Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Yves Saint Laurent Saharienne: fragrance review

If damning with faint praise is the modus operandi of the considerate critic, then I could say that the feminine fragrance Saharienne by Yves Saint Laurent is an inoffensive summer scent for days when you're bored to think of perfuming yourself. That wouldn't be right, though. Saharienne evokes so much fashion mythology with its name that expectations would naturally soar. Unfortunately, for a house with such clout in its history and at least two controversial scents in its archives (Opium and M7), plus many beautiful ones (YSL Paris, In Love Again, Rive Gauche, Y), Saharienne underwhelms.

A fresh "nothing" for summer that, while not unpleasant by any means, falls short of the stature of a true Saint Laurent fragrance. The promised "exotic journey in the wilderness" is just a stroll down the perfumery hall of an anonymous department store in Peoria.

When Saint Yves, fashion's true saint, introduced the saharienne "safari jacket" in the 1968, he envisioned a garment that would recall the best of colonial imperialism, in terms of stylishness that is, without succumbing to the demeaning elements herein.

The sharp, belted, pocketed jacket was compact and practical, but with an air of savagery as well, as though the wearer could brave sandstorms that would obscure the skies in torpedos of seemingly red particles attacking one's every cranial cavity.
The beloved garment of the white colonialist (Yves was of Algerian descent after all) looked ever so sexy on the leggy Veruschka (the aristocrat model Veruschka von Lehndorff, pictured here); cinched waist and  tight laces over bronzed breasts that were unencumbered by bridling bras. Saint Laurent's fashions made women look powerful, yet feminine! The Saharienne jacket (or the safari jacket) was no exception to that rule. Apart from a fashion milestone (no designer has been immune to its charms in the following 40 years), it also signaled a feminist one:
"By 1970, with the acceptance of trouser suits, the Western woman's silhouette accommodated bifurcation for the first time. Yves Saint Laurent, a designer extremely sensitive to social trends, responded to the May student uprisings in 1968 by creating a line of women's tailored trouser suits. Based on the "African" theme, he created a "Safari" suit for his spring/summer 1968 collection, transforming the functional hunting outfit into townwear for women". [source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art ]

The muted bergamot "cologne" idea (taking a sharp, astringent, tangy flavour and blunting its edge with loads of Iso-E Super in modern perfumery speak) is not remarkably original; not does it serve any purpose as a stand-alone-trick beyond the blah. It's shampoo writ large. Nothing wrong with this, coming from a brand like Clean or Bath & Body Works, but there is some disappointment in the notion pervading Yves Saint Laurent. I detect no significant spice, just a flou idea of woodiness and "clean" musky backdrop.
If you're looking for a sparkling woody-faceted bergamot with great lasting power for that refreshing, insouciant grace of summer wear, when you don't want to look like you're trying too hard, grab Terre d'Hermes instead.

Notes for Saharienne by Yves Saint Laurent:
Top: lemon, Italian bergamot and mandarin
Heart: white flower petals, orange leaf, galbanum, black currant bud.
Base: pink pepper, ginger.


  1. ...and I just fell in love at the second sniff and got me a bottle. I like the citrusy and bitter green accord and not all days I feel like wearing something sophisticated.

    And you reminded me to dig up my bottle of Terre. In fact, to dig a few bottles of something. Lately, I've been circulating Iris Ukiyoe and Shiseido's Vocalise because of lack of better ideas and I need a change. Being a great fan of all things incense and woods, I don't have that many summer fragrances and there it goes.

  2. I forgot to say that I indeed expected more. Stronger, dryer, more interesting. But as far as I'm concerned, this is not a bad fragrance. Not a future classic unless they tweak it into an extrait of unholy strength which will contain a good bit of incense and patch. Or... I'll try to tweak it around when I feel like that.

  3. Anonymous16:16

    I was shopping this weekend, and the woman who waited on me smelt fabulous. A very clean scent, with a hint of spice and mystery. I asked her what fragrance she was wearing, and she said Opium! It was so beautiful. I'm sorry the new release is a dud. A house with a history like that-it's a shame. But, I guess they have to produce what they can sell.


  4. L,

    et tu Brutus??? :P
    It's certainly not a fruity sweet salad and that's good, but have we come to the point when it suffices? Have we thrown the towel?
    Nothing wrong with your existing choices, but I might add Timbuktu, Passage d'Enfer, Fairchild, Jardin sur le Nil and Jardin en Mediterranee, and Virgilio (off the top of my head), since you like woods, green and incense for summer wea; these all wear transparent and refreshing, while still sophisticated.

  5. L,

    whatever you do, you're bound to make it more interesting! It's not bad in the sense "it stinks", but it's dull as is. I expected so much more...

  6. Carole,

    after Parisienne, I kinda lost the plot. Is it how they want to continue the house's fragrance history?
    I love wearing Opium and confusing everyone: "what that wonderful, fresh floral [!!] smell?" they ask me. YSL always stood for gutsy and impeccably tasteful style.

  7. Anonymous17:37

    Helg, Can I ask an off topic question? Have you smelt Sharif, by La Vie Del Profumo?If so, do you like it?


  8. Carole,

    not yet, but have a sample waiting for me in the mail, so a review will be up when I return from vacations.
    Thanks for asking!

  9. Helg, I haven't lost my senses, no worries. For me, it's just simply and idiotically appealing in the same way as I sometimes get a cheap garden variety chocolate or grab some rice with defrosted veggies I happen upon the freezer instead of cooking something sophisticated.
    I got it for maybe one-third of the retail price.... and as said, I sense a potential. And since nothing can prevent me from mixing up some damn cedar-based potion to give it a bit of spine...

  10. Anonymous17:52

    OMG, idiotically appealing in the same way as grabbing some rice with defrosted veggies I happen upon the freezer instead of cooking something sophisticated? *That's* the funniest damning with faint praise I've read in months!

    It sounds like YSL has given up on doing perfume. And BTW the ad with the all lines-of-sight converging on that crawling lady's crotch is so gauche it's hilarious! Didn't anyone mention this to the art director? Or is it metaphorical like this lady's crotch is a window unto the Sahara?

  11. Anonymous14:18

    OMG this is sooo funny! I used exactly the same words when I reviewed this fragrance for one site about a month ago. If the site was not in a more unusual language, I would wonder whether you’ve read it ...

    It’s a very airy fragrance with no personality at all, initially it made me think “Raquel Welch in her youth” for some reason, as if no modern actress could fit the “Saharienne” role.

    I guess it’s aimed at consumers who value form over content, since the bottle is gorgeous and the advertisement ditto.


  12. L,

    LOL, good point! I am certain you know what you're doing!

  13. Anon,

    Liisa has a way of hitting bull's eye, which is why I love her. :-)

    You're hinting at more profane thoughts that I ever thought of regarding this (rather forgettable) campaign. But it would be interesting if more people viewed it that way....

  14. Sandra,

    what could you be talking about?? I lost you, are you talking to the anon username above?

    I find the bottle OK and the campaign rather predictable; and therefore forgettable. Catch some of the post in our Advertising Series for some really exciting ads of the past. :-)


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