Yves Saint Laurent Belle d'Opium (2010): Sacrificed {Fragrance Review}

Belle-dopium-2-A.jpgBelle D'Opium is the latest addition to the Opium franchise and destined to be a turning point as "a next-generation, younger version of Opium." While Yves Saint Laurent parfums have consistently pushed for the creation of annual flankers to the original Opium, usually good and focusing on bringing in a floral facet to the composition, Belle D'Opium is a novel approach. The new fragrance still inscribes itself in the lineage of Opium but aims to appear as a new-generation twist. More specifically, the brand wants to "...reinvent the concept of addiction for younger generations today," If Opium is "the story [...] about a woman addicted to her fragrance, [...] with Belle d'Opium, the woman is herself addictive." Color coding is helping express the new philosophy as "electric blue" replaces the iconic red of cinnabar. The whole concept behind the new venture is said to have been inspired by the creative vision of Stefano Pilati, the artistic director for YSL.

The new jus attempts this delicate psychological exercise which is to appear both historically familiar and legitimate while heralding a new age.

The advertising campaign is ambitious and lush featuring the jeune première Mélanie Thierry acting in a dance of Salome choreographed by Akram Khan who also recently coached actress Juliette Binoche for a spectacle. Thierry spent more than four hours a day during one month practising assiduously in order to become the dancer called Belle D'Opium and her performance, on an original music by Nitin Sawhney, is to be enjoyed. The TV commercial, ad print by Mert & Marcus, packaging and even the press release dossier were all carefully devised and the marketing team can rightfully applaud themselves for a job well done. Where the whole enterprise starts sinking ship is where the perfume composition itself is concerned...

Notes are Casablanca lily, sandalwood, gardenia, white pepper, jasmine absolute, narguile accord.

Despite the fact that a prestigious name of the fragrance industry co-signs the jus, Alberto Morillas, having worked in collaboration with younger perfumer Honorine Blanc who confesses that she is very much attached to the Belle D'Opium scent, the perfume itself qualifies as one of the biggest letdowns of the year. The discrepancy between the visual culture around this fragrance and the olfactory result is the one existing between a sleek professional clip and a lazily drafted, incomplete project. Blanc said that she worked for four years on the narguile accord and may have refined it beyond recognition because it feels sorely lacking.

If anything, Belle D'Opium is a terribly lazy composition - and this has nothing to do with the hookah atmosphere and the oriental languor suggested by the visuals. The perfume reveals an almost unbelievable paucity of ideas and feelings. As a reviewer I attempted to approach the fragrance from different angles at different times trying to think about it differently, but inevitably, the composition felt abandoned by the perfumers, like an empty house. Its rather simplistic character soon leaves little doubt as to your having missed a mysterious facet of it. In summary, this is the smell of a marketing brief afraid of taking any risks rather than a thoughtful recreation of Opium meant for today's women in need of more attention focused to themselves rather than to their sillages, an idea which becomes an excuse for putting out a generic jus.

The perfume re-uses the tired, uninspired rose-amber-patchouli accord which is the signature of standard neo-chypres nowadays. It adds a white floral lily note to skew it in the direction of perhaps something more virginal, different; it's hard to tell it feels so externally added and mechanical. Then there is this appealing-on-paper narguile accord which is meant to evoke the lure of the Orient and of the slightly forbidden in the jus. What it ends up being is an extenuated, anorexic puff of vague tobacco smoke with a moderate emphasis on the sweet honeyed facet of said tobacco note. The incense note seems to underline the confused, foggy ideas of the brief rather than feel atmospheric. There is a watery facet which could feel authentic but instead makes the perfume feel anemic.

The construction of the whole fragrance is blocky and linear. The jus does not last long, leaving no trail of desire but feeling curiously lukewarm as if someone had spilled tepid water on your arm. In short, Belle D'Opium simply feels sub-standard. It also not-so-subtly plagiarizes Chanel Allure Sensuelle Eau de Parfum, but Chanel do not need to lose sleep over this lamer copycat. 

I am still in disbelief that such a turkey could be released to international audiences. Perhaps the Yves Saint Laurent creatives are thinking that the jus will speak to people who both heartily despise fragrance and tobacco. Both aromatic sources have been willingly eviscerated here. It is clear that it is the fragrance which is the expiatory victim of this marketing campaign which aims high visually speaking and low olfactorily speaking.

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Wow am I disappointed. I was so much looking forward to Belle d'Opium but after your great and negative review I really don't know what to think. I'll have to test it and see but the lack of character is very concerning. I mean I knew it wasn't going to be as brilliant as the original but I was still hoping for a knockout. We'll see I guess. Thanks so much for the great review. I am very much looking forward to your review on the new Hermessence as well. Thanks. : )

    Jay R.
    • Thanks -- It was a bit of case of seeing the king is naked but having a hard time believing my own eyes/nose. So I gave it time, but I cannot find anything nice to write about it, which is admittedly rare where perfumes are concerned.

      At the very least you can always say that something smells good even if thoroughly uncreative, but in this case it comes across as a blotched up job.

      Chant Wagner

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