By  on January 7, 2002

PARIS -- With the launch of his fragrance Opium in 1977, Yves Saint Laurent caused an earthquake, the likes of which the beauty world never experienced. Its provocative name, exotic story and scent and plastic bottle combined with top-tier pricing caused a perfect 10 on the Richter scale.

After all, no one had ever dared so much -- to market a luxury product like an uptown cousin of street heroin. Even the suggestive tag line in Opium's ads -- "For those addicted to Yves Saint Laurent" -- caused a scandale, and the tag line was swiftly withdrawn in the U.S.

Opium changed forever the way prestige fragrances are marketed and presented. Before Opium, the fragrance industry was about French perfumers touting centuries of savoir-faire, while post-Opium it was about a clearly articulated, story-driven product concept, often expressed in contemporary campaigns such as Calvin Klein's Obsession.

For Opium, Saint Laurent envisioned a scent for an Empress of China and shrugged off all conventions to get the mix right. He chose an appellation whose utterance was shocking, concocted an oriental juice despite the fact orientals were long out of vogue, and contrived plastic packaging to get a lacquered look, though that material was ordinarily a no-no for high-end beauty goods.

Yet the outcome surpassed all expectations. "Opium took people by storm," said Chantal Roos, who worked with Saint Laurent as product manager at Charles of the Ritz, the U.S. company, which at the time owned the rights to Yves Saint Laurent Parfums. It topped perfumery charts and also opened the floodgates for other best-selling, provocative scents, such as Parfums Christian Dior's Poison.

Roos, who is now back at YSL's parent company YSL Beaute as president and chief executive officer after more than a decade's hiatus at Shiseido's Beaute Prestige International, credits Saint Laurent with introducing audacity and vivid color into the world of beauty.

One year after Opium hit shelves, YSL Parfums produced a makeup collection for which the designer -- long called the king of color -- created unexpected hues echoing those in his fashion. A pinky-blue-violet lipstick launched at the time, for instance, was taken from a swatch of clothing. It has been a bestseller that remains in the company's lineup and was among the other boldly colored Yves Saint Laurent makeup that startled the makeup industry into a new, more fashion-forward direction.

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