YSL Vintage Champagne/Yvresse: Sparkling Elegance

Source: evollt.com

Source: evollt.com

Bubbling joy, effervescent gold, the emerald of a mossy forest floor, glowing orange and pink jewels cocooned in French elegance, and a warm smile on the sunniest of days: Champagne. It is liquid gold, but so much more than that in the case of the extremely well-named, vintage fragrance from Yves Saint Laurent. Some things simply make you happy, and Champagne (or Yvresse, as it was quickly re-named) is one of those things for me. I always stand a little straighter when I wear it, feel brighter, with more of a kick in my step. It makes me feel elegant and sophisticated, even when I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I feel smoothed out, covered in gold, and dripping glowing jewels of orange and pink.

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

Photo: Jimpix.co.uk

It doesn’t make a lot of sense on the face of it because Champagne or Yvresse is very far from my usual style. At first glance, it appears like a simple, extremely sweet, very feminine fruity-floral. Look closer and take a deeper sniff, however, and you will see a dark, lush forest of green carpeting those fruits and flowers, a base of oakmoss of such high quality that I’ve only smelled its like recently in $400 and $900 fragrances from Roja Dove.

Source: parentium.com

Source: parentium.com

There is green aplenty in Yvresse, but perhaps the real joy stems from the effervescent, incandescent bubbles of gold that hit your nose from the very start. Clever uses of menthol create a chilled sensation that very much evokes the subtle, sparkling tingle of really good, expensive champagne. Yet, the bubbles are only half the story.

Tart, tangy juiciness drips from lush nectarines, lychee, and peaches with a joyful abandon that feels like the best of summer. Yvresse is most definitely a chypre first and foremost, but the fruited touch makes the scent as warm and as sweet as a big, infectious grin. All of the haughty, aloof, cool distance that the dark green oakmoss in a chypre can create has been replaced by bright, sunny plushness. Even when the fragrance turns drier and less sweet, the lingering touches of peach and vanilla create a softness that is approachable elegance at its best. It’s not the stark, perfect beauty of Grace Kelly (who is perhaps a perfect representation of a chypre’s aloof coolness), but the warm smile of Audrey Hepburn. Yvresse/Champagne is bright joy and sunniness mixed with elegant sophistication and sweet femininity — all in one very affordable bottle.

YSL Champagne ad showing the small, squat parfum bottle, not the EDT one. Source: ladies-with-bottle.blogspot.com

YSL Champagne ad showing the small, squat parfum bottle, not the EDT one. Source: ladies-with-bottle.blogspot.com

Yvresse was created by Sophia Grojsman, and was originally released as Champagne in 1993. The French champagne industry immediately had a snit-fit over the name, outraged that something could be called “Champagne” that wasn’t a French sparkling wine. (Technically, champagne is terroir-specific, as sparkling wines from other regions have a different appellation. To give you just one example, in Spain, they are called “Cava.”) The champagne industry sued for trademark violation, and if you’re rolling your eyes, you’d be right. Yves St. Laurent lost the lawsuit and was forced to change the fragrance’s name to Yvresse, which essentially means a state of intoxicated joy. All that changed was the label on the bottle and its look, not the ingredients themselves.

Yvresse in a 2 oz bottle to the left, Champagne in a 3.4 oz to the right. Photo: my own.

Yvresse in a 2 oz bottle to the left, Champagne in a 3.4 oz to the right. Photo: my own.

The fragrance is most commonly available as an eau de toilette, though a rare parfum version was also released. This review is just for the eau de toilette. I have bottles of both Yvresse and Champagne in that concentration, and find them to be virtually identical. The greatest difference between the two is sweetness and the price, as vintage Yvresse is extremely inexpensive and widely available on eBay. You can find a small bottle as low as $29 right now, but the same size for Champagne costs significantly more. (Almost a $100 more.) For that reason, in part, I used my bottle of Yvresse to test for this review, though the main reason is that my bottle of Champagne is running dangerously low and I want to keep it as long as possible. I’ll repeat that, in my eyes, the two fragrances are almost identical. The reason for the difference in pricing is that far fewer bottles of “Champagne” were released, so they are more of a collector’s item. The smell, however, is the same.

Otto Rose, named for Otto de Jager. Source: ludwigsroses.co.za

Otto Rose, named for Otto de Jager. Source: ludwigsroses.co.za

Fragrantica lists Yvresse’s main notes as:

nectarine, anise, menthol, Otto rose, blue rose, litchi, oak moss, patchouli, vetiver.

Ozmoz has a more complicated list, but, despite its entry date of 1993, shows a photo of the new, modern, very different Yvresse. So, taking things with a grain of salt and the possibility that Ozmoz is providing the reformulated fragrance’s new notes, the olfactory pyramid is supposedly:

Note of Top : Peach, Apricot, Star Anise / Chinese Anise, Cumin

Note of Heart : Jasmine, Carnation, Rose, Cinnamon

Note of Base : Castoreum, Vanilla, Cedar, Styrax

Source: hqdesktop.net

Source: hqdesktop.net

I’ve never seen any list for the original Champagne or Yvresse that includes carnation or jasmine, never mind cumin! I certainly don’t smell either of those three notes, and they’re not mentioned on the note list that came with my bottle of Champagne. Stranger still is Ozmoz’ omission of nectarine, which is commonly known to be a major part of the scent.

To my nose, the notes in vintage Yvresse include:

nectarine, peach, anise, menthol, Otto rose, blue rose, litchi, oak moss, patchouli, vetiver, castoreum, and vanilla. Possibly mandarin orange, cedar, and cinnamon as well.

Source: forwallpaper.com

Source: forwallpaper.com

Yvresse opens on my skin with intense fruited sweetness that dissolves instantly into tangy, tart nectarines, orange fruits, a pink rose, and oakmoss. There is a hit of bitter citric zestiness like when you peel a baby tangerine and the oils squirt on your skin. Soft ripe peaches join the parade, but there is as much tartness in the Yvresse’s opening as there is sweetness. There is also brightness, so much brightness that it positively glows. It infuses the deep, dark oakmoss with incredible vibrancy, transforming it from the typically drier aroma of real mousse de chene oakmoss absolute. There is still a massive amount of the dark note in Yvresse, but it’s fresher than the usual scent of dry tree bark with a touch of salt and slightly fusty, dusty, mineralized grey lichen. Instead, it feels like bright emerald green that carpets the forest floor with thick, bouncy plushness.

Other notes soon appear. There is a watery, sweet lychee lurking around the edges, along with a deep, pink, Damascena rose and whiffs of a velvety castoreum. Deep in the base, there are flickers of cinnamon, alongside a bright, fresh, green, almost minty vetiver. The whole bouquet sparkles as effervescently as champagne. There is a fizzy quality as the notes dance around, buoyant, fresh and happy like young girls on a red carpet, only this one is dark green, emphasizing their golden and orange glow even more.

Source: Miriadna.com desktop wallpapers.

Source: Miriadna.com desktop wallpapers.

For all the sweetness in the opening minutes, Yvresse is always much less syrupy on my skin than others have reported and a definite chypre from the very start. The dark, emerald moss is really the key to the fragrance; it’s a solid, dominant note which gives Yvresse a firm, sometimes dry, green spine from head to toe, and from start to finish.

Interestingly, I tried Champagne in a side-by-side test, and the fragrance was both significantly sweeter on my skin, and less mossy. I think the intense syrup stems from the fact that my bottle of Champagne is exactly 20 years old. The inevitable evaporation that occurs over time thereby concentrates some of the fragrance, and that amount of sweetness ends up overwhelming the dryness of the oakmoss in Champagne. In contrast, my much newer bottle of Yvresse (that may be about 10 years old, or a little bit younger) is drier, greener, less sweet, more chypre-like, and with significantly greater brightness. It also fizzles and sparkles from the start. Nonetheless, all of this is a question of degree, mere fractional differences that don’t change the primary essence of the fragrance.

In all cases, both Champagne and Yvresse open with enormous potency and sillage for a fragrance that is a mere eau de toilette. The strong sillage wafts about you like a cloud, projecting a good 4-5 inches of a cloud that is tart nectarines, zesty tangerines, sweet peaches, delicate lychee, a dash of rose, and endless vistas of dark oakmoss. The potent cloud softens a tiny bit after 20 minutes, and hints of other notes appear. There are spices, noticeably dry cinnamon, but there is also something fiery that feels like star anise with almost a chili-pepper, pimento bite. They’re subtle and very muted, however, and you have to really sniff to detect them. 

Source: mport.bigmir.net

Source: mport.bigmir.net

One of the things I love the most about Yvresse is the fizzy sparkle. Originally, I thought it may be the result of the contrast between the deep velvet of the foresty base and the tangy, tart, top notes. Later, I thought that it may be merely the power of suggestion. If so, then everyone who tries Yvresse is equally suggestible because they’ve all noticed the same thing. Something in Yvresse really and truly replicates the nose-tingling bubbles of champagne, subtle though it may be amidst all the powerful accords. However, having stared at the notes for this review, I’ve finally figured out the cause. The “menthol.” It’s a note that initially left me scratching my head, because nothing in Yvresse reads as anything medicinal, camphorated, or even very minty. It translates instead as a cool, almost icy, frosted chill. Yet, menthol makes sense. It serves to amplify the more mossy, green elements in the base, while also diffusing the sweetness at the top. It transforms those fruity accords into something more chilled, while also giving a little fizzy tingle in your nose the way really expensive champagne can do.

Source: Forwallpaper.com

Source: Forwallpaper.com

Thirty minutes in, Yvresse is a sweet, fizzy rose scent infused by tart, sweet fruit, a whisper of dry cinnamon and anise, and endless amounts of dark, dry oakmoss. The oakmoss feels as though it dominates the top, middle, and bottom layers, taking over every part of the fruit and rose accord, balancing it all out in the most elegant, sophisticated mix of green. Deep down in the base, the first touches of vanilla become noticeable, but it will take a while for it to rise up to the top.

"Pink & Green Tree Painting by Artist Louise Mead." Source: ebsqart.com. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Pink & Green Tree Painting by Artist Louise Mead.” Source: ebsqart.com. (Website link embedded within photo.)

At the 90-minute mark, the fragrance starts to shift. Yvresse loses a lot of its fizzy, champagne quality, along with its sweetness. As they recede to the periphery, the cool, crisp greenness takes their place, imbued with some sharpness and with the faintest hint of spiciness from the star anise. Equally subtle is the whiff of castoreum in the foundation with its quietly animalic, brown velvetiness. All the base notes are muted, and detectable only if you really sniff hard; the general impression from afar is of a deep, multi-faceted, seamless blend of emerald green, foresty moss infused with roses and fruited sweetness.

Both the fragrance and the individual elements have softened, with projection now limited to only 2-3 inches above the skin. It’s still fantastic for a mere eau de toilette, though. In fact, in every way, from richness, depth, body and projection, Yvresse is really more like an eau de parfum than anything else. It’s certainly ten times stronger and more full-bodied than any current Hèrmes parfum from the ultra-minimalist Jean-Claude Ellena.

Yvresse remains largely unchanged for the next few hours. There are subtle differences in the order or prominence of the notes, but the most noticeable thing about the scent is that it gets drier and darker. Around the start of the third hour, there is a subtle smoked woodiness that appears, leading me to think that the fragrance may indeed have cedar in it as Ozmoz states. The nectarine fades to the sidelines, letting the peach take over, while the vanilla slowly rises to the top. Yvresse becomes a beautifully balanced mathematical equation of fruits and florals; sweetness and dryness; joyful, bright warmth and dry, restrained darkness in a blend that feels like a very grown-up, elegant take on a fruity-floral.

Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

For me, modern interpretations of the fruity-floral genre always feel very young, very girly in a teenage-like way with its abundance of syrup and purple, fruited patchouli. (Exhibit A would be the terrible, banal, and simpering Chypre Fatal from Guerlain.) Originally, however, the fruited chypre genre was for sophisticated women, with scents like the legendary Mitsouko which is also based on peach and oakmoss. Yvresse is different, because it lacks the powerful bit of “skank” that makes Mitsouko so sensuous (or sexual, in some people’s eyes). It is a much sweeter, sunnier, happier scent without that overly sensuous underpinning. It’s not sexy like Sophia Loren, or a grand dame like Catherine Deneuve (who would perfectly embody Mitsouko). But it’s also not girlish and youthful like a Gigi.

Source: npr.org

Source: npr.org

For all the happy bubbliness of Yvresse’s start, there is too much underlying elegance and sophistication. It is Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with her charm, genuine warmth, and her open smile, all in a very classique, elegant body. In short, Yvresse is approachable chic and sophistication that never loses sight of its playful side. In modern parlance, Yvresse might perhaps be a very grown-up Reese Witherspoon going to the Oscars.

"Shades of Leaves," abstract photography by Bruno Paolo Benedetti. (Website link embedded withinphoto.)

“Shades of Leaves,” abstract photography by Bruno Paolo Benedetti. (Website link embedded within photo.)

In its final phase, Yvresse is a soft blur of oakmoss infused with abstract floral and fruited elements. For a while around the end of the 6th hour, you can still vaguely distinguish the peach, rose and cedar notes, but they are increasingly folded into that plush, soft, smooth greenness. The nectarine has vanished, as did the lychee and spices hours earlier. There is a subtle vanilla element in the base that feels as airy as mousse, but it’s blended in as well, and feels quite muted. In its final moments, Yvresse is merely a delicate haze of cool, somewhat dry, faintly sweet mossiness.

All in all, Yvresse consistently lasts between 9 and 9.75 hours on my perfume-eating skin, depending on the quantity I apply. With a larger dose, the fragrance takes 5.5 hours to become a skin scent, while a smaller amount yields about 4/25 hours. These are exceptional numbers for a mere eau de toilette, but as noted earlier, Yvresse feels very much like an eau de parfum in strength. 

I absolutely adore Yvresse/Champagne, and it is one of my “happy scents” that I turn to when I need a little energizing boost, or Prozac in a bottle. It always makes me feel more elegant and put-together, even though blazing femininity is not my style of perfumery. I would not recommend Yvresse for most men, as I think the bouquet would be viewed as too feminine by those with more conventional tastes.

However, I know a few confident men who love the fragrance, perhaps because of its mossy chypre character. Men who wear fruity-chypres like Mitsouko and who enjoy sweet scents may like Yvresse. On the other hand, Mitsouko is much drier and with significantly more pungent oakmoss, so don’t expect a very close kinship in that regard. Yvresse may actually be closer in feel to Andy Tauer‘s Une Rose Chyprée, taking a lot of its rich moss with a sunny, happy rose facade, and then tossing in a dab of the tart fruit in his stunning PHI Une Rose de Kandahar. Again, though, Yvresse starts at a much sweeter level.

YSL vintage golden couture, 1967. Photo by David Bailey for Vogue. Source: Styliista.com

YSL vintage golden couture, 1967. Photo by David Bailey for Vogue. Source: Styliista.com

Another fragrance that comes to mind is Viktoria Minya‘s exquisite Hedonist. Yvresse is a very different scent and lacks the boozy, oriental qualities of the niche scent, but the two share that same fizzy feel at the start, a fact I remarked upon even in my review of Hedonist. They also have the same very sunny, opulent, golden sophistication and joyousness. That said, Yvresse very much demonstrates the signature of its maker, Sophia Grojsman, who is responsible for such intensely feminine, sweet fragrances as YSL‘s classic Paris and Lancome‘s Trésor. In short, it definitely skews very feminine in nature.



Yvresse is extremely affordable for such an elegant, vintage scent, though the same fragrance under the Champagne name costs significantly more. On eBay, you can find Yvresse for as low as $29 in the smallest 50 ml/1.7 oz size. It’s an absolutely fantastic price for a scent that shows the same complexity, elegance, richness, and nuance as a $200 niche fragrance. Actually, I’ve tested a number of $275 to $425 florals that don’t have one tenth of Yvresse’s sophistication or complexity. I don’t think the $29 figure is the norm, but Yvresse is still a bargain even at its more typical, slightly higher price.

As shown in the Details section below, you can generally find Yvresse on any number of discount or outlet fragrance sites for somewhere in the $42-$65 range for a 60 ml/2 oz size. In the UK, I’ve seen Yvresse sold cheaply for £33.31 in that same size, and for £50.05 for a huge 125 ml/4.25 oz bottle. Online retailers are a more steady, permanent option than relying on the vagaries of what may be offered on eBay, but you’ll sometimes get much better deals on the auction site, so you should check both. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen Champagne offered on any site other than eBay.

Vintage Yvresse but slightly newer and without the wide gold band around the top, and with much paler font in the writing. This version is still vintage Yvresse though.

Vintage Yvresse but slightly newer, without the wide gold band around the top, and with much paler font in the writing. This version is still vintage Yvresse though.

In all cases, it’s cheaper to buy Yvresse than Champagne. To give you an idea of the comparative range of prices for Yvresse versus Champagne on eBay, here are some links which, it goes without saying, will soon become obsolete once the auctions end in a few days: an unopened, boxed Yvresse EDT in a small 1.7 oz/50 ml size is going for $29.99; a 2 oz/60ml boxed Yvresse for $57.19 from FragranceNet; five bottles of boxed Yvresse in a 3.3 oz/100 ml bottle, each for $70.25; or a huge 125 ml/ 4.25 oz boxed Yvresse for $89.99. In contrast, the cheapest starting price for a boxed bottle of Champagne in the small 1.7 oz size is $125, with larger sizes averaging about $195-$200 before a single bid has been placed. For those who are reading this review months down the road, you can use the following search which should work regardless of time and which should not become obsolete: Yvresse and Champagne options on eBay, including the rarer parfum version.

Older vintage Yvresse with the gold band and much deeper, darker font in the writing.

Older vintage Yvresse with the gold band and much deeper, darker font in the writing.

One word of caution regarding names and boxes. No matter which name it is sold under, the eau de toilette always comes with a gold box and the bottle is oval-shaped, like a football. Slightly newer bottles of Yvresse don’t have the wide, dimpled, gold band going around the top of the bottle or dark font for the writing, but they are still vintage Yvresse. In fact, that is the version I own and used for this test. You can compare the bottle shown to the left with the one posted immediately above. They are both vintage. However, any fragrance with a red box is Yvresse Legere, which is a different perfume that was released in 1997 and which has a very different aroma profile. (It’s centered around mimosa, for one thing.)

New, modern, "La Collection Yvresse" from 2011. Source: Fragrantica.

New, modern, “La Collection Yvresse” from 2011. Source: Fragrantica.

Also, you will want to stay far away from anything in an opaque, cream-coloured bottle as shown in the photo to the right. In 2011, under L’Oreal’s ownership, YSL released a new Yvresse in 2011 called La Collection Yvresse. This is a totally different fragrance, no matter what its name purports to be. As that Fragrantica link will show you, the notes are substantially different and limited to 5 things: litchi, nectarine, rose, violet, and patchouli. In short, it is missing half the notes of the original Yvresse, most particularly the essential oakmoss base. I haven’t tried it out of protest, and I never will given my loathing of every single thing put out thus far by L’Oreal under the modern YSL name. They’re all terrible. (You don’t want to get me started on the revolting, emasculated eunuch that is the modern, current “Opium.” It is an utter travesty.)

Yvresse isn’t for everyone, but its cheerfulness makes it a favorite of mine, even if I don’t turn to it as much as I once did. In a few weeks, it will be New Year’s Eve, a time when champagne abounds. This year, I think I shall take my fizziness in a perfume bottle, with vintage golden bubbles from Yves Saint Laurent. It’s the perfect way to ring in 2014:  a note of boundless joy and bright optimism, all wrapped up in sparkling elegance. 

Cost & Availability: Yvresse/Champagne is available in a variety of different sizes and concentrations. This review is only for the vintage eau de toilette version. I’ve seen bottles of the fragrance in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size, a 2 oz/60 ml size, a 3.3 oz/100 ml size, and a very large 4.25 oz/125 ml size. Prices range from $29 to $95 for Yvresse, but bottles with the Champagne name are consistently higher by a significant amount. The larger sizes of Champagne can even go up to $200. As noted in the review, I don’t think there is any significant, substantial difference between the two. The name change was done for litigation reasons, not reformulation ones. Outside of eBay: Yvresse is sold at a number of different outlet or discount fragrance sites. I found one in Czechoslovakia, others in Russia. In the U.S., Overstock.com sells Yvresse for $43.29 for a 2 oz/60 ml bottle, and they ship internationally to over 100 countries. Yvresse is sold in the same size for $42 from Sophia’s Beauty, and around $47 from Fragrance Original. Another world-wide site selling a lot of Yvresse at a good price is FragranceX which has 2 oz/60 ml bottles priced at $56.62. The PerfumeLoft sells it for a bit higher. Outside the U.S.: A number of the discount sites listed above ship worldwide. However, in the UK, I found Yvresse sold in two sizes at London Perfume Shop for £33.31 for a 60 ml/2 oz size, and for £50.05 for a large 125 ml/4.25 oz size. In Australia, I found Yvresse at ShopandSave for $64.95 (AUD?) for a 2 oz/60 ml bottle. In the Middle East, Yvresse is sold at Bustan PerfumesSamples: if you want to test the fragrance, you can order Yvresse from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3 for a 1 ml vial. The site also offers Champagne (which it lists with the exact same notes) for the same $3 starting price.

YSL Majestic Rose & Supreme Bouquet (Oriental Collection)

YSL’s new Oriental Collection is a trio of fragrances that are meant to be “an invitation to travel” to the Orient. Each one is an eau de parfum housed in a gold-covered bottle, and offered in limited distribution at a very high price. The other day, I covered the toxic abomination that is Noble Leather. Today is the turn of the remaining fragrances in the line: Majestic Rose from the great Alberto Morillas; and Supreme Bouquet, created by perhaps the even greater Dominique Ropion


The most complete and detailed information I found for Majestic Rose comes from Osmoz which states, in part, that:

Source: Osmoz

Source: Osmoz

Majestic Rose pays tribute to the queen of flowers. Rose goes animalic here, becoming one with the oud wood in the trail. […] Composed around rose, the fragrance starts by unveiling notes of bergamot, raspberry and papyrus. The rose heart is sweetened with honey and spiced with saffron and maté. The woodsier trail is composed of oud, guaiac and vanilla. Perfumer: Alberto Morillas, Firmenich.

Note of Top : Raspberry, Bergamot, Papyrus

Note of Heart : Rose, Mate, Saffron, Honeyed Notes

Note of Base : Vanilla, Oud, Gaiac Wood

Maté is not a common note in perfumery, and it plays a part in Majestic Rose’s opening, so I thought this description of it from Osmoz might be useful:

Tobacco, Herbaceous, Hay, Tea. […] Maté is a variety of holly that grows in South America. […] Used primarily in men’s perfumery to create fougere and chypre tonalities[.]

Source: apartmenttherapy.com

Source: apartmenttherapy.com

Majestic Rose opens on my skin with: indistinct, anonymous “fruit;” something very much like ISO E Super; stale, dusty, dry tobacco; fruited rose; dusty, dry parchment paper; cheap synthetic “oud;” dry, leathery, spicy saffron; and a hint of vanilla. Oh, did I happen to mention dust? The fragrance is the oddest mix of sweet syrup and dust notes. All I can think about when wearing it is actual dust in an old library that has been drenched in a thin layer of fruit syrup, saffron, and jammy roses, all sprinkled with astringent, peppered ISO E Super, synthetic tea, and a drop of honeyed tea. It’s an airy mix with moderate sillage, but the prickly, peppered, spiky, synthetic elements all give it a certain roughness and sharpness.

Majestic Rose may not be the toxic dust cloud of its brother, the vile Noble Leather, but it has its own share of chemicals. I would bet anything that the perfume contains Kephalis. It is a synthetic which smells a lot like ISO E Super, is extremely dry, and which Givaudan describes as a long-lasting note with an amber-woody-tobacco profile. As for all that dust in Majestic Rose, it may stems from the papyrus, but the sheer degree of aridness underlying the scent seems much more consistent with the super synthetic, Norlimbanol. It is produced by Alberto Morillas’ own firm, Firmenich, and has been described by Chandler Burr as “quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation.”

Source: The Guardian.

Source: The Guardian.

At its core, Majestic Rose is a dust, rose, and “oud” fragrance. Certain notes act as supporting players, waxing and waning in prominence, but the perfume’s essential profile doesn’t really change. Five minutes into its development, the vanilla in the base starts to stir, while the papyrus becomes stronger and more significant. Majestic Rose just gets drier, and drier. And drier. 15 minutes in, Majestic Rose loses much of its syrup, and the fragrance starts to feel like a dust bowl with synthetic peppered ISO E Super, bone-dry woodiness, and, in a wholly discordant mix, sweet pink roses. It’s almost disconcerting to smell the flowers given the other notes. It’s as though a single, fresh, pink rose were pressed in parchment paper scrolls, then stuck in a monastery’s library which hadn’t been dusted since the late 11th Century. 

Thankfully, that phase is short-lived and only lasted about 40-minutes, but at least it was somewhat interesting and different. It’s a lot more than I can say for the rest of Majestic Rose’s development. As the dust recedes, the fragrance turns into a generic bouquet of syrupy rose, synthetic oud, and ISO E-ish chemicals in a cocoon of indistinct, abstract dryness. Hints of other things come and go, like vanilla and tobacco, or the merest drop of something that occasionally feels tea-like, but Majestic Rose’s main thrust is rose-oud (with synthetics). Needless to say, it’s not a particularly distinctive combination these days. In fact, something about Majestic Rose feels awfully familiar, but it’s hard to know which rose-oud fragrance it might be — there are literally hundreds of them.

Source: Ashes of Roses Designs, Facebook page.

Source: Ashes of Roses Designs, Facebook page.

I’ll be honest, I scrubbed off Majestic Rose after three hours. Normally, I would put up with an unpleasant fragrance, partially to see what happens but, primarily, for the sake of thoroughness. However, after the indescribable horror of YSL’s Noble Leather, my tolerance levels are wholly depleted. Moreover, I saw zero chance of Majestic Rose suddenly morphing into something different, it was giving me a mild headache, and I’m pretty much fed up with bad perfumes from YSL. So I had a Thanksgiving Day indulgence, even if that consisted of soap and aggressiveness with a loofah. You probably won’t be shocked to hear that Majestic Rose — like most very synthetic, chemical fragrances — was not easy to remove….

As with all the fragrances in the Oriental Collection, Majestic Rose costs £185 or €177 for an 80 ml bottle. At the current rate of conversion, £185 is $301. I’ll spare you a repetition of how inexpensive it is for individuals like you or I to buy a bottle of each of those synthetics cost in concentrated, undiluted form, or how little L’Oreal/YSL probably spent to make this fragrance. Suffice it to say that the cost of this fragrance is utterly ridiculous, given the ingredients and banality of the scent.


Source: dubaidutyfree.com

Source: dubaidutyfree.com

According to Osmoz, Supreme Bouquet was created by the legendary Dominique Ropion of IFF, and it provides the following description of the scent:

Sweet and creamy, Supreme Bouquet is a perfume in Yves Saint Laurent’s Oriental Collection. Inspired by the mysteries of the Orient, the line is an invitation to travel. The house describes Supreme Bouquet as an escapade in an oriental garden. The fragrance is composed around white flowers.

Supreme Bouquet opens with notes of bergamot, pink pepper and pear. The heart pairs tuberose with jasmine and ylang-ylang. The slightly ambry trail is composed of white musk and patchouli.

Note of Top : Pear, Bergamot

Note of Heart : Jasmine, Tuberose, Ylang Ylang

Note of Base : Patchouli, White Musks, Ambry Notes

I’m a sucker for tuberose, so I perked up a little when I sniffed Supreme Bouquet back in Paris. It was still a very tempered response, however, and one that was wholly relative to my utter disdain for the other two fragrances in the Oriental Collection. On paper, it seemed moderately pleasant and pretty, but nondescript and lacking much originality.

The sad thing is that it’s actually much better on paper! On the skin, it’s merely yet another synthetic trip to disappointment. In a nutshell, Supreme Bouquet is like any fruity-white fragrance available at Sephora or at a middle-level department store. Actually, I’m pretty sure some celebrity fragrances are like Supreme Bouquet — right down to their chemical base.

Source: ilikewallpaper.net -

Source: ilikewallpaper.net –

In the vial, Supreme Bouquet smells like a dewy, watery, sweet, white floral scent dominated by tuberose, and lightly infused with pear and white musk. On the skin, it opens with pink peppercorns, white musk, sweet greenish pears, and tuberose. The notes sit atop a base of synthetic, clean, white musk, a synthetic like ISO E Super, and fake “ambry” notes. The synthetics soon become as dominant as the supposedly natural notes, turning Supreme Bouquet into a very sharp, almost laundryesque white floral bomb with pear, pink pepper, and prickly, peppered, sharp ISO E Super. The perfume is a lot of things: it’s very sweet, very fresh, very clean, very white, and very synthetic — but not, alas, very interesting.

TuberoseIt takes less than five minutes for my skin to be radiating sharp, synthetic white musk and spiky ISO E Super infused with tuberose, pink peppercorns and pear. It gave me an instant headache. Only after an hour do the synthetics finally start to soften, retreating to the edges of the fragrance. The purple patchouli surges to take their place, turning the tuberose even sweeter and adding a much heavier, deeper, fruited touch. By the end of the second hour, Supreme Bouquet is fruity-floral with gooey, purple patchouli and still sharp musk over a sheer, generic, abstract “amber” base with ISO E Super. The jasmine is as prominent as the tuberose now, but the patchouli threatens to dominate them both.

Supreme Bouquet is a largely linear, simple fragrance. Only at the start of the 7th hour does it change, but it’s one of degree. The fruited patchouli is now equal to the tuberose, if not sometimes a bit more dominant, and both notes are trailed by lingering traces of peppered synthetic. Honestly, I see no amber whatsoever in the base. In its very final moments, Supreme Bouquet is merely an abstract blur of a fruited white floral. It lasted 10.75 hours on my skin, with sillage that was moderate only for the first hour but which quickly turned soft. The potency of the synthetic notes, however, meant that Supreme Bouquet was still quite sharp and easily detectable if sniffed up close. The perfume only became a skin scent after about six hours.

If you’re looking for a tuberose with fruity patchouli and synthetics, you should spare yourself Supreme Bouquet’s ridiculous price, and just take yourself off to Sephora, or a bargain basement to look for a celebrity fragrance. There are any number of places where you won’t be charged £185 or €177 for an utterly generic fruity-floral fragrance reeking of ISO E and white musk. Let’s not forget those pink peppercorns, either, something which is wholly passé as a perfume trend now but which was such a mainstay of commercial perfumery to go with the fruited patchouli and the white florals.

Dominique Ropion via fotomag.com.ua

Dominique Ropion via fotomag.com.ua

It’s sad to see the great Dominique Ropion‘s name attached to something that, quite frankly, makes some of the Tocca line of perfumes look like high-quality masterpieces. He really is a superb perfumer; from Ysatis to half of the most famous Frederic Malle fragrances and many other celebrated gems, he is enormously talented. He’s also seems to be a wiz with florals, and tuberose in particular. For example, the famous Carnal Flower, Dior‘s white Pure Poison, and the sadly maligned Amarige. To go from Carnal Flower to this?! In fact, if you’re looking for a simple fruity-floral, you may want to go with the Tocca brand than YSL. Tocca’s Florence is a much better fragrance which also has pear, tuberose, jasmine, bergamot, and musk. In addition, it also has more nuance, thanks to gardenia, violet, iris, and apple; it lacks patchouli; and it is a much fresher, greener, less sickly sweet perfume. Plus, it costs $68, not $300.

I don’t blame Dominique Ropion, however, for the utterly generic, Britney Spears-like fragrance that he’s created. (Britney Spear‘s best-selling Curious has a similar tuberose, pear and musk profile, but also many more notes and no fruited patchouli.) No, in this case, I blame Ropion’s masters at L’Oreal, since the simple fact is that all perfumers must abide by the agenda, briefs, and price point set by the client. Still, there is no getting around it: Supreme Bouquet is not Mr. Ropion’s finest hour. I wonder if he was bored out of his mind making it? I certainly was while wearing it.

Cost & Availability: Each fragrance in YSL’s Oriental Collection is an eau de parfum that comes in a 2.7 oz/ 80 ml bottle, and is subject to very limited distribution. The price is £185 or €177. The French YSL website and the UK YSL site both carry the Oriental Collection, but not the US one. In the U.S.: I haven’t found any American retailers thus far that carry the line. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, from what I’ve seen thus far, the Oriental Collection is most widely found in the UK and France. In the UK, and for Supreme Bouquet, the London links are: House of Fraser (which is discounting the scent at £148), Harvey Nichols, and HarrodsJohn Lewis is offering Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet at a slight discount with a price of £166 instead of £185. There are only 3 bottles left of each at the time of this post. John Lewis ships internationally to over 33 countries, and has free UK delivery. For Majestic Rose, the perfume is currently sold out at London’s House of Fraser, but it is available at Harvey Nichols. I couldn’t find it on the Harrod’s site, but I know they sell it. In Paris, I’ve read that the full line is available at the main Sephora on the Champs Elysees. In Ireland, Brown Thomas sells Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet for €205. In Russia, Orental has Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet. Airports: Finally, you can find YSL’s Oriental Collection at a number of airports. I myself tested it at Paris’ CDG International Departures, and I know it is also available at London’s Heathrow. I suspect the same applies at all other large airports. Samples: I obtained my samples from Surrender to Chance which sells the complete trio in a set starting at $13.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Majestic Rose and Supreme Bouquet are also available individually starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Obviously, the complete set is a bit of a better deal. 

YSL Noble Leather (Oriental Collection) – Ignoble Leather

Source: www.luxe-en-france.com

Source: luxe-en-france.com

You better hold onto your seats because I’m not in a good mood. In fact, I’m in a distinctly vile mood, thanks to Noble Leather, a new fragrance from YSL that was released last month in very limited distribution. Ignoble Noble Leather is one of three scents in the new Oriental Collection that is meant to honour the brilliant Yves St. Laurent himself.

All I have to say to that is that the poor man would cry in his grave if he smelled this fragrance. He happens to have been a personal idol of mine, a man I practically worshiped in my youth, and whose creations were once a huge part of my life in numerous different ways. He would cry at the toxic horror that is Noble Leather, and I would join him — if I didn’t feel like taking a sword and stabbing it through L’Oreal‘s heart. 

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

The most common, frequent description of Noble Leather lies through its teeth when it states:

Yves Saint Laurent has drawn its inspiration from the splendours of the East to give birth to an exceptional collection. In honour of its creator and his never-ending passion for the elsewhere, the Oriental Collection celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness. The potent and deep scent of leather fervently states its case and whispers an elegant, raw and carnal sensuality. The ambery wood accord embraces languid vanilla and the earthy scents of patchouli before giving way to intermingling tanned leathers. Enhanced by a dash of bright saffron notes and softened by the candied sweetness of the dried fruit accord, this skin-deep fragrance leaves an unforgettable impression.

Noble Leather. Source: Luxe-en-France.com

Noble Leather. Source: Luxe-en-France.com

The most complete and detailed information I found for the fragrance comes from Ozmoz. It states that Noble Leather was created by Julie Massé of Mane, and it provides both a description of the bottle and the full list of notes:

Sensual and animalic, Noble Leather is a fragrance in Yves Saint Laurent’s Oriental Collection line. Inspired by the mysteries of the Orient, the collection is an invitation to travel. Noble Leather is composed around a leather accord that’s sweetened with dried-fruit notes. The cubic bottle is sheathed in gold and nestles in a golden box inspired by an Oriental palace. Available from selected points of sale only.

Top : Violet Blossom, Saffron, Tangerine

Heart : Tobacco, Leather, Dried Fruit

Base : Vanilla, Patchouli

A pack of lies, if you ask me. Nothing in this fragrance “celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness.” What it celebrates are laboratory concoctions. An invitation to travel? Where? To see the scientists at work in the bowels of Givaudan creating vats of cheap Norlimbanol, the ISO E-like Kephalis, cheap purple fruit-chouli, and Safraleine? As for the Orient, bah! It would join Mr. St. Laurent in weeping copious tears of shame that its name has been linked to this over-priced, outrageous hot mess. At least one of them should sue for defamation.

And L’Oreal, you should be utterly ashamed at what you’ve done to the Yves St. Laurent name, a name that was once highly respected, and my own personal favorite amidst all the perfume houses. For shame. FOR SHAME, you revolting, mercenary creatures. Stop picking at the Yves St. Laurent carcass, like the maggoty, mangy, flea-ridden vultures that you are. Haven’t you done enough with the emasculated eunuch and abomination that is the current Opium?

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

I suppose I should get to what this vile horror smells like, but I’ve been trying to put off revisiting the memory from sheer misery. Well, Noble Leather opens like a toxic cloud of chemical napalm on my skin. There is a momentary pop of saffron, rich rose, and then a powerful, unexpected burst of an oud-y woodiness, followed by a tidal wave of synthetics. That artificial “oud” is highly peppered and dry, to the point that it feels prickly, spiky, and almost sulphurous. It actually doesn’t smell like the real wood, but my brain is clearly making the connections between the chemicals that often accompany agarwood in fragrances like Montale’s Aouds, and interpreting it as “oud.” Only here, it smells like a really bad, cheap version of Montale’s “oud” — which says something….

In these opening minutes, it is genuinely difficult for me to detect much in Noble Leather behind the deluge of chemicals that are, alternatively, profoundly peppered, aggressively sharp, sulphurously smoky, prickly, and syrupy sweet. My nose is pounding from some sort of piercing dryness, while a sudden pain shoots behind my left eye. But, eh, I’m generally used to such things when there is a gallon of synthetics involved, no matter how miserable the experience. What I’m significantly less used to is the feeling that someone has taken the edge of a sharp kitchen knife and scraped it all along the back of my throat. It feels raw, scratchy, and then it starts to burn. What the hell is in this bloody perfume?!

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

It is a rhetorical question because I actually recall the unpleasant medley of toxic chemical smells from a prior experience, though it had been faint in comparison then and it never — ever — triggered a reaction like this. This smell that is almost like ISO E Super, but not quite; this olfactory cocktail that begins with a slightly astringent (and quite oud-like) note, before quickly radiating a spiky, smoked, highly peppered cedary dryness, with amber and the vaguest undertone of leather — this medley feels extremely familiar.

Early this summer, I came across a discussion about the synthetic aromachemicals, Kephalis and Norlimbanol on the blog, Scent Intoxique. I am forever indebted to Duke Hunt whose invaluable description taught me to recognize the cocktail of synthetics that I detect here (only Noble Leather has them amped up on steroids, if you ask me). In his review for Nasomatto’s Black Afgano, Duke Hunt wrote:

Straight out of the bong you’re greeted with a dense aroma chemical sucker punch made up of synthetic Givaudan oud, coupled with an underpinned cedar effect in the form of Kephalis (which is an Iso-E-Super substitute, only with a more woodier/smokier feel).

Finally I can make out some quite prominent vetiver/tobacco notes, adding to the “greenness” which the general nose picks up. I may be off, but I definitely feel like I’m picking up one of the main players here and that’s Norlimbanol™, which is described as an “extremely powerful woody/animal amber note. That has a dry woody note in the patchouli direction”. 

As described by Chandler Burr, “Norlimbanol is one of the most amazing scents around, a genius molecule that should be worth its weight in gold; Norlimbanol gives you, quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation, and if when you smell it, you’ll understand that instantly—the molecule is, by itself, a multi-sensory Disney ride.”

It’s this same compound which I believe gives the scent its subtle leathery undertones along with the amber. [Emphasis in font to the names added by me.]

Almost everything he’s written — not everything, but almost all — I detect here. From “the subtle leathery tones along with the amber,” to the spiky, peppered, almost greenish notes that resemble smoked cedar, to acutely dry, astringent, almost sulphurously burning woody-amber notes. The patchouli he mentions, well, that is provided in additional form with the actual note, as is the supposed tobacco (which is probably just more Kephalis in disguise). And the whole, utterly heinous, indescribable abomination is wrapped up with an ISO E Super-like bow that explodes at you right out of the starting gates. I sharply and vehemently disagree with Chandler Burr that this is genius gold.

To me, Noble Leather’s toxic brew is a chemical hell on earth that is the perfume equivalent of napalm. Each and every time I sniff I my arm, the back of my throat burns, and I get a spasmodic pain behind my eye. I have smelled a lot of ISO E or synthetic fragrances, and, while I may hate the aroma, I don’t get physical reactions unless the quantity of aroma-chemicals is really enormous. And I certainly can’t recall the last time I had a physical reaction that was this strong.

Source: Shutterstock.com

Source: Shutterstock.com

Minutes after the traumatizing tsunami of toxicity that is unleashed on me, more notes arrive on the scene. There is a jammy patchouli that evokes the aroma of syrupy red roses dominated by dark fruits, then small bubbles of a sweet tangerine and a powdery violet. At first, the citric element is a bit juicy and tart, but it soon takes on a plastic synthetic profile. You know those cheap “Made in China” plastic toys? Well, imagine the smell of one of those just barely infused with something orange-like. As for the violet, it’s delicate, but also somewhat woody and is quickly transformed with a peppery bite from the other accords. Much more prominent to me is a note that distinctly smells like jammy roses, even though there is none listed in the perfume. I assuming it’s my mind making those connections again, as fruited purple patchouli often accompanies a rose accord in perfumery. Whatever the reason, there is a fruited floralness in Noble Leather that goes beyond mere “violets” and which I’ll just call “rose” from this point onwards.

Safraleine. Source: Givaudan.

Safraleine. Source: Givaudan.

Then, there is the saffron. It starts off being a little fiery and spiced, but soon takes on a warm, almost leathery bent. It is most definitely Safraleine, a Givaudan creation that the company describes as follows:

Safraleine has a very unique warm and vibrant character offering a new alternative to existing spicy odorants. Safraleine exhibits warm, powerful, leathery and tobacco facets but its complexity also reveals characteristics of spices reminiscent of natural saffron, enriched by rose ketone-like floral aspects.

The shrieking madness finally starts to abate about 10 minutes into Ignoble Leather’s development. Now, it’s only a moderately aggressive chemical bath of violet, jammy fruited patchouli, plastic orange, fake oud-y woodiness, and highly peppered, ISO E-like sharpness. For the first time, the tobacco and leather appear on the scene. The former is dusty, dry, and smells a bit like a stale, unlit cigar. The latter smells like suede infused with cheap, pleather vinyl. Yet, neither one feels distinctive or much like the notes in their own right.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

The best way to explain it is that the tobacco doesn’t smell like the actual tobacco found in other fragrances focusing on the note. It smells like an abstract approximation of what “tobacco” is supposed to smell like. My guess is that there is no actual tobacco in Noble Leather but that the aroma has been artificially created by Kephalis, that cousin to ISO E Super. Duke Hunt talked about Kephalis in the section I quoted above, but Givaudan‘s description of the synthetic is useful:

Kephalis is a very versatile and rich product, used as a long lasting heart/basic note. It blends well with floral notes (jasmine, rose, violet, lavender, etc.) as well as sophisticated amber, woody-aldehydic, tobacco and masculine creations. 

Thirty minutes in, the balance of power in the perfume starts to shift. As the super-shrill astringent, sulphurous, dusty and dry woody synthetics abate (a little), there is a matching rise in the fruited patchouli. It becomes heavier, more prominent, and suddenly, Noble Leather feels even sweeter. The most positive thing that I can say about the whole ghastly concoction is that the violet is pretty. Oddly enough, the peppered ISO E-like note seems to give the sometimes wan, frail note a little oomph. As a whole, though, the violets are never a significant part of Noble Leather on my skin. How could something so delicate withstand the power of a super synthetic like Norlimbanol?

"Rose Reflections" by HocusFocusClick on Flickr. (Click on photo for website link which is embedded within).

“Rose Reflections” by HocusFocusClick on Flickr. (Click on photo for website link which is embedded within).

At the end of the first hour, Noble Leather is a slightly softer mess of sharp, dusty, woody dryness with spiky, peppered ISO E-like notes, a syrupy pink rose, sticky fruits, cheap vinyl-smelling leather, hints of violets, stale tobacco, and synthetic, buttered saffron. It starts to devolve, with the fruited patchouli becoming more prominent, the fragrance taking on an amber undertone, and the woody notes turning more abstract.

In the middle of the second hour, Noble Leather feels more and more like a vaguely floral patchouli with fruited molasses, amber, and ISO E, over a base of extremely dry woodiness that, at best, resembles a sharp cedar. The vague abstraction of cheap leather retreats to the sidelines. The whole thing is much softer and, though I’m not keen on patchouli rose, Noble Leather smells better. It is almost pleasant — albeit on the most relative of absolute scales fabricated in the bowels of Hell. Perhaps it’s the relief talking, as Noble Leather’s soft cloud is now radiating only 3 inches off my skin, instead of punching me in the head like Mike Tyson.

Regardless of what the notes may say, Ignoble Leather has a definite underpinning of amber. I suspect it stems from some combination of the synthetics together. Whatever the precise reason, by the middle of the second hour, Noble Leather smells of a soft, “oud”-y rose with fruited patchouli, dusty saffron, dusty and stale tobacco, dry cedar-ish woods, and Norlimbanol amber. The perfume’s sillage drops, but the notes are still forceful when smelled up close. In fact, each and every time I sniff my arm, it feels like someone has taken an old-fashioned 18th-century straight razor to the back of my throat.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

At the end of the fourth hour, Noble Leather is a woody, dry amber fragrance with tobacco, saffron, and that patchouli rose. There is the vaguest hint of suede that pops up every now and then, but leather? Elvis left the building a while ago. Taking his place is a subtle, very dry vanilla that starts to rise to the surface. Noble Leather turns increasingly abstract and hazy, and its final moments consists primarily of an amber with indistinct, super dry woodiness and vanilla, atop an amorphous, slightly fruited sweetness. All in all, the bloody perfume lasted just over 9 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with sillage that was initially fierce, then strong, before it turned soft about 2.5 hours into Noble Leather’s development. As you might have gathered by now, I was not a fan. Of any of it.

In fact, I wasn’t a fan even in my first encounter with the perfume. I actually smelled Noble Leather while I was in Paris. It was on a paper mouillette, but I was taken aback even then by the sharp wave of horrors that came at me. I didn’t know Noble Leather’s official notes, but I recall telling the sales assistant that I smelled oud, and asked if it had ISO E Super. When she stared at me blankly, I wrapped things up by simply saying that I was tired of safraleine-oud-rose fragrances. I could smell much of it, even back then from mere paper. But on actual skin…. it’s a whole other matter entirely.

On Fragrantica, the main focus of people’s discussion of Noble Leather is Tom Ford‘s Tuscan Leather. I took out my sample of the latter today to give it a cursory comparative test, and the two scents are simultaneously extremely alike and nothing alike. Yes, the perfumes have an extremely close olfactory bouquet but, at no time, does the Tom Ford fragrance hit you with a tsunami of toxicity. There are definitely traces of Norlimbanol in Tuscan Leather, and it has an incredibly dry, peppered base, but the relative degrees are night and day apart. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the amount of synthetics used in Noble Leather would rate a solid 10 in the opening minutes. Tom Ford’s would rate a 1.5, which rises to about a 2 or 2.5 as the Norlimbanol starts to stir and become more prominent. For what it’s worth, Tuscan Leather triggered some scratchiness in my throat as well, so I’m clearly sensitive to that particular aroma-chemical in ways that I am not even to ISO E Super. But it is more like minor irritation, a small cough, as opposed to feeling that my skin has been scraped raw by a straight razor.

I realize that the degree of my fury may seem quite disproportionate to the situation at large. I am sure many of you think that the perfume can’t possibly be that unpleasant, and that my nose is simply much more sensitive than the average person. I concede that last point. I always had an acutely sensitive nose but, the more I sniff perfumes daily, the more sensitive it becomes, since, in essence, the nose is merely another type of muscle. Exercising it daily makes it much stronger. But, in my opinion, Noble Leather really is that bad. For all that people think it’s a clone of Tuscan Leather, the latter is an infinitely better, smoother, more well-rounded, high-quality, expensive-smelling fragrance. It lacks Noble Leather’s sharp, bony, spiky elbows and prickly roughness. Noble Leather amps up the chemicals to a shocking degree; it’s vats of the stuff, instead of a few table spoons.

One of the reasons why I’m so angry is the cost of Noble Leather. YSL is charging £185 or €177 for an 80 ml bottle. At the current rate of conversion, £185 is $301. That is completely outrageous given the ingredients used in the fragrance. Yes, real saffron is bloody expensive, and a lot of perfume companies use Safranal or Safraleine instead. But the ISO E-like tobacco, Kephalis? Norlimbanol? I can go out right this minute and buy 4 ml of Norlimbanol in undiluted concentrate from The Perfumer’s Apprentice for $3.99, or a large 80 ml bottle (the same sized bottle as Noble Leather) for $36. I can buy 80 ml of Kephalis for $18. Given that L’Oreal undoubtedly gets a massive discount for wholesale orders of the stuff, the cost to them would be even lower. Plus, since all this stuff is subsequently diluted in an perfumer’s alcohol base, 80 ml of either chemical could probably make several hundred bottles of perfume.

That makes Noble Leather’s $300 price tag simply insulting. Sheer venal greed for a totally crap, cheaply made, chemical perfume that is a tsunami of toxicity. Yves St. Laurent was the epitome of elegance, luxury, seductiveness, and opulent orientalism. This “homage” to him is an utter abomination. I can’t even bear to talk about it any more.

Cost & Availability: Each fragrance in YSL’s Oriental Collection is an eau de parfum that comes in a 2.7 oz/ 80 ml bottle, and is subject to very limited distribution. The price is £185 or €177. The French YSL website and the UK YSL site both carry the Oriental Collection, but not the US one. In the U.S.: I haven’t found any American retailers thus far that carry the line. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, from what I’ve seen thus far, the Oriental Collection is most widely found in the UK and France. In the UK, I found Noble Leather slightly discounted at John Lewis which sells the scent for £166 instead of £185. There are only 3 bottles left at the time of this post. John Lewis ships internationally to over 33 countries, and has free UK delivery. Elsewhere in the UK, London’s House of Fraser carries Noble Leather, as does Harvey Nichols and Harrods. In Paris, I’ve read that the full line is available at the main Sephora on the Champs Elysees. In Ireland, Brown Thomas sells Noble Leather for €205. In Russia, Noble Leather is carried at Orental. Kuwait’s Universal Perfumes had tester bottles of Noble Leather for $189.99, but they are “out of stock.” Airports: Finally, you can find YSL’s Oriental Collection at a number of airports. I myself tested it at Paris’ CDG, and I know it is also available at London’s Heathrow. I suspect the same applies at all other large airports. Samples: I obtained my samples from Surrender to Chance which sells the complete trio in a set starting at $13.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Noble Leather is also available individually starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Obviously, the complete set is a bit of a better deal. 

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: Marieclaire.it

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

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: Vogue.com

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

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: Phaidon.com.

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

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.