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.


86 thoughts on “How the Mighty Have Fallen – YSL Black Opium Perfume Review

  1. It smells very curent. But not because it’s special and groundbreaking, but because it smells like many other newer fragrances on the marked today. It especially reminds me of Armani’s Sì from last year. So the anticlimax that is Black Opium showed out to be not so much edgy, as just riding an already set trend. Fail!
    Young girls are gonna like it, though. I think.

    • Sorry I totally disagree with the person who wrote this artice: I love this fragrance, my mum uses the original Opium and the Opium Black is quite similar once it settles into skin/ more youthful smelling though and more fruity when it first goes on. The top, middle and base notes are sensational creating a lovely scent throughout – MY FAVOURITE !

      • That person would be me! As I’ve said to others, we all have different opinions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I’m glad that you’ve found love for Black Opium. For me, Black Opium is not in keeping with the classics of YSLs past. Furthermore, there are many fruity-vanilla-patchouli fragrances that work a lot better than Black Opium, scents like Angel or Lolita Lempicka, for example.

      • That would be me that wrote the article. Our opinions can differ, which is cool. I am glad you like it. But Opium and Black Opium are not similar in the slightest, the original is a spice bomb of an oriental whereas Black Opium is a sickly sweet gourmand. Two very different styles.

    • I think it smells just like Kenzo Amour and I always end picking scents like these that pretty much smell just like each other..I have Coco Mademoiselle that smells like La Vie Est Belle..I have Black Opium and Kenzo Amour that smells exactly alike. I had Armani Si that smelled just like Coco and La Vie Est Belle. I’d really like some Bond No. 9

  2. I saw this perfume at a local shop this morning and its bottle intrigued me, but after reading your review I’ve realized a nice bottle isn’t enough to justify the purchase. Too bad YSL is launching disappointing fragrances 😦

  3. Oh dear, what a shame. I did quite like the TV ad.

    It seems to be a bad sign when a number of perfumers are involved, no matter how talented.

    That statement is pretty eyebrow-raising considering he’s employed by the brand. Shows how unhappy he must be about the whole thing.

    • I’ve not seen the TV ad yet. I’ll have to YouTube it 😀

      I completely agree re the number of perfumers. If there is more than two it tends to spell trouble. This is a talented stream of perfumers though.

      The statement is a bit of a shock, isn’t it? It must be quite embarrassing for YSL Beauté/L’Oreal!

  4. Absolutely hideous. As are all offerings from YSL (read L’Oreal) that include the word “Opium” in their name other than the original. I applaud Slimane’s bravery in distancing himself from this travesty and hope that the public run like the wind from same. Perhaps then L’Oreal will get the message. I make no secret that I was an Opium addict back in the day and was at the launch in Selfridges, with bells on. The reformulation of this once icon fragrance has been nothing short of an abomination imo. To be fair, I tried hard to look at the new Opium as a stand alone fragrance – couldn’t do it. The vintage is in my DNA and all pretenders need to be either named something else or emptied down the proverbial drain.

  5. Their campaigns are not what they used to be either. Remember the Sophie Dahl one? Not that campaigns need to be explicit or sensual- not at all – but they do need to be evocative.

  6. So sad they messed with Opium and it is also sad that they got rid of so many original bottles (Rive Gauche Homme, Nu etc). Obviously they have no understanding of their heritage when treating Opium merely as a brand that needs rescue… it is a piece of art too!

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  9. I completely disagree. The review is overtly harsh and does not do justice to the perfume. The perfume has a lovely depth and warmth to it. It was not swt on my skinny and also lasted really well!

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  12. I personally was very, VERY disappointed in that fragrance. I absolutely adore the original Opium perfume. Somehow I was truly hoping that this Black Opium is sort of an upgrading of the old and good Opium itself (hence the name “Black” being an indicator for something deeper, mystical etc..) but NOTHING reminded me of that. Since I think that that kind of old and graceful perfumes like Opium is, is nothing to mess with, I am baffled. You are absolutely correct – it smells like any other scent on the market. A total fail.

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  14. I was shocked at how horrible this new opium is! I too loved the original and was intrigued that the black might be a new version of it, WRONG!!! To me it smells like cheap disgusting sweet drugstore perfume. After I returned it to sephora, I saw several glowing reviews and one accurate review describing how bad it is. Later I noticed that sephora had deleted the negative review, hmmm, I think some tricky marketing is going on because I honestly don’t see how anyone could appreciate this sad scent.

  15. Also why did they also take Yvresse of the market. Such a popular perfume and I am missing it terribly. Has been my signature perfume for years and years. Please bring it back and not in another form.

  16. You have just saved me from making a $100 anxiety/depression/boredom fueled shopping mistake. I have my old stand-by (the one my husband says “smells like you”) but I’m addicted to fragrance. I’m going to shut my mouth now and check out your guide and see if I can find another good one to try! Many thanks

  17. Great review. I’ve actually smelt both Black Opium and the original and I must say, I prefer Black Opium. My nose just could not stand the original, I’ll have to give them both a try on the skin to see how they fair on the skin. I’m very particular about my fragrances and for years have alternated between 2 fragrances, Jessica Simpson Fancy and Mariah Carey Luscious Pink because I did not like the 2nd and 3rd notes of other perfumes I’ve tried, including Chanel Chance and Guerlain Insolence. I admit, Black Opium is not a unique scent by any means, I recognise the similarities with other perfumes in the market immediately, but this mixture of notes really attracted me.

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  20. i have tried so many perfumes that have smelt wrong on me .
    I need something with the more earthy tones . melons and poppies and unicorn air just don’t do it ! they smell like cats urine on me ! i really love this perfume because it smells amazing on ME!! why would I buy Something that smelt good on someone else ???
    always buy a perfume that you like the smell on YOU and that others say smell good on you !!!
    Perfume buying is about balance !! what smells good to you and what smells good on you !!!
    Please dont be put off by the scathing reviews

    • Well, I’d certainly echo the sentiment that one should buy/wear the fragrances that they love and that smell good on them.

      That said, I cannot deny that in the context of modern perfumery, Black Opium is not unique, interesting or even well executed. But if you like it then more power to you!

  21. Alas, I wish that I had read this before I blindly bought this on line. It smells like too much heavy vanilla on me and it’s smothering me! If only the licorice had come through. I was so hoping that I’d get a whiff of the old Opium; yet, not to be.
    Cannot believe that I spent this much money on this to not like it. I’ll bet that within a year it’ll be in the discount stores.
    I just sprayed some Chanel No.19 over this mess to cover that vanilla. It helped.

  22. I saw the commercial and thought it’s another advert for young, dumb and full of cum generation. After all that’s whom commercials on the whole are directed at. The Stupid.

  23. Well it’s the first time I’ve ever gone home to google a model after seeing ‘that’ picture.

    You reckon she looks ‘bored?’ Seriously? Wtf? Shot from below there’s a haughty insouciant air that drips sexuality. It’s a power-woman shot and one of the most stunning I’ve seen.

    Which makes me wonder if you are any better on the actual perfume?

  24. Wow. I admit…I know nothing about perfume! What makes one good, bad, or how a perfume can have humor? Which is why your review was very interesting for me to read. I’m fascinated.

    Personally I’ve never had a scent. You know? My go-to signature smell that feels like it was made just for me. (I’ve also never actively looked.) So, while at Sephora one day I described to the sales clerk the type of scents I like and feel mix well with me. She directed me to this immediately, and I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scent! At first I was afraid I was more in like this the product due to the impressive way she pin-pointed something for me based off of some vague descriptive words, but my love for the scent hasn’t died. I wear it daily, and it smells wonderful on me.

    Anyway, I didn’t comment to say “My opinion is different! Isn’t that fascinating?!” (I’m sure in your time reviewing perfumes that becomes redundant.)

    Because you seem quite knowledgeable regarding perfume, I was wondering what would be your recommendation for perfumes that fall within this arena, but are scents you feel are quality and not so…uninspired? Something that you are actually approving of and don’t find boring. (Since I’m so new to perfumes, I’m wondering if there’s something out there that perhaps I’d like even more than this…and if at a better price point, that would be a bonus.)

    • The most important thing to note is that there is no right or wrong with perfume. If you like Black Opium, power to you. Perfume is here to bring us joy so if you find something that does, I’m all for it.

      If you’re looking for similar scents then check out Angel, Lolita Lempicka and Loverdose by Diesel.

  25. I love Black Opium and I really dislike when reviewers make blanket statements like it’s “awful.” Maybe to you it is! Just because you don’t like it, don’t make such disparaging remarks about the product and damn near state it as fact. That’s unprofessional. I’m sure I wouldn’t care for many of the scents you deem lovely.

    • I think I make it pretty clear that this is my opinion.

      As you’ll see from most of my responses to comments on this post, I’ve said that if you like it, more power to you. There is no right and wrong in perfume, just opinion.

      That said, with YSL’s esteemed history of legendary perfumes, Black Opium is, in my opinion, a cop out.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting.

    • I agree. One should give whatever is being reviewed a try first. I am one never to listen to reviews until I try it myself. I see people wear things I never would but looks good on them. Each to their own style or fragrance. At least get a sample and try it more then once.

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  27. I miss the days when people had their signature perfume. My mom used Rive Gauche all her life. I hate spicy/oriental smells I never liked Opium myself. But I also hate over sweet ones. I’m a hard person to please when it comes to perfume but having said that my nose has changed through the years. As a child I remember loving Chloe! In my 30’s I loved wearing YSL Viceversa which then was discontinued. These days I find it hard to become attached to a fragrance. Perfume has become too commercial and fashion related. I may like a perfume but I certainly do not want to smell like 1000 other people….

    • I can see what you mean. With so much choice out there, people no longer need to be loyal to any one scent, they can just gorge on the plentiful bounty on the department store shelves. There is some wonderfully subversive stuff in the mainstream though, have you tried ALAIA or Narciso?

  28. Disappointed….from the description I thought it could have been a bit like Nu. Speaking of Nu ( which is the only perfume that smelt divine and ‘lasted’ on me)….does anyone know of something similar? I’m over searching!!!

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  30. I know I’m posting a very long time after the original, but couldn’t help myself … Thought you might find this interesting.

    I have strange skin chemistry, and perfumes tend to bloom very differently on me than they do on others. That said … I was shocked today when I tried on YSL’s Black Opium and found myself literally unable to differentiate it from Armani Si, which I wear often. I’m not saying these scents smell similar on me … I’m saying that, after the initial top notes, the dry down is literally *identical.* I can’t get over it, especially since the two are obviously marketed to such widely different audiences.

  31. I wanted to love this because i loved the ad, the bottle and the name, but my god…. it’s so sickeningly sweet and heavy. It just feels so tacky to me, I would never wear it. Sad, because it is persistent. I could swear I’ve smelled this 100 times before on girls at the club.

  32. Why on earth did YSL discontinue their “Belle D’ Opium” & launch this boring mess?? Belle D’Opium smelt absolutely gorgeous,& every time I wore it 9 outtA 10 people would ask me what I was wearing!! Elle is also another favourite of mine as well,& yes I actually do wear Rive Gauche (femme) & Original Opium!!

  33. I came here to learn if there was a significant difference between “Opium” and the new “Black Opium” not really sure it was made clear or not?! But it was a good write up to say the least! I’m (66) I used “Tabu” as a teenager, used Avon’s “Imari” for awhile but settled on “Opium” about 25 years ago, still love it! 😇

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  35. Love this perfume – perfumes smell different on different skin types so this will not be to everyone’s taste – I always try a sample spray in a shop before I buy just in case

  36. Wish all you who hate it could send it my way. I got a tiny sample and fell in love with it (I’m an old Spiritual Sky essenial oils fan from way back, so you can see why.) Tiny sample is all I’ll be able to afford. Sigh.

  37. I totally agree with the above comments I was desperate to try black opium and was do disappointed it doesn’t smell of anything it’s as if I’ve sprayed water on just a total waste if money

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