Perfume Review – Vintage Opium by YSL: A Tribute

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, and fleshy peaches.

"Salome Dancing before Herod", c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

“Salome Dancing before Herod”, c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

The hall was monstrously large, one vast chamber of onyx marble and gold. Her footsteps echoed as she passed the phalanxes of mighty columns, each one wider than ten men, and festooned with ropes of twisted gold. Rows of tall slaves created a corridor of flickering light, as each one struggled under the weight of a heavy, gold candelabra. The corridor led straight up to the throne, atop a large dias, but the fifteen-foot high, gold-and-jeweled monstrosity was empty. Before it, in a comfortable pile of silk pillows, lounged the King. Herod was too fat to fit into the throne; besides, he thought the bodies of the slave girls festooned around him, and hand-feeding him delicacies, would be a good cover to conceal the excitement that he would undoubtedly show. “She had finally agreed!,” he thought, as his eyes gleamed and he licked his plump lips wetly. The royal court seemed equally excited, chattering nervously about the fame of Salome’s beauty and dancing. They fell silent as she finally drew near and stared at her almost as greedily as the king.

She was a tiny figure, and all but hidden under a mountain of veils. Sheer, in and of themselves, their vast number completely obscured her raven hair and lithe, golden body. Thirty one in all, the veils were ornate, gauzy, in a variety of colours and, magically, made out of the most aromatic, perfumed ingredients: sandalwood ochre, bergamot green; plum purple; orange; blood-red rose; pure jasmine white; chocolate labdanum; dusty clove and cinnamon; the ivory-grey of frankincense smoke; the flesh colour of the ripest peach….

As the music started, she lifted one long arm from beneath the gauzy pile, flexing it like a swan, her long fingers fluttering in the air. Her chin was pointed straight up at that hidden ceiling, miles above, and one shapely, toned, muscular leg swept to the side. Folds of orange gauze glided over her fingers, while clove, cinnamon, frankincense, carnation, rose and bay leaf moved in time with her leg. The swishing of the veils radiated waves of scent out upon the silent courtiers, shimmering flecks of dust that twinkled amber gold in the candlelight. The scents melded together into the most perfect whole, each billowing out like a wave, each one more powerful than the last, until the courtiers swayed to the scent. King Herod forgot to eat, and moaned as he was hit by a tidal wave of spiced sandalwood tinged with heaps of cloves, citrus and cedar, myrrh and frankincense. Rumblings of dry woody notes, bay leaf and patchouli could be heard from beneath the folds of the veils, keeping time to the music as it became faster and faster.

Georges Rochegrosse (French, 1859–1929), "Salome Dancing Before King Herod," 1887. Joslyn Art Museum

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

A horde of drummers suddenly appeared, clad in every hue of amber: tolu balsam, benzoin, and 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 the surface from the heat of her body.  Unbeknownst to 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 like waves from the center of a vortex. She danced so fast, frankincense seeped out in white billows, and veils began to fall off her body. One arch of her back, and the carnation veil flew off to 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.

"Tattooed Salome," c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

“Tattooed Salome,” c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

For hours and hours, Salome undulated and twisted, swayed and moved, arched and fluttered, until, finally, only seven veils were left. They blended into one beautiful, spiced whole, jasmine and roses on that main base of fiery spices, sweet musk, black smoke and vanilla. The veils just barely covered her lithe, muscular body made from a sinuous mix of sandalwood, patchouli and every possible resinous, balsamic, amber known to man. With a  flickering glance at the musicians, Salome suddenly dropped to the ground and the music stopped. There, she slithered like a sexual serpent across the floor, rolling around, and turning in a way that just revealed a glimpse of her musky flesh. As she clawed her way towards the king, she whispered, “Anything my heart desires, your Majesty? Anything in your kingdom? Do you swear it?” Herod could barely breathe. “Yes, yes.” He had no blood flow to his brain. “I have sworn it twice already. I swear it again before the court, may God strike me down if I don’t. I will give you anything your heart desires. Now, please. Finish.

Gustave Moreau - "Die Erscheinung," or "L'Apparition." 1875. Part of Moreau's Salome series.

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 and 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, and musk. Faster and faster, and faster, she moved until her body dropped in a pile of sinuous limbs. There was complete silence, punctuated by the king’s small moans and 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 and seduction. It is the story of the lure of sex. And, to 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 and feel like I will be riding out into battle, as much as I wear it to seduce.

Opium ad, 1977, featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source:

Opium ad, 1977, featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source:

I refer, of course, only to the glory that is vintage Opium Eau de Toilette. The current version is a eunuch. It is a travesty which is not even worth acknowledging and which certainly does not deserve the name “Opium.” A complete and utter travesty. Adding insult to injury, there are plans for a future, additional reformulation of Opium already in the works, from what I’ve read, due to EU regulations that will take effect in the next year or so. The present abomination is bad enough; one can only shudder at what will happen when the eunuch is fully dismembered. So, to preempt a wave of tears at the thought of what has already happened to my beloved, and how much worse it’s going to get, let’s focus on the true, real, original Opium.

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

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 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 and 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, and 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 and 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 and cinnamon available on earth. It’s backed by a hint of plum and peach, but, to me, those notes have never radiated very brightly on my skin. Instead, there are dry woody notes, cedar, a dash of bay leaf, and 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 and vanilla. Later, as that phase is winding down, more and 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; and 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 like something sumptuously rich, thick, velvety and plush. The sort of heavy velvet that Henry VIII would wear.

My 1970s bottle of vintage Opium EDT. Note how the box says New York on it and "Made in U.S.A," in addition to the usual Paris notation.

My 1970s bottle of vintage Opium EDT. Note how the box says New York on it and “Made in U.S.A,” in addition to the usual Paris notation.

The problem is that some of these notes and, more importantly, their dominance seem to vary depending on just how vintage your bottle of Opium is. I have two bottles of eau de toilette. The tiny remainder of one from the early 1990s (1992, I think), and a large 1970s bottle which I bought on eBay late last year. It is, oddly and quite unusually, from a short, limited-distribution run when Opium was made in America, not in Paris. Unfortunately, the top notes have gone off, and that evaporation has just concentrated some of the spiced notes to an almost brutal degree. Once, however, you get past the thorny first 40 minutes, the glory of Opium’s base is revealed in full splendour, with gallons (and gallons!) of real Mysore sandalwood. It does not even remotely compare to my early 1990s bottle, though the latter has the benefit of Opium’s always spectacular orange, citrus start being intact.

While I miss that beautiful opening with my 1970s version (due to evaporation of the top notes), I find it interesting to compare the two versions because changes were clearly made in between that have nothing to do with the top notes. My 1970s bottle is a behemoth in sillage and longevity, as was the Opium that I grew up on and which bewitched a seven-year old child to the point of sneaking in sprays from her mother’s tasselled bottle. (Yes, I was an early bloomer, perfume-wise.) My 1990s version doesn’t create an enormous cloud around me at the start, becomes closer to the skin far more quickly, and doesn’t last as long on my perfume-consuming skin. My 1970s bottle clearly has real animal musk — something now prohibited for cruelty reasons. My 1990s version does not, since I believe that the prohibition against natural musk was in place by then. My 1970s version has real castoreum; I can’t smell much of its leathery undertone in the 1990s version. And the 1990s version has weaker undertones, especially the coconut and vanilla of the middle and final stages. In fact, every note is muted in the 1990s version (which should just tell you how bad the post-2000 versions are).

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

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

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, and 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 to 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, and limonene found in citruses. In large doses, Eugenol can cause liver damage, while oxidized linalool can cause exzema and prolonged exposure to pure limonene can irritate the skin.

My personal (admittedly biased) response: unless one bathes daily and for hours in gallons of Opium, I can’t see anyone spraying enough of the perfume to 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. And 1992 was far, far before the IFRA/EU regulations of 2008!

Vintage Opium bottles. Source: "Rizack2" on Fragrantica

Vintage Opium bottles. Source: “Rizack2” on Fragrantica

As a result, in my personal opinion, the best versions of Opium are from the 1980s, as well as any late-1970s bottles made in France, then any early 1990s version. I think that a 1980s version may have the best chance of keeping the top notes and avoiding evaporation, while still having that 1970s concentration. Obviously, though, it always depends on how a particular bottle of perfume was kept. It’s quite possible that a perfectly preserved, sealed 1970s bottle of Opium that was kept in a cool, dark place would be even better! My bottle was not sealed but was in almost pristine condition — and even so, it suffered. (Then again, it is 36 years old!) As for my 1992 bottle, though weaker than anything from the 1970s, it’s still much, much stronger than what followed it. I’ve read that Opium underwent a reformulation in 1999-2000. In fact, according to a poster on a Fragrantica thread, there may even have been another 1990s reformulation back in 1995! (Remember, the companies were continuously reformulating Opium, in secret, as my 1970s bottle demonstrates). The Fragrantica poster, “Andrapi” writes:

most likely Opium was reformulated in 1999-2000 (as the 99% of fragrances) due to the first wave of so-called “restriction laws”. You can clearly see because the “long-ingredients-list” on the box, became mandatory.

Then; remember before 1995 there was no bar-code : if the box lacks the bar-code, you can date the bottle as a very precious vintage one for sure [.]

More: during years 1995-2004 Saint Laurent batched its perfumes with 4-numbers code on the box and 5-numbers (the previous ones plus “1”) code on the bottom of the bottle (example: on the box 6321, on the bottle 63211. This means: 1996)

Since 2005 to 2011: 1 number plus 3 letters, both on box and bottles (example 7HAA , this means 2007).

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

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

So, let’s say you’re interesting in vintage Opium and are willing to brave the wilds of eBay to get one. How can you tell it’s vintage? Well, if you’re looking to 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 and 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:

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

As a side note, all this discussion of Opium pertains to the eau de toilette which is the most common, usual form 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 and that is what is shown in all the adverts from the time. Regardless, the eau de parfum is not my area of speciality, and most of the discussions of “vintage Opium” usually pertain to 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.

Non-vintage bottle.

Non-vintage bottle.

As for prices, they vary wildly. On eBay, it is all a question of patience and luck. Create a notification for vintage Opium, check the feedback scores of the seller, and 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 size from 1 oz/30 ml to 1.6 oz, to sizes like my 2.3 oz bottle or the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottles. You have to 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 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 the right of the modern, reformulated eunuch Opium.) The glass has to be covered by swirls to 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, and 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) and 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 tamer, milder scents. Opium is a powerhouse, a molten, living, breathing fire dragon that will chew you up and 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 review (entitled “Spice King”) is a more reflective contemplation on the limits of spicy oriental perfumes due to 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 [the deepest kind of amber resin], 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 like 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 to a complete meltdown), or L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Vanilia which he cheerfully praises for being “vulgar” beyond all limits.

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, and a dragon’s fiery breath. I will keep Opium as my warrior’s shield and sword, as my source of molten ambered invulnerability, and as my means to seduce like Salome. I will wear it, and 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 and smile at its secret power. My secret power. My Opium. My love.

123 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Vintage Opium by YSL: A Tribute

    • It smells even more pathetic than it looks. (And the colour of the liquid looks just like urine, in my very biased opinion.) Honestly, I will never forgive L’Oreal for what they’ve done to YSL Beauté as a whole, but especially what they’ve done to the fragrances. YSL would be turning over in his grave.

  1. You’re so passionate about this perfume. I’m not much familiar with vintage fragrances, nor am I familiar with Opium (I only know the current Homme version)
    Even me and my Prada can’t match your love for this perfume I think.

    • You’re very sweet, Lucas. I *am* very passionate about it. I’ve had a love affair with vintage Opium for over 36 years now. It’s never once dropped from its top spot as my favorite perfume, and the more modern stuff I smell, the more I respect it. I hope that, one day, you get the chance to explore some vintage fragrances, even if only for your own knowledge. To know perfume going forth, you have to know perfume’s past and how things were. One of the few things I agree with Luca Turin on is his insistence that you need to know the classics to understand everything that has followed since, particularly as everything modern is a take on or interpretation of the main benchmarks in their vintage, original form. One day, I know you’ll get the chance to try a few and I also know your mind will be blown. 😛 😛

      • I feel exactly the same way about this perfume as you do and whatever else I wear it never feels as good. I am dying to find something that comes at least close to my beloved vintage opium.

  2. My, what a prolific writer you are!
    I refuse to even smell reformulated Opium. Even non-perfumista friends have complained to me about its demise.
    Not that we would have expected anything interesting from L’Oreal in this aspect.
    As sad as the insipid reformulation of L’Heure Bleue by LVMH.

    • Heh, it’s easy to write when you love something. When a perfume bores you to tears, that’s a whole other matter. *grin* (Let’s not think about just how bored I’ve been lately. lol)

      Shall I include some of my 1970s vintage? I will *ONLY* if you remember that the top notes have totally evaporated and that the perfume almost verges on rancid for the first 15 minutes, followed by another less than glorious 30 minutes. But once you get past all that, its richness is unsurpassed. It may be an interesting experiment for you, if only because I’m pretty sure my bottle is from the very first year that Opium was released, over 36 years ago now. 🙂

  3. kafka- You have outdone yourself…out of all the reviews you have written thus far this one is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE!!!!!! (surpassing Jour!). Everything about it, the introductory evocative story, the description of notes in the original Opium (my mum had the orginal when it came out….several bottles and shared with me: imagine a tiny tiny pre-teen wafting in Opium!!!) the comparison from older to current versions as well as where to purchase and what to look for on e-bay….superb!superb! superb!!!! PLEEEASEEEEE do more reviews like this!!!!! There is a need for someone as articulate as you to discuss vintage in the fashion that you do… please consider this,pretty please?

    (and btw, 31 is my favorite number…is this why I also adore Opium?) xx

    • Thank you, sweet Brie. I’m very, very touched and your kind words mean a lot to me. As for more vintage perfume reviews, the problem is that there are often so many different versions and formulations to go through, with some houses being particular nightmares. Guerlain is one of the worst in that respect. (Mitsouko is a total mess to trace in terms of history and ingredients, as there are at LEAST 4 *main* versions, if not more.)

      The greater problem is that most people simply do NOT want to go through the hassle of tracking down vintage perfume, sorting through the different versions, and risking eBay. You are a die-hard vintage-ist, but few people are. And most can’t be bothered to make the effort, so reviews on such perfumes became an academic curiosity, if even that. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally feeding intellectual interest, but to put in all the extra amount of work for a vintage review, with all the many technical aspects that must be covered in terms of such minor stuff like bottle appearance — all for something most people won’t care about or be bothered about? Well, I’m extremely reluctant, particularly as it wouldn’t be cheap or easy to get comparative samples or bottles (modern vs. old).

      • so so true, kafka! Just wishful thinking on my part :D!!! but for what it is worth I will be revisiting this review quite often….a testament to how much I adore it!!!!!

  4. Funny how you should mention the Hope Diamond in this tribute, Kafka, for my Mom had a chance to try it on at Evelyn Walsh McLean’s place when she was there at a party. She was in her 20s. She went on to live to be 85 and after that travelled, met my Dad, had me, sailed to Europe and back twice and travelled some more. Not to mention she accumulated much lovely jewelry. She loved and wore Opium in the 80s-90s. And she was most worthy of it 🙂

    • As always, your mother sounds like a wonderful, fascinating woman with a lot of style. I’m not surprised she loved and wore Opium. 🙂 It fits her dark beauty.

  5. Oh and SOMEWHERE, I have a mini vintage bottle that was Mom’s. I really need to unpack more diligently (sigh)

  6. Glorious – GLORIOUS! – review for an even more glorious scent. One one hand, I want to kiss you for turning me onto this one, but the other hand wants to slap you (while wearing rings) for turning me onto a scent which no longer exists in its best form. The story of Salome is so perfect for this perfume – absolutely spot on! I really like Opium for Men (honestly, it’s better than a lot of stuff I’ve been smelling lately), but really it can’t come close to comparing to the regular Opium. But really, few things can. Turin is wrong – Opium is strong, gloriously so, but I could never, ever tire of it. If I died of asphyxiation from a cloud of YSL Opium, I think it would be with a smile on my face. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbolic – but only slightly! 🙂 I sent a small sample of vintage Opium to a FFF (without telling her) and she wrote me the most effusive note saying how grateful she was and that it literally brought tears to her eyes because of the wonderful memories it brought back (she was wearing it in the late-70s when she met her husband). This is a fragrance that inspires a great deal of emotion. It’s truly every bit as good as you say it is, and as someone who has recently tried a lot of mediocre scents lately – they just don’t make ’em like they used to!

    • Awww, this means the world to me, Kevin. The absolute world. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing how a drop of vintage Opium literally brought someone to tears. I can well understand her reaction. And you’re absolutely right: they really don’t make them like they used to but, especially, like Opium. People wonder why I’m so rarely satisfied with the modern stuff and why I’m always so underwhelmed. Well, when you know the legends really well (the way they were INTENDED to smell, pre-reformulation), then it’s hard to be impressed by some modern, namby-pamby scent with a total of 3 or 4 measly notes. Bah!

      I had to say, I laughed at your comment about wanting to kiss me and slap me simultaneously. I remember all those months where all I would tell you is, “Opium this and Opium that” until you finally wondered, “Just what the hell is it about this perfume??!” I also remember my enormous glee when you finally got a bottle because I just knew — KNEW — you would fall hard. And I’ve watched ever since as you write about it with love. I may be the ultimate Gollum about Opium, but you’re getting there too. LOL. Since you know fully well what the original, vintage one is supposed to smell like, remind me to send you some of my 1970s one. Just remember, the opening 10-15 minutes are so off, it might as well be rancid. But I think you’d enjoy the rest of it, especially from the 2nd hour onwards. The quantity of real Mysore sandalwood and spice is unreal! And, so much so that it makes my 1990s bottle look like absolute WATER in comparison!

      • I just wish the bottles weren’t SO damned expensive or I’d start hoarding the 90s stuff (which, as you knew, is easy to find, if not always reasonably-priced). I mean, I suppose it’s not outrageous, it just seems crazy to spend 80 bucks on a partially used 50ml bottle of a designer scent. My bottle was reasonably priced, though, and will last me a while! 🙂

        I loved the vintage review – I definitely think if you’re interested in doing so it would be great to throw one in now and again. For one thing, it gave really great insight into an absolutely legendary fragrance, but it also gave very practical advice for those seeking out the vintage. Plus, your enthusiasm really showed. Your reviews are *always* a cut above even when they aren’t positive (and that’s not flattery, I mean it), but this one was just so much fun to review because of the storytelling and just how much it showed that you adore the perfume and how much it means to you. I hope you consider doing more reviews of the vintage or discontinued stuff in the future – even if only rarely (as I understand the practicality of reviewing current items and/or new releases). This review positively made my day after what has been a long, tedious week!

        • I’m so, so glad it made your week! And, truly, thank you for your kind words about my reviews. For practical reasons, I don’t think there will be a lot of vintage reviews, for the reasons I just expounded upon to Brie, but if the opportunity does strike and I love something…. 🙂

          Now, when are you going to fall down the rabbit hole and hunt down a bottle of 1980s Parfum? 😛

          • I believe my bottle is from the mid 1980s. It is much like the photo you have of the 90s bottle but the front has the 1.6 oz 80% alcohol by volume under where it says yves saint Laurent at the bottom. The bottom of the bottle has nothing. Back had a purple sticker thar has the yves saint Laurent France address

  7. Oh my goodness. I want to get in my car right now, and drive across country, and show up on your doorstep, with my arm extended, saying: “Please, may I have a drop of vintage Opium?”
    That was some seriously powerful, evocative, seductive, sultry, mind bending writing!! Whew. I need to go take a cold shower. Seriously.

    • LOL!! If the top notes of my 1970s bottle weren’t completely non-existent and if it wasn’t a very difficult, initial 40 minutes (and the first 10 where the perfume actually feels a little rancid!), I would gladly send you some. The problem is, I never want *that* to be people’s first introduction to vintage Opium simply because it is so off. And Opium’s real opening is so beautiful, it’s worth getting it right and knowing it the way it’s supposed to be. One of these days, I will find a 1970s bottle in pristine condition where it hasn’t been tainted.

  8. I have one word: Hagiography! – (but with stronger legs and possibly not a completely accurate comment for a perfume named after a narcotic). I have Opium for Men which bores me; it should have been just as exciting. I wanted heady.

    • Hagiography- I mean that in the old-fashioned usage not the more modern sense. This word used to refer to a valuable record of institutional and local history, and combine evidence of popular cults, customs, and traditions as part of a biography of a person or in this case the history of a perfume.

      • I know you well enough to know that you would not try to be insulting, my friend, but I’m glad you clarified a little what you meant by that rather ambiguous word.

        • Indeed! The beloved ‘person’ in this case is Opium. I had a dance troupe in Sydney and I loved your choreography with this piece.

  9. Ooooh, I’m so happy you wrote this, thank you so much for a gorgeous tribute to one of the world’s greatest perfumes! I adore vintage Opium so incredibly much, and my bottle, minis and decants have their own shelf in my perfume cabinet. I’m going to have to read this review repeatedly.

    What an excellent look at how to date vintage bottles too, very helpful! I have a decant of Opium from the late 70’s, and a bottle (it came sealed and seems to have almost all of its top notes intact) and minis from the 80s, and a tiny bit of parfum that I’m not entirely sure the date of, but it smells glorious. I’m driven rather insane by trying to hunt down vintage bottles, so I avoid it with most perfumes, but for Opium, it’s worth it to me to hunt for on a regular basis.

    So lovely to read this today, especially since I have, ahem, over sampled some very civet heavy vintage perfumes this evening ~attempts to breathe around the cloud of catbutt~ I’d go put some Opium on right now, but I think I’ll have to wait these fumes out lol.

    Thank you again, dear Kafka, for such a gorgeous post!

    • You’re very, very welcome, my Scent Twin! It always makes me so happy to hear from others who love Opium, value it and hold it dear. It truly *is* one of the world’s greatest perfumes, and I hope more people who don’t know the fragrance will go down the rabbit hole and look for it. It is one of the very few fragrances that is worth braving the wilds of eBay. xoxox

  10. Wow, by your description, I would bathe in this even if it contained the note that must not be named (it doesn’t as far as I know, just sayin’) …Great great review, dear Kafka!

    • I don’t think you could ever pull out that Dreaded Note Which Must Be Named! The rose, jasmine, citrus, spices and gazillion ambers are much too dominant. I would SO love to send you some of my 1970s bottle but it’s so off that I would never want people to have THAT as their first introduction to vintage Opium. The opening is too beautiful. When I find a 1970s version that hasn’t turned, I will be sure to send you some because, honestly, even if you don’t love it, everyone needs to at least *try* real, genuine, vintage Opium at least once in their lives. It is too much the benchmark that influenced all subsequent Orientals.

  11. I wore a bottle of the eau de parfum of what was no doubt a reformulated version. Even that was pretty spectacular to my nose so I can only begin to imagine the vintage version.

    • I hope that you get to try the vintage perfume one day, Little Red. Given your tastes, I know –just KNOW — you’d be knocked off your feet by it. The reformulated version of the parfum is, from what I hear, a tiny bit closer to the original than the reformulated EDT, but even that is said to be a thousand miles away from the original EDT (let alone the original Eau de Parfum). They simply don’t have the Mysore sandalwood to use in such massive amounts nowadays, let alone the whole clove/eugenol issue, the real animal musk and the rest of the forbidden ingredients. Truly sad. So, I hope that, one day, you stumble across the vintage and snap it up!

    • LOL! Nothing would make me happy if I could get ALL of you to start trolling eBay for Opium! I really hope you get a bottle (and that it’s in good shape). If nothing else, the massive amounts of sandalwood and amber would amaze you, especially as compare to today’s sort of sandalwood or amber perfumes! I’ve already sent you down the vintage rabbit hole with the chypres like Ysatis, but if you try the vintage Orientals…. they will blow your socks off!

      • Well, if you’re counting dear Kafka, you had ME trolling eBay for this. I’ll wait a bit before committing and I may end up NOT buying as I would hate to get an off-note bottle.

        • From what I’ve read or heard of other people’s experiences in buying Opium online at eBay, almost none of them have ever bought a bottle whose notes were off. My experience seems to be very rare. A more common experience is for someone to accidentally buy a reformulated bottle because they didn’t do enough research to be able to tell the difference and/or fell for a seller’s listing of the perfume as “vintage” when it wasn’t. (Often, sellers themselves don’t know better.) I’ve had a large number of friends and acquaintances buy vintage without problem. But, in general, when buying vintage bottles of perfumes, there is always a minor risk of a bottle being off, so it seemed important to bring that up. If you see the Scented Hound’s recent reviews, he’s bought quite a bit of vintage without issue, so don’t let the minor possibility put you off if you’re really interested, dear Hajusuuri. 😛

          • Hi,
            Is there a difference in the packaging between the vintage Opium EDP for men & the new reformulated version ?
            I am looking around on the Internet to purchase some but I’m not sure what to look for to find vintage version.
            Can you tell by the packaging which is the vintage or the new version?
            How can I tell the difference.
            Thank you.

          • Hi there, I’m afraid I’m not an expert on the boxes of the men’s EDP. I’m sorry I can’t be of more assistance.

  12. What an amazing tribute to Opium! I remember I had a chance to sniff it back in 1996, very vaguely, but it was a truly masterfully done scent. My friend used to wear it on special occasions and oh boy was it ever memorable! I never sampled the current version but I don’t think I want to now, I’d rather have my scent memory of Opium intact.
    I hate when companies discontinue, reformulate, repackage fragrances. Why they like to ruin masterpieces like Opium, or in my case Moss Breches?

    • I have this hope that, one day, you’ll be able to pick up a little bottle of vintage Opium on eBay. If my own 1970s bottle wasn’t so totally off for the first hour, I would totally send you some. But I never want someone’s exposure to vintage Opium to be distorted by a bottle which hasn’t held up well, even if only for the first hour or so. I do beg you to NEVER try the current Opium. It’s a complete abomination! The old one had loads of cloves and spices, massssssssssssssive amounts of real Mysore sandalwood, incredible real muskiness, heaping amounts of rose oil and jasmine, and the richest amounts of resins/amber possible. The new stuff…… Bah, I can’t even bear to talk about it!

      I know how much you adore Moss Breches, and I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about that one, so I share your frustration that Tom Ford decided to discontinue it. I actually don’t get it, unless it was an oakmoss/IFRA issue. So truly sad!

  13. Opium was my cousin’s favorite and only fragrance. It was magical on her. Your review of it is pretty magical too. Love the story of Salome. It’s a crying shame that they went and ruined this with reformulation.

    • Thank you so much, dear Poodle, on your kind words. “Magical”…. wow! Thank you! As for your cousin, she had good taste. 😉 😛

  14. When it was first introduced in Paris, but unavailable in the US, I would drive to Tijuana to shop the perfume shops. We brought it back by the car load. When we would cross the border we had no issues bringing in Opium and lots of it! Sadly, I used it, never thinking one day it would change. I maybe have a empty bottle somewhere. The one with the tassel. Have not been to TJ in a long time. The fragrance world has changed. I buy niche, Guerlain, etc. I would want to know what they carry before the trip! Although it would be fun regardless! This is a magnificent post! Thank you!

    • Hello, Judith Dm, welcome to the blog. Thank you so much for stopping by to share your memories of Opium. 😛 Hearing about how you used to go through bottles of it without a thought to its possible demise really struck a chord with me. If only we could go back in time to those days, stockpile all the beloved perfumes that are no longer available or have been drastically changed, and come back to today’s world with our treasures. I actually think about that a lot — a silly perfume fantasy borne out of total frustration. The fragrance world has indeed changed — and not always for the better in my opinion.

      It’s always — ALWAYS — wonderful to hear from another Opium fan, so thank you for stopping by. And thank you for your kind words on my tribute post. 🙂

      • I read all time! This has given me the thought of going again! Despite of what anyone thinks it is safe. Then we drive further south for lobster dinners. The fragrance world has changed since then and I don’t want to take the time if only department store brands are there (remember, Opium was sold ini department stores!). Now, if Guerlain, I would jump in the car immediately! It certainly made its presence known, but I adored it! I had a house sitter when I traveled and hid it and other treasures! (selfish, yes, smart, yes!). Hate to say it but doubtful there will be a bargain on ebay. Maybe at a yard sale, thought it would be a fluke!

        • I can certainly understand you not wanting to make the (long?) drive down to Tijuana if you’ll only find Brittany Spears or Rihanna perfumes! LOL! If there were vintage treasures like Opium or Guerlains, I’d go *with* you! But you may be surprised by what you can find on eBay. It truly just requires a lot of patience. I have a friend who got a decent sized bottle of vintage Opium EDT in pristine shape (smell-wise) for about $80, and I’ve known some who got them for about $60. Of course, I don’t know those were 1990s bottles or 1980s/1970s, but I do know they loved what they smelled and thought it glorious. And those prices are *still* less than what one would pay for many modern Guerlains, Chanel Exclusifs, Hermessence, By Kilians, Le Labo, etc. So, if you truly love it, I would definitely try eBay. The best is when you get an auction set to expire at some crazy hour and no-one else is up to bid against you. LOL. That’s how I’ve gotten more than a few good deals. 😛

          • Can’t hurt! Not looking for Brittany, wondering if they have Tom Ford? My nephew is there a lot and will ask, or make a call. Only worth it if there is a savings, but it is a fun trip, we used to go alot… Thank you again for this amazing story, it did bring back for me wonderful times!

          • Oh no, I never assumed you’d want Brittany Spears’ perfume; I only meant it wasn’t worth the trip if they only had stuff like that, as opposed to high-quality, vintage or niche perfumes. I would *completely* use your nephew as a perfume mule! *grin* Thank you again for stopping by, and I hope you’ll pop in from time to time again. Best wishes. 🙂

  15. My very favorite way to wear Opium was to slather Opium silk all over my body, and then one small spray on my long hair.
    I still have one almost empty bottle of the silk, it came in the tassled bottle in the picture of which you posted. I have not used it, because I fear it has indeed gone off, but Ohh La La the memories.
    Opium was my night time perfume.

    • It sounds glorious the way you would wear it, Teri! Test out that bottle of yours with its tiny remainder. If it has been kept away from heat and direct sunlight, it may still be good. 😛

      • All of my perfumes are kept in a dark bag in the fridge. Please don’t tell me this is bad.
        I still have two or three small bottles of the scent from when I was buying all the great gift packages. Also Richard gave me a huge basket of Opium one Christmas.

        • No, that’s a PERFECT way to keep your perfumes!! When do you think those small bottles date from? You may have a treasure trove on your hands, even if they are small.

          • I thought when you looked in my fridge you saw only salad dressings and perfume bottles. 😉
            The bottles are probably from somewhere in the late 70s through 1990.
            Opium was my go to night perfume, and once in a while I would wear it to work, if I was going “glam”. Black Lousie Brooks wig, and bright,bright blue contacts.

  16. Wow!!! Talk about a passionate review! Reading this I feel like I saw into your heart and soul, Kafka – and that’s always an amazing privilege.

    I was gifted Opium by a boyfriend back in the early 80s, and at that time it didn’t mesh with my tastes. I wonder how I would feel about it now, when after so many years of sampling and collecting perfumes, it seems like my taste has expanded in every direction. You might have just written the review that makes me seek out a sample to find out. Beautifully done!

    • Suzanne, I am always touched when you comment as you make it so personal, sweet, and full of grace. This comment, however, moves me deeply. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read, and to let me know that my review may even make you consider seeking out a sample to see if you could love Opium as well. The very fact that my words tempt you to give Opium a second chance after all these years…. well, it is perhaps one of the greatest compliments I have ever received on the blog. And I’m touched far more than you could ever know. Thank you from all my heart. *hugs*

  17. The “eunuch” version in the photo shown is, sadly, not even the current version. It’s an interim formula from the early 2000’s reformulation (2003-ish). YSL’s site shows the new bottle. I smelled it from a dept. store tester last week and it is abominable. While the 1990’s and 2000’s versions were lighter than the 70’80’s Opium formulas, they still had the personality of the original (IMHO) and most importantly, they smelled great. The newest version, sadly, smells gross to me. And I, like the author, have a deep and abiding love for this scent which has long been my favorite perfume in the world.

    If it’s going to get reformulated yet again, I hold out a very thin sliver of hope they might improe upon the current version. I don’t think it could get much worse.

    • So happy to hear from another Opium lover! Welcome, and thank you for your detailed comment on the different versions. I shall have to look for the most current bottle photo online (since I certainly don’t plan on ever smelling it!), but can you tell me when they updated the EDT bottle even more?? I stopped smelling all modern Opium perfumes around 2008 (?) or 2005, I think it was. Do they really have yet ANOTHER bottle?? I’ve never seen it, only that horrible one.

      As for your posting name, I smiled. I would agree, except I don’t blame YSL. I fully blame L’Oreal. They have destroyed every aspect of YSL parfums, from the men’s to the women’s, and they’ve done a pretty dire job on YSL Beauté as a whole, imo.

      Thank you for stopping by. It was lovely to hear from you! 🙂

      • Hi, and thanks for the warm welcome! So it’s L’Oreal who has committed the unforgiveable betrayal! What a shame since I’ve always liked L’Oreal; not, however, as much as I loved (and still love the original) Opium!

        I believe the newest bottle release (and accompanying reformulation) took place in 2009 or 2010. To my nose, the 2003-ish (“eunuch”, hehe, that makes me chuckle) reformulation IS different than the original. It’s not as strong, doesn’t last quite as long, and it might be a tad sweeter. But, to my nose, it is still quite beautiful and still recognizable as my favorite scent. In the spray bottle, what you’re looking for if you want the “original” (pre-2003) is the tall bottle with copious raised bamboo leaves on the glass, and gold trim on the cap. The “eunuch” bottle has fewer leaves and the cap has no gold trim. The new/current bottle is completely different and is in itself quite lovely, although harder to hold/spray (then again, I only held/sprayed the tester once; perhaps I would get used to the bottle if I could get used to the ghastly juice inside!).

        Thanks for writing such a beautiful ode to Opium perfume, by the way. Your article was captivating!

        • You’re very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it. As for the new 2009/2010 bottle, I’d say I’ll try to find it in stores to see what it smelled like, but I thought the “eunach” 😉 😛 was enough of an abomination! Honestly, even my 1990s bottle seems too light at times, especially when compared side-by-side to my 1970s bottle. I’m really going to have to start haunting eBay for the perfect 1980s version! LOL. What about you, do you have any old bottles left that you treasure and hoard? 😛

          • I do have a couple old treasured bottles, but nothing so impressive as your vintage from the 1970’s. I have a bottle of the Secret de Parfum from about 1994. This was an EDP-like concentration in an interesting refillable bottle with an outer case made of ochre plastic with bamboo leaves cutout all over it. There remains only a few ml’s and I am reluctant to use it anymore! But occasionally I do, and it’s delightful – rich, sweet, deep and lasting.

            I also have an old (late1990’s I think) partial bottle of the EDT. It’s gorgeous and complex, but probably not so much so as the really old stuff. OTOH, since I discovered and began wearing Opium in college in the early 90’s, the late 80’s/early 90’s version is to me the “original” one at least the one I smelled originally. That’s the version I first fell in love with. I wonder how much it had already changed by that time. How wonderful perfumes must have been before the days of shortages and restrictions. I am sure your 70’s vintage is amazing!

          • Alas, my 1970s bottle is, as I wrote in the review, off in the top notes. The beautiful opening is pretty much gone and the first hour isn’t the best representation of the fragrance. Clearly, we BOTH need to find some good bottles of the really old stuff! 😉 😀

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  19. I´m seriously impressed by how much you love perfumes Kafka, the way you express love for this vintage Opium perfume is amazing, you are such a big fan 😀 I´m like that about lipsticks. I remember smelling the Opium perfume like a year ago when I went to the counter and bought one of my beloved Ysl Rouge Volupte lipsticks, I was given some Parisienne perfume samples that I liked and two Opium samples for my mom, of course that was the “eunuch” lol, I didn´t like it neither did my mom she liked the Parisienne perfume and I gave her some of my samples. Right now, I´m in love with the Manifesto perfume, I adore it and want to buy it, but you will probably think it´s bad…I hope you can get as many vintage perfumes as you want since they will be reformulating the ones that already exist, I think they mainly do that because most of us can´t tell the difference or are too young to know vintage perfumes, I´m 23 years old and don´t know alot about the subject…

    • Vicky! So absolutely lovely to see you, my dear! 😀 I’m so glad you stopped by, and thank you for sharing some of your experiences with the “eunach.” LOL! I’m not surprised neither you nor your mom liked it. As for the Manifesto, I actually haven’t tried it. I know I should but, as you can perhaps tell, L’Oreal broke my heart a little with what they’ve done to YSL fragrances as a whole. (And it’s not just the Opium. I could give you a list of perfumes that L’Oreal has ruined!) So, it kinda makes me hesitate to try anything new, especially given the trend they’ve gone in. But I will try to see if I can pick some up! 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words on my review and on my passion for perfume. It means a lot to me, as it did to see your face here. It was wonderful to see you again! *hugs*

  20. What a wonderful and beautifully evocative post, dear Kafka! I loved how each veil represented a note, the swirl, the dance, the removal of each made me feel like I could smell it through your words. Thank you!

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  23. Ok. So I got some Opium EDT samples from a friend. One was supposed to be from 1984 and the other 2001. So I tried the 1984 first and it seemed like all the top notes were gone and the base was very thick. Nothing off about the smell but there is a lot going on here. In my impatience, I tried the 2001 and there were all the top notes the 1984 was missing. They were very beautiful with all the citrus and spice, and it dried down to the same general base as the 1984, but not so dense. But in my enthusiasm to keep recreating the top notes, which are so lovely, I overdosed bad on Opium. I was in a haze for the better part of a day. My wife loved the smell as did a friend of mine. I have learned that a little goes a long way with Opium. It lasts a long time so when I get my courage up again I’m gonna imbibe more responsibly and in moderation.

    • “I overdosed bad on Opium.” — Hahahahahaha! So damn funny, especially when combined with “when I get my courage up again I’m gonna imbibe more responsibly and in moderation.” ROFL. It really can be a little like a drug and/or overwhelming, if one is not cautious. Hence, my reference to dragons breathing fire. It takes time to get through the layers, as well, since, as you noted, “there is a lot going on.” Opium is far, far, far more complex than many of the perfumes put out there today, so it takes time, patience and, yes, perhaps some moderation in application to really sense all the nuances. But that is only if you really want to analyze its layers to its core.

      Did you really find that the 2001 version had the same general base as the 1984 version?? Interesting. BTW, in terms of top notes going off, a lot depends on how a perfume is stored over time. Dark, dark places are key, along with no heat and the cap always placed on it. It minimizes evaporation. That’s just an FYI for your own growing collection. What I do for some fragrances that have the aerosol hole open is to put plumbers tape over it. And I keep everything in a dark armoire. Never out and about, and most definitely not in a bathroom cabinet where humidity from a shower can impact things.

      BTW, when you are no longer in an Opium haze, perhaps you can try layering your two samples. The 1984 on the bottom, the 2001 sprayed lightly on top. That way, you may be able to get both parts. But the resinous, dark, smoldering base is key to things in the long run.

      • By same general base I mean the 2001 was similar to 1984, but seemed like less going on and not as dense. I would need to really judge them separately to better tell the difference and for me to even be able to tell that when I was in the 1984 cloud means that there had to be a distinct difference. I had one application of 1984 and probably 3 or 4 of the 2001 by the time I was done. It was way too much. I love experiencing the history of fragrances. It’s like archeology. Seeing where we are and where we came from.

        • Ah, well, I’m glad you could tell that there was a difference. I’d be a bit alarmed if you didn’t notice that. LOL. The real, true Opium is *meant* to have a hell of a lot going on, as well as being dense and seriously intense. It may be better to work up to that since you’re relatively new to vintage perfumery. (Though I don’t think you’re as much of a newbie as you once described yourself! But vintage is a bit of a different matter since it usually involves more complexity and, sometimes, notes that are no longer used today due to regulations). But I’d *definitely* always test them separately!!!

          I love your archeology analogy. I think it’s absolutely perfect in this case. And it sounds as though you’re starting to see a few of the reasons why vintage Opium so stole my heart and why it has been my favorite perfume for all of the 30+ years that I’ve been wearing perfume! If you like Opium even a little bit, I’ll be happy. If you love and adore it, I’ll be thrilled. 🙂

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  26. Excellent read, thanks.
    Working my through the tester bottles at the Fragrance Shop yesterday, searching for something suitable, something new – ‘No, not that one’, repeated over and over again, until I suddenly remembered ‘Opium’.
    Wow, what a scent! is there anything to compare? Admittedly I actually liked the ‘current’ version on sale but do remember the original. I can remember the original coming out back in the 1970s – my mother used to wear it then. Such a strong scent – unforgettable. Unfortunately she went off the fragrance as the decades went by but didn’t have the heart to tell me, so I would buy her Opium year after year until a few years back when my sister mentioned in passing, ‘By the way, mum doesn’t wear ‘Opium’ anymore’ – hint passed on as no doubt instructed.
    Tried buying it for the wife – poor woman – fragrances really are a matter of personal choice – and certainly not hers in this case. She didn’t like it and I love it.
    What am I supposed to do?………………………..
    So, got a reminder yesterday of just how wonderful opium is (ok, yes, it used to be better but it still has some allure) and asked ‘Is there an Opium for men?’ ‘yes sir, here you are, try that’ – oh no, no thanks – nowhere near the real thing, not even close – doesn’t deserve to wear the name.
    What now? Do without? Advertise for a ‘lady friend’ who likes to wear ‘Opium’?……. interesting idea but I’ll mull that one over a bit longer. No, the thought crossed my mind, ‘if they (mum, wife, etc) don’t want to wear it because it is supposedly too heavy, too musky, too strong and so on, then why can’t I wear it instead, since I like it so much?’ Good idea I thought, before the obvious next question, ‘don’t be daft, it’s a woman’s perfume – guys don’t wear perfume, we wear cologne!’
    So, went on to the ‘net and posed the questions, ‘can a man wear Opium?’ and ‘can men wear Opium for women?’ A few clicks later and here I am!
    Suffice to say, after reading your intro (loved it) and the comments thereafter, I will be, 1) asking my mother to hand over the hidden bottles of original Opium I bought her over the years and 2) wearing Opium as my personal choice of fragrance.
    Will not mention it at work. Just hope none of my female colleagues are savvy enough to work it out – will either be brave and honest or bluff and make something up (call it something else, e.g. ‘Burning Amber’ pour home or whatever by ? – can’t think of a suitable maker yet – may just make one up as well.
    Will see what happens. wish me luck.
    thanks again for the review and intro – gorgeous writing – reads like Opium scent.

    • You’re SOOOOOOO welcome, and I’m so utterly overjoyed to read this, Jack! Bravo to you! And my GOD, the amount of hidden Opium bottles of possibly a great age and vintage quality that must be squirreled away…. They would be worth a small fortune if they’re really vintage from the 1990s or earlier!

      As for guys wearing Opium, I know quite a lot who do! This whole gender classification thing is incredibly archaic, but it was just something invented in the 19th century, not earlier. Before, men wore violet fragrances, or women wore colognes. In the Middle East, men have been wearing stuff with roses or jasmine for centuries. Vintage Opium “for women” is TRULY unisex! It’s a hell of a lot more masculine, forceful, and intense than some modern creation “for men.” So rock your Opium and who cares what any-one thinks! You, Jack, are going to smell smoking hot.

      Let me know if anyone guesses what you’re wearing, and what they may think of it. If they don’t like it, remember that there is a whole community of true perfume lovers (men and women) who not only understand perfectly, but are damn envious of you having access to such a sexy scent in vintage form. BTW, if you want to know another guy who appreciates Opium, check out my friend The Scented Hound’s review for vintage Opium as well. He bought it and wears it!

      • Kevin,
        Unfortunately the ‘original’ cannot be found so had to make do with some EDT from the last unwanted bottle given to the wife. As you say ‘a little goes a long way’ (I’m sure I’ve used that line myself). Unfortunately I am just getting over a cold and my sense of smell is diminished. You can guess what happens next… a dash here, a dash there and off to work we go…
        30 seconds into the office two of the girls were talking in glowing terms about it. Funny situation. They mistakenly thought it was coming from a guy sitting between them and me. ‘What a gorgeous smell. Is that you? Its beautiful. I can feel myself thinking about luv but im stuck here in work. Damnit.’ And so on. He just smiled and blushed. I smiled but said nothing. Jumping in to say, ‘actually it is me. I’m wearing Opium.’ Seemed inappropriate.

        • ROFL! He must have thanked his lucky stars for all the attention, even if he couldn’t figure out why! It was kind of you to keep quiet, and let him bask in their attention.

      • Hello kafkaesque
        Getting my replies out of sync. Again. As mentioned to Kevin (see post), had no joy with the vintage. Apparently she had been using it (so she says) and the last bottle is gone. EDT to the rescue and an interesting experience in work this afternoon. The reaction was quicker, stronger and a hell of a lot better than anticipated. Im quite obviously amongst good company at work with people of discerning taste. And they’re women. The wife and mother are quite obviously unrepresentative.
        Perhaps a fraction too much put on which I blame on the effects of my stubborn cold. To be honest, the Opium is one of the few scents I can make out at present but what an absolutely magnificent fragrance it is!
        I wonder how long until I am pressed on the subject? May just take the bull by the horns and tell them or perhaps make life easier for myself and say its ‘Opium for men’. We’ll see.

        • NO!! Don’t say that it’s Opium for MEN because that is just giving credit to a mediocre fragrance when it doesn’t deserve it. At all!

          So, you’re getting this praise for the current EDT? Hmph. You need to go to eBay, methinks. Get yourself the real stuff, not the eunach. You may be interested in what someone found in terms of blind-testing bottles 11 different bottles of recent Opium, from different years, from 2008 onwards.

          • Yes aK, interesting results indeed. EDT similar to EDP? Curious and less expensive.
            Can you picture the scene if I’d managed to find the original version? Need to break these people in gently. Health and safety concerns are top of my list as always. Cant have ladies perspiring and swooning all over the place. The original might have left a path of destruction through the room.

    • I’m a man who wears vintage Opium, Jack, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like Opium for Men, but as you say, it’s *nothing* compared to the real deal. I don’t wear it often because it’s a little “much” and I know it’s too much for some, but it’s among my favorite fragrances (if not my absolute favorite of the hundreds I’ve tried). Indeed, reclaim those bottles and love them! I’d say the larger issue with wearing Opium is how bold you want to be because it’s one of those “a little goes a long way” fragrances! Enjoy it – it really is, in my opinion, the perfect fragrance. Women, men, if I smell vintage Opium on someone I’d be likely to fall into a daze and follow them around. LOL.

  27. I weep when I read about the vintage Opium. Before it was available in the US I was intoxicated simply with the ads. I live in Los Angeles and a jaunt to the then perfume palaces of Tijuana was a day’s outing. We returned with Opium in every variation by the trunk loads! At some point I ventured off to something else. I long had some empties, who knew to keep them? Who knew that someday this glorious fragrance would be destroyed beyond recognition? The perfume shops of Tijuana are no longer an enticement as mostly they carry mass market brands. Opium as I knew it, as we all knew it, is long gone. The memories remain.

    • It is definitely long gone. And what a travesty that is, given some of the terrible things that pass as supposed “perfume” today. We can all weep together, Judith.

  28. I cannot begin to tell you how much I miss the vintage Opium. I wore it for 25 years (starting at 20) and I cannot replace it no matter how hard I try. Nothing compares nor even comes close. My mother made a passing comment to me while I was grieving for my long lost Opium that maybe it was time for a change. I wore Opium for so long, and would still today, not because of lack of adventure on my part but because there wasn’t anything else like it. It was my signature scent and I loved it. I tried ordering off eBay. I ensured it was the same bottle with the swirls and that the outside packaging, including cellophone with YSL sticker, was intact. It isn’t the same product. It is lighter and gone within a 1/2 hour. What I want to do is throw myself on the mercy of YSL and BEG them to please, please, please bring back the vintage Opium. I am incomplete. Your review on Opium captures and explains exactly why vintage Opium was extraordinary.

    • I share your sadness. What a shame that the version you got off eBay was so much lighter, despite a bottle similarity. Was it listed as a vintage version? Did the bottle look like the 1990s versions I have here, with the swirls in the same direction? If so, that’s not good news.

      Have you tried looking for vintage Parfum versions? I have a friend who bought it off eBay and couldn’t get over the dense, rich spiciness. Perhaps that’s the answer? I know it doesn’t solve the longterm problem though. I wish there were a solution but with the current EU/IFRA regulations, we’ll never get back that degree of cloved, spiced, smoky richness. The EU has made sure of it with an actual law which sharply curtails the cloves that are such a key component of Opium. IFRA regulations aren’t law, but the EU one is… 🙁

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  30. Dear Kafka, I was idly surfing for details to help me date one of my many bottles of Opium, and came across this hymn to the Bitch-Goddess of all perfumes. What a rare pleasure to read this tribute, and I agree with every word. I think that the current formulation might smell like an okay spray if it was all that you ever knew, but to those of us who know the real Holy Grail scent, the modern version is cause to throw ourselves on the floor and hold our breath until we turn blue. Well, I exaggerate, but not that much. I have Edp, edt, and parfum(tiny amounts) ranging from late 70s to early 90s(as nearly as I can tell,) and any of them are better than any spice-Oriental currently made. Could you reblog this piece on its one-year anniversary, and annually thereafter? Really. We need to be reminded periodically that the current state of Perfume Prohibition is a very bad thing. None of us who are addicted to the real stuff have died of it, gotten liver damage, or even gotten a rash.

    • My dear fellow Opium addict, I hear you on both the passionate love and the sorrow. I had no idea, though, that you had such a great collection, ranging through the years. How wonderful. Wear with joy.

      (BTW, “the Bitch-Goddess of all perfumes” made me laugh. I love the phrasing.)

  31. MANNNNN, I hated this thing. I hated this thing like you would not believe. I can’t tell you how many concerts/movies/bus rides/elevator trips were ruined for me by, yes, the Bitch Goddess. It smelled like sin, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

    I have Serious Balsam Issues. I just… I just can’t even. Youth Dew, Cinnabar, Tabu and Coco (and the old Obsession, too) provoke similar reactions.

    But I wanted to commiserate over the disemboweling of something so iconic. I picked up a bottle of Opium in 2008, just to test whether I hated it as much as ever… and I didn’t. Since then, it’s even less offensive to me, and it barely even smells like itself at all. What a travesty, and I say it is a horrible shame.

    What a wonderful review.

    • Thank you for this, Mal, because the next time someone tries to say that Opium is exactly the same as it used to be except for the cloves, I’m going to point directly to you! If someone who DESPISES Opium can notice the sharp changes and dilution, the way it has been toned down to the point where an Opium hater can think it is totally okay and bearable, then it is most certainly NOT the real Opium! I actually had someone comment to say that Opium is basically unchanged except for the eugenol/clove element. That obviously ignores the substantial issue of Mysore sandalwood no longer existing in abundancy and common form, let alone numerous other ingredient changes, the EU/IFRA perfume regulations, the change in the sort of musk used, and so much more.

      So, yes, Opium is a disembowled eunach now, and there is no way anyone will ever convince me that current “Opium” is remotely the same or that it continues to bear a resemblance to its true self. No, no, no. Not even remotely — and even an Opium hater can tell!

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  35. Your enthusiasm has been contagious. I have been able to discover and buy a 100 ml tester of Opium edt, 95% full, for the price of 60 euros! It was bought from the same inconspicuous little cosmetics apothecary on the city outskirts where I bought the vintage Kouros a few months ago. And as if this wasn’t enough, I bought another bottle of vintage Kouros (both vintage without a doubt, checked batch codes, metal bases etc) for a stunningly affordable price. That man’s shop is an Aladdin’s Cave. I only missed YSL M7 which someone else grabbed a few days ago from there.

    On the Opium, what an olfactory marvel this is. I am not sure whether I should wear it or keep it as a precious relic from a bygone era. And the bottle, the bottle! The leaf swirls ingrained in the glass ….. a masterpiece!

    Thank you for a review that may have been 2 years old, yet is not dated at all. And frankly, it has been a joy to read your genuine enthusiasm and excitement. Small pleasures of life ……

    • I’m so pleased that you found Opium to be an “olfactory marvel.” Really pleased. You know, it rather spoiled me from a very young age, even with all the great beauties of that decade or the ’80s. As for modern creations, they pale even more. I think if the great, big powerhouses form the basis for your tastes early on, it sets a very high threshold or bar for what one interprets as “normal” — both in terms of what one thinks of as “strong” scents, and in terms of concentrated, heavy richness. Honestly, so few modern things can possibly compare to the majesty and beauty of vintage Opium. It is my ultimate holy Grail.

      All of which brings me to your bottle. What a spectacular find, and what a price! Simply unbelievable! Do the swirls look like a 1990s version? It’s hard to imagine that that store might still have a 1980s one, Aladdin’s Cave though he may be. (And, really, he DOES seem to be one!!) I only wish you could try the fragrance in ’80s parfum. That’s really quite something.

      As for YSL M7, I thought there was a bottle that you passed over at the time of your Kouros adventures because you didn’t really like the scent? Regardless, we’re here to talk about Opium and only Opium: welcome to the cult, Dimitris!

  36. Judging from the 5 digits batch number at the bottom of the bottle (which starts from 5) and according to the check cosmetics site, it is a PPR-Gucci period, 2005. So, not as vintage as the 1980s and 1990s ones, but still pre-L’Oreal. Interestingly, the bottle base mentions US / NY distribution. It comes from a US batch.

    The Kouros is an old tester which I found in a store right opposite the said apothecary (what an area, anyway!). It is vintage beyond a doubt, probably from the mid-2000s.

    Now, the OPIUM seems slightly weakened in force, which is logical, I guess, since it has been around for almost 10 years without a protective box and in not so perfect conditions (heat, light bulbs near it etc.). But I have the feeling the character must have been preserved quite well. The Kouros is also a bit weaker than the previous bottle I got, less resinous. But I can tell the difference from the current reformulations straight away, with just one sniff, judging from the immediate impact of the top notes (less citrusy and synthetic, more musky and powdery in the vintage, and the drydown behaviour).

    But I have the feeling (and here the opinion of any KOUROS experts would be highly valuable) that, regarding the current Kouros L’Oreal reformulation, there are slight differences in the scent depending on the particular batches and / or launch origin. Recently I took a sniff from a Tester that came from Italy (a small shop again in a humdrum neighbourhood that gets its stuff through parallel importing, that is, not from the big importers that supply the chain stores)) and the scent was visibly better (less astringent, fewer citrusy top notes, more rounded overall, more musk after 10 minutes, weak though as a whole). Previous testings at Attica, Sephora, Gallerie de Beaute etc. yielded sheer disappointment. Now, I am not saying that the current reformulation in any type or form is something one could accept without criticism. Far from it. My frustration and anger at L’Oreal are well documented here and I need not repeat myself. My point is that perhaps there are slight variations in the scent quality and impact which may not relate to the conditions of storage, but to something else. If anyone has had a similar experience, I would love to hear what they think. Because you see, the vintage Kouros is such a precious elixir that one would wish to use it sparingly and if possible supplement it with its weaker brethren (in the chest area, for example, I hope I am not getting offensively explicit here, please forgive me If I am) to make the whole experience last longer.

    A last note on Opium. I would love to wear it. Wintertime, springtime, anytime. And I will. And I will continue my hunt for precious vintage vials. K, you’ve got me where I was meant to go. And thank you again for the so-called small things that make up the big ones at the end of the day.

    I would love to hear any more thoughts on Opium and Kouros.

    • I don’t think Opium is very good after the mid-1990s, and most definitely not after 2000. I won’t start on the 2005 version. It is not real Opium, imo.

      As for the long discussion of Kouros, batch numbers, reformulation and more, I’m afraid that is far outside the scope of this thread. You may want to post a thread on Basenotes. Please don’t take this the wrong way, as it is said with gentleness, but I would be grateful if future comments focused on the specific fragrance talked about in the review.

  37. Apologies for squeezing Kouros into the discussion.

    Sad to hear about the Opium 2005 reformulation. Had no idea. But no regrets. I still find it very enjoyable. One learns by steps …..

  38. Dear Kafkaesque. I can´t believe I found a fellow worshiper of Opium! I am desolated by the change in the formula and it infuriates me when the sales people insist that “It´s the same, they just change the bottle…” I can´t stand the new version. It smells like insecticide. Opium has been part of my core identity for decades now and I don´t know what to do!! You opened a whole new word by pointing at eBay, but still, it´s not a long term solution. What should we do? What are the alternatives? What do you recommend other that jump through a window?

    • Welcome to the Opium Mourners club. lol 😉 I don’t think there really are a lot of alternatives out there. The DSH fragrance that you just read about is perhaps the closest option, but it’s definitely more of a descendant and grand-daughter than a sister. For now, there is eBay where you can stock up on the vintage, if you take care in examining the bottles and sticking to older versions. I wish there were something else I could suggest. Believe me, it makes me as sad as it does you.

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  40. So sorry to bother you with another random question, on another post dear K, but I was on Surrender to Chance and happened to see vintage Opium EDT; is that the real stuff? It’s listed as pre-reformulation. I want to buy a sample because it’s been so long since I’ve smelled it. Just wanted to hear from you. Thanks again. Don 🙂

    • It probably is the real thing. They’re careful that way. They probably bought it from someone on eBay at a good price or got it from someone’s collection, and are selling it at a mark up. Vintage Opium EDT is common on eBay, though the price is sometimes high. Sometimes, one never doesn’t if it has turned or not. The usual vintage quandary.

      • I am on my second wearing of StoC pre-formulation vintage Opium sample today. I dabbed (DABBED) some on my inner wrist 4 hours ago and the projection is more now than 2 hours ago. Crazy. I will try DHL’s ode to Opium, but also wanted to say that having tried Fiore d’Ambra again last week, that now finally I see the echoes that you describe in that post. Finally, also ode to my mother’s cousin Nadia – Nado to the intimates – who wore Opium through the 80s until the reformulation at which point she forevermore bemoaned the irreplaceable loss of her signature scent. Nado was my idol of sexual femininity. The wafts today remind me of a form of sensuality that is both discrete as well as unmistakable.

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  42. I’ve been collecting vintage perfumes for over fifteen years now. I can honestly say Opium fails to stand up to the ravages of time unlike many other classics such as Samsara, Patou Sublime vintage parfum, Caron En Avion vintage parfum – wonderful spicy orange topnote, sadly completely gone after 2001, BOUCHERON very first edition edp made in Switzerland, the wonderful Jean Louis Scherrer 2 EDP, Jean Patou Normandie and Adieu Sagesse Ma Collection 1980s very high quality reissues, Chanel COCO edp 1980’s, 1970s Cabochard and Diorling .. actually vintage Opium performs the worst. I wonder why that is. My best vintage Opium is 1990s bottle, the spicy orange note is wonderful, and I agree older vintage Opiums at deeper in the fond but way too flat on top or rancid/ burnt or both which ruins the whole experience. If I want a Mysore sandalwood fix, there’s always Samsara vintage parfum or Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore.
    I believe there always was a problem with YSL beauté, too many companies bought and sold it. I don’t care about today’s flankers, I understand Black Opium is atrocious, but arrangements should have been made while Yves Saint Laurent was still alive so that they never water down Opium beyond recognition, the way the people at Chanel at preserving No.5 the best they can despite reformulations. Hedi Slimane is doing such a great job, why isn’t in charge of the fragrance side of the company?

    • To the previous contributer, I believe it’s owned by L’Oréal..Which explains the plastic bottle’s of ‘Manifesto’.. I wore the 2000’s EDP ( which was formulated around the time Tom Ford was creative director of YSL and YSL beaute ( think Nu, M7,etc). For identification purposes, it had the cinnabar red plastic bottle, gold shoulder under the cap and a circular glass window. The press stated, ‘ the formula was more modern and harmonious with the addition of a prune and blackcurrant top. It doesn’t sound as mouthwatering as the vintage spice-nuke you describe, but it was more than sufficient to lay waste to a couple of men! I wish I was more frugal with my spraying. And there’s still a few bottle’s from this vintage to be had…

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  45. Wih Opium for men, the true vintage, because it has been powered down… The real opium for men mind you, It is the opium itself that tires of the subject and finds another host to grace its magic essence with. There was a time when if one were even remotely handsome he would need to carry a stick to fend off the admirers. 🙂

  46. This magnificent prose-poem to Opium assisted me in securing a genuine early 1980s EDT in the wilds of eBay for a very reasonable price. As an aspiring perfume-head, the wealth of information you have shared here has been so, so helpful in securing the real deal! Thank you for your wonderful insight, Kafkaesque!

    • You’re very welcome. I’m so pleased I could help you find a good bottle! And I’m glad you hear that you got it for a good price, too. I hope you love the fragrance as much as I do. Have a great weekend, Heather.

      • Well call me a convert, because it arrived yesterday, I’m finally wearing it, and it’s the most beautiful, insane experience of perfume I’ve had to date. Totally stunned that wearing scent could be like this.

        Thanks again for your insight and wisdom and beautiful play-by-plays of scent performance and character. Your blog has been such a wonderful touchstone for this novice’s perfume voyage!

        • I’m absolutely delighted you love it, Heather. So, so pleased. And yes, sometimes fragrances can really rise to the level of being An Experience, in capital letters. It’s not common, but the ones which do tend to leave an impact that is never forget. I’m so happy vintage Opium was one of those for you. Welcome to the club! 😀

  47. Dear, I’ve the opportunity to reach a bottle of edp 2008; L’ Oreal cought YsL in 2009, do you think it would be a worth bottle? I hate Opium current version, it should have been named in a different way not to ruin the glory of its past.

    • For myself and speaking purely personally, I would not wear Opium made after the 1990s. As for 2008, by that time, the ingredients had changed (like the sandalwood) and the first IFRA/EU restrictions had already rolled out. If your country and location permits you to buy an older bottle on eBay, like 1990s or older, then I think you’d prefer that if you are a true Opium purist and lover. But that’s just what I would do since you asked. It’s up to you. 🙂

  48. Dear Kafkaesque,

    I bought several vintage Opium bottles on eBay, they all smell different. I didn’t care for the oldest 70’s edt, indeed the topnotes faded, the composition feels flat even if the Mysore sandalwood drydown is wonderful, this doesn’t feel quite wearable.
    I do like the 90s version, no allergens list on the box but you do see a bar code. I love that initial spicy orange burst followed by the the cinnamon jasmine accord. The sandalwood drydown is weaker than the original formula but I can live with that.
    I also got the Secret de Parfum which was the original eau de parfum version, this is one is all about coconut and sandalwood. It’d be great if it wasn’t for the fact the spicy orange topnotes are weak, almost nonexistent. In the end I don’t really enjoy it this version but you might more than I. The coconut is a little too much.
    I’m concerned over time the 90s version topnotes will fade as well. Do you have a suggestion as how to keep vintage perfumes against the ravages of time? Right now I keep my vintage bottles are in the fridge…

    • Hi OpiumDen, welcome to the blog. The fridge should work. Another alternative is a cool, dark closet, cabinet, or chest of drawers. I don’t know whether there is a particular advantage of one over the other, but both should keep your vintage fragrances safe.

      With regard to the 1970s EDT losing its top notes, that’s unfortunate but it’s always a possibility when buying any sort of vintage fragrance because one doesn’t know how the prior owner maintained the bottle or under what conditions. Citrus top notes are typically the first to go because they’re lighter than, say, heavy or heavier base notes such as resins. However, I’ve bought vintage bottles of Shalimar in a variety of concentrations that still have an inordinately bright citrus, bergamot top or opening, with no damage and no evaporation, despite many of the bottles being from the 1970s, 1960s, or even a bit older. I don’t know why Shalimar seems to hold up so well with its intense bergamot opening while occasional bottles of Opium don’t, even if they’re comparatively newer. One reason I would guess is the way those particular bottles had been stored by the original owner. It’s difficult to know for certain, though.

      Either way, I’m glad you’ve found a version or decade of Opium that works well for you. Enjoy!

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  51. Thank you thank you for this tribute to the most wonderful evocative and lovely fragrance ever that has been lost for some time now. You know at first I thought it was me – my olfactory capacity changing due to menopause. Ever since then I have found that there are many many women who mourn over the death of this greatest fragance of them all. I ordered a vintage bottle some days ago and can only hope that …. we’ll see. It is an OUTRAGE. Yves would turn in his grave if only he knew….

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