In 1977, Yves Saint Laurent launched a new fragrance to coincide with his Autumn-Winter 1977 collection inspired by China. It was an unusual blend of patchouli, myrrh, and vanilla. Saint Laurent oversaw the entire creative process, from the choice of scents to the shape of the bottle, the press kit (which he created himself), and the advertising campaign featuring Jerry Hall photographed by Helmut Newton.

The link with the Orient was not new in perfume. In 1913, Paul Poiret launched Nuit de Chine by the Parfums de Rosine in a jade-colored bottle recalling a Chinese tobacco container. However, the name chosen by Saint Laurent, with its reference to a drug from the Orient, caused a scandal—especially in the United States.

And yet the fragrance was an astonishing success. Stores were unable to keep it on their shelves. In one year alone, sales in Europe had reached $30,000,000. Thirty years later, sales have not diminished, and Opium remains one of the top ten best-selling perfumes in France. Along with Chanel No5, it is the only fragrance to have achieved this.

After the fragrance Y, I wanted a lush, heavy, and languid perfume. I wanted Opium to be captivating, and I wanted its scent to evoke everything I like: the sophisticated Orient, imperial China, and exoticism.

André Leon Talley, “YSL, on Opium,” Women’s Wear Daily, September 18, 1978