YSL Noble Leather (Oriental Collection) – Ignoble Leather

Source: www.luxe-en-france.com

Source: luxe-en-france.com

You better hold onto your seats because I’m not in a good mood. In fact, I’m in a distinctly vile mood, thanks to Noble Leather, a new fragrance from YSL that was released last month in very limited distribution. Ignoble Noble Leather is one of three scents in the new Oriental Collection that is meant to honour the brilliant Yves St. Laurent himself.

All I have to say to that is that the poor man would cry in his grave if he smelled this fragrance. He happens to have been a personal idol of mine, a man I practically worshiped in my youth, and whose creations were once a huge part of my life in numerous different ways. He would cry at the toxic horror that is Noble Leather, and I would join him — if I didn’t feel like taking a sword and stabbing it through L’Oreal‘s heart. 

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

The most common, frequent description of Noble Leather lies through its teeth when it states:

Yves Saint Laurent has drawn its inspiration from the splendours of the East to give birth to an exceptional collection. In honour of its creator and his never-ending passion for the elsewhere, the Oriental Collection celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness. The potent and deep scent of leather fervently states its case and whispers an elegant, raw and carnal sensuality. The ambery wood accord embraces languid vanilla and the earthy scents of patchouli before giving way to intermingling tanned leathers. Enhanced by a dash of bright saffron notes and softened by the candied sweetness of the dried fruit accord, this skin-deep fragrance leaves an unforgettable impression.

Noble Leather. Source: Luxe-en-France.com

Noble Leather. Source: Luxe-en-France.com

The most complete and detailed information I found for the fragrance comes from Ozmoz. It states that Noble Leather was created by Julie Massé of Mane, and it provides both a description of the bottle and the full list of notes:

Sensual and animalic, Noble Leather is a fragrance in Yves Saint Laurent’s Oriental Collection line. Inspired by the mysteries of the Orient, the collection is an invitation to travel. Noble Leather is composed around a leather accord that’s sweetened with dried-fruit notes. The cubic bottle is sheathed in gold and nestles in a golden box inspired by an Oriental palace. Available from selected points of sale only.

Top : Violet Blossom, Saffron, Tangerine

Heart : Tobacco, Leather, Dried Fruit

Base : Vanilla, Patchouli

A pack of lies, if you ask me. Nothing in this fragrance “celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness.” What it celebrates are laboratory concoctions. An invitation to travel? Where? To see the scientists at work in the bowels of Givaudan creating vats of cheap Norlimbanol, the ISO E-like Kephalis, cheap purple fruit-chouli, and Safraleine? As for the Orient, bah! It would join Mr. St. Laurent in weeping copious tears of shame that its name has been linked to this over-priced, outrageous hot mess. At least one of them should sue for defamation.

And L’Oreal, you should be utterly ashamed at what you’ve done to the Yves St. Laurent name, a name that was once highly respected, and my own personal favorite amidst all the perfume houses. For shame. FOR SHAME, you revolting, mercenary creatures. Stop picking at the Yves St. Laurent carcass, like the maggoty, mangy, flea-ridden vultures that you are. Haven’t you done enough with the emasculated eunuch and abomination that is the current Opium?

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

I suppose I should get to what this vile horror smells like, but I’ve been trying to put off revisiting the memory from sheer misery. Well, Noble Leather opens like a toxic cloud of chemical napalm on my skin. There is a momentary pop of saffron, rich rose, and then a powerful, unexpected burst of an oud-y woodiness, followed by a tidal wave of synthetics. That artificial “oud” is highly peppered and dry, to the point that it feels prickly, spiky, and almost sulphurous. It actually doesn’t smell like the real wood, but my brain is clearly making the connections between the chemicals that often accompany agarwood in fragrances like Montale’s Aouds, and interpreting it as “oud.” Only here, it smells like a really bad, cheap version of Montale’s “oud” — which says something….

In these opening minutes, it is genuinely difficult for me to detect much in Noble Leather behind the deluge of chemicals that are, alternatively, profoundly peppered, aggressively sharp, sulphurously smoky, prickly, and syrupy sweet. My nose is pounding from some sort of piercing dryness, while a sudden pain shoots behind my left eye. But, eh, I’m generally used to such things when there is a gallon of synthetics involved, no matter how miserable the experience. What I’m significantly less used to is the feeling that someone has taken the edge of a sharp kitchen knife and scraped it all along the back of my throat. It feels raw, scratchy, and then it starts to burn. What the hell is in this bloody perfume?!

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

Art by: LordmOth on Deviant Art. (Click on photo for website link embedded within.)

It is a rhetorical question because I actually recall the unpleasant medley of toxic chemical smells from a prior experience, though it had been faint in comparison then and it never — ever — triggered a reaction like this. This smell that is almost like ISO E Super, but not quite; this olfactory cocktail that begins with a slightly astringent (and quite oud-like) note, before quickly radiating a spiky, smoked, highly peppered cedary dryness, with amber and the vaguest undertone of leather — this medley feels extremely familiar.

Early this summer, I came across a discussion about the synthetic aromachemicals, Kephalis and Norlimbanol on the blog, Scent Intoxique. I am forever indebted to Duke Hunt whose invaluable description taught me to recognize the cocktail of synthetics that I detect here (only Noble Leather has them amped up on steroids, if you ask me). In his review for Nasomatto’s Black Afgano, Duke Hunt wrote:

Straight out of the bong you’re greeted with a dense aroma chemical sucker punch made up of synthetic Givaudan oud, coupled with an underpinned cedar effect in the form of Kephalis (which is an Iso-E-Super substitute, only with a more woodier/smokier feel).

Finally I can make out some quite prominent vetiver/tobacco notes, adding to the “greenness” which the general nose picks up. I may be off, but I definitely feel like I’m picking up one of the main players here and that’s Norlimbanol™, which is described as an “extremely powerful woody/animal amber note. That has a dry woody note in the patchouli direction”. 

As described by Chandler Burr, “Norlimbanol is one of the most amazing scents around, a genius molecule that should be worth its weight in gold; Norlimbanol gives you, quite simply, the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation, and if when you smell it, you’ll understand that instantly—the molecule is, by itself, a multi-sensory Disney ride.”

It’s this same compound which I believe gives the scent its subtle leathery undertones along with the amber. [Emphasis in font to the names added by me.]

Almost everything he’s written — not everything, but almost all — I detect here. From “the subtle leathery tones along with the amber,” to the spiky, peppered, almost greenish notes that resemble smoked cedar, to acutely dry, astringent, almost sulphurously burning woody-amber notes. The patchouli he mentions, well, that is provided in additional form with the actual note, as is the supposed tobacco (which is probably just more Kephalis in disguise). And the whole, utterly heinous, indescribable abomination is wrapped up with an ISO E Super-like bow that explodes at you right out of the starting gates. I sharply and vehemently disagree with Chandler Burr that this is genius gold.

To me, Noble Leather’s toxic brew is a chemical hell on earth that is the perfume equivalent of napalm. Each and every time I sniff I my arm, the back of my throat burns, and I get a spasmodic pain behind my eye. I have smelled a lot of ISO E or synthetic fragrances, and, while I may hate the aroma, I don’t get physical reactions unless the quantity of aroma-chemicals is really enormous. And I certainly can’t recall the last time I had a physical reaction that was this strong.

Source: Shutterstock.com

Source: Shutterstock.com

Minutes after the traumatizing tsunami of toxicity that is unleashed on me, more notes arrive on the scene. There is a jammy patchouli that evokes the aroma of syrupy red roses dominated by dark fruits, then small bubbles of a sweet tangerine and a powdery violet. At first, the citric element is a bit juicy and tart, but it soon takes on a plastic synthetic profile. You know those cheap “Made in China” plastic toys? Well, imagine the smell of one of those just barely infused with something orange-like. As for the violet, it’s delicate, but also somewhat woody and is quickly transformed with a peppery bite from the other accords. Much more prominent to me is a note that distinctly smells like jammy roses, even though there is none listed in the perfume. I assuming it’s my mind making those connections again, as fruited purple patchouli often accompanies a rose accord in perfumery. Whatever the reason, there is a fruited floralness in Noble Leather that goes beyond mere “violets” and which I’ll just call “rose” from this point onwards.

Safraleine. Source: Givaudan.

Safraleine. Source: Givaudan.

Then, there is the saffron. It starts off being a little fiery and spiced, but soon takes on a warm, almost leathery bent. It is most definitely Safraleine, a Givaudan creation that the company describes as follows:

Safraleine has a very unique warm and vibrant character offering a new alternative to existing spicy odorants. Safraleine exhibits warm, powerful, leathery and tobacco facets but its complexity also reveals characteristics of spices reminiscent of natural saffron, enriched by rose ketone-like floral aspects.

The shrieking madness finally starts to abate about 10 minutes into Ignoble Leather’s development. Now, it’s only a moderately aggressive chemical bath of violet, jammy fruited patchouli, plastic orange, fake oud-y woodiness, and highly peppered, ISO E-like sharpness. For the first time, the tobacco and leather appear on the scene. The former is dusty, dry, and smells a bit like a stale, unlit cigar. The latter smells like suede infused with cheap, pleather vinyl. Yet, neither one feels distinctive or much like the notes in their own right.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

Kephalis. Source: Givaudan.

The best way to explain it is that the tobacco doesn’t smell like the actual tobacco found in other fragrances focusing on the note. It smells like an abstract approximation of what “tobacco” is supposed to smell like. My guess is that there is no actual tobacco in Noble Leather but that the aroma has been artificially created by Kephalis, that cousin to ISO E Super. Duke Hunt talked about Kephalis in the section I quoted above, but Givaudan‘s description of the synthetic is useful:

Kephalis is a very versatile and rich product, used as a long lasting heart/basic note. It blends well with floral notes (jasmine, rose, violet, lavender, etc.) as well as sophisticated amber, woody-aldehydic, tobacco and masculine creations. 

Thirty minutes in, the balance of power in the perfume starts to shift. As the super-shrill astringent, sulphurous, dusty and dry woody synthetics abate (a little), there is a matching rise in the fruited patchouli. It becomes heavier, more prominent, and suddenly, Noble Leather feels even sweeter. The most positive thing that I can say about the whole ghastly concoction is that the violet is pretty. Oddly enough, the peppered ISO E-like note seems to give the sometimes wan, frail note a little oomph. As a whole, though, the violets are never a significant part of Noble Leather on my skin. How could something so delicate withstand the power of a super synthetic like Norlimbanol?

"Rose Reflections" by HocusFocusClick on Flickr. (Click on photo for website link which is embedded within).

“Rose Reflections” by HocusFocusClick on Flickr. (Click on photo for website link which is embedded within).

At the end of the first hour, Noble Leather is a slightly softer mess of sharp, dusty, woody dryness with spiky, peppered ISO E-like notes, a syrupy pink rose, sticky fruits, cheap vinyl-smelling leather, hints of violets, stale tobacco, and synthetic, buttered saffron. It starts to devolve, with the fruited patchouli becoming more prominent, the fragrance taking on an amber undertone, and the woody notes turning more abstract.

In the middle of the second hour, Noble Leather feels more and more like a vaguely floral patchouli with fruited molasses, amber, and ISO E, over a base of extremely dry woodiness that, at best, resembles a sharp cedar. The vague abstraction of cheap leather retreats to the sidelines. The whole thing is much softer and, though I’m not keen on patchouli rose, Noble Leather smells better. It is almost pleasant — albeit on the most relative of absolute scales fabricated in the bowels of Hell. Perhaps it’s the relief talking, as Noble Leather’s soft cloud is now radiating only 3 inches off my skin, instead of punching me in the head like Mike Tyson.

Regardless of what the notes may say, Ignoble Leather has a definite underpinning of amber. I suspect it stems from some combination of the synthetics together. Whatever the precise reason, by the middle of the second hour, Noble Leather smells of a soft, “oud”-y rose with fruited patchouli, dusty saffron, dusty and stale tobacco, dry cedar-ish woods, and Norlimbanol amber. The perfume’s sillage drops, but the notes are still forceful when smelled up close. In fact, each and every time I sniff my arm, it feels like someone has taken an old-fashioned 18th-century straight razor to the back of my throat.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

At the end of the fourth hour, Noble Leather is a woody, dry amber fragrance with tobacco, saffron, and that patchouli rose. There is the vaguest hint of suede that pops up every now and then, but leather? Elvis left the building a while ago. Taking his place is a subtle, very dry vanilla that starts to rise to the surface. Noble Leather turns increasingly abstract and hazy, and its final moments consists primarily of an amber with indistinct, super dry woodiness and vanilla, atop an amorphous, slightly fruited sweetness. All in all, the bloody perfume lasted just over 9 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with sillage that was initially fierce, then strong, before it turned soft about 2.5 hours into Noble Leather’s development. As you might have gathered by now, I was not a fan. Of any of it.

In fact, I wasn’t a fan even in my first encounter with the perfume. I actually smelled Noble Leather while I was in Paris. It was on a paper mouillette, but I was taken aback even then by the sharp wave of horrors that came at me. I didn’t know Noble Leather’s official notes, but I recall telling the sales assistant that I smelled oud, and asked if it had ISO E Super. When she stared at me blankly, I wrapped things up by simply saying that I was tired of safraleine-oud-rose fragrances. I could smell much of it, even back then from mere paper. But on actual skin…. it’s a whole other matter entirely.

On Fragrantica, the main focus of people’s discussion of Noble Leather is Tom Ford‘s Tuscan Leather. I took out my sample of the latter today to give it a cursory comparative test, and the two scents are simultaneously extremely alike and nothing alike. Yes, the perfumes have an extremely close olfactory bouquet but, at no time, does the Tom Ford fragrance hit you with a tsunami of toxicity. There are definitely traces of Norlimbanol in Tuscan Leather, and it has an incredibly dry, peppered base, but the relative degrees are night and day apart. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, the amount of synthetics used in Noble Leather would rate a solid 10 in the opening minutes. Tom Ford’s would rate a 1.5, which rises to about a 2 or 2.5 as the Norlimbanol starts to stir and become more prominent. For what it’s worth, Tuscan Leather triggered some scratchiness in my throat as well, so I’m clearly sensitive to that particular aroma-chemical in ways that I am not even to ISO E Super. But it is more like minor irritation, a small cough, as opposed to feeling that my skin has been scraped raw by a straight razor.

I realize that the degree of my fury may seem quite disproportionate to the situation at large. I am sure many of you think that the perfume can’t possibly be that unpleasant, and that my nose is simply much more sensitive than the average person. I concede that last point. I always had an acutely sensitive nose but, the more I sniff perfumes daily, the more sensitive it becomes, since, in essence, the nose is merely another type of muscle. Exercising it daily makes it much stronger. But, in my opinion, Noble Leather really is that bad. For all that people think it’s a clone of Tuscan Leather, the latter is an infinitely better, smoother, more well-rounded, high-quality, expensive-smelling fragrance. It lacks Noble Leather’s sharp, bony, spiky elbows and prickly roughness. Noble Leather amps up the chemicals to a shocking degree; it’s vats of the stuff, instead of a few table spoons.

One of the reasons why I’m so angry is the cost of Noble Leather. YSL is charging £185 or €177 for an 80 ml bottle. At the current rate of conversion, £185 is $301. That is completely outrageous given the ingredients used in the fragrance. Yes, real saffron is bloody expensive, and a lot of perfume companies use Safranal or Safraleine instead. But the ISO E-like tobacco, Kephalis? Norlimbanol? I can go out right this minute and buy 4 ml of Norlimbanol in undiluted concentrate from The Perfumer’s Apprentice for $3.99, or a large 80 ml bottle (the same sized bottle as Noble Leather) for $36. I can buy 80 ml of Kephalis for $18. Given that L’Oreal undoubtedly gets a massive discount for wholesale orders of the stuff, the cost to them would be even lower. Plus, since all this stuff is subsequently diluted in an perfumer’s alcohol base, 80 ml of either chemical could probably make several hundred bottles of perfume.

That makes Noble Leather’s $300 price tag simply insulting. Sheer venal greed for a totally crap, cheaply made, chemical perfume that is a tsunami of toxicity. Yves St. Laurent was the epitome of elegance, luxury, seductiveness, and opulent orientalism. This “homage” to him is an utter abomination. I can’t even bear to talk about it any more.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Each fragrance in YSL’s Oriental Collection is an eau de parfum that comes in a 2.7 oz/ 80 ml bottle, and is subject to very limited distribution. The price is £185 or €177. The French YSL website and the UK YSL site both carry the Oriental Collection, but not the US one. In the U.S.: I haven’t found any American retailers thus far that carry the line. Outside the U.S.: In Europe, from what I’ve seen thus far, the Oriental Collection is most widely found in the UK and France. In the UK, I found Noble Leather slightly discounted at John Lewis which sells the scent for £166 instead of £185. There are only 3 bottles left at the time of this post. John Lewis ships internationally to over 33 countries, and has free UK delivery. Elsewhere in the UK, London’s House of Fraser carries Noble Leather, as does Harvey Nichols and Harrods. In Paris, I’ve read that the full line is available at the main Sephora on the Champs Elysees. In Ireland, Brown Thomas sells Noble Leather for €205. In Russia, Noble Leather is carried at Orental. Kuwait’s Universal Perfumes had tester bottles of Noble Leather for $189.99, but they are “out of stock.” Airports: Finally, you can find YSL’s Oriental Collection at a number of airports. I myself tested it at Paris’ CDG, and I know it is also available at London’s Heathrow. I suspect the same applies at all other large airports. Samples: I obtained my samples from Surrender to Chance which sells the complete trio in a set starting at $13.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Noble Leather is also available individually starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Obviously, the complete set is a bit of a better deal. 

Perfume Review – Vintage M7 from YSL (Original Version): Refined Masculinity

ZizouThere’s a man who comes to mind when I wear (vintage) M7, the groundbreaking oud eau de toilette from YSL. Each and every time, I see Zinedine Zidane (or “Zizou”), the legendary football/soccer player. He is dressed in the most beautifully tailored, sleek, expensive, dark suit as he sits in the shadows on the white marbled terrace of the Monte-Carlo’s Hermitage hotel one balmy summer’s night.

Zinedine ZidaneIt is the annual International Fireworks festival, and smoke filled the starry sky above, jostling with the aromatic scent of the Mediterranean. To his right, the vast yachts of the Monaco port lay down below; to his left, the dizzying array of the rare, unique, stratospherically expensive cars that are parked in front of the nearby Hotel de Paris, with the tinkling sounds of the glittering casino behind them. He sits, enjoying Spain’s fiery exhibition and the accompanying sounds of Ravel’s Bolero that play out somewhere from the darkened sea ahead of him. He is a sight, this man with his big hands lightly dusted with hair around a snifter of brandy, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his beautifully chiseled lips, his face so rawly sharp and contoured that it almost verges on the ugly were it not so fierce. There is a clattering of heels behind him; a beautiful woman approaches, leans down to whisper in his ear, and tries to sneak her room key into his jacket. He stops her with a gentle smile and a firm shake of his head, and she walks away with a sigh. One of many women who tried that night, entranced by the lure of the man, and the scent of M7.

Monte Carlo fireworks

ZindaneZinedine Zidane may be a forceful, brutal panther on the football field but, in a suit, he is the most perfect embodiment of raw, sharply-chiseled masculinity and muscular power sheathed in refinement. Tamed, he is sophisticated, jawdroppingly sexy, debonair and virile. He is exactly like M7 which is an oud fragrance that belongs in Monte-Carlo, my old home, and nowhere else.

Released in 2002, YSL’s M7 was far, far ahead of its time — and its brash arrival on the scene was not helped by print ads featuring a beautiful, hairy, male model in full frontal nudity. M7 was a total bomb and marketplace failure, but in its legacy and its huge effects on the now-endless oud perfume market, it may be one of the most influential perfumes of the past few decades.

M7

The vintage bottle and box for M7, original 2002 version.

M7 is an eau de toilette that was released by YSL in 2002 under the direction of Tom Ford. The actual noses were Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas. M7’s huge failure led YSL to reformulate it in 2008 — undoubtedly at the order of YSL Beauté’s new overlord, L’Oreal. The reformulated version lasted two years until 2010 when the whole perfume was quietly taken off the market. In 2011, YSL launched M7 Oud Absolu, a de-fanged version of the original monster. (And, somewhere in between all these changes, they found the time to release M7 Fresh, too! Clearly, they were at a loss with what to do with M7 and were trying every possible avenue to fix the problem and their loss in anticipated revenue.) M7 itself faded away, only to become a prized commodity on eBay where it is still available and where it is snapped up with ferocious intensity. I was lucky to have a friend send me a small amount of his bottle (which he bought on eBay), and I think it’s beautiful.

The official notes in M7 are as follows:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I would bet my life that those notes aren’t even the half of it. I would bet you anything! I smell far, far more in M7, starting with walloping doses of labdanum, going through to spices like cardamom, florals and some sort of incense, before ending with vanilla. If there is no labdanum and incense in M7, I will eat my hat. (I will eat my hat, I tell you!) The amount of stuff I detect is so far in excess of those measly, abbreviated, 8 official notes that my personal list of what I smell would look something like this:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary, cardamom, clary sage.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood, Damascena rose, black coffee grinds, jasmine [perhaps Jasmine Sambac].
Base: Amber [probably something like Tolu Balsam], musk, mandrake root, labdanum, incense/frankincense, and something vanilla.

Vintage, original M7 opens on my skin with a beautiful burst of zesty, lemon-nuanced bergamot and rosemary. Within seconds, the citrus aromatic turned honeyed and warm, dusted by spices. There has to be cardamom in M7, I have no doubt. Subtle hints of oud flicker in the background, slow at first, and never medicinal or similar to rubbery pink Band-Aids. Instead, it feels warmly musked, slightly earthy, heavily infused with honey, and oddly floral in nature.

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

There are massive doses of labdanum under that wood. For one thing, that secondary burst of notes quickly turns into an aroma that can only be called “cherry cola.” For a number of people, “cherry cola” is a scent strongly and consistently evoked by labdanum with its nutty, masculine, dirty, sometimes leathery nuances. I don’t always get the note when I encounter labdanum, but the connection has arisen enough times that I can tell the source of the smell here. The combination of the earthy, slightly medicinal oud with labdanum’s very honeyed, faintly leathered, almost chocolate-y undertones turns the whole thing into something that not only evokes “cherry cola,” but even a little bit of “cherry cough syrup.” The medicinal tinge is so faint that it’s really more root-beer like in effect but, either way, I must admit, it’s not my favorite note in the world.

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

Clary Sage. Source: TreeFrogFarm.com

At the same time, and in contrast with those rich notes, there are fragrant aromatics and fruity nuances that cut through the spiciness. There are hints of oranges, feeling almost candied, accompanied by something extremely herbaceous in nature. It’s not just the rosemary; there is something that definitely feels like clary sage with its lavender-y but, also, floral quality that is underpinned by a light leather nuance. The lavender note adds to the fleeting fougère element of the opening, but it’s extremely subtle and muted. It feels like there are other herbal notes too, like bay. Possibly even something a bit papyrus-like in nature. As for the vetiver, it is definitely there, too — dry but, also, earthy. It flickers under the thrust of the main notes, the cherry cola and musky woods.

Source: eHow.com

Source: eHow.com

Ten minutes into M7’s development, I start to go a little mad with frustration. There are florals notes in M7 that far surpass that initial pop of something like lavender. I would swear that there is a minuscule drop of jasmine, accompanied by an even stronger, large amount of rose. It feels very much like a dark Damascena rose: fruity, jammy, dark, meaty and backed by some earthy, dark accords. It feels absolutely identical to the rose note in Tom Ford‘s Private Blend Café Rose. Absolutely identical, right down to the wet, black, coffee grinds in that perfume. The only difference is that, here, it is strongly intertwined with M7’s cherry-cola labdanum note.

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

Twenty minutes in, M7 softens — a lot. It is never a hugely powerful, thick, heavy fragrance to begin with but, even for an eau de toilette, I’m surprised by how quickly it becomes a gauzy, airy thing. But what a smell it is! M7 is quietly radiating: aromatic herbs with clary sage; labdanum cherry cola; spiced orange; a very honeyed oud with a tinge of medicinal earthiness; soft muskiness; heaping doses of a jammy, red, dark, coffee-infused rose backed by a touch of jasmine; and, now, sweet, warm incense. The incense smoke curls like tendrils that wrap around the other notes like a ribbon. It has the sharpness of frankincense, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the nuttier, slightly sweeter myrrh incense were also used. The smoke helps cut through a lot of the heavy syrupy sweetness of that cherry cola note (which I truly don’t like), and blossoms beautifully with the perfume’s development.

Forty minutes in, the perfume starts to shift. The oud becomes significantly more prominent, feeling creamy and smooth, while the cherry-cola labdanum and florals start to recede a little. The agarwood is accompanied by muskiness, an increased amount of incense smoke, and sweet, gauzy, light vanilla. All traces of citruses and rosemary have faded to a ghostly presence in the background, leaving behind primarily an oriental scent that is woody, creamy, slightly spiced, resinous, and earthy. Unfortunately, its sillage becomes absolutely terrible, requiring me to bring my arm right to my nose to detect it. (And it only gets worse.) By the end of the first hour, my skin has already cycled through most of M7’s top and middle notes, and the drydown begins right around the 90 minute mark. I’m shocked by the rapidity with which we’ve come to the end.

In its final stage, M7 turns from a labdanum-oud scent backed by incense, earthy notes, musk and vanilla into something considerably more abstract and ambered. The base smells beautifully nutty, spiced, creamy, supple, smooth and warm. There are flickers of that lovely incense sitting atop soft vanilla and a muted woodiness. Unfortunately, the whole thing so sheer and thin on my skin, so incredibly elusive, that I’m continuously preparing myself for it to end completely. It doesn’t, though. M7 lasts for another 2 hours in a state of miniscule, ghostly lightness; every time I think it’s finally gone, a iny, flickering note of amorphous, vague, spiced, woody, musky vanilla pops up. There are small patches of it on my skin that hang on tenaciously, making M7’s full duration on my skin clock in at almost exactly 3 hours. But, if we’re to be really candid, M7 really ended at 2.25 hours. I suppose that’s a lot better than what I got from the reformulated 2008 version which lasted a whole solitary hour on me — but I still feel a little cheated.

I really loved the 2008 version of M7, but I far prefer the original. Though the cherry-cola aspect to the labdanum is not my favorite, the very honeyed, spiced, earthily sweet oud is truly lovely. As I’ve said a few times recently, I’ve got oud fatigue but this is one of the most beautiful, refined, sophisticated and, yes, admittedly tamed, versions of agarwood that I’ve come across. There are obvious similarities between the two formulations, but the original vintage version seems like a much more amplified, concentrated version. (Well, relatively speaking, given just how sheer and light both eau de toilettes were on my skin in terms of weight and sillage.) With the 2008 version, I admired the lovely honeyed feel to the perfume, along with the spices which — in that instance — felt to me like cinnamon. However, I much prefer the richer, nuttier, duskier cardamom feel of the original M7, along with the significantly richer effect of the labdanum. (I no longer have the remnants of that sample to compare and see if there was labdanum in any serious quantity in the 2008 version.) I suspect there was a significantly lower quantity for two reasons: 1) I never once smelled “cherry cola” with the 2008 version and actually said so in my review back then; and 2) the oud had a far greater medicinal nuance there. It wasn’t huge and never felt antiseptic, but there was a clear tinge of pink rubber bandages that the original 2002 version lacks. My theory is that the lower levels of labdanum meant a lot less honey to soften, warm and tame the agarwood.

Zizou 2The whole scent is refined, sophisticated, elegant, and sensuous. This is not an Emir’s oud; it doesn’t evoke the Middle East and anything exotic. It’s not unctuously thick, screamingly aggressive, swaggeringly masculine or abrasive. There is some power underneath the notes, some very rugged, masculine qualities that linger, but it’s been refined, like a powerful Zinedine Zidane in an YSL suit. It’s smooth and flows like silk. The only part where Zidane doesn’t apply to this analogy is in who can wear this perfume: I think this is an incredibly unisex fragrance. Women who love rich, spicy Orientals with agarwood would absolutely adore this. The oud is so tamed, many may actually find it not to be enough. It is certainly nothing like a Montale oud — not even remotely! It’s also much smoother, richer, softer, spicier and deeper than many of the By Kilian Arabian Night oud fragrances. (There aren’t really any similarities between them, in my honest opinion.)

What we have with the original M7 is — without a doubt — the template for many of the fragrances that Tom Ford would go on to put out under his personal label. The closest and most obvious progeny is his Private Blend Oud Wood, but there are also traces of M7’s impact in Tobacco Vanille, Café Rose, and even to a minor extent, the new Sahara Noir fragrances. I have no doubt that M7 was a work of love for Tom Ford, even if he didn’t actually blend all the notes together himself. For this, his very first fragrance, he must have directed Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas to include all his favorite notes or combinations: oud with cardamom; oud with labdanum; oud with frankincense; labdanum and frankincense; a jammy rose with bitter, earthy elements; woody notes with vanilla and vetiver; and more. M7 is a roadmap that branches out to all sorts of Private Blend fragrances, but, honestly, it is better than almost all of them with two exceptions: sillage and longevity. On my skin (which admittedly is wonky) M7 had maybe 0.01% of most Private Blends’ potency and duration. I’ve often said that Tom Ford’s Oud Wood was an attempt to remedy the mistakes he went through with M7 but, clearly, he also decided to make up for M7’s sheer body and lifespan as well. Is Oud Wood a better fragrance? That’s a personal, subjective matter. I think it’s a very different fragrance; and I much prefer M7.

As a general matter, M7 is not only a much adored fragrance but it is also one that seems to have a startling, seductive effect on those who smell it. Review after review on Fragrantica seems to imply that this is an absolute lady-killer. One of my closest friends had told me her boyfriend wears M7 and that it made her… well, I’ll spare you the blushes. But I thought her reaction was simply because he’s a bit of a hunk. Well, apparently, M7 turns everyone into a bit of a hunk! A small sampling of the comments:

  •  I received the best compliment ever from a sexy girl after she buried her face in my neck, ‘f**k me now, and again tomorrow, just so I can smell that again.’ nuff said.
  •  A woman at work commented the other day “You smell amazing you’re affecting my pheromones”
  • This is Hardcore Sex in a bottle!!! Its Sweaty, Its Dirty, Its Intoxicating…. Its so damn nasty…..I wouldn’t be surprised to know that this one has pheromones on it.
  • It smells like sex, just in a bottle. That’s all. Yes, there is so much more, but that’s all that you, dear reader, need to understand here. There’s nothing else quite like vintage M7, and it lasts for DAYS.
  • 1. Put a man in a blender. 2. squeeze. 3. add alcohol. M7 formula.
  • i like to wear even though i’m a girl. smells very dark, erotic, strong,wild …… it makes me think: “Take me!”
  • YOWZA! YOWZA! YOWZA!  [..] “M7” is unashamed of its sexy, primal, and animalistic bed-scent persona. Any man entering a room with a bunch of ladies better proceed with caution while donning this fragrance…..They won’t be able to keep their hands to themselves. I know I wouldn’t.

I don’t agree with all parts of the comments. For one thing, I honestly don’t think M7 smells dirty in the slightest. As for animalistic, I suppose it depends on your definition of the word. M7 is not “animalic” in the real perfume sense of raunchy, skanky, intimate, sweaty, or fetid. With regard to the claim of M7 lasting for “DAYS,” I know I’m not the only person who had terrible longevity with it (though there are very few of us out there). Other than that, however, yes, this is an incredibly sensuous smell and yes, I can see how it may lead to thoughts of sex.

As for other comments on Fragrantica, you may be interested to know that a large number of people write about the “cherry cola” opening to M7; a small amount mention that they smell lavender, florals or incense (which supports my argument that M7 has perhaps double the officially listed notes); and a handful talk about how it is fleeting in nature. Women love to wear it on themselves as much as they love to smell it on men. In fact, in a He Said/She Said assessment of vintage M7 on Now Smell This, the male reviewer thought it was simply too, too much, while the female one adored it:

He says: I first tested M7 on a warm spring day in Kyoto and immediately thought, “Well this isn’t the best time of year to launch this.” The scent was heavy and rich, masculine and earthy. The most prominent feature was the centerpiece of vetiver — and I’m not a huge fan of vetiver. Having had countless chances to re-visit it, and even more chances to purchase it (I haven’t), I still come to the same conclusion: this is simply too much of a good thing. As a candle, yes. As incense, yes. But as an Eau de Toilette, it’s just too much. If there was some way the fragrance could have been lightened, sweetened, smoked, anything, it could have helped… […]

She says:  […] on the right day, it is one of my very favorite fragrances for men. [¶] As with most fragrances containing agarwood, it starts with a bit of a medicinal edge, but that fades along with the short-lived citrus top notes. After that, it is dark, warm, and dry, with a mild spiciness and deep earthy woods. To my nose, it isn’t heavy in the least, but it does make a statement, and the intensity of the vetiver and agarwood are not likely to suit you unless you like both notes. [¶] It is rare that I find a scent too masculine to wear, but M7 probably qualifies on that score. I do wear it, but I rarely wear it out of the house. On a man, it is one of the sexiest fragrances I can think of.

I must really have wonky skin, because, damn, it was so sheer and light on me! If only it had been heavy, rich, and “too much of a good thing” — I would buy it immediately! And, obviously, I found it quite wonderfully, perfectly sweet in an ideal balance of smoke and woods. I’m also surprised that the male reviewer thought M7 was too much. Judging by the comments on Fragrantica, men are writing in screaming all-caps of euphoria about M7, with many stating that it is the King of Ouds, bar none. That last comment is repeated to such an extent, it too leaves me a bit baffled since, on my skin, there truly was not a huge quantity of agarwood during any of my repeated tests. It was far too refined in amount and feel. (Hence, the analogy to Monte Carlo.) I’m also confused by the repeated comparisons to Nasomatto‘s Black Afgano, though the commentators think M7 blows it out of the water and is infinitely superior. I haven’t tried that oud fragrance, but since it is famed for smelling just like marijuana, I truly can’t see the similarities.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

Regardless, I genuinely believe that M7 lives up to the hype, so if you are want to take the next step and try to find a bottle on eBay, I’ll tell you need to look for. I’ve previously written about how to find true, original M7, in the context of the 2008 reformulated version, so I hope you’ll forgive me for repeating a chunk of that information because, you see, the bottles and boxes are key.

M7 reformulated bottle.

Reformulated bottle. Note the clearness which is on both sides and, also, on the bottom.

The original M7 as shown above is packaged in a deep brown bottle that is solidly brown all around and has a silver band at the top. Its box lists four ingredients. In contrast, the reformulated version of M7 comes in a box that is really essentially clear with just a big solid sticker of brown on the front and back; you can tell it’s the reformulated version because the sides and bottom of the bottle are completely clear.

M7 boxes compared with the vintage original on the left and the reformulated version with its increased ingredient list on the right.  Source: Basenotes.

Its box is also different; it now lists 14 ingredients instead of 4. Despite the increase in ingredients, however, the reformulated version is substantially weaker than the original, emphasizes amber over faint oud, and lasts even less time (both on my skin and on others). That said, both versions have the same dry down.

In terms of pricing, almost anything goes. Like much to do with vintage fragrances on eBay, it’s a matter of luck, timing, and who else is bidding. I’ve seen almost full 1.7 oz/50 ml bottles go for $80; I’ve seen full 3.4 oz/100 ml bottles go for around $300 (especially on Amazon); and I’ve seen everything in-between. There is always someone selling samples of the vintage on eBay which is lucky because nowhere else carries it. Surrender to Chance’s listing for M7 is for the 2008 reformulated version; I know because I ordered it. But on eBay, right now and for a short while, there are listings like the one here where a seller has 10 mls of vintage M7 for $21.99 (only 1 decant left), or this British eBay listing for a tiny 1 ml vial for GBP 3.75. Or, you could get a large 3.4 oz slightly used tester of vintage M7 for about $110 here. (As a side note about M7 on eBay, “M7 Fresh” and “M7 Oud Absolu” are totally different things. The Oud Absolu is the very final, current formulation of M7 and nothing like the original! Also, I have no clue at all about the M7 after-shave that is often sold there too. Be careful and make sure your M7 Vintage is not M7 Vintage After Shave because the bottles do look alike.)

Obviously, these listings will soon end and the links will be of no use, but my point is to that you can absolutely find bottles of M7 out there without paying an arm, a leg and a house. Is it worth getting a slightly used bottle? That’s up to you. For vintage perfumes of any great renown, it’s not easy getting a sealed, full bottle at a truly low price, but I suppose it is possible if you’re very patient and very lucky. For me, personally, I think $110 for a 3.4 oz bottle of some famous perfume that is almost full is a great price, especially compared to the cost of some niche perfumes out there today.  

Man or woman, I think M7 is worth tracking down, even if it’s only a sample to begin with. It’s seductive, sensuous, creamy, sometimes utterly mesmerizing, and always incredibly refined. It is truly the Monte Carlo interpretation of oud fragrances. It’s also a little piece of perfume history, and a whole lot of glory.

Source: palaces.monaco-hotel.com

Source: palaces.monaco-hotel.com

Perfume Review – Vintage Opium by YSL: A Tribute

Her name would go down in history as one of the greatest temptresses of all time: Salome. But, that night, she was not aware of the infamy which would forever follow her. As she stepped into the palace’s Great Hall, fire burned in her heart; she was a warrior with a mission. Not even the Great Hall could douse the bonfires of spice, smoke, sandalwood, cloved pepper, and molten amber which girded her golden limbs under the misleadingly sweet aura of roses, succulent oranges, heady jasmine, tart plums, and fleshy peaches.

"Salome Dancing before Herod", c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

“Salome Dancing before Herod”, c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

The hall was monstrously large, one vast chamber of onyx marble and gold. Her footsteps echoed as she passed the phalanxes of mighty columns, each one wider than ten men, and festooned with ropes of twisted gold. Rows of tall slaves created a corridor of flickering light, as each one struggled under the weight of a heavy, gold candelabra. The corridor led straight up to the throne, atop a large dias, but the fifteen-foot high, gold-and-jeweled monstrosity was empty. Before it, in a comfortable pile of silk pillows, lounged the King. Herod was too fat to fit into the throne; besides, he thought the bodies of the slave girls festooned around him, and hand-feeding him delicacies, would be a good cover to conceal the excitement that he would undoubtedly show. “She had finally agreed!,” he thought, as his eyes gleamed and he licked his plump lips wetly. The royal court seemed equally excited, chattering nervously about the fame of Salome’s beauty and dancing. They fell silent as she finally drew near and stared at her almost as greedily as the king.

She was a tiny figure, and all but hidden under a mountain of veils. Sheer, in and of themselves, their vast number completely obscured her raven hair and lithe, golden body. Thirty one in all, the veils were ornate, gauzy, in a variety of colours and, magically, made out of the most aromatic, perfumed ingredients: sandalwood ochre, bergamot green; plum purple; orange; blood-red rose; pure jasmine white; chocolate labdanum; dusty clove and cinnamon; the ivory-grey of frankincense smoke; the flesh colour of the ripest peach….

As the music started, she lifted one long arm from beneath the gauzy pile, flexing it like a swan, her long fingers fluttering in the air. Her chin was pointed straight up at that hidden ceiling, miles above, and one shapely, toned, muscular leg swept to the side. Folds of orange gauze glided over her fingers, while clove, cinnamon, frankincense, carnation, rose and bay leaf moved in time with her leg. The swishing of the veils radiated waves of scent out upon the silent courtiers, shimmering flecks of dust that twinkled amber gold in the candlelight. The scents melded together into the most perfect whole, each billowing out like a wave, each one more powerful than the last, until the courtiers swayed to the scent. King Herod forgot to eat, and moaned as he was hit by a tidal wave of spiced sandalwood tinged with heaps of cloves, citrus and cedar, myrrh and frankincense. Rumblings of dry woody notes, bay leaf and patchouli could be heard from beneath the folds of the veils, keeping time to the music as it became faster and faster.

Georges Rochegrosse (French, 1859–1929), "Salome Dancing Before King Herod," 1887. Joslyn Art Museum

Georges Rochegrosse (French, 1859–1929), “Salome Dancing Before King Herod,” 1887. Joslyn Art Museum

A horde of drummers suddenly appeared, clad in every hue of amber: tolu balsam, benzoin, and labdanum. “Bom, bom….bom, bom, bom…. bom, bom, bom, bom,” their hands moved faster and faster, as did Salome. She stood on one daintily arched foot, twirling in a pirouette of veils, reflecting colours like the jewels glowing on the giant throne. It became all a swirl of notes, a perfect dance of powerful spices atop her silken peach skin, tinged by jasmine that slinked up to the surface from the heat of her body.  Unbeknownst to the leering, panting king who watched her, pearls of sweat formed on her rose-tipped breasts, lending a subtle tinge of musk to the floral, citrus, spiced, patchouli amber radiating out from her like waves from the center of a vortex. She danced so fast, frankincense seeped out in white billows, and veils began to fall off her body. One arch of her back, and the carnation veil flew off to disappear atop King Herod’s head. He clawed at it, tossed it to the side in a frenzy of panic lest he miss a glimpse of her body, and the carnation vanished from sight.

"Tattooed Salome," c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

“Tattooed Salome,” c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.

For hours and hours, Salome undulated and twisted, swayed and moved, arched and fluttered, until, finally, only seven veils were left. They blended into one beautiful, spiced whole, jasmine and roses on that main base of fiery spices, sweet musk, black smoke and vanilla. The veils just barely covered her lithe, muscular body made from a sinuous mix of sandalwood, patchouli and every possible resinous, balsamic, amber known to man. With a  flickering glance at the musicians, Salome suddenly dropped to the ground and the music stopped. There, she slithered like a sexual serpent across the floor, rolling around, and turning in a way that just revealed a glimpse of her musky flesh. As she clawed her way towards the king, she whispered, “Anything my heart desires, your Majesty? Anything in your kingdom? Do you swear it?” Herod could barely breathe. “Yes, yes.” He had no blood flow to his brain. “I have sworn it twice already. I swear it again before the court, may God strike me down if I don’t. I will give you anything your heart desires. Now, please. Finish.

Gustave Moreau - "Die Erscheinung," or "L'Apparition." 1875. Part of Moreau's Salome series.

Gustave Moreau – “Die Erscheinung,” or “L’Apparition.” 1875. Part of Moreau’s Salome series.

Salome nodded and, with a single move, was on her feet, swaying with the music that had started again and shedding her veils until she was a blur of naked, ambered flesh. Silky, smooth, creamy, heated, molten flesh — radiating spiced sandalwood, patchouli, endless layers of amber, vanilla, jasmine, and musk. Faster and faster, and faster, she moved until her body dropped in a pile of sinuous limbs. There was complete silence, punctuated by the king’s small moans and shallow breaths as he stared at Salome’s naked body. Still on the ground, she calmly lifted her head, stared at him, and coolly said: “His head. On a silver platter. I want St. John the Baptist’s head.

The story of Salome is many things but, ultimately, it is a story of a temptress and seduction. It is the story of the lure of sex. And, to me, few perfumes better represent seduction, temptation, tantalizing teases, sex, wild abandon, mystery, and, yes, a warrior’s fiery strength than Opium. YSL‘s magnificent creation is justifiably considered the benchmark oriental, the standard by which all others are measured. (And, in my opinion, the standard by which all others fail to measure up.) It is my beloved, my favorite perfume in the world, my equivalent of Gollum’s “Precious.” As with Gollum, Opium drives me a little mad, but it is also the most empowering perfume I’ve ever worn. I wear it when I need armour and feel like I will be riding out into battle, as much as I wear it to seduce.

Opium ad, 1977, featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source: Marieclaire.it

Opium ad, 1977, featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source: Marieclaire.it

I refer, of course, only to the glory that is vintage Opium Eau de Toilette. The current version is a eunuch. It is a travesty which is not even worth acknowledging and which certainly does not deserve the name “Opium.” A complete and utter travesty. Adding insult to injury, there are plans for a future, additional reformulation of Opium already in the works, from what I’ve read, due to EU regulations that will take effect in the next year or so. The present abomination is bad enough; one can only shudder at what will happen when the eunuch is fully dismembered. So, to preempt a wave of tears at the thought of what has already happened to my beloved, and how much worse it’s going to get, let’s focus on the true, real, original Opium.

1977 Opium advert featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source: Vogue.com

1977 Opium advert featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source: Vogue.com

Opium was released in 1977, the creation of Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac. It has a mind-boggling list of notes. Simply mind-boggling. Those of you who wonder why I’m rarely impressed by modern fragrances, well, it’s because most of them have a fraction of the notes present in old vintage classics. And notes equal depth, body, complexity, sophistication and richness. But even a lot of the old classics don’t have as many notes as my beloved. According to Fragrantica‘s listing (which is more for the current version than the vintage), Opium has 31 ingredients, but God only knows how much greater the number is for the vintage version, especially unofficially.

Top notes are coriander, plum, citruses, mandarin orange, pepper, jasmine, cloves, west indian bay and bergamot; middle notes are carnation, sandalwood, patchouli, cinnamon, orris root, peach, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are labdanum, tolu balsam, sandalwood, opoponax, musk, coconut, vanilla, benzoin, vetiver, incense, cedar, myrrh, castoreum and amber.

I don’t like dissecting the notes for my truly, truly beloved fragrances as I generally do. I refused to do it for (vintage) Fracas, and I won’t for (vintage) Opium beyond what I’ve already written above as Salome’s Dance of the (31) Veils. For me, Opium is far too sacred for analysis, far too much a work of art. Plus, it is such a superbly blended masterpiece that a lot of the notes meld and melt into one multi-faceted whole. It’s like the bloody Hope Diamond. It’s just so big, so brilliant, so reflective of so much, but all in one giant piece.

That said, there are definite stages where some aspects shine a little more than others. In the beginning, it’s the burst of orange, infused with seemingly every ounce of fiery, dusty clove and cinnamon available on earth. It’s backed by a hint of plum and peach, but, to me, those notes have never radiated very brightly on my skin. Instead, there are dry woody notes, cedar, a dash of bay leaf, and two different kinds of incense: frankincense and myrrh. Hints of floral notes (especially jasmine) take full sway later, in the middle stage, along with the start of creamy coconut and vanilla. Later, as that phase is winding down, more and more of the amber resins start to dominate: from the more balsamic-heavy, dark, smoky Tolu amber; to the nutty, slightly animalic, minutely leathery labdanum; the sweeter, more vanilla-like tones of benzoin; and what I personally believe is ambergris (but which Fragrantica’s listing for the current version of Opium lists as just plain “amber.”) Opium also has castoreum which is detectable mainly in the dry-down in the slightly animalic leather note. Not a raunchy, harsh, obvious leather, but more of a leather feel like something sumptuously rich, thick, velvety and plush. The sort of heavy velvet that Henry VIII would wear.

My 1970s bottle of vintage Opium EDT. Note how the box says New York on it and "Made in U.S.A," in addition to the usual Paris notation.

My 1970s bottle of vintage Opium EDT. Note how the box says New York on it and “Made in U.S.A,” in addition to the usual Paris notation.

The problem is that some of these notes and, more importantly, their dominance seem to vary depending on just how vintage your bottle of Opium is. I have two bottles of eau de toilette. The tiny remainder of one from the early 1990s (1992, I think), and a large 1970s bottle which I bought on eBay late last year. It is, oddly and quite unusually, from a short, limited-distribution run when Opium was made in America, not in Paris. Unfortunately, the top notes have gone off, and that evaporation has just concentrated some of the spiced notes to an almost brutal degree. Once, however, you get past the thorny first 40 minutes, the glory of Opium’s base is revealed in full splendour, with gallons (and gallons!) of real Mysore sandalwood. It does not even remotely compare to my early 1990s bottle, though the latter has the benefit of Opium’s always spectacular orange, citrus start being intact.

While I miss that beautiful opening with my 1970s version (due to evaporation of the top notes), I find it interesting to compare the two versions because changes were clearly made in between that have nothing to do with the top notes. My 1970s bottle is a behemoth in sillage and longevity, as was the Opium that I grew up on and which bewitched a seven-year old child to the point of sneaking in sprays from her mother’s tasselled bottle. (Yes, I was an early bloomer, perfume-wise.) My 1990s version doesn’t create an enormous cloud around me at the start, becomes closer to the skin far more quickly, and doesn’t last as long on my perfume-consuming skin. My 1970s bottle clearly has real animal musk — something now prohibited for cruelty reasons. My 1990s version does not, since I believe that the prohibition against natural musk was in place by then. My 1970s version has real castoreum; I can’t smell much of its leathery undertone in the 1990s version. And the 1990s version has weaker undertones, especially the coconut and vanilla of the middle and final stages. In fact, every note is muted in the 1990s version (which should just tell you how bad the post-2000 versions are).

eBay photo showing a bottle and box identical to my 1990s version with all the swirls.

eBay photo showing a bottle and box identical to my 1990s version with all the swirls.

Perhaps the most immediately obvious difference is the huge chasm regarding the spices and the sandalwood accords. Even in the 1990s, Mysore sandalwood was becoming more scarce, and I think there is significantly less of it in my 1990s version than in the 1970s. But the truly overwhelming thing is in the spices, namely the cloves. A while back, I wrote a post centered on a Reuters article about IFRA, the EU and changes to legendary perfumes that have already been carried out, unannounced, often undetected, and definitely kept secret. Raymond Chaillan, who collaborated on the creation of Opium, told Reuters that his co-creation has hugely changed. One reason:

Clove oil and rose oil, which contain a component called eugenol. [¶]… When it was launched in 1977, the original Opium was full of eugenol and also contained linalool, and limonene found in citruses. In large doses, Eugenol can cause liver damage, while oxidized linalool can cause exzema and prolonged exposure to pure limonene can irritate the skin.

My personal (admittedly biased) response: unless one bathes daily and for hours in gallons of Opium, I can’t see anyone spraying enough of the perfume to cause liver damage! Regardless, judging between my two versions, I can absolutely see a sharp drop in the amount of clove, as well as the roses, in the later perfume. And 1992 was far, far before the IFRA/EU regulations of 2008!

Vintage Opium bottles. Source: "Rizack2" on Fragrantica

Vintage Opium bottles. Source: “Rizack2” on Fragrantica

As a result, in my personal opinion, the best versions of Opium are from the 1980s, as well as any late-1970s bottles made in France, then any early 1990s version. I think that a 1980s version may have the best chance of keeping the top notes and avoiding evaporation, while still having that 1970s concentration. Obviously, though, it always depends on how a particular bottle of perfume was kept. It’s quite possible that a perfectly preserved, sealed 1970s bottle of Opium that was kept in a cool, dark place would be even better! My bottle was not sealed but was in almost pristine condition — and even so, it suffered. (Then again, it is 36 years old!) As for my 1992 bottle, though weaker than anything from the 1970s, it’s still much, much stronger than what followed it. I’ve read that Opium underwent a reformulation in 1999-2000. In fact, according to a poster on a Fragrantica thread, there may even have been another 1990s reformulation back in 1995! (Remember, the companies were continuously reformulating Opium, in secret, as my 1970s bottle demonstrates). The Fragrantica poster, “Andrapi” writes:

most likely Opium was reformulated in 1999-2000 (as the 99% of fragrances) due to the first wave of so-called “restriction laws”. You can clearly see because the “long-ingredients-list” on the box, became mandatory.

Then; remember before 1995 there was no bar-code : if the box lacks the bar-code, you can date the bottle as a very precious vintage one for sure [.]

More: during years 1995-2004 Saint Laurent batched its perfumes with 4-numbers code on the box and 5-numbers (the previous ones plus “1”) code on the bottom of the bottle (example: on the box 6321, on the bottle 63211. This means: 1996)

Since 2005 to 2011: 1 number plus 3 letters, both on box and bottles (example 7HAA , this means 2007).

The bastard eunuch version of Opium that is currently on the market. Note the lack of swirls in the glass on the bottle, and the very big difference in the box.

The bastard eunuch version of Opium that is currently on the market. Note the lack of swirls in the glass on the bottle, and the very big difference in the box.

So, let’s say you’re interesting in vintage Opium and are willing to brave the wilds of eBay to get one. How can you tell it’s vintage? Well, if you’re looking to purchase the glass EDT bottles, the best way to tell is by the swirls on the bottle. The new, castrated formulation has hardly any swirls in the glass, as compared to the original one. The box is also hugely different, losing its golden leaves just as the perfume has lost its notes and potency. There are a few threads on the matter at Fragrantica which might help you, starting with this one (which is where I obtained that photo of the three, vintage, glass, EDT bottles shown up above). An even more extensive thread, showing a ton of different bottles, from the pure parfum to various flankers can be found here (in that previously quoted Fragrantica thread).

Yves Saint Laurent, Opium, bottle designed by Pierre Dinand in 1977, photographed by Damien Fry (2011). Source: Phaidon.com.

Yves Saint Laurent, Opium, bottle designed by Pierre Dinand in 1977, photographed by Damien Fry (2011).
Source: Phaidon.com.

As a side note, all this discussion of Opium pertains to the eau de toilette which is the most common, usual form of the fragrance. There is an eau de parfum (as well as a pure parfum extract concentration), but I have the vague sense they were issued a few years after 1977. I am probably mistaken, however, especially as I know my mother had the tasselled, solid bottle (which is usually the shape of the eau de parfum bottle) back in 1977 and that is what is shown in all the adverts from the time. Regardless, the eau de parfum is not my area of speciality, and most of the discussions of “vintage Opium” usually pertain to the eau de toilette concentration. All I can tell you is that, in 2009, Opium (owned at this point by L’Oreal) re-issued the parfum version in what was supposedly a new bottle but which was also, in my opinion, yet another reformulation. Beyond that, however, I’m afraid I’m not a huge help on the issue of the parfum.

Non-vintage bottle.

Non-vintage bottle.

As for prices, they vary wildly. On eBay, it is all a question of patience and luck. Create a notification for vintage Opium, check the feedback scores of the seller, and then just pray that someone doesn’t outbid you. You may be lucky and get a small bottle for around $65, or you may be unlucky and end up paying around $150. For the parfum concentration, I’ve seen some sealed, 1 oz vintage bottles go for around $350. Granted, they are parfum and sealed, but it’s still high, even for Opium. Generally, though, whatever you pay, it will still be a lot cheaper than the retail cost of many modern, niche fragrances today, especially if you opt for a smaller size. The glass EDT bottles vary in size from 1 oz/30 ml to 1.6 oz, to sizes like my 2.3 oz bottle or the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottles. You have to look at the photo of the bottles! The less swirls it has, the more it is absolutely certain that it is a new bottle of the reformulated garbage. Don’t listen to what the sellers say, either; right now, someone is selling a bottle entitled “vintage” which is clearly a post-1999/2000 bottle. (See photo to the right of the modern, reformulated eunuch Opium.) The glass has to be covered by swirls to be at least from the 1990s in age.

One last note, YSL issued an Opium for Men in 1995. It’s been a long time since I smelled it but, based on my recollection of it, it was significantly more muted, more citrus-y, less spiced, and with a very diluted sandalwood base. It’s fine, I suppose. But I wouldn’t bother with it. Men can absolutely wear Opium (original, women’s version), and honestly, I think it’s a thousand times more masculine than some of the unisex fragrances put out today for men. As between a fluffy, saccharine-sweet scent like By Kilian‘s Love (Don’t be Shy) and Opium for Women, I can tell you which one would be a better fit on a man — and it’s not the one that smells of cloying, orange marshmallows! Real Opium would be wickedly seductive on a man, but it would never suit someone used to tamer, milder scents. Opium is a powerhouse, a molten, living, breathing fire dragon that will chew you up and spit you out if you can’t handle her.

Even Luca Turin, the great perfume critic, said: “It is unquestionably one of the greatest fragrances of all time.” While the rest of his Five-Star review (entitled “Spice King”) is a more reflective contemplation on the limits of spicy oriental perfumes due to their focus on the drydown materials, he finally says that he personally tires of Opium:

Opium said one thing and one thing only, with tremendous force. While this was the most cogent statement ever made by balsams [the deepest kind of amber resin], one does tire of it.

Mr. Turin, there you go again. Just when I think I may finally agree with you, you come out with something like that. Well, His Majesty may tire of Opium, but I would shoot myself in the head if I went with some of the other Five-Star perfumes he praises, such as Davidoff‘s Cool Water, L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Dzing! (which almost drove me to a complete meltdown), or L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Vanilia which he cheerfully praises for being “vulgar” beyond all limits.

No, thank you, I will take instead what “is unquestionably one of the greatest fragrances of all time” with its 31 glorious notes, evoking raw sexuality, power, and a dragon’s fiery breath. I will keep Opium as my warrior’s shield and sword, as my source of molten ambered invulnerability, and as my means to seduce like Salome. I will wear it, and dance away its 31 glorious veils from sundown to sunrise. Then, when the sky is touched by morning flames of gold and red, I will spray on more of my liquid fire and smile at its secret power. My secret power. My Opium. My love.

Perfume Review – YSL M7 For Men (Reformulated): The Lion is a Pussycat

YSL‘s M7 For Men ushered in the new dawn of oud fragrances, whether or not anyone wanted it. And, judging by the market bomb, no-one did want it. M7 was not just a trail-blazer and the first of its kind; it was also too original, unique, bold and, it seems, shocking for a world dominated by the freshness of Acqua di Gio. As I’ve discussed previously in my post on oud as the latest, new, incredibly popular trend in perfume, M7 was ahead of its time and its brash arrival on the scene was not helped by print ads featuring a beautiful, hairy, male model in full frontal nudity.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to above.

M7 was released by YSL in 2002 under the direction of Tom Ford. It was created by Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas and featured the following notes:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

M7 was a huge failure for YSL, and was sneakily reformulated in 2008 — undoubtedly at the order of YSL Beauté’s new overlord, L’Oreal. The reformulated version lasted two years until 2010 when the whole perfume was quietly taken off the market. In 2011, YSL launched M7 Oud Absolu, a de-fanged version of the original monster. (And, somewhere in between all these changes, they found the time to release M7 Fresh, too! Clearly, they were at a loss with what to do with M7 and were trying every possible avenue to fix the problem and their loss in anticipated revenue.)

M7 is still available on eBay, but it’s hard to know which version you’re buying unless you check the bottles and boxes.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

The original M7 is packaged in a deep brown bottle that is solidly brown all around and has a silver band at the top. Its box lists four ingredients.

In contrast, the reformulated version of M7

M7 reformulated bottle.

M7 reformulated bottle.

comes in a box that is really essentially clear with just a big solid sticker of brown on the front and back; you can tell it’s the reformulated version because the sides and bottom of the bottle are completely clear.

M7 boxes compared with the vintage original on the left and the reformulated version with its increased ingredient list on the right.  Source: Basenotes.

The different boxes for M7 with the vintage original on the left and the reformulated version with its increased ingredient list on the right. Source: Basenotes.

Its box is also different; it now lists 14 ingredients. Despite the increase in ingredients, however, the reformulated version is supposed to be substantially weaker than the original, emphasizes amber over faint oud, and lasts a fraction of the time. That said, both versions are said to have the same dry down.

I have often said that curiosity will be the death of me. (It definitely will be the death of my wallet one of these days.) All the Sturm und Drang around M7 were too much to resist. So, I ordered a sample of M7 from Surrender to Chance, and tried it with great trepidation.

I absolutely LOVED it, and that made me deeply suspicious. As I sometimes tell my friends, I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to oud fragrances. (You would be too if you’d had my experiences with Montale! Worst thing ever!)

So, I went about investigating, and I think it’s pretty clear that Surrender to Chance carries the 2007/2008-2010 reformulated version of M7, as do the other sample sites no doubt. It’s extremely disappointing. I’m determined to somehow get my hands on the original but, for now, let’s explore this version of the hairy, naked beast. (Sorry, that ad tends to stick in my head….)

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

M7 (reformulated) opens with an absolutely stunning burst of citrus, sweetness, smoke verging almost on the side of incense, and rich wood. I love it and note, “I think I may have found my oud!” There is a soft, subtle touch of the medicinal, but far less than what I had expected. It certainly doesn’t seem to have the forceful medicinal nature that one of my best friends who has the original version of M7 had described to me. He had noted the smell of bandaids and he was absolutely right. But in my diluted version of M7, it is very subtle. The slightly rubbery, plastic quality to the outside part of a pink bandaid strip is noticeable but it is far outweighed by the smell of sweet ambered spices. It’s almost as if there is a touch of cinnamon and a whisper of honey amidst that  crisp, fresh citrus and the oud wood.

The latter has an almost vegetal element to it that calls to mind moss-covered trees in the heart of a British wood. The notes definitely evoke the feeling of a walk through the woods surrounded by faint tendrils of smoke — perhaps from a pile of burning leaves in the distance. I feel very Downton Abbey-ish when I think of those notes, but the amber dominates too much for it to be more than a fleeting feeling. The oud wood is too warmed by the amber and the sandalwood to be a true oud scent like that of By Kilian’s Pur Oud which I have reviewed previously. M7 actually feels a bit closer to By Kilian’s Amber Oud, probably because there seems to be a substantially reduced amount of oud in the reformulated version of M7 (and seemingly little to none in the Kilian).

My version of M7 also calls to mind something unexpected: my beloved Opium in a shadowy form. I feel as though I’m going mad but, no, the opening definitely evokes Opium to me. I check Fragrantica and it suddenly clicks: Opium’s top notes are bergamot and mandarin, and amber is at its base. M7’s crisp, almost zesty opening burst of orange citrus and bergamot in an ambered cloak definitely shadows the magnificence of Opium’s opening (though nothing can or will ever – ever – really compare to vintage Opium, my Holy Grail bar none). Since Opium is perhaps YSL’s greatest success, it’s not completely surprising that the company would hearken back to its roots a little when creating M7. Perhaps that’s one reason why I keep writing “love” in my notes — complete with capital letters and exclamation points.

Unlike others, I never had the “cherry cough syrup” opening in M7. No doubt that is another casualty of the reformulation. I also don’t have much duration. I’m utterly appalled at how briefly M7 lasts on me. No more than 20 minutes later, it’s already starting to fade. An hour in, it’s a virtual ghost. I feel cheated and, truth be told, a little like sobbing. I have far too little to do what I’d like, which is to pour it on me by the handful. I’m crushed and desperately cling onto the remnants of citrus, sandalwood and amber. (The oud left the building long ago.) I’m slightly comforted by the fact that someone on Basenotes stated the reformulated version lasted only an hour on him. Clearly, it’s not all me and my wonky, perfume-consuming chemistry.

In slight despair, and fighting the urge to pour the remainder of my vial all over me, I go to Fragrantica to read about other people’s experiences with the scent. And, good God,  this thing (in original form) is a definite lady killer! One of my best friends had told me her boyfriend wears M7 and… well, I’ll spare you the blushes. But I thought her reaction was simply because he’s a bit of a hunk. Apparently, M7 turns everyone into a bit of a hunk! A small sampling of the comments:

  •  I received the best compliment ever from a sexy girl after she buried her face in my neck, ‘f**k me now, and again tomorrow, just so I can smell that again.’ nuff said.
  •  A woman at work commented the other day “You smell amazing you’re affecting my pheromones”
  • This is Hardcore Sex in a bottle!!! Its Sweaty, Its Dirty, Its Intoxicating…. Its so damn nasty…..I wouldn’t be surprised to know that this one has pheromones on it.
  • It smells like sex, just in a bottle. That’s all. Yes, there is so much more, but that’s all that you, dear reader, need to understand here. There’s nothing else quite like vintage M7, and it lasts for DAYS.
  • 1. Put a man in a blender. 2. squeeze. 3. add alcohol. M7 formula.
  • i like to wear even though i’m a girl. smells very dark, erotic, strong,wild …… it makes me think: “Take me!”
  • YOWZA! YOWZA! YOWZA!  [..] “M7” is unashamed of its sexy, primal, and animalistic bed-scent persona. Any man entering a room with a bunch of ladies better proceed with caution while donning this fragrance…..They won’t be able to keep their hands to themselves. I know I wouldn’t.

The comments make me sigh, deeply and sadly. What I’m wearing is nothing like the descriptions of the ferocious opening and the almost feral roar of a wild animal seeking its mate. My reformulated version is excellent, no doubt, but it’s clearly a pale substitute. I can’t even begin to imagine what the de-fanged M7 Oud Absolu must smell like given that people say that is a tamed kitten as compared to the savage beast of the original.

M7 is a scent that I urge all men and women to hunt down and try. Those fearful of oud may want to try the reformulated version that I have, though numerous women seem to love wearing the original too. It’s a little piece of perfume history and a whole lot of glory.

[UPDATE: I finally tried M7 in the original 2002 version and you can read my review of it here.]