Her name would go down in history as one of the greatest temptresses of all time: Salome. But, that night, she was not aware of the infamy which would forever follow her. As she stepped into the palace’s Great Hall, fire burned in her heart; she was a warrior with a mission. Not even the Great Hall could douse the bonfires of spice, smoke, sandalwood, cloved pepper, and molten amber which girded her golden limbs under the misleadingly sweet aura of roses, succulent oranges, heady jasmine, tart plums, & fleshy peaches.

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Georges Rochegrosse (French, 1859–1929), “Salome nhảy Before King Herod,” 1887. Joslyn Art Museum

A horde of drummers suddenly appeared, clad in every hue of amber: tolu balsam, benzoin, và labdanum. “Bom, bom….bom, bom, bom…. Bom, bom, bom, bom,” their hands moved faster and faster, as did Salome. She stood on one daintily arched foot, twirling in a pirouette of veils, reflecting colours like the jewels glowing on the giant throne. It became all a swirl of notes, a perfect dance of powerful spices atop her silken peach skin, tinged by jasmine that slinked up to lớn the surface from the heat of her body. Unbeknownst lớn the leering, panting king who watched her, pearls of sweat formed on her rose-tipped breasts, lending a subtle tinge of musk to the floral, citrus, spiced, patchouli amber radiating out from her lượt thích waves from the center of a vortex. She danced so fast, frankincense seeped out in white billows, & veils began to fall off her body. One arch of her back, và the carnation veil flew off khổng lồ disappear atop King Herod’s head. He clawed at it, tossed it to the side in a frenzy of panic lest he miss a glimpse of her body, and the carnation vanished from sight.


Gustave Moreau – “Die Erscheinung,” or “L’Apparition.” 1875. Part of Moreau’s Salome series.

Salome nodded and, with a single move, was on her feet, swaying with the music that had started again & shedding her veils until she was a blur of naked, ambered flesh. Silky, smooth, creamy, heated, molten flesh — radiating spiced sandalwood, patchouli, endless layers of amber, vanilla, jasmine, & musk. Faster & faster, và faster, she moved until her body toàn thân dropped in a pile of sinuous limbs. There was complete silence, punctuated by the king’s small moans & shallow breaths as he stared at Salome’s naked body. Still on the ground, she calmly lifted her head, stared at him, and coolly said: “His head. On a silver platter. I want St. John the Baptist’s head.

The story of Salome is many things but, ultimately, it is a story of a temptress và seduction. It is the story of the lure of sex. And, lớn me, few perfumes better represent seduction, temptation, tantalizing teases, sex, wild abandon, mystery, and, yes, a warrior’s fiery strength than Opium. YSL‘s magnificent creation is justifiably considered the benchmark oriental, the standard by which all others are measured. (And, in my opinion, the standard by which all others fail to measure up.) It is my beloved, my favorite perfume in the world, my equivalent of Gollum’s “Precious.” As with Gollum, Opium drives me a little mad, but it is also the most empowering perfume I’ve ever worn. I wear it when I need armour và feel lượt thích I will be riding out into battle, as much as I wear it lớn seduce.


1977 Opium advert featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source:

Opium was released in 1977, the creation of Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac. It has a mind-boggling list of notes. Simply mind-boggling. Those of you who wonder why I’m rarely impressed by modern fragrances, well, it’s because most of them have a fraction of the notes present in old vintage classics. And notes equal depth, body, complexity, sophistication and richness. But even a lot of the old classics don’t have as many notes as my beloved. According to lớn Fragrantica‘s listing (which is more for the current version than the vintage), Opium has 31 ingredients, but God only knows how much greater the number is for the vintage version, especially unofficially.

Top notes are coriander, plum, citruses, mandarin orange, pepper, jasmine, cloves, west indian bay and bergamot; middle notes are carnation, sandalwood, patchouli, cinnamon, orris root, peach, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are labdanum, tolu balsam, sandalwood, opoponax, musk, coconut, vanilla, benzoin, vetiver, incense, cedar, myrrh, castoreum và amber.

I don’t like dissecting the notes for my truly, truly beloved fragrances as I generally do. I refused to do it for (vintage) Fracas, và I won’t for (vintage) Opium beyond what I’ve already written above as Salome’s Dance of the (31) Veils. For me, Opium is far too sacred for analysis, far too much a work of art. Plus, it is such a superbly blended masterpiece that a lot of the notes meld & melt into one multi-faceted whole. It’s like the bloody Hope Diamond. It’s just so big, so brilliant, so reflective of so much, but all in one giant piece.

That said, there are definite stages where some aspects shine a little more than others. In the beginning, it’s the burst of orange, infused with seemingly every ounce of fiery, dusty clove và cinnamon available on earth. It’s backed by a hint of plum & peach, but, to lớn me, those notes have never radiated very brightly on my skin. Instead, there are dry woody notes, cedar, a dash of cất cánh leaf, và two different kinds of incense: frankincense and myrrh. Hints of floral notes (especially jasmine) take full sway later, in the middle stage, along with the start of creamy coconut và vanilla. Later, as that phase is winding down, more và more of the amber resins start to dominate: from the more balsamic-heavy, dark, smoky Tolu amber; to the nutty, slightly animalic, minutely leathery labdanum; the sweeter, more vanilla-like tones of benzoin; và what I personally believe is ambergris (but which Fragrantica’s listing for the current version of Opium lists as just plain “amber.”) Opium also has castoreum which is detectable mainly in the dry-down in the slightly animalic leather note. Not a raunchy, harsh, obvious leather, but more of a leather feel lượt thích something sumptuously rich, thick, velvety & plush. The sort of heavy velvet that Henry VIII would wear.


eBay photo showing a bottle and box identical to my 1990s version with all the swirls.

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Perhaps the most immediately obvious difference is the huge chasm regarding the spices and the sandalwood accords. Even in the 1990s, Mysore sandalwood was becoming more scarce, & I think there is significantly less of it in my 1990s version than in the 1970s. But the truly overwhelming thing is in the spices, namely the cloves. A while back, I wrote a post centered on a Reuters article about IFRA, the EU and changes lớn legendary perfumes that have already been carried out, unannounced, often undetected, and definitely kept secret. Raymond Chaillan, who collaborated on the creation of Opium, told Reuters that his co-creation has hugely changed. One reason:

Clove oil and rose oil, which contain a component called eugenol. <¶>… When it was launched in 1977, the original Opium was full of eugenol and also contained linalool, và limonene found in citruses. In large doses, Eugenol can cause liver damage, while oxidized linalool can cause exzema and prolonged exposure lớn pure limonene can irritate the skin.

My personal (admittedly biased) response: unless one bathes daily và for hours in gallons of Opium, I can’t see anyone spraying enough of the perfume to lớn cause liver damage! Regardless, judging between my two versions, I can absolutely see a sharp drop in the amount of clove, as well as the roses, in the later perfume. & 1992 was far, far before the IFRA/EU regulations of 2008!


The bastard eunuch version of Opium that is currently on the market. Lưu ý the lack of swirls in the glass on the bottle, và the very big difference in the box.

So, let’s say you’re interesting in vintage Opium và are willing to lớn brave the wilds of eBay to get one. How can you tell it’s vintage? Well, if you’re looking khổng lồ purchase the glass EDT bottles, the best way to tell is by the swirls on the bottle. The new, castrated formulation has hardly any swirls in the glass, as compared to the original one. The box is also hugely different, losing its golden leaves just as the perfume has lost its notes & potency. There are a few threads on the matter at Fragrantica which might help you, starting with this one (which is where I obtained that photo of the three, vintage, glass, EDT bottles shown up above). An even more extensive thread, showing a ton of different bottles, from the pure parfum to various flankers can be found here (in that previously quoted Fragrantica thread).


Yves Saint Laurent, Opium, bottle designed by Pierre Dinand in 1977, photographed by Damien Fry (2011).Source:

As a side note, all this discussion of Opium pertains to the eau de toilette which is the most common, usual size of the fragrance. There is an eau de parfum (as well as a pure parfum extract concentration), but I have the vague sense they were issued a few years after 1977. I am probably mistaken, however, especially as I know my mother had the tasselled, solid bottle (which is usually the shape of the eau de parfum bottle) back in 1977 và that is what is shown in all the adverts from the time. Regardless, the eau de parfum is not my area of speciality, & most of the discussions of “vintage Opium” usually pertain to lớn the eau de toilette concentration. All I can tell you is that, in 2009, Opium (owned at this point by L’Oreal) re-issued the parfum version in what was supposedly a new bottle but which was also, in my opinion, yet another reformulation. Beyond that, however, I’m afraid I’m not a huge help on the issue of the parfum.

As for prices, they vary wildly. On eBay, it is all a question of patience and luck. Create a notification for vintage Opium, kiểm tra the feedback scores of the seller, & then just pray that someone doesn’t outbid you. You may be lucky and get a small bottle for around $65, or you may be unlucky and end up paying around $150. For the parfum concentration, I’ve seen some sealed, 1 oz vintage bottles go for around $350. Granted, they are parfum and sealed, but it’s still high, even for Opium. Generally, though, whatever you pay, it will still be a lot cheaper than the retail cost of many modern, niche fragrances today, especially if you opt for a smaller size. The glass EDT bottles vary in kích cỡ from 1 oz/30 ml khổng lồ 1.6 oz, to lớn sizes like my 2.3 oz bottle or the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottles. You have to lớn look at the photo of the bottles! The less swirls it has, the more it is absolutely certain that it is a new bottle of the reformulated garbage. Don’t listen to lớn what the sellers say, either; right now, someone is selling a bottle entitled “vintage” which is clearly a post-1999/2000 bottle. (See photo to lớn the right of the modern, reformulated eunuch Opium.) The glass has to be covered by swirls to lớn be at least from the 1990s in age.

One last note, YSL issued an Opium for Men in 1995. It’s been a long time since I smelled it but, based on my recollection of it, it was significantly more muted, more citrus-y, less spiced, & with a very diluted sandalwood base. It’s fine, I suppose. But I wouldn’t bother with it. Men can absolutely wear Opium (original, women’s version), and honestly, I think it’s a thousand times more masculine than some of the unisex fragrances put out today for men. As between a fluffy, saccharine-sweet scent like By Kilian‘s Love (Don’t be Shy) & Opium for Women, I can tell you which one would be a better fit on a man — and it’s not the one that smells of cloying, orange marshmallows! Real Opium would be wickedly seductive on a man, but it would never suit someone used to lớn tamer, milder scents. Opium is a powerhouse, a molten, living, breathing fire dragon that will chew you up và spit you out if you can’t handle her.

Even Luca Turin, the great perfume critic, said: “It is unquestionably one of the greatest fragrances of all time.” While the rest of his Five-Star đánh giá (entitled “Spice King”) is a more reflective contemplation on the limits of spicy oriental perfumes due lớn their focus on the drydown materials, he finally says that he personally tires of Opium:

Opium said one thing and one thing only, with tremendous force. While this was the most cogent statement ever made by balsams , one does tire of it.

Mr. Turin, there you go again. Just when I think I may finally agree with you, you come out with something lượt thích that. Well, His Majesty may tire of Opium, but I would shoot myself in the head if I went with some of the other Five-Star perfumes he praises, such as Davidoff‘s Cool Water, L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Dzing! (which almost drove me khổng lồ a complete meltdown), or L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Vanilia which he cheerfully praises for being “vulgar” beyond all limits.

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No, thank you, I will take instead what “is unquestionably one of the greatest fragrances of all time” with its 31 glorious notes, evoking raw sexuality, power, & a dragon’s fiery breath. I will keep Opium as my warrior’s shield và sword, as my source of molten ambered invulnerability, và as my means khổng lồ seduce lượt thích Salome. I will wear it, & dance away its 31 glorious veils from sundown to sunrise. Then, when the sky is touched by morning flames of gold and red, I will spray on more of my liquid fire và smile at its secret power. My secret power. My Opium. My love.