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· Perfume Notes: YSL Opium

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Perfume Notes: YSL Opium
by Dain

Hieronymous Bosch, detail from right "Hell" panel in
The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503-1504).

It's a slippery slope into hell. One rotten, ill-judged misstep and there you are, watching Odysseus in a wreath of flame, or in the case of the 'fumehead, doomed to read Luca Turin raving on loop about some olfactory gem that's been discontinued since the days of the October Revolution—we claim a fate akin to that of Tantalus. Many perfumes tempt us with forbidden fruit, but a few, like Opium, cut the bullshit and coy hints and transport us directly into the heart of the inferno, and, as befits the devil, perhaps mankind's most stylish invention, it's done with perfect éclat.

In many ways, Opium is more extreme than the gold standard of orientals, Shalimar: the spices are spicier, like film dialogue that positively crackles with wit*, though this is not the brave, naked blaze of the more frenetic Caron Coup de Fouet (the screwball comedy to Opium's film noir). The cacophony of notes is almost a deafening assault: pepper, orange (I sometimes enjoy a touch of Theorema with this), coriander, cloves, carnation, lesser amounts of jasmine and rose, plum, cedar, patchouli, and the balsamic resins of oppoponax, myrrh, sandalwood, and benzoin. Far from downplaying the smoldering opulence of the eugenol-rich carnations and cloves, Opium's intensity takes on the quality of hyperbole, in a way that feels distinctly macabre, with a sillage that takes no prisoners. Such calculated aggression cannot be but a deliberate distancing from the Bianca-in-L'Air-du-Temps ideology of pale, obedient, demure, passive, simple, angelic, silent femininity; this is Katherina's reasoning that the best defense is a good offense, and heavy-hitting spices run a similar risk of coming off as angry and incoherent, which may explain why they tend to sell poorly on the open market. Lest they collapse from their own weight, spices require a solid foundation, traditionally the fleshy contours of amber and vanilla. But though Opium takes full advantage of the mysterious, seductive appeal of spices, it is only lightly sweetened, to smooth its many complicated angles, not to provide architectural support. Consequently, it should be a total mess, ready to cave in at the advent of a soft footfall.

Far from it. This is strong perfume for a strong woman, which somehow retains its sarcastic, angular carnality without making apologies (an extra spoonful of sugar). The secret, as it turns out, is a huge slug of fragrant soap, a pristine inner core of lily of the valley, easy to miss in the chaos, invisible wires that perform a miracle of suspension. Yes, Opium is big, bad, and gorgeous, but she's also got a brain, hidden behind her spare flesh like a spine, that's what makes her so dangerous.

Perfume Shrine
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* Ok, how bizarre is this coincidence? I've linked Bogey to Jicky, and that too features a garden of earthly delight as its visual reference. It wasn't intentional, I swear.

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2/07/2009 [5]

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