One of the things that allows indie perfumers to truly stand out is their connection to the community where they work. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has done this in her Denver, Colorado milieu as she has undertaken her second project with the Denver Art Museum. In the summer of 2010 in conjunction with the King Tut exhibit she presented a six fragrance collection called Scents of Egypt. That collection was inspired by the original Egyptian perfumes discovered by archeologists. For this latest project Ms. Hurwitz was faced with a more contemporary muse, Yves St. Laurent. The exhibit is called “Yves St. Laurent: The Retrospective” and runs through July 8, 2012 at the Denver Art Museum.
As with her Egyptian collection Ms. Hurwitz created six new fragrances meant to capture the width and breadth of YSL’s career. One thing I’ve learned about Ms. Hurwitz in the time we’ve spent together is she has her own personal fragrance library and that resource I think was vital to the success of this project as three of the six fragrances were influenced by a YSL perfume. Her ability to know what these fragrances smelled like in their original incarnations allowed her to extrapolate that experience into her compositions.
YSL was promoted to the head designer of Christian Dior in 1957, at the age of 21, upon the death of Christian Dior at 52 years-old. At that young age YSL would create a fashion sensation with his first collection, Spring 1958, and the debut of the “Ligne Trapeze”. The trapeze dress was narrow at the shoulders and then rapidly expanded outward from the waist down. This was a natural step from the A-Line dress created by Christian Dior in 1955. The difference was the increase in volume and more detailing. If the A-Line was the silhouette stylish women wanted in the mid-50’s YSL was giving them more.
Ligne Trapeze the fragrance is also like a sleek construction upon which Ms. Hurwitz ladles on more detail to add to its volume as well. At its core it is an aldehydic violet musk frame. Upon that frame Ms. Hurwitz adds peach and lemon to the aldehydes to create a narrow shoulder which then moves down to a slightly wider waist of heliotrope, orris, and muguet with the violet. The base then expands on the natural musk of Ambrette seed with castoreum, suede accord, and benzoin to create a powerful animalic ending.
As incredible a beginning at Dior as YSL had he would crash and burn just six months later for the Fall 1958 Dior collection dubbed The Beat Look. YSL was inspired by the beatnik look and the collection was full of leather, turtlenecks, and hobble skirts (think Morticia Addams). The Paris fashion critics savaged him and as quickly as his star had risen it now looked to be in decline.
Ms. Hurwitz’s interpretation of The Beat Look was influenced by the first perfume launched by YSL in 1964, “Y”. Y was an aldehydic green floral composed by perfumer Jean Amic. The aldehydes are there at the top of Ms. Hurwitz’s fragrance along with a very restrained plum. The floral core of The Beat Look is gardenia, jasmine, rose, and orris. This makes for a heady middle movement especially coming out of the fizzy plumminess of the opening. Oakmoss and vetiver supply the green quality and then a slug of civet along with leather and patchouli finish The Beat Look in a place which does mimic the leather of the collection.
The 60’s would become a watershed period for YSL as after being run out of Dior he would create his own fashion house and slowly but surely rise again. One of the key innovations was his embrace of the Women’s Liberation movement and he would design fashion a liberated fashionista could wear. The women’s tuxedo which he called “Le Smoking” became a symbol of this as he would transform the masculine formal wear icon, through tailoring and detail, into something startlingly feminine.
For Le Smoking Ms. Hurwitz embraces the masculine origins of the tuxedo with the herbal quality of clary sage and green galbanum making a provocative start. Geranium carries the green theme into the heart and then a sweet jasmine leads to a honey and cannabis accord that truly smokes. Tobacco signals the transition to the base and this is a sweeter tobacco for arising from the cannabis. It is complemented by incense, balsam, and leather.
For those who never wore a stitch of YSL fashion I am sure if you were around in the late 70’s there is one piece of YSL that you couldn’t avoid; the original perfume Opium. I know that there were many nights out where I came home smelling of Opium without spraying on a drop myself. It was a pivotal perfume moment that would lead to multiple imitators. The current re-formulated version is a shadow of its glorious beginning.
Euphorisme d’Opium is Ms. Hurwitz’s attempt to exhume Opium from its scented grave. Ms. Hurwitz captures the spicy sweet opening of the original with pink pepper, bay, orange, and peach. The hot spiciness gets more prominent with cinnamon and clove all covered in a sweet honey drizzle moving forward. Jasmine and ylang-ylang add to the sweetness of the honey and contrast the spicy facets. The base is full of sweet resins like myrrh and benzoin. A dollop of vanilla again adds the necessary sweetness to make this akin to Opium.
As YSL moved into the 80’s as a confirmed star in the fashion firmament he would continue to create unapologetically and his “Paris Bow” is a good example of this time period and is the signature piece for the museum exhibit as it is on all of the promotional material.
La Vie en Rose is inspired by the Paris Bow and the 1983 YSL perfume Paris. Paris was one of Sophia Grojsman’s earliest fragrances. She created an opening rose as big as that Paris Bow. La Vie en Rose also opens with an expansive rose surrounded by a sparkling array of aldehydes. Violet and muguet eventually tame the rose but it takes a bit of time for that to happen. Where Paris was something sort of girly; La Vie en Rose goes very skanky and more womanly with civet, musk, and oakmoss adding the “vie” to the base.
The final fragrance in the YSL Collection is inspired by one singular piece in the museum exhibit. This was a long silk quilted evening coat with a pattern of linden and wisteria from the Fall 1994 Collection. I imagine it looks similar to the evening jacket above as YSL moved towards Chinese influences and cuts through the 90’s
Ma Plus Histoire d’Amour is the last fragrance in the YSL Collection and since it is inspired by one piece of haute couture it is also the simplest construction. It starts with a breathtaking ozonic lemon which charges this fragrance with energy to burn. The heart is the linden and wisteria in the print on the jacket and it is surrounded with gentle notes of orchid, honeysuckle, and muguet. The base again moves towards the animalic with civet and musk cut with the sweetness of vanilla and sandalwood. This is a gorgeous rich floral perfume every bit as radiant as the fashion which inspired it.
The YSL Collection has above average longevity and above average sillage.
Ms. Hurwitz really shows off her historical knowledge of the classic perfumes which span the career of YSL and all of the fragrances in the YSL Collection carry a real vintage vibe to them which is so refreshing. In the end I believe it is Ms. Hurwitz who truly understands Yves St. Laurent’s most famous quote, “Fashion fades, Style is eternal.” The YSL Collection shows that his style is long lived enough for one of our most talented independent perfumers to be able to interpret it brilliantly.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by DSH Perfumes.
Thanks to the generosity of DSH Perfumes we have a complete 2mL sample set of The YSL Collection to giveaway. To be eligible leave a comment about anything you know or like about Yves St. Laurent. We will draw one winner on June 1, 2012 via random.org.
We announce the winners only on site and on our Facebook page, so Like Cafleurebon and use our RSS option…or your dream prize will be just spilt perfume.
-Mark Behnke, Managing Editor