News of the newly designed Opium bottle filled me with a sinking feeling. What could YSL be trying to hide? Surely this wouldn't be the first time someone has tinkered around with the formula. Whether or not I like the new bottle (I do, on it's own terms, and I don't, compared to the iconic look of the original) is beside the point. The perfume itself is far more important to me. I've been suffering from a feeling of helplessness lately. It would be one thing if I adored a lot of the newer fragrances I smell. I don't; or not so much. So there's that: I'm not a fan of the direction fragrance is taking. I'm not a die hard for vintage either, especially. I'm happy with the way fragrances smelled in the eighties and early to mid nineties. But everything is starting to smell very similar to me in a certain sense, and not in a way which feels motivated by passing fashion, like the big boned stuff of the eighties, say, or the Angel clone mine field of the nineties.
I can't describe this sameness, exactly. It's something I sense the moment I smell something which has just been released or reformulated. The new Rochas has this quality of deja vu. The new Mitsouko. I mention these because I feel they've been reformulated with care and consideration for the most part, as has Opium. The point is, even reformulations I like and recognize as having a clear relationship to their prior incarnations are starting to bum me out, because they smell like somebody's desperate vision of Now.
Opium smells great, as it turns out. But along with the hard orange plastic which used to encase it, something more substantial has been removed. YSL will tell you it's the same fragrance, of course, and most people who love Opium will not feel it has changed, the way, say, longtime lovers of Estee Lauder's Beautiful sense a change in their beloved fragrance of choice. Beautiful smells like Beautiful, but not like it always did. Opium still has the carnation, which is reason enough for relief. I imagined that would have to be the first to go in a bid for "modernization." It still has that wonderful woody rasp to it. The difference is subtle but, for me, constitutes a significant loss. It's the difference between ringing a glass bell with a silver fork and a piece of balsa wood.
That isn't to say the new Opium is hollow. It isn't. It has good persistence, and some amount of presence. It is still an oriental--and probably heavier than anything near it on the shelf. But some of the drama is gone. It has less resonance. The department store had a bottle of the old version sitting out and I compared before and after. More than anything I notice a boozy ambiance is missing. A real sense of depth, like the vapors that rise off a glass of brandy when it stirs. I think what depresses me most is knowing that Opium is one of those fragrances many people feel was "too much" to begin with, leaving it vulnerable to this kind of update.
Given that, it could have been worse. I fully acknowledge that. But I believed there was a place for "too much" in a marketplace which offers so little. I never look at an actress or actor for that matter who is aging naturally and gracefully and think, Why am I forced to look at that dinosaur? Frankly, if I want to watch a movie full of twenty year olds there are plenty of them. Opium was like Charlotte Rampling, to me--one of those women fearless enough to aim for timelessness rather than ceaseless modernization. It makes me happy to see Rampling's face here and there. It gives a sense of context to things. It's a counterpoint. Smelling the new Opium, I feel as though her agent finally convinced her to have a little work done.