terms ("iconic, classic, unique, having a distinct signature"). So...I don't get who something new is representing the old. If the old is there, what's the use of a new representing the old?!? Makes zero sense.

    Besides, the catastrophic reformulation of the classic Opium still stands: I have ascertained it a few weeks ago at the store with my own nose. You have as well. Several other fans have too.

  44. Scentomatic,

    I hear that HdP parfums historiques Georges Sande is quite close, although I find Opium "clearer" myself.

  45. mr.Orient,

    your foreboding post will no doubt prove true. It's a shame, as YSL perfumes always had something about them...It was a coherent portfolio and it had a certain elan.
    I'm just waiting on them to do a sub-line that is appearing to be "niche" (a la D&G Anthology, Armani Prive etc..) They're the only mega-brand that hasn't so far.

  46. I should clarify the above saying I am not looking forward to them having a "niche" line within the line. Just that I am expecting them to do so.

  47. 1804 by HdP could have been close if not for that horrendos ananas note on top (which smells more of Veltol to me). How about Cinnabar?

  48. Anonymous00:50

    hi, helg, thanks for your work on this. it's an interesting discussion, and one i think we'll be having more of as other classics get messed around with (waaaaaah!).

    someone above asked if there were niche scents like opium. it's not niche, and it's not exactly like opium, but the brown/black leopard print john mac steed (lady mac steed panthere from the safari collection) smells quite a bit like a softer, gentler version of opium to me (and others).

    it's pretty good, actually, and some might find it easier to wear. it cuts out some of the oily, orangey twang and has a diffused, dusty brown spices sort of thing going on.

    again, no clone (i usually stay away from the "smells like" threads, because we all perceive scents so differently). but something pleasantly reminiscent of opium, like a cousin or great-aunt.

    which brings to mind a line from david bowie's diamond dogs: "sweetly reminiscent, something mother used to bake."

    love bowie.


  49. Anonymous05:17

    I thought I had bought a fake Opium... So, that´s why! I just can´t understand why they did that!
    Opium was such a masterpiece! They should be so proud of it, so why?For God´s sake why did they do that?

  50. Anonymous18:17

    Opium WAS my signature cologne/perfume; not any more! I have had many, many, many positive comments about how beautiful the scent was on me. I bought the new one and NO ONE likes it on me, so goodbye Opium I've spent a lot of money through the years, now I am seeking a new scent. Why can't a winner be left alone to continue winning? Sigh

  51. jackie14:01

    This is so weird ! I have worn Opium for years and in 2007/8 I bought a bottle from a reputable store in Dublin, Ireland. It smelled subtly different to me, not the same as the current bottle I had at the time. If it had been given to me as a gift I would have assumed it was counterfeit. I asked other wearers if they thought it smelled right, I was the only one who thought it was "wrong". Until now I thought I was mad but now I ask myself when exactly did it change? And yes, I still remember and prefer the original. Jackie.

  52. Jackie,

    I am absolutely thrilled that the post helped you confirm that your hunch was right; that something was wrong.

    I'm just as sad that it had to be so, though. We now can hunt the estate sales together for semi-full old bottles of Opium the way it were. :-(

    Thanks for reading!

  53. Anonymous19:28

    Too bad the new opium isn't as good as the old opium..
    Hopefully YSL will go back to the old version.
    New one very dissapointing!!!o

  54. Anon,

    somehow I'm not too optimistic (if there weren't some problem with the old they wouldn't have gone to the trouble), though a further tweaking might be better than the current one. So let's be hopeful at least :-)

  55. researching on YSL opium all day and nothing has made me as envious as Alexandra's post..does she really have liters of original opium extract????

  56. I went to NM to return my utterly depressing new formula tub of Opium cream a couple of days ago and the clerk, when at the register said, "that's strange, the system says to contact xyz-that usually only comes up for web orders". So I was probably resold a used ecommerce buy that was already touched, smelt, and rejected by someone else. No worries, I got my money $80 back.

    When I am this disappointed over something I was once fond of, I turn my inner turmoil into the likes of "I will never buy/watch/read anything by such and such again". This is easy to do and returns to me a small sense of power.

    I am always leery about future availability when I fall in love with a product.

  57. I went to NM to return my utterly depressing new-formula tub of Opium cream a couple of days ago and the clerk, when at the register said, "that's strange, the system says to contact xyz-that usually only comes up for web orders". So I was probably resold an ecommerce buy that was already touched, smelt, and returned by someone else. Still, happy I got my money $80 back.

    When I am this disappointed over something I was once fond of, I turn my inner turmoil into the likes of "I will never buy/watch/read anything by such and such again". This is easy to do and returns to me a small sense of power.

    I am always leery about future availability when I fall in love with a product, don't you?

  58. ToCu,

    good heavens that's depressing!! How odd and how unacceptable to be sold an already tried cream!

    I agree that this is the kind of thing to make you turn away from a brand. :-(

    On the final note, I take care to buy two bottles of anything I like and three or more of anything I love since a little while. ;-)


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