Life on the Left Bank – Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche

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Re-Branded Signature (Thomas) copy

As you may have gathered from my review of Yves Saint Laurent’s inimitable Opium a few weeks ago, I do like to take a look back at some of perfumery’s biggest icons.  With over 1,000 new fragrance launches each year, one can easily get bogged down in the onslaught, focusing only on the next big thing and the intriguing blends that join the already crowded department store shelves, so it’s refreshing, and often enlightening to go back and sniff the classics.

YSL is a brand with its fair share of iconic fragrances.  In a period of 12 years the brand launched Opium, Paris, Kouros and Rive Gauche – four of the most noteworthy olfactory creations the perfume industry has to offer.  Rive Gauche is perhaps one of the most notable of these fragrances, and out of all four, it is the most indicative of Yves Saint Laurent’s spirit (the man and the brand’s)  – capturing perfectly the idea of Parisian life on the fashionable left bank of the Seine.

Rive Gauche was launched by Saint Laurent in 1971 and was penned by perfumers Michael Hy (Calandre by Paco Rabanne) and Jacques Polge (currently in-house ‘nose’ for Chanel).  Housed within a striking blue tin can adorned with black and silver stripes, this fragrance burst on to the scene as a wearable form of attitude rather than a personal fragrance.  It’s a fragrance that takes no prisoners and speaks of confidence, as well as a serious passion for haute couture.  Rive Gauche is a bold fragrance with shoulder pads, but unlike other heavy hitters of the decade, this one offsets its distinct character with the soft and elegant tailoring that Yves Saint Laurent was renowned for.


The Notes

Top: Bergamot, Aldehydes, Ylang-Ylang and Freesia

Heart: Rose and Jasmine

Base: Vetiver, Musk and Oak Moss


How Does it Smell?

Rive Gauche is classified as an aldehydic floral – a genre of fragrance that has fallen out of favour since the late ‘80s, much to the dismay of this glamour-loving writer.  In keeping with this style, Rive Gauche opens with a champagne-sparkle of aldehydes, but where this shimmer is fizzy and vibrant in fragrances such as Chanel’s No5, it is much more subdued in the YSL.  This sets Rive Gauche apart from its contemporaries, pairing clear citrus and aldehydes to give a crisp bite that is aloof and commanding, speaking of a woman who takes no prisoners but doesn’t feel the need to shout to be assertive.

Flowers play a significant role in Rive Gauche’s composition.  The fragrance displays an abstract bouquet of florals in monochrome, that gives the impression of a regal vase, stuffed to the brim with black and white blooms.  There’s something about this greyscale idea of aldehydic flowers that comes across as completely classic and never dated.  It’s the olfactory equivalent of a little black dress – sure, it may not be the type of thing one dons every single day (or ever, in my case), but there is always a place for something so timelessly chic in every wardrobe.

As it dries down, Rive Gauche subdues further and rests itself on a bed of vetiver, musk and oakmoss.  The musk extends the overtly ethereal and airy feel of the top notes, whereas the vetiver and oak moss come together to create a sour and earthy quality that asserts Rive Gauche’s rigid backbone.  The interplay between the harsh and the soft in the base is really quite remarkable and it ultimately gives the impression of smooth and supple textiles cut in to clean and sharp angles.

A few weeks ago I treated myself to a bottle of Rive Gauche so that I could adequately prepare for this review (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), and I take no shame in admitting that I have fallen head over heels in love with it.  To me, Rive Gauche strikes the right balance between ‘70s/’80s fabulosity and excess (those big aldehydic bouquets) and contemporary elegance.  It doesn’t allow its boldness to outweigh its beauty, allowing the fragrance to become the olfactory representation of a feeling, a life style and a spirit.  This is the essence of a romanticised idea of Parisian living, and it’s blooming fabulous.

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  • Lisa

    One of my all-time favourites. I wore this when I was in my late teens and early 20s and have come back to it time and time again. A male friend said it reminded him of ‘those sophisticated girls in Sixth Form who wouldn’t go out with you’ and caused a collective sigh of recognition among the chaps of a certain age in our studio.

    I’m going to his wedding anniversary party soon and I may just buy his wife a bottle as a present. 🙂

    • The Candy Perfume Boy

      Lisa, it was lovely to read your comment and hear you reminisce about Rive Gauche. I think that would be a lovely gift for your friend’s wife!