This is one of the more difficult Perfume 101 columns to write. It is because the best perfumes from Yves St. Laurent (YSL) all carry with them an above average presence. There is nothing gentile about any YSL perfume. Yet if, as a perfume lover, you have come to appreciate the vintage aesthetic a little more; of all the mainstream designer brands YSL has stayed the course while continuing to produce perfume since 1964. Which is my difficulty. The perfumes of YSL are of a style which represents the 1960’s or 1970’s if you’re looking for contemporary this is not the place you should be. If you are wondering if there are still some perfumes which still carry that classic style YSL is your place; here are five you can start with.
I start this list with the first perfume released by the brand in 1964, Y. Y was designed a summer weight chypre. In 1964, I am sure that this was considered light. In 2017, less so. Transitioning from aldehydes through a heart of galbanum to a characteristic chypre base. I wear this in the summer all the time but your mileage may vary.
In 1971 the perfume worn by M. St. Laurent himself was released with Yves St. Laurent Pour Homme. Perfumer Raymond Chaillan composes around an axis of lemon-thyme-vetiver. Lavender and carnation provide the floral components. Sage and rosemary add more herbal quality before woods surround the vetiver. It is another summer staple for me.
Perfumer Sophia Grojsman would make some of the more memorable perfumes in the YSL collection. Her first for the brand was Paris in 1983. Years before the gourmand style of perfume would become a thing Paris is one of the proto-gourmands. Before that appears in the base Mme Grojsman unleashes a gigantic rose bolstered by violet and iris. As the base begins to come forward the florals have transformed to soft powderiness. This sets the stage for tonka and vanilla to add in a sweet ending.
When I first encountered Yvresse it was called Champagne. Then the wine makers in France forced a name change. Mme Grojsman is again the perfumer ten years after she did Paris. This time she is after a pared down fruity floral chypre. To achieve that she keeps it simple. Nectarine provides the citrus on top cut with mint. Violet and rose form the heart twisted with the sweetness of lychee and the herbal nature of anise. A modern chypre base is the foundation upon which this stands. It is a controlled fruity floral which is why it stands out.
My introduction to the brand came when I was given a metal cylinder in silver black and blue as a gift. Inside was Rive Gauche Pour Homme. It was the beginning of my love of barbershop perfumes. Tom Ford had just begun his creative direction at YSL in 2003; working with perfumer Jacques Cavallier they would create a barbershop with sleek modern fixtures. The lavender and vetiver fougere is the basis for this style of fragrance. The additions to each phase that Mr. Ford and M. Cavallier attempted succeeded in turning Rive Gauche Pour Homme into this great contemporary perfume. Anise provides a different running partner to the typical rosemary. Carnation joins lavender in the heart but clove is added in to form deeper combination with the geranium. Gaiac wood is the modern counterpoint to the vetiver in the base. Rive Gauche Pour Homme is one of the most versatile scents out there. It is why I recommend it often to those who want to own just one bottle of perfume.
Those are the five where I think you should start. This list leaves out three of the greatest perfumes of all time because I think they are not the place to be introduced to YSL. If you find you like the vibe seek out Opium, Nu, and Kouros. They aren’t for the faint of heart but they are the best that perfume has to offer.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.