Perfume Review – Les Néréides Imperial Oppoponax: Evoking the Guerlain Classics

Imagine a pool of molten amber, covered with the sheen of fresh citrus oil. It’s like a thin film covering the thick, unctuous depths below. At the very bottom of the pool is a thin layer of white. Not sand, but powdered vanilla. That is the image evoked by Les Néréides Les NImperial Oppoponax, a unisex fragrance that is all sweet myrrh, amber, sandalwood and powdered vanilla.

Les Néréides is a French perfume house that initially started in the world of expensive, high-end costume jewelry before branding out into perfume. Their fragrances represent their overall ethos of the most basic, pure and simple ingredients but at the most luxurious level. They eschew expensive or fancy bottling, preferring to opt for a minimalistic aesthetic, both to appearance and, to some degree, the perfume itself.

Imperial Oppoponax embodies that aesthetic very well. It also embodies something else: vintage Shalimar by Guerlain. It’s incredibly similar, to the point that I’m in a Shalimarslight state of disbelief. (And joy.) Those who mourned the loss of their beloved legend to the horrors of IFRA restrictions and reformulations should rejoice. Because I could swear I’m wearing Shalimar, particularly in its dry-down stage! Imperial Opoponax (which has now been renamed simply “Opoponax”) is a mere eau de toilette, but it truly conjures up the glories of Shalimar at its best — both in the stronger parfum concentration and in its vintage state, before Shalimar was destroyed in a haze of synthetics and IFRA-mandated changes. (“IFRA” is the international perfume federation whose 2010 rules on the amount, type and concentration of certain key ingredients has forever altered the nature of the perfume world for the worse.)

Imperial Oppoponax is classified as a “Oriental Woody” on Fragrantica and its notes are not complicated:

citrus, opoponax (sweet myrrh), amber, vanilla, sandalwood, and benzoin (resin).

For point of comparison, Shalimar has a few more: citrus; lemon and bergamot, jasmine, may rose, opoponax, Tonka bean, vanilla, iris, Peru balsam and gray amber. (And, yet, on me, Imperial Oppoponax has a slightly similar citrus opening and an identical dry-down.)

Imperial Oppoponax opens with a sharp, almost masculine burst of citrus. There is a definite feeling of classic men’s colognes in its sharpness; impressions of Guerlain‘s Habit Rouge cologne for men float through my mind along with Guerlain’s Shalimar. It’s definitely the opening of a very intense citrus-y, woody, aromatic oriental. I put on some vintage Shalimar parfum on my other arm and compared the scents. Shalimar is richer in its citrus start, more nuanced and complex, with florals and greater warmth. Imperial Opoponax is much closer to Habit Rouge with its crisp, fresh, faintly herbal twist on a citrus start.

Ten minutes into the opening, hints of the sweet myrrh and resins begin to tiptoe into the picture. You can find more details on benzoin and sweet myrrh in my Glossary, but,

Benzoin

Benzoin

in a nutshell, benzoin is a type of resin that has a light, sweet, often powdery vanilla scent, while sweet myrrh can range from slightly nutty and amberous, to faintly herbal and balsam-like.

According to NST, opoponax “has a sweet,

Opoponax

Opoponax

balsam-like, lavender-like fragrance when used as incense. King Solomon supposedly regarded opoponax as one of the ‘noblest’ of all incense gums.” Here, the balsam element to opoponax adds a woody, almost smoky note to the perfume, while the lavender is an aromatic.

The two notes together, along with that citric start, solidify my impressions of old Habit Rouge. I happen to adore Habit Rouge with a passion, so I can’t stop sniffing my arm. Some find the opening of Imperial Opoponax too masculine and too strongly evocative of an old time barber shop. To me, Imperial Oppoponax is a happy trip down memory lane! Lemon and lime! Subtle lavender (but in a good way) with traces of powdered vanilla! Wood that almost smells faintly cedar-ish! God, this is lovely!

It may sound odd to think of balsam trees and lavender mixed with a very boozy, sweet,  almost nutty, ambery scent and vanilla powder, but it works. Like Habit Rouge, the sharp, almost excessively zesty citric start is balanced by an immediate impression of greater depth and warmth. There is a strong hint of smokiness and incense that are emerging, but the real star is a definitely boozy amber with its undertones of powder.

The citric notes fade about 30 minutes in, leaving the rest of the perfume as one very well-blended resin booze fest. There is real intensity to the sweet myrrh and benzoin, and it’s almost narcotically heady. There is a faint sharpness or accridness to the smell, though I don’t know if it’s from the smoke — which makes me think of a weak form of frankincense –or if it’s the combination of the ingredients together.

Imperial Oppoponax is a very well-blended perfume but it might easily be called linear. From reading comments about Les Néréides style, I get the definite impression that they seek to essentially bottle the essence of an ingredient in its most concentrated, pure form. Here, it’s oppoponax and while there are other players on the stage, they are all supporting cast members to support the star and to make it shine even more brightly. I also get the crazy feeling that Les Néréides’s goal with Imperial Oppoponax was essentially to bottle the basenotes of the classics. Did you ever smell something whose basenotes or dry-down was so enchanting that you thought to yourself, “why can’t they just bottle THAT?! I would buy a full bottle of that!”

Well, I think that’s what Les Néréides tried to do here. If they didn’t seek to do so intentionally, it is the final result nonetheless. Imperial Oppoponax evokes the Guerlain classics extremely well but what it really epitomises is the dry-down on Shalimar. It starts off as Habit Rouge, and then develops into Shalimar. With every passing hour, as the Imperial Oppoponax opens further, softens and unfurls its warm heart, it evokes the sweet myrrh, ambergris, tonka bean, and vanilla base notes of Shalimar. The tonka bean and vanilla that form the Guerlinade or signature to almost all Guerlain scents is evident here, even though the sweet vanilla and powder comes from benzoin instead. And the peru balsam in Shalimar is paralleled by the balsam notes to the opoponax that both perfumes share.

Tea fireplace

A cat who clearly shares my appreciation for fireplaces and cozy atmospheres.

The middle to final stages of Imperial Oppoponax are all cozy, snuggly and warm. I felt imperious, slightly haughty and very Parisienne when I went out earlier this afternoon with Imperial Oppoponax enveloping me. But tonight, once home, the warmth and coziness made me reach for my flannel pajamas and a soft pashmina wrap, as I suddenly wished I lived someplace where a real fireplace wouldn’t be laughable. It’s a scent of great femininity but also great softness; it makes you want to cuddle and snuggle, even if it’s just with a soft blanket and your German shepherd.

Imperial Oppoponax has impressive sillage for the first two to three hours. If you spray too much, you may smell the sweet myrrh almost at the back of your nose. It has definite forcefulness, this perfume. And it does “not go gently into that good night” either, to quote the poet Dylan Thomas. No, Imperial Oppoponax stays and stays — even on me. It projected its scent solidly for the first three hours but only became close to the skin about five hours in! However, I could still smell it on my wrist for hours after that. All told, Imperial Oppoponax lasted just over 8 hours on me. Eight. Me! It’s positively shocking, especially when you consider that this is a mere eau de toilette!

It’s also an incredibly affordable eau de toilette, if not a flat out steal. Imperial Oppoponax — or just plain “Oppoponax” as it is now called — costs $70 for a large bottle (100 ml or 3.3/3.4 fl. oz.). In contrast, a 1.7 oz bottle of Shalimar eau de toilette costs $73 at Sephora. And, if I may point out once again, that would be for a reformulated version of Shalimar which smells nothing like the real, original scent, and which is full of synthetics that smell artificial and sharp. If you ever loved the middle to final notes of (original) Shalimar, then Imperial Oppoponax is a scent you may want to strongly consider. It’s almost a bargain in some ways. If, however, you never were all that fond of the powdered vanilla Guerlinade base to begin with, or if you don’t like a powdery accord to your boozy resins, then Imperial Oppoponax may not be for you.

Personally, I’m thrilled to finally have a way to smell both my beloved Habit Rouge and Shalimar, all in original vintage form and all in one bottle. I consider Imperial Oppoponax to be some sort of karmic finger in the face of the IFRA olfactory atrocities. It’s almost as though Les Néréides said, “You think you’re going to change the face of perfume history? Well, we’ll see about that!”

I don’t know how they did it, but bravo!

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Imperial Oppoponax is sold (under the fragrance’s new name, “Oppoponax”) on Luckyscent for $70 for 100 ml/3.4 fl oz. You can also find it on the company’s website, Les Néréides, for 50,00 € tax incl. It only comes in Eau de Toilette version.

15 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Les Néréides Imperial Oppoponax: Evoking the Guerlain Classics

  1. I have to wonder if part of the price is so reasonable is the bottle, which looks a little…cheap? Perhaps that’s a harsh word, but I do sometimes wonder with the expensive stuff with admittedly beautiful bottles just how much I am paying for the privilege of lovely packaging. I like having nice bottles, but I think I’d prefer lower prices and unremarkable bottles for the most part.

    • I think you’re right on all counts! I agree that the bottle looks cheap, but then, we’re used to really luxe or modern looking bottles. Obviously, pretty bottles will influence people’s buying choices and obviously we all want the bottles to look “Ooooh! Aaaaah!” But, as someone with not-so-hidden cheapskate tendencies and as someone tempted by a LOT of perfumes, I would definitely prefer not to pay that increased amount just because of the bottle. Things like the Serge Lutens bottles are also minimalistic (though the label looks less cheap than the one here) but they are at least TWICE the price of the Nereides. (Name value clearly applies here.)

    • I’m so glad. I wish more people knew about this scent when the laments go up for how much Shalimar has changed. It really is as though they aimed to recreate the Shalimar finish when making this. And it was absolutely lovely to wear after a plethora of scents that I was utterly unenthused by or couldn’t stand. It was almost a relief to finally give something a positive review. Of course, we’re both Shalimar lovers. I think a person’s reaction to Imperial Opoponax would be very different if they couldn’t stand powdery accords in their fragrances!

  2. This Imperial Opoponax sure sounds like something special. I’m going to try it next time I order samples from lucky scent. I wonder why its not on the radar of most people. Great review!

    • You’ll have to let me know what you think if you try it, Ferris/Jason (which do you prefer? lol). As for the perfume house itself, I think their presence is tiny here in the US because they aren’t sold in any big boutiques (that I know of), like Barney’s, Saks, Bergdorf’s, etc, and they don’t have their own stores here. They seem to have a very large presence (and their own actual stores) in Europe and Asia, but not so much in the US — if at all. Their stuff is also much simpler (intentionally) than some lines; they don’t go for the glitz and glam, but for more pure, basic ingredients. All those things (and packaging that can look cheap as compared to, say, Tom Ford or the big names) can make them easily overlooked. But some of their stuff sounds really intriguing and I definitely want to try a few more from their line. For example, their take on patchouli (Patchouli Antique) or their Musc-something which has Himalayan musk with florals.

      • I prefer Ferris. I have emails for different purposes ie shopping, newsletters, junk mail, so I don’t forget what they are. I have one email that gets swamped with so much spam, its ridiculous. I don’t know how many offers of penile enhancements, viagra, and letters claiming I’m the heir to the Nigerian king throne and they need to send money to me in order to avoid high taxes.LOL Really? Try again. Anyway, Which do you prefer between Shalimar, Habit Rogue Something ( I know I have it wrong) and this one Opoponax? I’ve tried Jinky edp ( modern reformulation) and it starts off great, but then it gets very animalistic. To me it smells like it has a urine note ( civet) in it’s composition, which is very off- pudding to me. I thought I was going to like this one, but apparently not.

        • I’m personally fond of the ones from Mrs. LaPointe at the UN telling me of the millions that they’re holding for me…. 😉

          Habit Rouge is a totally different thing than either of these really, because it’s a true men’s cologne. It is one of my all-time, favorite men’s cologne along with Antaeus, true Kouros, Eau Sauvage Extreme, Fahrenheit, and a few others. But Habit Rouge is really at the *TOP* of the list. Shalimar is a dusky, dusty, complex women’s fragrance — or at least, it was before it got reformulated into a diluted, synthetic, chemical crap that burns my nose and makes me wince. I personally wouldn’t try it unless you can find the vintage on a place like eBay. Yes, Habit Rouge — like all the greats — has been reformulated, but nowhere half as badly as Shalimar, imo. It is a pure woody oriental but, more technically, I would classify it as a true chypre: citrus notes on top, heart of oakmoss with leather and smoke at its heart or base. So, a leathery chypre. So, so different from Shalimar, again. I truly cannot compare them. For point of reference, Shalimar is by no means my favorite Guerlain. I like it, I liked it quite a bit, but I don’t love it. I used to love L’Heure Bleue (pre-reformulation). THAT was my Guerlain. Jicky? Never. (For further point of reference, my all-time, holy grail, favorite perfume on earth is original, vintage Opium. So, you see, not even a Guerlain.)

          Opoponax starts off as Habit Rouge, before developing into Shalimar’s finale. So, it’s a mix of the two in a way. Personally, if you could get your hands on Habit Rouge original, I would go with that for you. Hands down. Even if not vintage, I would try a sample decant of Habit Rouge. In any formulation. Habit Rouge is just in a class by itself. Opoponax is lovely, and I would absolutely wear it if I had a bottle, but it’s not a scent that I *need* to buy a bottle of, if that makes sense. I have no strong lust and urge to buy a bottle of it. To be honest, it’s been a while since any perfume did that to me, so I’m picky in general and a bit too much of a cheapskate to buy things I just merely like, even if I like them a bit. The real problem is that I just *like* Shalimar. I’ve never been in love with it though because it was never my Holy Grail or even my favorite Guerlain.

          But Habit Rouge for men….. that is really fantastic. Try a sample of the modern formulation and then, if you like it, go to eBay where there are always some vintage bottles around. And read the Fragrantica reviews: http://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Guerlain/Habit-Rouge-16.html Note how many say it’s a man’s Shalimar or Shalimar on Steroids. Mmmmmmm, Habit Rouge….. just the thought of it makes me a little giddy.

    • I am familiar with it, but only as something on my list of things to try. It’s not only because I like patchouli but, as I was explaining to Ferris, Les Nereides really seems to focus on the basics: the purity of the elemental ingredients, without “gussing it up” (so to speak) with fancy bottles or, even, modern-ish labels. They’re very minimalistic, it seems, and like to just have a few, key ingredients at their richest. All of that makes me super keen on trying the Patchouli Antique! If you get to it first, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. We seem to have a large overlap in our tastes.

  3. I have the first edition “Imperial Opoponax and that bottle looks more charming because of the different label. But do you know if the juice is different too or did it stay the same?
    Anyway, i really dig this one and am curious about the Patchouli now too 🙂

    • My apologies for the very late reply, but I was away on holiday for a few weeks. All the Nereides fragrances have been reformulated at the time of their repackaging and the change in bottles/labels. The Patchouli one in particular seems to have gone through several stages of reformulation over the years since its original debut. I hope that helps.

  4. Kafka I have FINALLY found my absolute favorite perfume in the world – the one that I’ve been craving for and envisioning how I want my perfume to smell like – it is Shalimar Vintage extrait. I am in HEAVEN I tell you – this perfume is glorious – I catch whiffs of it and every time it presents a different scent – sometimes its rose, sometimes citrus, other times its musky, then fresh smelling, then it transforms into something very sexy – it is so many different things and then again it is everything – if that makes sense. I am going to troll ebay and stock up!!! But, I did have a question for you – just because I am so in LOVE with this perfume and want to know everything about it – what gives perfume that plasticky smell – I can smell it in vintage Cartier Must and also in the vintage Shalimar and really like it!!!!

    • Vintage Shalimar parfum is gorgeous, Ritu, so I’m not surprised you’ve fallen in love. It’s a personal favourite of mine as well. As for the plastick-y whiff, I don’t know what the cause may be. Perhaps the jasmine, perhaps the vanilla? As a side note, if you love vintage Shalimar parfum/extrait, you may want to get samples of Unum’s Opus 1144 which is like the vintage parfum on steroids. Roja Dove’s new Ti Amo parfum (which will be one of the upcoming reviews) is a lot like vintage Shalimar, too, except with brief, temporary bits of cocoa, orange blossom, and more amber at different stages.

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