Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Le De by Givenchy: Vintage and Modern Les Mythiques Re-issue Comparison~ fragrance review & history

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 history of Le De 

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".


  1. Miss Heliotrope23:52

    As always, fascinating.

    & makes one feel that a time machine made available to the Perfume Shrine community would smell amazing...

  2. C,

    that would have been perfect!! :-)

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Merlin09:32

    Older perfumes have so many more notes! 90s minimalism seems to have entirely altered our aesthetic sensibility - either 'purifying' it or maybe just dumbing it down!

  4. M,

    they did, but I don't take *that* to necessarily be a mark of distinction. I think that rather time has erased the lesser fragrances and only the nicer ones survived or had a long enough run to be remembered fondly in their vintage form. The rest... poof! Same thing that happens with music etc.

    Minimalism is rather complex in itself, even if using less materials. IMHO of course.

  5. Anonymous01:01

    But they reissued the reissues! 2011's Givenchy III is markedly different than 2007's. Same packaging as 2007, different contents due to 2010 restrictions. I could only find 2011 Le De on shelves, can you vouch for it being the same as 2007? I would not bet on it since I think the Mythiques were all redone for 2011, but would love to hear if I am wrong and it is still okay.

    - Lily

  6. Lily,

    ah....that's invaluable info. I haven't seen any of the 2011 editions Les Mythiques in person. I will try to do so. In the meantime I will include your info in the article with credit to you. :-)

  7. Anonymous14:06

    I first came upon Le De in 1966. My high school graduation was in June and I purchased the first of many years of Le De at that time. Then it disappeared. (War in Vietnam kept a lot of busy.) I have been seeking Le De in its 1966 form. Any ideas, other than Harrods? I live in St. Pete, FL

  8. Anon,

    thanks for stopping by and for the interesting question.

    I understand the yearning for the form a specific product had when one associated it with a particularly poignant/good time in their lives.
    Le De can be found on Ebay (you have to search a bit for it, but bottles do come up from time to time) and I believe since you're living in Florida, where many elderly people retire, it would be wise to seek estate and garage sales: there would definitely be bottles floating about. Also do seek a consignment or antique store if you have some close by. Among the nick-nacks of yesteryear perfume bottles are also to be found: make a point of telling the manager you're interested in this, if she/he comes across a bottle to give you a call. ;-)

    Hope this helps!

  9. Anonymous18:00

    This was my "Fave" in the 70's and I have been looking for one at a fair price ever since. I do see 2 different versions of the relaunch out there - 1 in the Lilac box but another in a Beige box. Not sure what the difference is between them as I'm still waiting for an unopened orginal.

  10. I wore Le De in college and bought my first bottle from the long gone, Bonwit Teller. The last bottle I owned was in the 70's, and then, it disappeared. I was excited to find it again this year, but was very disappointed, as the modern Le De bears no resemblance to the original...


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