I can recall down to the minute when I became entangled into Yves Saint Laurent’s vision. It was even before I saw his amazing couture on Betty Catroux and Talitha Getty in the photos of the glossy magazines that my mother used to buy and cut out clippings of when she deemed beautiful; and before I leafed through my father’s art-books with the colorful, geometrical Mondrian and trapezoid Braque paintings.
Specifically the trigger had been an olfactory one: stepping into a taxi out of which a woman wearing Opium had just left. My puerile ears had the good fortune of catching the driver’s phrase “My God, this Opium scent is everywhere and it’s so strong!” My mother nodded her beautiful head in silent demi-assent as she always did when she was too polite to disagree or further an argument. Myself I was not yet capable of discerning nuances of speech so as to differentiate a positive from a negative one. I only seem to recall that that was the most exquisite scent I had ever smelled, I was straining to absorb every single molecule I could attach to my nostrils’ Velcro and I was already seriously longing for it as soon as I stepped out of that taxi. I can’t really recall where we were going, whether our purpose was a practical or social one or what we were wearing or how the driver looked like. My memory obliterated all those things, choosing to cherish only the precious memento of first smelling Opium off the sillage of a complete stranger. Such is the power of fragrance!
It haunted me for years and as soon as I had pocket money or could request gifts of beauty I knew what my little heart desired: the forbidden elixir encased in the cinnabar bottle with the black tassel. Other perfumes came and went and I amassed whatever I could lay my hands on, but Yves Saint Laurent became my first fashion icon through Opium.
Blossoming into a woman I personally discovered other creations of his, which brightened my life with their beauty and style. One of them was Y, his first fragrance for women. Named after his initial, I imagine it also allied to the French pronoun for “there”, since it is definitely very much there: it imposed its presence with elegance and the endurance of a true classic.
Y was issued in 1964 (2 years after Yves's first YSL collection) and was composed by nose Jean Amic in a beautiful, solid, architectural bottle designed by Pierre Dinard.
Exactly two years before Yves was rocking the catwalks with the Norman Smock, a garment debuting more than 1,000 years ago but serving as an inspiration for YSL peasant-looking shirts, Russian tunics, Chinese coats, boho artist's jacket, or even the jacket of a gabardine pantsuit over the years: Yves was already doing what he considered style ~the reference that provides a solidarity to one’s wardrobe away from the dictations of currency. Clothes should be made to last and speak through the years.
Much like his fluid fashions of 1964, with languorous gowns, gracious pantsuits and flowing tunics that draped curves rather than suppressed them, Y the fragrance became the emblem of la maison Laurent: flamboyant if you look at the prism from an angle that the sun catches it producing a vivid rainbow on the wall, restrained if you look at it from an angle where it shines with the natural incandescence of clear crystal.
In many ways Y was a departure from the prim and tasteful aldehydic fragrances of the times such as Le Dix or Madame Rochas, proposing a greener, more subversive, emancipated chypre that would herald the onset of the powerful chypres of the 70s. And yet it did so with elegance, without the shock value of Bandit or the intensity of Aromatics Elixir, yet without betraying the bedrock of the genre’s character. “Which is the chypriest of them all?” And possibly the chirpiest…
Y took the powdery aldehydic notes of previous beauties and gave them a retouch of bluish grey dense brushstrokes of shadow-y depth that mollify the sparkling honeysuckle and the heady hyacinth heart into something that approximates Marc Franz paintings: the striking and angular happily coexist with the curvaceous. Above all, Y highlights oakmoss in perhaps the last composition –up to the time of writing- to retain some semblance of fidelity to the rotting frisée of the parasitic lichen that laces itself upon the mighty oak. Its animalic but classy echo is heard through the urban forests to the pursuit of discerning suitors.
If you have loved Ma Griffe for its spicy emerald song, Chanel No.19 for its audacious herbal iris, the vintage Miss Dior for its naughty seduction under wraps and 31 Rue Cambon as a bastard descendant of the greats who pays a visit when the need strikes and you haven’t tested Y by Yves Saint Laurent yet, serious amiss should be amended before it is utterly ruined.
Top: aldehydes, peach, gardenia, mirabelle and honey suckle.
Middle: Bulgarian rose, jasmine, tuberose, ylang ylang, orris and hyacinth.
Base: oak moss, amber, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, civet, benzoin and styrax.
Y by Yves Saint Laurent is easily available at department stores and online.
Update on reformulation: the newest Eau de toilette bottles have a gold cap and the Y straight up and down versus a white cap and an italicised Y for the older ones. The name on the bottom of the bottle is Sanofi Beaute for the older ones, the group that YSL Parfums joined in 1993. Sanofi Beaute however was acquired by Gucci Group in 1999 and Yves Saint Laurent has been recently acquired by L'oreal, heralding further tampering with the formula.
Pics provided by "Armanis", posted in fond admiration