Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium (2014) - Triangulating Success, The Food Industry Way {Perfume Short (Review)}


Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium Reviewed by Chantal-Hélène Wagner on .The seeming new flanker to Opium is really one to Belle d'Opium, now betraying a sweet tooth. Rating: 2.8 out of 5. Black Opium is the latest major fragrance launch by the house of Yves Saint Laurent in terms of image and reputation put at stake...


The bottle comes now wearing a black lamé blazer. The advertising featuring British model Edie Campbell uses her contemporary style of beauty to reference 60s-70s rock legends - insert a few names of male icons with shaggy hair and big pillow lips - but also someone like Marianne Faithfull. The new Black Opium wears lots of khol.

The nocturnal theme seems to promise a return to more gravitas in the Opium franchise. You hope to hear something like: "we were wrong to have let Opium become too watery over the years; here, please consider this new offering to the gods of perfume who got angry last time because they thought Belle d'Opium was too weak for their appetite." They are not only angry, they are really hungry.

Black Opium does not aim to reference the original sticky ball of opium paste one might have experienced in the heyday of a decadent Chinese empire filled with smoky dens. It isn't a more dangerous, repentant Opium going back to its 70s roots only with more tarriness either. It is simply a flanker to the more recent Belle d'Opium - a recognizable one at that - only with a black coffee twist and clear attention to fragrance trends. The successful ones rather than the hidden, interesting ones. This includes the sucessful Starbucks coffee-hole trend in the world. It is therefore not surprising to me that in the geography of the city where I live I first discover this new perfume around the corner from a Starbucks café. It's a conscious harnessing of that popular taste.


The floral coffee accord is the best part of this new composition. If the perfume had kept this sense of ambiguity and subtlety to offer a brewey floral shot through by an expresso punch yet reverting to feeling like flowers whose natural scent is coffee, that would have been progress.

As it is, this is a pure product of marketing. And it is not a very inspired one. What appears to light when you smell the perfume is that it triangulates three main formulae: original Belle d'Opium + Armani Si + La Vie est Belle. And then, OK, add Starbucks - from the food industry - and that's four.

Black Opium is, it seems, desperately trying to surf on the wave of the latest benchmark generation of gourmands perfume.

Nathalie Lorson, Marie Salamagne, Olivier Cresp and Honorine Blanc of Firmenich are the four perfumers who collaborated surgically no doubt on this new marketing Trojan horse, each specializing in a different facet.

According to Women's Wear Daily, Lorson took care of the intense coffee note, Salamagne of a pear and pink pepper accord, Cresp brought out the addictive nature of fragrance and Blanc recreated a bouquet of white flowers.

Tellingly they are not the only ones to try to replicate the scents of those two main bestsellers. It's a veritable epidemy. Armani Si and La Vie est Belle in 2014 are the two most copied perfumes in the industry if Paris can serve as telling testing base for unofficial copies.

The end result is that despite this new intensity suggested by dark olfactory notes, it retains the easily-tired personality of Belle d'Opium. Those perfumes do not want to soar, they just want to pretend that they are daring but in fact come across as lacking fuel and fire. The drydown of Black Opium is so tired and mumbly you are waiting for something to happen - and it never happens. The perfume dissolves into the worst feeling you can get from a fragrance: lukewarm tap water apologizing for its existence. Even if the sillage smells good, somehow it remains unsatisfying.

Since Olivier Cresp worked on the addictive part of the scent, it seems that he went for this central trick of the food industry: sell bland food so that people eat more. You never reach a point of satiety, fragrance-wise, because you are kept just below that threshold level where you would get full and even saturated. No, they want you to spritz again and again to chase after that faint and fleeting moment when the perfume is satisfying before reverting back to watering down the sauce.

In terms of generational marketing it seems that the fragrance has found its public as members of the younger generations are falling for it. They say they love coffee, sweetness and hate the old YSL perfumes. They might not know that they value blandness and timidity. Now they can love the new YSL art of savvy perfumery.

Rating: 2.8 out of 5

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