What possessed Givenchy to create two fragrances in 1957, the well known L'Interdit and the less known Le De, both inspired from and originally intended for Audrey Hepburn? In retrospect, though both elegant, delicate enough florals of immense clarity to reflect the tameness of the 1950s in terms of perfume expectations and societal mores and therefore suited to the "nice girl" elegance of Hepburn herself, the commercial supremacy of one over the other has left Le De in the twilight. It's perhaps telling that Bette Davis, no spring chicken when Le De became available in 1958 ~the actress was hitting 50, well into maturity by the standards of the time~ chose to wear the ill-fated one. Le De remains today a snapshot of how women used to smell, ladylike and in pearls, and even in the re-orchestrated re-issue that the company launched in 2007, seems a captive of time in one way or another.
The oddly named Le De is a reference to the particle of nobility in Hubert de Givenchy's name. In 1952, at the age of 24, Givenchy opened his own design house on 8, rue Alfred de Vigny in Paris introducing it with the "Bettina Graziani" collection, named after Paris's top model at the time. He had a tight budget and only three staff working in a room loaned to him by friend and mentor couturier Cristobal Balenciaga.
The landmark of Givenchy's style, and the contrast to his more conservative contemporary Christian Dior, was innovativeness: The revolutionary use of cheaper fabrics employed in designs that intrigued with their aesthetic viewpoint, instead of their bourgeois luxury (influenced no doubt by Balenciaga), and his "separates", instead of the more standard option of dresses. Audrey Hepburn, later the most prominent champion of Givenchy's fashion (and to many the fashion plate whose image both benefited from and inspired him in equal measure), met the French designer in 1953 during the shoot of Sabrina. He had mistakenly thought he was going to meet and dress Katherine Hepburn...An immediate friendship was forged over this misunderstanding and Hubert went on to design almost all the wardrobes she wore in her movies, prompting him to later say that "Audrey's image is associated with my name". She never failed to note that "Hubert gave me self-confidence. In one of his suits with the beautiful buttons I can forget my shyness and talk in front of 800 people". Their friendship lasted till her untimely death.
Le De came about when Hubert chose decided to gift his friend with a perfume; actually he commissioned two, the other being L'interdit (created in 1957 and commercialized in 1964) and they were hers alone for a whole year. In 1958 the idea of launching perfume under the aegis of his house saw Le De being introduced to the market while L'Interdit was immortalised in another classic Audrey Hepburn film, Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Comparing vintage and modern Le De Givenchy
The vintage edition of Le De comes across as a strange floral etude in the lineage of Le Dix de Balenciaga, with the violet note treated in a non sweet manner, contrary to all confectionary and makeup references that violets usually translate to perfumery. Instead the astringency of the violets gains soapy and powdery nuances (thanks to orris and rose) presenting the suds and puffs of a beauty ritual through the sheer panel of a light filter. There is no natural reference, just abstraction. The narcissus essence is laced with the impression of a horse's sweat, segueing into a musky feminine aura that is lived-in contrasting nicely with the general "groomed" effect. It is subtle enough that you won't catch it unless you're looking for it.
In 2007 a re-issue of Le De Givenchy was launched under the auspice Les Mythiques, a homage collection to the classics in the Givenchy line. The modern Le De is a play on humid floralcy. A dewy floral would theoretically appeal to modern sensibilities, even though this style had commercially expired by the time that the company thought about launching it. The violet is subdued and a "clean" orange blossom and lily of the valley are making it approachable and familiar. The structure recalls a woody musky floral and sillage and projection remain low-key, though perfectly calibrated to function as a constant halo. As of time of writing, the modern Le De is still available from Harrods.
How to Differentiate Different Editions
The original Le De Givenchy was introduced in 1957. The vintage bottle has rounded shoulders and is following the classic mould common for L'Interdit as well. It was available in eau de toilette and extrait de parfum. The 2007 re-issue of Le De Givenchy in Les Mythiques line is encased in a lilac box with the logo of Givenchy repeated in the design motif of the packaging. The bottle in frosted glass, tall, with sparse lines and sharp shoulders.
EDIT: My reader Lily notes that there is an update on the Les Mythiques 2007 edition, introduced in 2011, with slight differences in the packaging, although I haven't come across it in person. If anyone can describe the differences and whether there's a change in scent I'd be happy to include the info.
Notes for the vintage Le De Givenchy:
Top notes are coriander, mandarin orange, tarragon, bergamot and brazilian rosewood
middle notes: carnation, lilac, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley and rose
base notes: sandalwood, amber, musk, oakmoss and guaiac wood.
Notes for the 2007 Les Mythiques Le De Givenchy:
Top notes: coriander and lily-of-the-valley
middle notes: jasmine, ylang-ylang and bulgarian rose
base notes: sandalwood, vetiver and incense.
Les Feuilles Mortes: music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. Yves Montand sung it in 1946 in the film "Les Portes de la Nuit".