Natalie Portman by Mert & Marcus for W magazine, 2006. Source: photochronograph.ru
The Goddess now has a daughter. The ferocious, untamed, raw sexuality of vintage Opium has been handed down to a more restrained, less overtly voluptuous, quieter girl called Euphorisme d’Opium. She may be less bold, less likely to take your head off with fiery roar, but my response is: “Come to mama.” Actually, that was one of the ways that I wanted to open this review, since it was only slightly less inelegant than simply telling the legion of Opium fans to just get out their credit card. But get out your credit card. If you’re one of the many in the Opium cult, one of those who has mourned the passing of the “Bitch Goddess” (to use a friend of mine’s loving description for the YSL classic), then this is the time to rejoice. Euphorisme d’Opium from DSH Perfumes is as close as we’re going to get to reinvention of the Queen. She finally has a daughter.
Photo: Mert & Marcus for Interview Magazine.
There is nothing in the world like vintage Opium. Nothing. And there never will be. That needs to be stated right at the start. Absolutely nothing can or will ever replicate the precise beauty of that monster powerhouse down to a T. The reasons are simple, starting primarily with the scarcity of Mysore sandalwood which might as well be extinct for anyone not possessing massive financial resources. Modern IFRA regulations on eugenol, ceiling limitations on the quantities of various other ingredients, and the issue of animal musk are other supporting factors as well. Yet, to the extent that an olfactory daughter may be possible, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes has done it.
Opium Den photo series for Interview Magazine by Mert & Marcus.
It’s not something I say lightly. Regular readers know that vintage Opium is my absolute favorite fragrance, and that I despise the modern monstrosity that purports to bear its name. Modern “Opium” is a castrati, a disemboweled, emasculated eunuch, and a utter travesty. (L’Oreal, you should be ashamed of yourselves, you despicable, parasitic vultures.) If anything, I’m likely to be much tougher on attempts to seize The Goddess’ mantle. If they fall short, you can be sure that I would rip it apart. No-one messes with my beloved Opium, and lives to tell the tale.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Source: The Perfume Magazine.
To take on a reinvention of Opium is a very tall order. Apart from technical difficulties involving the ingredient restrictions, it probably cannot be done unless you have a deep love and understanding of who Yves St. Laurent was himself. The Indie, artisanal perfumer, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, has that in spades, and it clearly shows. Euphorisme d’Opium is part of her YSL Retrospective Collection for the Denver Art Museum that I talked about in my review for Le Smoking. The latter is a gloriously beautiful fragrance that captures the very essence of what The Maestro was trying to do with his revolutionary, gender-bending jackets. And she’s done the same thing in capturing the essence, heart, and character of his Opium as well.
Euphorisme d’Opium in pure parfum and in an antique bottle. Source: DSH Parfums website.
The DSH website describes Euphorisme d’Opium as follows:
The original “YSL Opium” perfume, when launched was a scandal. Not only for the open drug reference but for it’s open sexuality and sensuality. Just as YSL was inspired by his beloved Morocco and the Orient, I have infused the original design of Opium perfume (which as of 2010, is no longer on the market) with some extra doses of the euphoric aromas that bring this enchanting Spicy-Oriental perfume to life.
According to Ms. Hurwitz’s comments to me in email correspondence, the notes in Euphorisme d’Opium include:
bergamot, bitter orange, bay laurel, pimento berry, mandarin, eugenol-based carnation, bulgarian rose absolute, cinnamon bark, aldehyde c-14 (aka: gamma-undecalactone – peach), clove bud, egyptian jasmine absolute, olibanum, east indian patchouli, eastern lily – mixed media accord, australian sandalwood, tolu balsam, benzoin, beeswax absolute, myrrh gum, pink pepper, ylang ylang, amber essence, atlas cedar, galaxolide, cedramber, indolene, and vanilla absolute.
Photo: Alamy. Source: The Daily Mail.
Euphorisme d’Opium opens on my skin with a strong burst of spices. Instantly, you are hit by cloves, black pepper, pink pepper, and the bite of fiery chilis. They are followed by orange and bergamot, both of which have been infused with patchouli and incense, and the whole thing lies on a base of golden amber. Moments later, other notes arrive. There are delicate pink roses, trailed by hints of jasmine and ylang-ylang. The most prominent thing, however, is a dark, blood-red carnation. It practical swaggers into an arena dominated by spices and incense. The latter is interesting, smelling of both the black frankincense variety and the dustier myrrh sort.
In fact, there is initially almost a dusty quality to Euphorisme d’Opium, subtle though it may be. It is evocative of an old spice drawer whose contents have been unsettled, blowing fiery, pungent, and peppered particles into the air like a cloud of red, brown, and black dust. They swirl into the fruits which are such a key part of vintage Opium’s beginning.
There is a particular opening accord in that famous fragrance that everyone knows, where the bergamot feels transformed almost as if by pungent oakmoss into something brown-green, bitter, but sweet. In the same way, the orange is never just a warm glow of sun-sweetened, heavy juices, but something more pungent, spiced, and rich. It’s a peculiar transformation due to the spices and accompanying elements in Opium, where simple fruits are turned into something completely new with a darkness and a bite.
That happens here, too, with Euphorisme d’Opium. The spices are not the sole cause. The carnation is critical, though a rich, brown patchouli helps to a small extent. In fact, the carnation note is extremely prominent in the opening phase, smelling both floral and a little like cloves as well. Speaking of the cloves, I really don’t find the note to be as bold or as strong in Euphorisme d’Opium as it was in the original. It’s a shame, as that is one of my favorite elements of vintage Opium, but it probably makes Euphorisme much more approachable for a modern audience.
Adele by Mert & Marcus for US Vogue, 2013. Source: meltyfashion.fr
That is one of the many early differences that I detect. The cloves are not as robust, the incense is much lighter, the perfume is much less smoky, there is no Mysore sandalwood adding to the spiciness of the bouquet, and the perfume feels substantially sheerer in the opening moments.
With Euphorisme d’Opium, there isn’t an instant impression of fiery red and brown, nor a sense of viscosity that blankets you with heavy, thick, almost resinous, almost mossy, primordial ooze. Though the perfume changes later on to gain more body and richness, the opening verges on the gauzy at times. Euphorisme d’Opium is strong and potent in actual smell, but the visuals convey sheerness, and the cloves don’t punch you in the gut in quite the same way. (It’s undoubtedly due to the rules and limitations on eugenol, though Ms. Hurwitz has tried to use an “eugenol-based carnation” instead.) To compensate for that fact, the levels of both the black pepper and the rose in Euphorisme d’Opium seem higher than in the original.
These are small things that only someone who has worshiped, studied, dissected, and worn Opium for almost 30 years would ever realise. Well, probably not the initial sheerness, as I think that is extremely obvious, but definitely the rest. For the most part, Euphorisme d’Opium has an extremely similar feel of spicy, pungent, smoky richness infused with orange and crisp bergamot fruits that are simultaneously bitter and juicily sweet. There is the same visual of a golden bed of amber, and the same sense of florals lightly swirled into the mix, but waiting to show off the full extent of their voluptuous character.
Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com
The first hints of that character occur less than 15 minutes into Euphorisme d’Opium’s development. First, the vanilla peeks out its head. Then, minutes later, the ylang-ylang starts to emerge, adding its slightly custardy, banana-y, richly yellowed, velvety opulence to the mix. Both notes grow stronger with every passing moment. The ylang-ylang takes over the lead from the carnation, while the rose recedes to the sidelines.
In the horse race that is Euphorisme d’Opium, a hint of cedar appears at the starting gate, while the jasmine suddenly bolts out of the blue to the front of the pack. Its syrupy sweetness vies neck and neck with the ylang-ylang’s velvet to create a floral brew that is rich, heady, and narcotic. The two leaders are trailed by the spice pack, then by the bitter-sweet bergamot and orange, incense, carnation, and patchouli. Amber and vanilla are a few lengths back, while the poor cedar is still struggling to get out of the gate. The rose now watches in the Kentucky Derby’s guest box, sipping on a cocktail, and admiring the ylang-ylang leader’s yellow silks.
The overall effect is to suddenly wipe out that initial impression of thinness and gauziness, adding body and depth to Euphorisme d’Opium. There is almost a voluptuousness about the scent, the same feeling of languid, purring sensuality that lay at the heart of vintage Opium. Yet, the differences from the original continue to manifest themselves. I don’t think Euphorisme d’Opium is anywhere near as heavily smoky or incense driven as vintage Opium. The focus seems more floral in nature, with the buttery ylang-ylang in particular being stronger.
“Tattooed Salome,” c.1876 by Gustave Moreau.
As a whole, Euphorisme d’Opium feels much softer in attitude, as well as in its notes. Vintage Opium was a “Spice King” for Luca Turin, biblical Salome in my eyes, and the ultimate “Bitch Goddess” for one of my readers. Euphorisme d’Opium is a tempting courtesan bedecked with smoke, spices, and heady florals, but she’s not going to rip your head off and stick a dagger into your heart if you cross her. She won’t shiv you with cloves after blinding your eyes with smoke. She won’t undulate in a slithering lap dance of dark, treacly, balsamic resins, and she won’t take away your willpower with a thick haze of heavy amber.
Opium’s daughter is much less slutty, less brazenly bold, less intense. She is a more well-behaved courtesan with a light heart who prefers to flaunt her floral robes instead, though those robes are still covered with spices and slit quite low in a suggestive wink.
Natalie Portman by Mert & Marcus for W magazine, 2006. Source: forums.thefashionspot.com
At the start of the 2nd hour, Euphorisme d’Opium shifts a little. The perfume loses some of the heft that it had gained, and becomes thinner again. The spices weaken as well, leaving a bouquet that is primarily centered on ylang-ylang, jasmine, bergamot, orange, and spices (in that order) with incense, patchouli and vanilla. The ylang-ylang and the jasmine are still in their horse race for first place, alternating places in the lead as Euphorisme d’Opium progresses. There is little carnation, the rose is still sitting in the visitor’s box, and the cedar is still trailing the pack. The smoke is well-blended throughout, but it really isn’t a powerful, solitary presence in its own right. In other words, it is not the hefty wall that exists in Opium, but a thinner veil.
1977 Opium advert featuring Jerry Hall. Photo: Helmut Newton. Source: Vogue.com
Perhaps the best way that I can convey the comparative feel of Euphorisme d’Opium is with numbers. If the original, vintage version of Opium (especially that from the late 70s) set everything at a 10 on the scale (or blew it out at an 11), then Euphorisme d’Opium starts out initially at an 7.5 across most categories, but creates the general sense of an 8. After 2 hours, the numbers then drop down to a 6 for the ylang-ylang, 5s for the remainder, and a 4 for the spices. (Opium would still be at a 10 at this point.) But these are good numbers for the DSH creation, given that the 2000 to 2005 versions of Opium are barely worth classification, in my opinion, and certainly nothing after that period. (I won’t even smell the current scent. To whichever L’Oreal executives approved the castrated eunuchs, I hope you’re plagued with nightmares for the rest of your miserable existence. Euphorisme d’Opium proves that it is possible to have a modern, reformulated Opium, you money-hungry idiots.)
Going back to Euphorisme d’Opium, the whole thing is cocooned in a golden embrace, but amber isn’t a strong component of the scent in any clearly delineated, individually distinct way. I don’t smell Euphorisme d’Opium and think, “aha, labdanum!” The amber works with the tolu balsam resin indirectly to create a warmth and richness that tie all the notes together, but they’re not a driving force.
2.75 hours into Euphorisme d’Opium’s development, the perfume is a soft intimate scent of spiced ylang-ylang and jasmine with bergamot, slightly dusty myrrh, an increasingly syrupy patchouli and dry cedar, atop a resinous, ambered base flecked with vanilla. The Australian sandalwood emerges in the base, though it doesn’t really smell of sandalwood in any particular way. Its primary characteristic is creaminess, which is helped by the lovely vanilla. Between the sweet jasmine, the velvety ylang-ylang, and that base, Euphorisme d’Opium feels incredibly smooth, feeling an elegant, sleek sheath that coats the skin like silk. It’s a rich scent up close, but far from opaque or heavy. From afar, the overall impression is of cloved, spicy florals with tendrils of incense.
Euphorisme d’Opium continues to soften. As the 3rd hour draws to a close, the perfume is smear of spiced florals with incense, amber, and vanilla. Euphorisme d’Opium grows more floral, more vanillic, and less spicy with every passing hour. By the middle of the 5th, it’s an absolutely beautiful jasmine and ylang-ylang scent that is only lightly spiced, but fully infused with a creamy, slightly dry vanilla, and a touch of smoke. About 7.5 hours in, Euphorisme d’Opium is a sexy, delicate, intimate scent of creamy flowers with vanilla and a touch of smoke. It remains that way for hours and hours, feeling compulsively sniffable whenever I bring my arm to my nose. In its final moments, Euphorisme d’Opium is a mere blur of floral sweetness, fading away a huge 13.5 hours from the start. The longevity is fantastic.
I’m less enthused by the sillage. Vintage Opium was a powerhouse. Euphorisme d’Opium is not. Ms. Hurwitz has told me that she doesn’t like big sillage or scents that leave a taste in one’s mouth. She prefers for fragrances to be intimate. Euphorisme d’Opium is stronger than many of the fragrances in her line, but only if you apply a lot. I was given a small atomizer to test and, the very first time I applied Euphorisme d’Opium, I merely dabbed it on. I didn’t spray, but applied a decent smear. Euphorisme d’Opium turned into a skin scent on me within 20 minutes. It was strong in bouquet, but only if I put my nose right on the skin. Interestingly, however, my shirt that I also sprayed it on wafted a huge amount of fragrance, about 5 inches in radius at first. But my skin? Nope. So I tried 2 smears of Euphorisme d’Opium — that didn’t do much for me, either. The perfume turned into a skin scent on me after an hour.
While dabbing and small quantities are a lost cause, Euphorisme d’Opium is a whole different story with spraying. Aerosolisation always increases the power and potency of a fragrance, but that seems especially true for this scent. 3 decent sprays from my small atomizer created a soft cloud that wafted 2-3 inches above the skin. For the sake of comparison, a similar amount of vintage Opium projects well over a foot on me, while 3 sprays from an actual bottle will give me about 3 feet in projection. (God, I love vintage Opium!) But Opium’s daughter is a child of the modern age, of modern tastes, and, most of all, of Ms. Hurwitz’s preference for softer, intimate fragrances that aren’t force fields. Euphorisme d’Opium’s sillage drops an inch after 30 minutes, then another at the end of the first hour.
It hovers a mere inch, at best, above the skin from the end of the first hour until approximately the 2.5 hour mark when it turns into a skin scent. However, it is still extremely rich, deep, and potent when smelled up close. And no voracious sniffing is required, either. Euphorisme d’Opium remains that way until the start of the 8th hour, which is when more effort is required, and when the perfume turns truly wispy and thin. It’s really lovely though, and the overall longevity on my perfume-consuming skin is fantastic.
There are no reviews for Euphorisme d’Opium on Fragrantica‘s entry page, but there are very positive assessments for the fragrance on blogs. On Bois de Jasmin, a guest post from Suzanna reads:
Euphorisme is based upon the original Opium formula, which DSH has enhanced. It sounds as if it might be dangerous territory, but DSH handles it smoothly, creating not a dupe but a chypre/Oriental for the 21st century with delicious orange/pimento notes shining through a veil of carnation and spice. DSH added honey and pink pepper notes that were to the best of her knowledge not in the original. Euphorisme is seduction by spice.
The sultry Victoria at EauMG writes, in part:
Euphorisme d’Opium opens as a spicy bitter citrus and aldehydes over fresh florals – carnation and rose, and lilies. There’s a creamy peach that adds a freshness to this spicy floral. It has a cloud of spices – pink pepper, clove, cinnamon. The heart is a spicy floral sweetened by a raw, sensual honey. The dry-down is warm and smoky incense and resins. The civet adds a depth that you just don’t smell in modern perfumes. It’s an intoxicating fragrance.
Ava Gardner photo from EauMG’s review.
Opium fans are aware that in 2010 the perfume was reformulated. Euphorisme d’Opium is closer to the original but isn’t a 100% dupe. In relation to Estee Lauder Cinnabar (you can’t talk about Opium without speaking of Cinnabar), Euphorisme d’Opium is smoother and doesn’t have such an aggressive, growling top/opening. In comparison to the pre-reformulated Opium and Cinnabar, Euphorisme is sheerer and more approachable to a “right now” audience. For example, original Opium wore like an Afghan coat, Euphorisme d’Opium is more like a satin kimono sleeve robe with an exotic print.
For The Alembicated Genie, Euphorisme d’Opium is just as spectacular as the original, though she too notes differences:
As Oriental perfumes go, Opium was another gold standard of feisty, fierce spice-and-fire, and in Dawn’s version, it is nothing more nor one whit less spectacular than its inspiration. The carnation-clove-orange and cinnamon beginnings – a large part of what made the original so distinctive – are here dampened a bit compared to the Opium I remember, and since I recall Opium sillage trails so thick you could taste them (those were the days, people!), this is no bad thing. Instead, it’s Opium without quite so much of a perfume hangover the next day, brighter and lighter and altogether a glorious twist on a perfume so iconic, I don’t even have to locate my mini of the original. I close my eyes, and in a twinkling of that spice and that fire, in the benzoin, myrrh-laden, vanilla embers that spark and flame long, long hours later, I’m all there and still happily caught in that moment, singing “Hot Stuff” along with Donna Summer.
Photo: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP for Vivienne Westwood, London Fashion week, 2013. Source: Salon.com
For Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, the fragrance was almost too strong from mere dabbing, and all about the red, spicy carnation:
Don’t let [the] plethora of notes confuse you: this is a carnation-centered perfume. Too bad that “pissed-off carnation” name had been already taken: in my opinion, it would have suited this fragrance much better than Serge Lutens’ one. I sample it from a dab vial sent to me by the perfumer and thought it was a very powerful perfume. I’m not sure I could stand it sprayed – this is how intense it is. I’m still testing Euphorisme d’Opium trying to figure out if I should go for a bottle of it – while it’s still available.
Clearly, the issue of strength is going to come down to a person’s perfume style, tastes, and what they’re used to. If you worship and wear (or wore) vintage Opium, her modern daughter will seem very well-mannered, though decently strong, and you should definitely spray Euphorisme d’Opium. Preferably, at least two good spritzes, or you may be disappointed. However, if you hated vintage Opium’s potency or don’t like perfumes that open strongly, then dabbing will be your best bet.
Photo: Matt Anderson via elements-magazine.com
If you’re someone who is ambivalent about vintage Opium or who only remembers the scent from your mother, let me emphasize that this is not your mother’s perfume. It is a very modern reinvention of the scent for the current era. Whether or not you like that version is really going to depend on your feelings about spicy florientals. Do you enjoy cloves? Do you like opulent, strong scents? Does the mere mention of carnation, jasmine, or ylang-ylang send you screaming for the hills? If so, then you should stay away.
Otherwise, please give Euphorisme d’Opium a try. It is my absolute favorite from the DSH line, followed by the beautiful Le Smoking with its green chypre opening and tobacco-cannabis ambered heart. My issues with the latter’s weak sillage and longevity shouldn’t dissuade you, especially if you get an aerosol spray sample, because the scent really is that lovely. It is absolutely worth a try. (You may want to just plaster it on.)
Since this is the very last review in my DSH Perfumes series, I would also recommend sniffing my third favorite from the brand which is Parfum de Luxe. Granted, I had an atypical expresso-licorice experience with that one, but I’m hardly alone in finding it wonderful and sultry. Other people also love the chypre-oriental with its tobacco head and labdanum amber heart, infused with neroli, tuberose, ylang-ylang, herbal notes, and darkness. And if you like gourmands centered on cinnamon that soon turn darker with resinous amber, then you may want to keep Cafe Noir in mind, while hardcore patchouli and amber-vanilla lovers will want to consider Bodhi Sativa and Vanille Botanique, respectively. (I would also recommend DSH Perfume’s Poivre, for a peppered-clove fragrance. I haven’t officially covered that one yet, and won’t for a long time, but I liked it quite a bit.)
I would like to add that all of these fragrances could be worn by men, especially Le Smoking and some of the darker scents listed above. That said, I do think that men who are unused to wearing ylang-ylang might find Euphorisme d’Opium’s drydown to skew slightly into the feminine territory. They need to try vintage Opium, because, honestly, they don’t know what they are missing out on. It is a fragrance which is a hundred times better, richer, spicier, and more “masculine” than its male counterpart (Opium for Men). As for the men who have already discovered the dragon’s roar of vintage Opium and love it, I think they would enjoy the daughter as well. Even if they own Opium, I would hope they would both be open to trying a modern take on the spicy classic. There is no way that a man couldn’t comfortably pull off Euphorisme d’Opium’s bold opening.
The 10 ml bottle of EDP. Source: Fragrantica.
For me, not all the DSH fragrances suit my personal tastes, especially given their intimate sillage. (Hey, I was weaned on vintage Opium at the age of 7. It became the standard baseline of what I thought was “normal.”) But I definitely want Euphorisme d’Opium. It’s wonderful, and I can’t get that silky smooth, delicious drydown out of my head. Plus, the perfume is affordable enough to enable spraying with wild abandon (and in quantities that would probably terrify Ms. Hurwitz) to get it more up to vintage Opium territory. Euphorisme d’Opium costs $55 for a 10 ml Eau de Parfum spray, and $125 for a 1 oz/30 ml bottle. (Other sizes, minis, and a pure parfum extrait option are available as well, with the latter being something I want to try before I make up my mind.) Even better, I can stop worrying about using up my stock of vintage Opium that I hoard like Smaug and his gold.
Euphorisme d’Opium is not the dangerous, fiery dragon that is her mother, she’s too well-mannered to be a brazen, biblical temptress, and she’s most definitely a modern girl who believes in intimate relationships, but she’s beautiful. Really beautiful.
Disclosure: Perfume sample courtesy of DSH Perfumes. That did not impact this review, I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.
Cost & Availability: Euphorisme d’Opium is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes, as well as in a pure parfum extrait concentration. It is available exclusively on the DSH Perfumes website. The perfume is offered in: a 1 dram or 3.7 ml miniature-sized flask of what I think is pure parfum extrait for $45; a 10 ml EDP concentration spray for $55; and a 1 oz/30 ml bottle of EDP for $125. The elegant antique bottle of Pure Parfum Extrait is 0.5 oz and costs $198. Samples of the EDP are available at $5 for a 1/2 ml vial. In general, all orders over $10 will receive free samples of fragrances, with the number depending on the amount of your order. If you are outside the U.S., international shipping is available if you contact DSH Fragrances.