June 19, 2012
DSH The YSL Retrospective Collection
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is inspired by vintage perfumes, to both honor them and to create her own perfumes in honor of great perfumes of the past. This DSH collection proves a deep affection, study and understanding of YSL, as displayed through his personality, era and perfumes.
It pays homage to the great designer and shows how he has inspired her own sensibility. DSH made perfumes for this collection that honor and interpret specific YSL perfumes, and also entirely new perfumes to celebrate YSL’s career as a designer. His designs perfectly expressed the changes in French culture over his lifetime.
DSH has made other perfume collections rooted in both detailed accuracy and flights of olfactive imagination. Trying them, you experience her informed sensibility and feeling for other times and cultures, as viewed from your own, because they incorporate a modern mood too.
I have previously written about the DSH Secrets of Egypt Collection and the Perfumed Court of Versailles Collection. They were done in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum. These olfactive guides are an effective way to usher visitors through times past represented by their special collections.
Going through the DSH YSL Retrospective Collection is like time traveling through the 1950s into the early 80s. Having lived through these years myself, I recognize the cool, sophisticated air of modernity that transmuting over time into the culture of energetic change that is keeps unfolding the promises of a gigantic youth-quake past into the present.
The set starts close to the chic of traditional couture with Ligne Trapeze, inspired by YSL’s 1950s time as art director at Dior, and his beautiful A-line collection. This silhouette is a shape extending from narrow fitted shoulders out to a short trapeze that reveals the legs extending beneath, the fabric like a bell swinging around the body. This aloofness of stiff fabric and geometry is flattering to many types of real women’s body shapes, and yet this forgiveness maintains a disciplined elegant air of coolness and chic. This was a period when most women who could afford it tried to embody the elegance of French couture as closely as possible.
Many fine French perfumes of the time were steeped in aldehyde, in an established grande dame style. This soft DSH interpretation uses aldehyde like a sheer powder that carries subtle but clear hints of the classic ingredients of lily of the valley, iris, violet, and other lady-like notes, to dry down to the more warm and animalic tones of amber, suede, benzoin, vetiver and castoreum. The other notes listed are rosewood, peach, jonquil, rose de mai, grandiflorum jasmine, heliotrope, sandalwood and benzoin.
Later the cool of the aldehyde, iris, violet, and more insistent lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, peach, and heliotrope step back to reveal the darker, more humanly warm base of amber, suede, benzoin and other deep notes.
At that time, perfumes were worn as a strong presence, meant for a very long evening beginning in formal wear at dinner and evolving over the hours as the night became more intimate. DSH version is fresh, sheer, transparent, soft, but each note is more definitely and identifiably there, as we are more used to now, yet still keeping the identification with the French 1950s YSL aesthetic.
The Beat Look EdP opens with a bright olfactory spark, and then goes for cool, backed with fragrant leather. The Beats’ American youth culture influence eventually affected French style and a long look away from formality. The Juliette Greco black turtleneck café bohemian lifestyle was open enough to include everybody, not just artists and writers. Anyone who was young and interesting could be part of it, a growing celebration of energy and freedom. This is inspired by YSL’s first perfume “Y”, a fruity-aldehyde chypre, of 1964.
There’s an African mask abstract yet material quality to this fragrance, in that the aldehyde keeps its cool but the earthy notes of patchouli, amber, vetiver, sandalwood and leather, accented brightly by hyacinth gardenia and iris connect to bodily sensuality. Coolness is supported and strengthened by bodily and natural warmth.
Le Smoking (1968-75) is an imaginative fragrance by DSL that references the famous feminine tuxedo evening attire by YSL, that elegant expression of women’s liberation. This is a green chypre that holds a distinctive blond tabac and marijuana accord soaked with Moroccan incense. Notes of geranium, carnation, tobacco leaves, peru balsam, leather, oakmoss and castoreum move elegance into the direction of earthiness and strength. There is a beautiful turn into subtle sweetness when the jasmine and rose and neroli step forth. This strength and sweetness recalls a sense of pride in the natural body, something that liberated women were reaching for in their daily lives, and an attitude that became a lasting influence in YSL’s designs going forward.
Euphorisme D’Opium (Opium Perfume, c 1977) is a take on that classic scandalous and sensual Moroccan Oriental extravaganza. There is still an Opium flanker on store shelves, a descendant I have found to be weak tea indeed. This DSH take is based on the original design, last on the market in 2010. Far more sheer and gentle it keeps an authentic connection to that depth bomb Opium but makes the concept wearable for the contemporary era, just touching on the euphoric aspects of the full bore Oriental/Middle Eastern sensibility and materials.
Carnation/clove/sandalwood, bitter orange/myrrh and civet are most definitely there but with a delicious almost gourmand substructure of honey and vanilla, opaque and grounding enough to hold back the floodgates of sensual delirium. It opens the window to view Opium’s opulent and beautiful perfume-induced euphoria but keeps enough distance by virtue of its sheerness so that you can wear it and stay focused on the matters at hand.
La Vie en Rose (Paris Perfume c 1983) is a strikingly beautiful rose perfume, close to, if Ms. Herman of Yesterday’s Perfumer’s recollection is right, the 1983 Paris perfume itself. I am not familiar with the original vintage perfume, but, I can tell you that this one is as deep a pink rose as the bow on the exquisite YSL Paris Bow dress. Deeply rosy, violet, with an aldehyde that provides a champagne sparkle, this is a jump into the lap of luxury and classic Parisian elegance.
Green stem notes, linden blossom, French rose, violet and violet leaves, and ylang-ylang floating over sandalwood, musk, cedarwood, moss and civet base, this is a concoction fresh, graceful and refined as it is seductive, the kind of perfume you that keeps you raising your wrist to your face to inhale the pleasure it freely gives.
The ease and softness of this fragrance and style is a world away from the beginning of YSL’s early career focused as it was on disciplined geometry and aldehyde cool. This is about the naturalistic fragrance effects against smooth skin, satiny hair and fabrics draping gracefully with the perfume of full-blown roses emanating from the fabric’s folds.
Ma Plus Belle Histoire d'Amour - the song sung by Catherine Deneuve to YSL at his last show, is about his relationship to his clientele and muses; the stylish French women who followed his career avidly and supported him with love for his appreciation of their beauty through his long and varied career. They made his career possible. This perfume is also another imaginative homage to the spirit of YSL in perfume form.
It is a luxury floral set within ozone. Lemon, bergamot, ozone, linden, rose, lily of the valley and wisteria in that signature French spring flower touch; jasmine, orchid, honeysuckle, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, musk, vanilla, patchouli and civet.
The first impression is of an airy vanilla carrying the scent of lightly indolic flowers. Any associative cloy is folded into the base where it makes for an extended liliaceous tone; well-married to depth. The ozone has a soprano refinement which carries all the rest up into the air around you. Nothing stands out alone as dominant in this fragrance, it is of a piece and very much the scent of wealth, luxury, taste, and modern French beauty.
The personality, career and perfumes of YSL as a starting point for a set of modern perfumes is a beautiful idea and has been carried out in this Collection with delicacy and thoughtful attention to nuance and detail.
The entire set is lovely to experience as a whole. If you then fall for certain perfumes that would be an experience that could well combine or layer with the vintage versions of YSL perfumes, too. This could be an almost holographic perfume experience that is both of now and specifically of then. It would invite the spirit of YSL and all his discerning refinement to hover over you.
The past lives on with great strength and presence through fiction, architecture, painting, styles of food and music, but to find it so gracefully interpreted through perfume is an intimately personal delight.
This sample collection was sent to me by the perfumer. Please see her site for more information on notes and ordering. I suggest you consider the full sample collection to start with; it is a journey and a joy. They are all in Eau de Parfum strength and 5ml mini-flasks are $45 each; the sampler pack of all six is $45, and the Coffret of miniature flacons of all six is $90.
Above images are of the YSL dresses and ads that encapsulated his aesthetic in each decade/era of his career. They do not belong to me so if you own the copyright and wish me to remove them please contact me.