All the tributes and postings on Yves Saint Laurent this week have brought forth nostalgia in me for the seventies. Personally handsome, he had an aware, melancholic, elegant and slender beauty. He was a fragile yet bold introvert who seemed constantly to be making associative connections, thinking about what next, all the time. In his honor I took out my Opium edp and doused myself yesterday and last night, and very much enjoyed the carnation, myrrh, mandarin and sandalwood with floral tones. The clove-like persistence of the fragrance softens down into the sandalwood, but this perfume reacts intensely to body heat, rising up around you until it seems like all the notes are singing with equal strength in a symphonic way. While many consider Opium to be the quintessential "Oriental" fragrance, it is not so easy to wear out and about, these days. It has that huge sillage and is very much of a certain era, and therefore a little difficult for a woman of a certain age to wear without becoming a bit self-conscious, though mostly I do so with a militant sense of choice (yet another seventies legacy, feminism). Perhaps Opium is overdue for a revival. I hope so. Modern girls have engaged with seventies style in many ways, and it's kind of fun for me personally that there is a growing use of sandalwood, patchouli, myrrh, and other incense perfume tones as related to this aesthetic.
YSL drew much from both the romanticized past and an ideal future, putting together details and richness from his personal mythology of special times and places. I have been reading both sci-fi-fantasy and historical fiction lately, and I find similar pleasures therein, from the detailed depictions of vast spaces and deep nature, and the rich descriptions of symbolic adornments used to depict the personality traits of the most active characters. YSL worked in a similar way, and often used alternating themes of past and future. In his rich peasant phase, the jewel color paisleys and abundant fabric, leather and (sadly) fur textures made for a nineteenth century flavored form of casual wear.
His season of forties themes (it may have been YSL that made nostalgia for the recent past a couture convention) that Cathy Horyn describes in her article in the NYT about the big shouldered chubby fur jackets and elaborate up-swept hair, was also enduringly influential. It was related to that thrift shop look that many wore at the time, which was put together by finding beautifully made vintage pieces for a song, wearing them without all the strict undergarments they were made for and thereby giving them a new look. YSL also moved into a heavy use of "modernist" art references to Modrian, Matisse and Picasso, using their simplified and futuristic style of decorative motifs, a use which continues to be relevant and elaborated upon by other designers.
YSL took a direction with Opium ( I understand Givaudan was the supplier of materials for Opium, and also for Obsession by Calvin Klein, which seems like a paler and more casual variation on the same theme) that reached into the symbols and signals of the past and a embodied a sense of exoticism crossed with modernity. He was probably the last of the couturiers of the grand style, whose influence could set a direction that would actually be followed, while he himself followed and allowed his luxurious ideas to be illuminated by the trends of youthful street fashions.
Above ad, the beauty Sophie Dahl famously wearing Opium and not much else.