Monday, November 15, 2010

Yves Saint Laurent Belle d'Opium: fragrance review

When the perfume gods are chastising your Hubris (in this case taking the original Opium and changing the hell out of its familiar, groundbreaking spicy bouquet "thanks" to IFRA restrictions), Nemesis comes in the guise of bland innocuousness meant to flop, namely Belle d'Opium. Long forgotten are the droves of protest ~and inevitable adoration~ on the addictive powers of the original Opium by Yves Saint Laurent; the almost contraband repackaging in certain countries so that it wouldn't pose challenges at customs; and the Australian peanut growing governor who banned its sales in his county. Belle d'Opium merely raises an eyebrow at best with its almost masculine structure, which isn't wholly intentional and belies the fanfare and the Romain Gavras commercial (watch here) with which it was launched to the scene a little while ago.

It's no fault of the competent perfumers, Honorine Blanc and Alberto Morillas, but rather a capitulation to the sacrificial pyre that the "Intentional Fragrant Abyss" (our own patented IFRA acronym, which seems more like it) is pushing most modern perfumes into. Firmenich, who produces the juice for bean-counters L'Oréal, is obviously too afraid to bypass these new restrictions and given a cheapskate budget they are following the bland and confused brief to the letter: Make a programatic spicy floral-oriental for people who are afraid to venture outside Lahore for fear of coming to terms with real poverty and those who think visiting Paris means shopping for scarves signés, stuffing on croissants and doing Le Louvre in under 3 hours.
Oddly, the perfumers were obliged to pronounce such silliness as "the fragrance was inspired by France's cultural references such as the Belle de Jour film or Belle du Seigneur book [they wish!] but also international references, like Bella Swan in Twilight [there you go!] who is a fresh-faced young woman, a romantic figure later acquiring dark psychoses." [sic, I kid you not]. It's very bad timing that Armand de Villoutreys, president of Firmenich, was put on record in the September issue of Cosmétique Mag admiting there is no time for the company to work properly: "We receive an avalanche of briefs and the whole chain is overheated. It's mechanical, in the sense that we ought to be very quick and we don't have the necessary time to devote to each step". Uh huh...

Although the listed notes of Belle d'Opium include jasmine, gardenia, peach, sandalwood, lily and pepper, I'm scared to report that the whole smells of neither, but rather an abstract and shapeless spicy-woody composition, beggining with a muted fruity-cardamom note and ending in the familiar woody-ambery-patchouli drydown of myriads of modern fragrances, plus an incense hint. Spicy perfumes, like masterful ganster films, have the great advantage of having a core duet of players who battle for reign within the gang crossing each other and siding with other forces in order to prevail; you're at the edge of your seat to see who will overpower whom. Just observe the majestic (and statement-making) Poivre by Caron with its pepper & clove shot-down at dawn. If only Belle d'Opium had the guts to double-cross its partners, we might have something memorable in our hands. As it is, we're not only far from -even- PG13, but firmly into the Nickelodeon channel.

To add insult to injury, neither the sillage nor the lasting power are technically adequate for an Eau de Parfum, which ~with said perfumers involved~ suggests a quickly churned out "generic" please-the-masses deodorant for the price of a proper perfume.
What bugs me most? According to inside info I have the name Belle d'Opium was chosen to ride on the heels of Yves Saint Laurent's best-seller and will be eventually pulled in favour of simply "Belle". If Belle reminds you of... B'Elle (a fictionary flanker of Elle by the same brand maybe?), it's because that's the concept to begin with. Be Elle? Nah....Shame, really!

Available at major department stores in Eau de Parfum concentration (from 53 to 90 euros).

photo collage originally uploaded on


  1. Let's just be honest. L'Oreal doesn't want to make great perfumes, they want to make easy to wear, "non-saying nothings" that will sell easily to people who do not know the difference between quality and "so called" quality brands like YSL turned into since L'Oreal took it over.
    No more YSL in our shop !!! It is a shame. Yves Saint Laurent would turn in his grave !!!

  2. Pretty commercial, and that's it. Didn't try it. Don't want to.

    As soon as I got wind of the reformulation of Opium, I ran to buy a vintage parfum on eBay. So now I'l cherish it and imagine the times, before I was born, when perfume could be a scandal.

  3. Steven,

    oh definitely, which makes the brief for this one problematic to begin with (and poor Yves would surely have had a fit if he were alive). The laughable bit is that they put acclaimed perfumers such as these through the motions, having them pronouncing statements such as "seeking intellectual stimuli always" which although true, they have absolutely no resonance with the current project. It's just marketing: putting the perfumers on the fore is "being done" right now across all price points in the market....Which is cynical, considering they had kept them at the wings for so long!!

    You bring a very interesting point: quality bs. "so called" quality. Where do you draw the line? How can the consumer differentiate between the two?

  4. Patuxxa,

    wise move!

    Isn't it kinda odd that the commercial was shot in an Indian choreography style (although by a very European-looking model/actress) as if this was modern-day Shalimar? (Not that Shalimar is particularly Indian in its structure and olfactory character, because it's not, but its outer mythos and presentation). Do you agree?

  5. Indeed! I still have among my old scrapbooks Opium ads starring models draped in opulent velvets and damasks in red and gold, recalling imperial China (ah yes, the Opium ads were always my favorite) I suspect they tried this "modern exotic minimalist" approach to say to consumers "this is edgy BUT not really", as if trying to ease people into forgetting the, uh, "trauma" (!!!) of the original Opium. But then, I think this was all planned and conceived by people for whom the term "oriental" is vaguely interchangeable.

  6. Hmmm. For some reason I have never tried Belle d'Opium. Good article and clear opinion!

  7. Patuxxa,

    this is perceptive of you! There is the westernised "view" on the east (which has progressed of course since the 1920s and even the 1970s-80s when the original Opium was created) which is not true to the reality of those countries.

    But the perceived exoticism has a collonial tinge, which I guess is still nostalgia-inducing for a certain consumer who buys the original Opium still (and is of a certain age ~not that young people don't buy it, just making a point here). Also there is the lure of the languor and sexiness of the east through the media: Bollywood etc.
    The incongruity is that the dance is Indian, the concept was supposed to be Chinese (as you point out, imperial China to be exact) and the production a mess of references (A bright blonde "Indian goddess" dancing? A Grecofrench guy doing the direction? A French house's dress on made by an Italian couturier? Uh huh...)

    Pity as it's a good commercial aesthetically. Do you agree?

    It's interesting you say that Belle was perhaps conceived to ease people into forgetting the trauma (great choice of word!) of the original. I hadn't thought of that initially, but it makes sense.

  8. VL,

    you're not missing much...

    Yeah, seems I didn't beat around the bush on this one, did I?

    *evil grin*

  9. Malena14:26

    Dear E. :-)

    Oh yes, I tried it! I was curious because I kind of like the bottle, but the juice...not so much.
    It's far too bland - like most "mainstream" releases, unfortunately.

    But it really appeals to a lot of people that loathe the original Opium (I heard that opinion more than once from various friends) & as that was one of the intentions of its release, they succeeded. I think it'll be rather successful...

    I'll hold on to my bottle of MPG George Sand (not to be confused with the one from HdP). It's a nice interpretation of the original Opium & has the richness that can't be found anymore in the neutered Opium version that's sold nowadays.


  10. I totally agree: it's an underwhelming mess from start to finish. God only knows what YSL himself would make of it if he were alive today.

  11. Malena,

    I guess there's truth in what you say: the old classic being so statement-making [not any more.... :-( ] there had to be "the weakest link" out for those who were scared.
    I have passingly tried the MPG George Sand a couple of times and it's high time I invested in a bottle, me thinks, eh?

  12. Persolaise,

    it's a wonder how they are saying all those things they do in the promo and the videos with a straight face. It's not even technically competent (tenacity, diffusion), which is VERY surprising for someone of the calibre of either Morillas or Blanc!

  13. There is much good advertising about this. But despite that, it smells, somehow good. You said the right thing with IFRA restrictions... ;)



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