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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Perfume Review: Yves Saint Laurent Opium

By Beth

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 Led Zeppelin photograph from


Blogger tmp00 said...

Opium was one of those lines whose very name was shocking to my parents generation, never mind those ads! There really isn't a way to get across to the younger people how shockingly avant-garde the whole thing was; how innocent it all seems in comparison to today, yet still how perverse.

People sometimes look back on the 70's and think it was all leisure suits and Farrah hair, but there were some gorgeous fashions, and some beautiful scents. Thank you for reminding me of one of them, and in such beautiful prose..

10:15 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Thank you so for the sweet words and you are so correct..."shockingly avante garde" is the perfect description of that time. I actually loved the fashions, they were glamourous in a way that was uber sexy and spohisticated at the same time. I remember in particular a lavender bathing suit with legs cut up way past my hips and cleavage slit down to there. It was wonderful! And the eyes.......

10:53 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


I was watching "Eyes of Laura Mars" Saturday so that look stuck in my mind- yes, it's the eyes, but it's also the lips and the cheekbones and the hair. YouTube has the David Lynch Gucci ad which resurrects that whole look: the hair, the make-up and that whole Deborah Turbeville/ Newtonesque look that was the real look of the seventies but has been forgotten.

I can imagine that bathing costume...

12:12 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strangely enough, I've never sniffed Opium yet (I'm just few years younger than you, Beth - but grew up on the dark side of the Earth, without Opium, Castaneda and freedom), but tomorrow will be the day, made for the first sniff (my birthday...). And yes, David Bowie is my heroe (always was and will be) and one of the most handsome & creative men this Earth ever produced (but I've always maintained he's from another planet...). Last year he helped out on David Gilmour's Royal Albert Hall concert, and sigh, even David is getting older, my Thin White Duke...

4:14 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fyi - that's not David Byrne, that's Bryan Ferry!

5:19 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Lady Jane,

Happy Birthday! I do share your sentiments about David Bowie as well, great humanitarian, incredible musician...there's nothing that I don't love about him. Let me know what you think when you finally do sniff....It IS really wonderful, and I think that you'll love it!

7:26 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Anonymous,

You know, I do that everytime...being a huge Talking heads fan as well, I think that I get it confused because Brian Eno(talking Heads) was an original member of Roxy Music. Byrne/ Bryan, I'm a bit dyslexic! Pretty interesting piece of Trivia though, and both great bands!

7:30 AM EST  
Blogger donanicola said...

Didn't Mick Jagger "pinch" Jerry Hall from Bryan Ferry? Never understood that. Bryan Ferry is one of my Top Ten music/style gods. I would have loved to have experienced a bit of that decadent studio 54 life, it sounds so glamorous (I'm sure there was a seedy side too as there often is. Wonderful evocation of a truly iconic scent, thanks. I've always admired it though never felt I could wear it. However in private I may do just that...

8:02 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your personification of the scent is spot-on, Beth. Thank you for a gorgeous review in the morning to wake me up! It is really hard for me to imagine that such a scent was so ubiquitous--it always seemed the essence of something rare and decidedly not for every day or every girl.

8:05 AM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

Happy Birthday, LJ !

Ohhhh, Beth.
We had it goin' ON.
Longhaired, booted, kitten-with-a-whip thang.

I'm breaking a sweat now, just thinking about it.
Perverse, indeed !

8:06 AM EST  
Blogger March said...

Oh, thanks so much for the trip down Memory Lane! What tmp said -- Opium *was* shocking. I adored it but couldn't quite carry it off. (My roommate wore Rive Gauche, which I loathed and have since come around to.)

BTW I like the punch of the EDP, but the parfum strength is mesmerizing.

8:36 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, had a love affair with Opium in the 70's. I don't know what it smells like sprayed, as I had a splash bottle (the beautiful one with the tassel). Even dabbed, it more than made it's presence known, didn't it? Haven't visited it since, but I'm contemplating getting some for my 17 yr old daughter. I think she will like it.
Thanks for the memories, Beth.

9:10 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Beth, Tom,
I love that 70th glam look too! It is totally "me" :-))))

9:47 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

"not for every day or every girl" - can I use this in a review sometime? Great line.

9:49 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Dear Melinda,
Happy coming Birthday from me and all of us on PST!! May it be a wonderful day!

9:50 AM EST  
Blogger priscilla said...

Beth, I wore Opium through college and graduate school in the late 80s and early 90s. Reading Sabina's comment that she might buy some for her daughter, this thought occurred to me: Opium is a coming-of-age scent. Although the niche world offers us so many types of perfumes now, Opium still remains shockingly different from so many perfumes offered in the mass market. It is an intimate fragrance, but I think it provides a sort of power for the wearer, a confidence, and invitation to curiosity...I wonder if that really is the reason so many of us who wore it when we were young remember it so fondly. Clearly, we are different generations with different experience, but Opium binds us.

9:58 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Thank you so much! Yes, I think that is how the story goes and I agree with you completely. Bryan Ferry is one of my favorites still. I just turned my 24 year old nephew on to Roxy Music! Did you know that Bryan Ferry has a new album devoted to Dylan covers? He is simply wonderful! Do try Opium again...especially in private!

10:00 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

Wonderful review! I got a bottle of Opium parfum last year and have been loving it this winter. Should have realized it had pimento in it - can never resist a scent w/ that note.
And very cool dream! :-)

10:11 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I knew when I met you (circa 1977), you are Lady Godiva incarnate.
Page & Plant...mmmmmmm the familiar smell of an era.


12:14 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opium is one of those things I wore in my lost & wandering 20s, one of the few that probably almost kinda fit me. I was a punk rocker, & maybe it wasn't exactly dirty, ripped & torn enough but it did go well I think as counterpoint. Oddly, I was in a Sephora last week & I sniffed a bottle just because & found myself smiling at the memory of how it smelled on me. I don't think I could wear it anymore, I'm really not who I was back then, but it's nice to sniff now & then & say, "ok, here's a bit of me from back then that I can look back on fondly."

12:38 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Billy D,
Thank you so much for such high praise! I'm really glad that you enjoyed the review. Opium wasn't for everyone I think, but it's presence was EVERYWHERE, you caouldn't get away from it. Now, it just smells so wonderful to me...

1:01 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...


Oh yes we did......and I am sweating with you! It was a pretty fun time....exotic, dangerous and incredibly self-absorbed. I got to really know my dark side then and I am all the better for it....Perverse indeed, but delightfully so! I'd have liked to have known you then....I bet we would have had fun with it all together.

1:06 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...


You are so welcome and I'm glad that you enjoyed it....Rive Gauche...I wore it for a bit but it never quite worked for me, too ingenue and I have never been accused of being that:) You should try Opium again...just a little bit and as ws mentioned before, definitely in private:)

1:09 PM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

No question !
No holds barred.
We would have taken NO PRISONERS, lol.

I walked the tightrope, myself- Full-time school, full-time work, teaching and translating, heavy weight-lifting, ballet...
And macrobiotic, thank you !

Basically, I was very much the same as I now am-
Only younger, thinner,slightly wilder, and definitely more carefree.

Awww- let's just go to the DOGS, anyway...!

1:12 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

That beautiful bottle, I loved it so much.....What a treat for your daughter, only I can promise you that you will be sharing it with her:) What (as someone here already mentioned)an amazing coming of age scent...I am glad that you enjoyed the memories!

1:12 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

I can just see you in that style...It was fun and you would have been marvelous (only probably alot smarter than me!)
I still do on occasion that makeup....I absolutely adored it!

1:15 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...


I just loved your insight! I agree with you, Opium is a coming of age scent. I am really enjoying reading here about all of the different ways that people regarded it and I am just delighted thinking about your last thought "Clearly, we are different generations with different experience, but Opium binds us."
That's just cool......

1:20 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Thank you so much , I am so glad that you enjoyed the review. I am so delighted to hear that you are currently loving Opium, the parfum is intoxicating to me....a bit like catnip to a kitten:) The dream was pretty cool...I'm grateful for it. I don't know that without it I would have tried Opium again full force, but now it seems that I'm never without her...

1:25 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...


You know, it is a wonderful thing to be understood so well:)And, being one of my oldest pals whom I got into WAY to much trouble with.....Didn't we have fun!!!!!!

1:28 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Oh Divalano....
Try it again PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! I think that you might be surprised...I enjoyed thinking of you as a punk rocker wearing it...A bit like La Perla under a straightlaced navy business suit....something just for you!

1:36 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...


Absolutely No Prisoners!!!!!!!!!
What an amazingly interesting and busy life you were leading....

1:41 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is amazing, Beth! I've been stalking Opium in parfum on e-bay totally unsniffed. I just felt, somehow, that I should have some : )

I only wish your review came with a photo of you in full make-up! I was seven in '77, and stuck in a little town far, far away from the action, but I was (long story) part of the local Shakespeare company. We did Midsummer's Night Dream and one of the Fairies had those eyes, and those glossy, glossy lips. I used to sit and watch, mesmerized, as she applied layer after layer of blackberry lipstick and then, the final touch, the clear, roll-on gloss. Wow.

Off to Dillard's this afternoon, la, la, la...

2:23 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

You must go find will love it, please let me know! I think that your story is wonderful and I would love to know how at such a tender age you were part of a Shakespearean company.....Hippie parents perhaps? I loved thinking about you as a little girl enjoying that uber feminine ritual of lipstick the lates 70's it was elevated to an art form. That roll on gloss was fabulous, I had quite alot of it, Bonne Bell for flavors, Max Factor for serious shine :) I do have one such shot that at some point in another post I will scan in..full makeup, big hair and all....

2:58 PM EST  
Blogger saralevy said...

Thanks for this wonderful post! I graduated from high school in 1977 too and have worn Opium continuously since its release. I totally agree with tmp00's comment about how the 70's was shockingly innocent and still perverse. There was a freedom and a nihilism in the air that does not exist today. I wear Opium parfum, EDT and every year I purchase the summer LE. cheers, sara

3:17 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Sara,
Thanks for your reply,I'm so glad that you enjoyed the review! i agree with you about the 70's..they were wonderful in their frivolity and arrogance! If you graduated in 77 like I did, I know that you were having fun. We were right in the thick of it!

3:57 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Beth,
Your very beautifully written piece has left me pining for Opium (the scent, not the drug!)! Unfortunately I just applied Ormonde Jayne Tolu a few minutes ago, so I'll have to wait. :(

Opium is one of my very favorite perfumes. It doesn't have all the cultural memory for me, as I didn't grow up in the 1970s. So for my generation (I'm 29), at least with people I've known, Opium is unique because not everyone's wearing it or anything like it. Which is of course one reason I'm so attracted to it...not to mention that I think it's the sexiest, warmest perfume I've ever smelled! Though I admit I'm still only a fashionista-in-training.
Anyway, thanks for the lovely piece.
Molly :)

4:22 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, your fabulous post really knocked my socks off - and those last few paragraphs - whew! Is it hot in here or what?! :-D

My older sister wore Opium back when I was wearing Anais Anais, which gives you an idea of our different personalities. I was a goody-two-shoes back in those days - at least outwardly. Now I am able to wear such grown-up things, but I never did wear that. Maybe I should get a mini of it and see what happens...

6:22 PM EST  
Blogger kamala said...

ooohhh, hot!!! :-)

hi beth, i love your review! it's fascinating to me to learn other people's personal associations with perfumes - i find that those types of "reviews" actually tell me more about the scent than a straight review.

opium parfum is one of the first things i tried recently as i was beginning my adventures in the world of perfume, and imho, a more contemporary perfume that captures a similar innocent/decadent- avant garde/sexy kind of vibe is Muscs Koublai Khan. to me, MKK is sort of shockingly personal and sexy (and dirty!) and at the same time, warm and spicy and naturally sensual. almost in a turn-of-the-19th-century, "femme enfant" kind of way. (as in: "i'm not bad, i'm just drawn that way!") :-)

btw, i've just got a google account, so i'll have "kamala" at the top of the message, but i've been signing in as "erin k," in case anyone's wondering if i'm a new commenter.

6:50 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Molly,
You are quite welcome and I am so glad that you enjoyed it!I am definitely in agreement with of the things that I love the most about Opium is it's warmth. It's very cold in Ohio right now and yet I am all warm and spicy from the wearing of it:)You are lucky I think to have grown up in a time where not everyone is wearing it. It gives you a whole different appreciation for it's beauty!

10:18 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

I am so glad that you loved me, it was a very hot dream. I am thrilled to have rediscovered it. One of the things that I love about writing here is just how expressive and honest I can be, it gives me great pleasure when you love what I've shared. If you get a bit of Opium (and trust me, a little goes a long way!)try mixing it with a bit of almond oil, or a wee bit of cocoa butter. For some reason, using a touch of a carrier oil,not unlike a massage oil smooths out the scent even more!

11:08 PM EST  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Thank you so much, I am thrilled that you loved my review. I agree with you, more often than not what leads me to try something new is how someone relates their expereince of it, almost so that I can try on that vibe. I am for that very reason absolutely seduced by your description of the Muscs Khublai Khan......anything "shockingly personal from the turn of the 19th century" is something that I must immediately try. Very much one of my time periods:) Thank you so much for sharing!

11:15 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opium reminds me of my first girlfriend and the miriad of sexual positions that my 38 year old frame can no longer achieve. Haven't had a whiff for years, unless you count the flashbacks. What a smell! Whole weekends and gallons of baby oil were lost in the persuit of sexual nirvana. And all of it because of this perfume. I understand they also have a mens version which I must seek out immediately!

10:10 PM EDT  
Anonymous mij said...

I remember it well, it was a hit even in former Yugoslavia, albeit with a slight delay, to me it signifies early eighties. I got a EDT sample recently whilst shopping and nearly choked when I put it on - not from melancholia though. Perhaps it's my skin, perhaps it's ok in perfume form, but it smells just cheap and horrid to me - and that's the exact scent I remember from all those years ago. I do not detect spice or flowers, just an awful, flat but engulfing concoction of drugstore whiffs, very synthetic and soapy. When I washed it off the remaining base was tolerable though still too sweet and too reminscent of middleaged women who used to wear it - namely my Mum. Warm and feminine but simplistic and, I'm sorry to say, menopausal.
I guess that it could - maybe - work better as a body lotion, without the initial shrill knockout.

10:17 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Nan loves this scent and everytime i smell it i get so many great memories of my childhood.

Glad I bought her a big bottle for her birthday, of course at a good price!

YSL Opium Perfume

1:21 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out their websites to know more about their products. =)

2:21 AM EDT  

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