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YSL Rive Gauche

Rive Gauche is one of two ‘default’ fragrances that I switch between for summer when I am not working my way through all the most recently-launched scents – the good, the bad and the indifferent, but probably 250 in an average year, which gobbles up a lot of scent-wearing days.  The black, blue and silver tin has earned its keep on my dressing table ever since I first bought a bottle of this not long after it launched in 1970.  It’s hard to imagine now how ground-breaking this fragrance was:  one of the first, with the much more downmarket Charlie, which tapped into the seismic shift taking place between the sexes.  While not exactly targeted at bra-burners, Rive Gauche was daring, independent, and (as the translation of one ad. from the French goes:  ‘not for the unassuming woman’).  You bought it for yourself;  you didn’t wait to be given it for a birthday, and you wore it with trousers or jeans, not flowery dresses.  It was ambition and possibility and freedom and maybe-one-day-I’ll-live-in-Paris-and-hang-out-with-Simone-de-Beauvoir, all rolled into one beautiful floral composition.  It was especially daring because it came in a tin, for heaven’s sake, not a bottle.  (And still does.)

Like Chanel No. 5, Rive Gauche is packed with aldehydes and classic floral notes like gardenia, jasmine, rose – categorised as an ‘abstract floral’, in scent-speak.  But I find it much ‘greener’ than most true florals (and like it all the more for that).  At first whooosh, you encounter the top notes – but to me, these isn’t the bergamot promised in the scent’s official pyramid, but wet mossy notes, geranium – and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hit of Lapsang Souchong smokiness after it’s been spritzed.  Then – just like a summer’s morning when the temperature climbs – those floral notes start to open, and warm the fragrance up.

The lily of the valley is very pleasing, the rose light and not heavy-handed:  there’s a soft powderiness, but when I close my eyes I’m also reminded of that iconic green creation, Vent Vert (it shares notes of muguet and rose, as well as peach, with that Balmain classic).  I spray this fairly compulsively when it’s a Rive Gauche day (it’s hard to overdo the eau de toilette), and only really get to enjoy the woody dry-down at bedtime – vetiver and the subtlest trace of sandalwood, with a surprisingly lingering rosiness.  It wasn’t until I looked up Rive Gauche’s history today to check its launch date that I discovered this ground-breaking scent was originally created by Jacques Polge – now the in-house perfumer for Chanel and one of the greatest ‘noses’ of our time.

For whatever reason (economy?  unavailability of ingredients?), the original got tweaked a lot en route to the 21st Century, but was reformulated in 2003 under Tom Ford’s reign at YSL. I’m currently scouring eBay for a bottle of the original, for strict comparison (apparently the tin means it’s better preserved than many vintage scents), but I disagree totally with many former fans who say the current Rive Gauche is nothing like the original:  to me, it still dazzles.  I smell it and I am still that full-of-excitement, what’s-life-got-in-store? teenager, striding towards my bright future.  (Albeit in a rather unfortunate pair of flares.)

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3 comments to YSL Rive Gauche

  • Irene Evans

    I agree with your comments when it comes to the original Rive Gauche, it’s my everyday perfume. But the reformulation on my skin is definitely NOT the same. It’s sharper, less powdery and lacks the complexity that it had previously. It feels wrong, it’s no longer my comfort scent.

  • Jonathan Bagley

    Back in 1984, a girl I knew smelled heavenly one evening. I’ve never forgotten it. It turned out to be Rive Gauche. It’s my favourite lady smell. I came across your article during a nostalgic search for information. I didn’t realise at the time it was expensive or critically acclaimed. Interesting you say it has similarities with Chanel No.5. That’s what my mum always wore. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about that.

  • Jane

    I hadn’t realised that the perfume was reformulated but have to agree that it is different.I started wearing it in 1990 and have not changed since. I must admit for the past few years I have wondered if the presents I have received were ‘copies’ and assumed my sense of smell had changed! I still love it, but not as much and am currently trying other perfumes. I’ve not found a replacement yet though, any suggestions?

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