Last Wednesday the following email popped up in my inbox:
“Just wanted to send over a note letting you know that yesterday afternoon YSL launched a blog to help celebrate the release of their new Opium fragrance.
The link is here: www.whatisyouropium.com
Each day on the site there will be a new bit of content released leading up to tomorrow's launch party and then following up on the event a few days afterward. Today, you can watch the 'setting the stage' video to see how the party is coming together.”
The message was sent by one Daniel Krantz, from Great Works, which a quick search revealed to be a buzz agency originating from Sweden, with offices in four countries.
Knowing full well I’d never get any reply from my new friend Daniel, but somehow deeply annoyed, I asked him if that meant that the “old” Opium would be ditched after the bottle and its contents had already been thoroughly eviscerated by new YSL Beauté licence owners L’Oréal -- IFRA restrictions on eugenols may explain the hatchet job in part, but I suspect the grand dame also underwent a thorough nip-and-tuck in a bid to please the young’uns – or whether this would be a new flanker.
The answer falls somewhere in between: Belle d’Opium is to Opium what Parisienne was to Paris, a “daughter” capitalizing on the family reputation. In other words, a Paris Hilton of fragrances.
What interests me, vaguely, are the tactics deployed to launch the scent, which bring to mind those recently used to launch Thierry Mugler Womanity, in that they are a deliberate attempt to replicate the impact of the original Opium just as Womanity recycled Angel’s recipe for success.
Like Womanity, Belle d’Opium – the name subliminally playing on Catherine Deneuve’s Yves Saint Laurent-clad character in the Buñuel movie Belle de Jour, though the moniker now refers to a famous call girl/blogger/author -- attempts to whip together an online community through its blog: “Visit daily as we reveal what inspired us. Tell us what inspires you” (doubtless so that the L’Oréal marketing team can knock together their next brief).
Of course, no launch today would be complete without displaying the perfumer who composed the scent, in this case Firmenich’s Honorine Blanc who authored, among other things, Amor Amor Tentation, Marc Jacobs Splash Pear, Ralph Lauren Polo Explorer, Estée Lauder Amber Ylang Ylang, Sarah Jessica Parker SJP NYC and Cacharel Scarlett as well as celebrity juices for Paris Hilton, Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez, none of which I’m familiar with, so that I can’t judge her style. Let’s say it’s probably not cutting-edge.
Putting forward the attractive Ms. Blanc to add a drop of authenticity to the process is also somewhat dishonest: Belle d’Opium is certainly the result of design-by-committee. We’ll be seeing a lot more of these “straw noses” coming from big houses: the perfumer-as-star is the latest in marketing tactics.
The “ingredients” are also displayed. “In the second video, mesmerizing time lapse blooms of the jasmine, gardenia and Casablanca lily flowers used in the juice open before readers' eyes”, gushes Grace Gold of Stylelist, the first site that appears in a Google search for “new Opium”. Never mind that gardenia and Casablanca lily can’t be “used in the juice” since, as perfume lovers well know, they can’t yield absolutes: they can be shown to give an idea of the notes, why not.
As for Pierre Dinand’s groundbreaking design, overseen by Yves Saint Laurent, it had already been cannibalized by Fabien Baron and transformed into a cheaper-to-produce glass bottle to house the reformulation and, like the juice, it is a ghost of its former self.
But the real fun starts when the Belle d’Opium blog takes us “behind the scenes” of a launch party which purportedly was “months in the making”. Again, an attempt to replicate the huge splash created by the original Opium launch party in New York in 1978, one of the major social events of the disco era – complete with the rental of a Chinese junk transformed into a floating garden with bamboo, cascades of orchids and lilies, a giant gold-leaf covered Buddha and beautiful people from around the world teeming around the undisputed king of couture, the rockstar-glamorous Yves Saint Laurent.
The scope and impact of the launch of the original Opium actually raised the bar for every major launch that came after it: the consistency of the bottle, name and story, the shock value of a scent called Opium (the juice itself, directly inspired by Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew, was less than groundbreaking), the Yves Saint Laurent legend, the fact that perhaps for the first time in history, a couture collection was produced to back up the launch (the “Chinese” collection was presented one month after the launch of Opium was announced), the buzz created by the slow international roll-out (Opium came out in the States a full year after its launch in France because license owners Squibb balked at the idea of backing such a scandalously named product) … It marked a turning point in the industry. Any couture-labeled perfume from then on would represent such a major investment that the whole show was taken over by marketing. That’s pretty much when mainstream perfumery stopped being offer-driven.
Belle d’Opium wants to create a similar stir by inviting us, via its blog and Facebook page, to a star-studded shindig shot by one Cobrasnake, reputedly the world’s most celebrated party photographer. French actor Mélanie Thierry succeeds Jerry Hall as the face for the launch. Alexa Chung, Alexandra Richards, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Scott and Ashley Olsen now stand in for Diana Vreeland, Loulou de la Falaise, Calvin Klein, Halston, Nan Kempner and Truman Capote.
The one person who was missing, the only one that could bring off the magic of Opium, has now been dead two years, after nearly a decade in limbo.
I hope Yves Saint Laurent comes back to haunt the sleep of the L’Oréal people with huge puffs of the original clove-laden, non-IFRAed Opium. May they break out in hives.
For a review of Belle d'Opium, click here.
Image: Yves Saint Laurent and Nan Kempner at the launch party for Opium, New York, 1978.