#ThrowbackThursday: Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium Launch in 1978 Was So Fabulous Andy Warhol Spent a Decade Kicking Himself For Not Attending

Lorein Abenhaim

965-ALVA-JOAN-APPOLLONIA-YSL 1978In 1977 Yves Saint Laurent caused an international scandal with the release of his fragrance, Opium. And what’s the best way to deal with a scandal? Well, by throwing an extravagant party, of course.
YSL gave the fragrance the name Opium to signify seduction, passionate love, and to give the brand an exotic appeal. While the title caused international uproar–Australia banned it, the Middle East prohibited even the use of its name, and a group of Chinese Americans began a committee, the American Coalition Against Opium and Drug Abuse, to fight its release—the controversy actually spurred the perfume’s sales and popularity. In the perfume’s first nine months YSL racked up over $3 million in sales.
Instead of a public apology, YSL threw a glamorous party on board a ship in New York City’s East Harbor in 1978 and made sure the whole world watched. If you want to pierce through the status quo, you might as well do it in style.
The Guest List: 800 people boarded the ship Peking, docked at the South Street Seaport. Among the sea of faces were Cher, Truman Capote (who sat at the helm of the ship at the party), Nan Kempner, Diana Vreeland, and Roy Halston Frowick. As for the no-shows, Andy Warhol was in California at the time, and admitted in his diaries that he regretted not being able to attend the “big, glamorous YSL Opium party.”
The Scene: Think a massive pirate ship with gold, red, and purple banners. Now add 800 people, a 1,000-pound bronze Buddha, and over 2,000 white orchids flown in from Hawaii. The oriental theme was fitting, considering India, Thailand, and Laos are the main producers of the Opium drug. YSL displayed the fragrance bottle, which have Oriental influences, on the ship. Like bottle, like party. The affair ended with fireworks and then guests headed to Studio 54 for the after-party.
Lasting Impact: This party has clearly had an inedible impact. In 2010, the brand re-launched the Opium fragrance with a major bash that payed homage to the 1978 party.
The Cost: Fashion brands are renowned for throwing seriously expensive launch parties, but the Opium launch was truly on another level. YSL spent about $300,000 in 1978, which adjusted for inflation comes to $1.13 million dollars. This bash was definitely a million dollar statement.