How the Mighty Have Fallen – YSL Black Opium Perfume Review

Black Opium - Even the Model Looks Bored
Black Opium – Even the Model Looks Bored

Smelling Black Opium, the latest from YSL, one finds it hard to believe that this fragrance comes from one of the most iconic and innovative designer fragrance brands of all time. Just think about it for a second, Yves Saint Laurent brought the world Opium, Paris and Rive Gauche, arguably three of the most important feminines released in the modern age. Not to forget the fact that they have also created cult classics such as Nu, M7 and Rive Gauche Pour Homme – perfumes that paint YSL as a brand with no fear, and a thirst to be different and divisive.

Black Opium is not an important fragrance, nor is it a particularly good one, and it seems that I’m not the only one to think so. Yesterday, Saint Laurent Paris (the fashion arm of YSL) distributed a press release on behalf of Creative Director, Hedi Slimane that distanced him from any involvement with the fragrance, stating that “no creative direction has been given by Hedi Slimane on the market launches and on the choices of artistic elements, or the definition of image, related to the product lines or the advertising campaigns of Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, including the ones of Black Opium”.  All I can say is ‘ouch’, that’s not a good sign.

With each release, YSL seems to be creating more and more duds (does anyone even remember 2012’s Manifesto? Exactly) whilst simultaneously unleashing a regular wave of flankers of their flagship fragrances. Black Opium is the third permanent flanker to the Opium name since 2010 (the others being Belle d’Opium and Opium Vapeurs de Parfum) and was created by perfumers Honorine Blanc, Olivier Cresp, Nathalie Lorson and Marie Salamagne – a waste of talent, if there ever was one. YSL describe Black Opium as follows:

“2014’s Most Anticipated New Fragrance [..] Black Opium, the new feminine fragrance by Yves Saint Laurent – new glam rock fragrance full of mystery and energy. An addictive gourmand floral.”

All Glitter no Substance
All Glitter no Substance

The Notes

Top: Pink Pepper and Orange Blossom
Heart: Jasmine and Coffee
Base: Vanilla, Patchouli and Sandalwood

How Does it Smell?

Black Opium opens with a sickly sweet haze of sticky liquorice, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, except for the fact that YSL have managed to remove all of the joy from a fun and frivolous note, weighing it down with vague fruits and the sweet spice of pink pepper to give the impression of something not unlike liquorice cotton candy. It’s an opening that can be smelled in a thousand-and-one fragrances, many of which create a more enticing gourmand impression.

From then on Black Opium swirls uncomfortably into an Angel-esue soup of patchouli and vanilla. There isn’t a great deal of development and none of the promised floral and coffee notes make an appearance to create any deal of interest. The whole thing smells very similar to Diesel’s Loverdose, and the truth is that, whilst the Diesel isn’t a feat of olfactory ingenuity by any means, it at least displays a sense of humour and fun that is decidedly lacking in the YSL. With Black Opium, YSL wants to bring an edgy sort of glamour, but what they ultimately present is neither of these things – it’s just boring.

But does Black Opium really smell that bad? Well the answer is no, it doesn’t smell ‘bad’, in fact it simply isn’t interesting enough to be dreadful. Black Opium represents all that is wrong with the fragrance industry and reinforces a growing trend where mediocrity is accepted and the idea of creating something beautiful is lost underneath the desire to make a quick buck. It’s a lazy launch from a house that should know better, and seems to be slipping slowly from grace, lacking the drive to treat their classics with the respect that they deserve.


Black Opium is available in 30ml (£44), 50ml (£63) and 90ml (£81)Eau de Parfum.

Image 1 via Image 2 via [cropped]. Notes via Basenotes. Quote via YSL.