In 1964, Yves Saint Laurent began the fragrance part of his business with a women’s perfume called Y. It is a crisp austere green chypre which might have represented the last days of this style of perfume. As a perfume M. St. Laurent was less interested in blazing a new path he just wanted fragrance as part of the overall collection. Over the ensuing years that would change and some of the most influential perfumes of the next forty years would have YSL on the label. Recent times has seen the brand living on their past. If they were going to begin to be part of the modern discussion of designer brands they were going to have to design some perfumes for the emerging millennial market. With a new creative director in Tom Pecheux the first attempt is for the guys given the same name as that first release; Y.
Mr. Pescheux turned to perfumer Dominique Ropion to compose Y. This is another composition of greatest hits. It is the fragrance equivalent of colorblocking as each phase of development is its own well understood accord. It is competently constructed and will remind one of many of the other perfumes sitting next to it on the department store counter. Its reason for existence is to ask the consumer if they would like their fresh floral and woody notes in this specific progression. It is hard not to feel that there were too many focus groups weighing in on the creative process. This is the antithesis of what YSL used to stand for. Can you imagine the reaction of a focus group to Opium? It would never have existed. Y becomes a perfume of lowest common denominator (LCD).
M. Ropion opens with an ozonic accord comprised of the safer aldehydes. Not the ones which conjure hair spray or wax but rather the ones which capture fresh sea air. A very overused ginger is used to provide some verve. It moves to that uber-safe men’s floral note geranium. Not so rose to be worrisome say the focus group. It finishes on a base of balsamic woods and incense. The incense is probably the most confrontational note in the whole thing and it’s not that intense.
Y has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Y is a warning light of the things I worry about when marketing to the millennials. If a brand chooses to play it safe by asking them, “is this okay?” The result becomes something full of crowd-pleasing accords which stands for nothing. I am hoping Mr. Pecheux is more interested in recapturing the boldness of the past instead of calling for more focus groups. From a brand which produced something like Kouros it is sad to see Y represent the YSL LCD.
-Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Nordstrom.
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.