Ysatis remains among the most memorable perfume launches of my childhood, alongside Cacharel's Loulou, mainly due to the commercial that accompanied it, much like Faure's dreamy Pavane did for the latter. In the Greek version, a marvelously sonorous, rhyming phrase was able to be coined for the launch, a fact that would be difficult to accomplish in any other language: "Αναζητείς το Υζαντίς" it went (a-na-zee-TEES toh ee-sah-TEES), roughly meaning that the love-struck male that would smell it would be forever seeking the source of the fragrant Ysatis. It does lend one to daydreaming, doesn't it. Especially to an impressionable, already obsessed with perfumes, mind such as mine, back in 1984.
The reality, as is often the case with perfumes, is far more prosaic: Jean Courtiere, president of Parfums Givenchy, came up with the name, while searching ~as is the formal naming process~ for something non copyrighted, non insulting in any known language and mellifluous enough to be catchy. Ysatis it was and it stuck.
I also vividly recall that Ysatis was accompanied by images of carnival, chess board games and Venetian masks, a fact that I mistakenly attributed it to the masterminds at the advertising company borrowing heavily from the Venezia by Laura Biagiotti popularity, at its apex during the early 1990s, but it looks like it was done in reverse. (disregard the art school project ones posing as authentic). Accurately enough, my memory is as it should be: not only is the architectural Art-Deco-meets-skyscraper bottle of Ysatis posing as a chess piece itself, the commercial is set to a scene from the Venetian carnival (to the succeeding scoring of Hendel's Sarabande, immortalized in Kubrick's Barry Lynton, and of Folias d'Espagna by Arcangelo Corelli): the intrigued, love-struck man in question is seeking the glamorous, 1940s vague-coiffed and 1980s made-up woman behind the mask, the truth behind the glamorous facade. It all stood as very impressive and to this day I think they involuntarily captured a huge part of perfume's intellectual appeal; what is it that makes us want to peel the layers off a person like the beige-purple petticoats off an onion?
I'm relaying all these very personal associations to drive to the fact that Parfums Givenchy had a nice, long-standing tradition in my house, as my grandfather was a devotee of Givenchy Gentleman (1974), my mother occasionally dabbed from Givenchy III (1970) and my father had an amorous relationship with Xeryus (1986) many moons ago. So falling for Ysatis wasn't far fetched at all and taking in mind the first perfume I bought with my pocket money was YSL Opium, it seemed like a natural enough progression
Searching for this perfume these past couple of days I come across Ysatis advertised as "the perfume of power". But this is not what it stood for for me. Perceptions have significantly changed and we're not the creatures we were in the 1980s, when everything seemed possible, even gassing out everyone in the room with one's scent fumes, but Ysatis, poised as it is between three categories (floral, oriental and chypre) in its complex formula, has the tremendous force to evoke a time when one felt untouchable.
It sounds rather perverse and morbid choice for a teen, but I kinda think I was morbid all along. We did listen to lots of Joy Division and Cure and Siouxie & the Banshees and read Poe poems and gothic tales, so I suppose it wasn't just me.
The scent of Ysatis
The main fragrance story of Givenchy Ysatis is unfolded in pummeling, sultry and creamy smelling essences of orange flower, ylang ylang and tuberose, brightened by the citrusy but sweetish oil of mandarin and chased by animal fragrance notes (smells like heaps of civet to me and there's also castoreum) and some spice in the base (the unusual for a feminine fragrance bay rum as well as clove). It's pretty "whoa, what the hell hit me?" at any rate. Like Gaia, The Non Blonde, says: "Ysatis is not for the meek or those still figuring out their style and taste". Word. If you have liked and worn Organza (also by Givenchy) in the 1990s, or Cacharel Loulou, and Ubar by Amouage, you have high chances of claiming Ysatis with the clinging tenderness usually reserved for Nutella jars.
Ysatis was composed by Dominique Ropion, maker of such ebullient, expansive fragrances as Amarige, Pure Poison, Carnal Flower, Portrait of a Lady, Une Fleur de Cassie, Alien, RL Safari, Flowerbomb or Kenzo Jungle, among many many others.
Ysatis has been reformulated and repackaged, though not ruined in the process; it's till Amazonian and lusciously haute bourgeois. Still if you're searching for the older formula, it comes in the black box vs. the newer purple one. The original bottles even read Ysatis de Givenchy. There is also a flanker, Ysatis Iris, also in a purple box, though that one has a purple hued bottle as well and of course the moniker "Iris" just below the name. Still, keep a sharp eye when shopping, as it's a rather different scent (focusing on violet & iris note sandwiched between the citrusy top and floriental bottom).
I have a generous miniature of vintage Ysatis for a lucky winner. Please state in the comments what was your favorite 1980s scent and what scents you'd like to see featured in the Underrated Perfume Day feature on Perfume Shrine. Draw is open internationally till Sunday midnight and winner will be announced sometime on Monday.
For more entries and fragrance reviews of Underrated Perfumes please click on the link and scroll.