1977 was the year that I graduated from high school, my hair was straight and swung down past the small of my back, and I wore my Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress to my graduation with a pride normally reserved for things such a the birth of a first son. I loved to dance to the decadent strains of Led Zeppelin and Saturday Night Fever had just birthed the beginnings of disco craziness. David Bowie, Jimmy Page and Roxy Music set the standards for the glam/punk look that embodied the late 70’s and the early beginnings of the 80’s. Fashion was brilliant coloured and amazing, the makeup extraordinary in a way that wouldn’t be relevant today, yet we were absolutely beautiful. It was a very heady time in my life, I lost my virginity, discovered Carlos Castenada and began to get interested in hallucinogenic drugs and cocaine. I was of course not the only one and I don’t think that any of us realized until much later what an exciting yet perilous culture that we’d joined. It was in this heady cauldron of sexuality, delightful nonsense and narcissism that Yves St Laurent created his most decadent fragrance , Opium. I’m not so sure that even he knew what he was unleashing. Opium was a heady reawakening to me, and something about it was very familiar, very necessary to my awakening awareness. Before Opium, I had been fond of Halston and Shalimar, proud that while all of my friends were wearing Love’s Baby Soft and Jean Nate’ that I was different and ever so much more sophisticated. By the time I gave up Opium, I had discovered Anais Nin, Colette, both of whom I still love and violence in relationships and graphic pornography which I hate. The early 80’s did that to you.
Opium with its heady eroticism was different than anything that I had ever worn before. Men loved it, and it was glamourous in a way fragrance had never been in this country. For about 2 years it was impossible to go anywhere without smelling it and you couldn’t open a magazine without being assaulted by it. Opium obliterated the concept of a personal perfume because everyone was wearing it and it was an essential part of my wardrobe along with the Dior eyes , deep cheekbones and of course my very glossy lips! YSL’s Opium was the common denominator in world gone mad with its excesses and that of course is the very nature of the substance for which it is named. Opium (the substance) is very addictive, sensual and dangerously beguiling. You can easily get lost in it. One of the most powerful allures of YSL’s Opium is that it smells very much of the resin for which it is named, one of those curious quirks of perfumery where many wonderful substances come together to create a dream state , a previously unknown alchemy.
It was for its time, strangely perfect.
Fortunately for those of us with a penchant for trouble, the excesses passed as quickly as they appeared. Opium, which I had adored, suddenly smelled overused and fatigued. In 1982 , I married an extraordinary man and soon after gave up drugs. I couldn’t go anywhere without smelling it and remembering. Most of the younger perfumista’s probably feel the same way about Opium because of many overanxious SA’s determined to spray it and it’s extremely strong scent trail. Since the early 80’s , I’ve tried it about once a year, without much passion for it, just the curiosity born of revisiting an old love.
A couple of weeks ago though I had a strange dream. I was in a beautiful sacred space, soft with dripping ripe fruit and bowls of spice. There was a earthen wall with warm water trickling down and many pots of unctuous fragrant oils. A beautiful, husky voice permeated through the dream state, “I am Opium”, she said. I woke up an obsessed woman.
Later that same day, I went to the store and procured some samples of the perfume, determined to discover what she had been sharing with me. Opium is made up of Cinnamon and Pepper, Orange and Pimento, Carnation, Jasmine, Rose and Ylang Ylang, Vanilla, Benzoin ,Patchouli and Sweet Myrrh.
Alchemical correspondences for all of those scents blend together magically to create a powerful spell, one of spirituality, attraction and lust , leading to healing and love. My husband and I spent some enchanting time with that beautiful Goddess later that evening. After all of these years, I think that I finally understand why YSL’s Opium, which is truly warm and beautiful has become such a reviled scent. It’s a different time in history and a perfect time for her more subtle gifts to be known. She is about healing , passion and love….. she is for private moments. She is not black tie, and I don’t think that she ever truly wanted to be. She wants to be rediscovered…..she is for staying in and exploring the depths of your senses.
Normally Opium is sprayed on, diffusing way too much of its magic everywhere, leaving the senses strangely inebriated, disconcerted and unfocused. Opium needs to be treasured, applied like the sacred spell that she is, her nature comes alive when blended with ritual and candlelight. Opium is a perfume that needs to be anointed on the breasts, not sprayed. Her magic is that she opens you up, makes you aware and prepares you for desire.
So now it’s your turn. I hope that I’ve left you breathless enough to discover your own rituals for her and if you dare try, please thrill me and let me know…………
Opium is widely distributed but the best selection that I’ve found, perfume et all is at Dillards!
Opium ad photograph courtesy of Parfum de Pub. Photograph of Jerry hall and David Byrne from VivaRoxyMusic.com. Led Zeppelin photograph from Xinn.files.wordpress.com