Yves Saint Laurent Y ~ perfume review

Yves Saint Laurent Y fragrance for women

I’ve spent years looking for the perfect dress, a dress I can wear in the winter with boots and a sweater, in the summer with sandals, with pumps to business meetings, and out at night with a Miriam Haskell necklace and hand-knit shrug. When wearing this dress, I won’t have to hold in my stomach or worry that my bra straps show. Slide the dress over my head and I’m done. Well, I haven’t found the dress yet, but I think I’ve found its perfume counterpart: Y by Yves Saint Laurent.

Y is a clean, soft green chypre that lays a gentle background. It is quiet and elegant, but still warm, and when you’re wearing it people notice you and not your scent. It stays close to your body. Someone crammed against you in an elevator when you’re wearing Y won’t think of perfume but will think you’re still warm from your morning shower and maybe have clipped a few flowers from the garden for your desk.

Jean Amic Perfumers Michel Hy and Jacques Bercia created Y, Yves Saint Laurent’s first scent, in 1964. “Y” is both Yves’ first initial and a French word referring to an indefinite “there” or “here”. Y’s top notes include galbanum, gardenia, peach and honeysuckle; heart notes are rose, jasmine, orris, hyacinth, and ylang-ylang; and base notes are oakmoss, amber, patchouli, civet, vetiver, and benzoin. The YSL website describes Y more simply as “galbanum, ylang ylang, and oakmoss”. Wearing Y is like having a silky, moss green ribbon tied around your wrist. Y has the same blend of spring-like flowers and oakmoss as Balmain Vent Vert, but it is gentler with less sillage. Compared to Jacomo Silences, another green chypre, Y is less stormy and insistent.

In 1956, Christian Dior died unexpectedly and Saint Laurent, only 21, took over designing for the house. The quality and complexity of the Dior scents were legendary and I’ve heard stories of Diorissimo wafting through the Dior showrooms because of Dior’s superstitious attachment to lilies of the valley. When Saint Laurent started his own house it’s interesting that he chose such a T-shirt of a scent as Y instead of a diva like Dior’s first scent, Miss Dior, or even like Diorling, released a year before Y.

In an interview with the Fragrance Foundation, Yves Saint Laurent said that when he introduced Y, “Women rarely expressed their sexuality in public. They were more practical in their approach. More inhibited in their desires. Now, a woman wants more — a man wants more, too." This description, combined with the many comments on Makeupalley describing Y as a nice “office scent” might lead you to think it’s humdrum. Well, Y isn’t a full-on seduction scent, but it isn’t sexless, either. It is the sort of perfume that sets the stage for you to shine through without the background interference that Saint Laurent’s later fragrances such as Paris and Opium might present.

Yves Saint Laurent Y is another of those largely forgotten but still produced scents that goes for a song on the internet. A 50 ml bottle of the Eau de Toilette can be had for less than $20. The Parfum (extrait) is harder to find but softer than the Eau de Toilette. Both the Eau de Toilette and Parfum have average lasting power. Y may not blow you away with its strange and beautiful power, but I bet you’ll reach for it the same way you’d reach for a soft, cotton blanket when settling down for a nap.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I'll have to go and find this one- it sounds wonderful!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It's definitely worth a sniff. Sometimes I don't want to be obsessed with smelling my wrists every ten minutes–I just want to smell nice and get on with it. Y is perfect for those days.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this lovely review of one of the best chypres around… To me, Y is the essence of “chypre-ness” (or would that be chypre-dom? chypre-ity?): a bit stark, impeccably elegant, discreetly sensuous, slightly gender-ambiguous. It is indeed surprising, coming from the young, rebellious YSL: but then, Y is a bit like “le smoking” he introduced a bit later on in his career, isn't it? I have some vintage extrait and you've inspired me to wear it again.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I love “chypre-ity”, but how about “chypre-locity”? I also love your description of Y. It's true that YSL's fashions seemed to center on masterful tailoring, rather than girly gathers and draping, and that sort of fashion would go well with Y. His 1965 collection, though, one year after Y was introduced, was the famous color-block, Mondrian-inspired collection, which somehow doesn't seem to jive with Y as well as it does with Le Smoking.

    I wonder if he wore Y, himself? It sure seems possible.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This one's a dream and totally unappreciated (along with Yvresse). It's much more “me” than Silences or Vent Vert.

    Dang. I'd forgotten how young he was at the start of his career. What an amazing man. As an aside: going through my late mother-in-law's closet last year after she died, dividing up and parting with her wardrobe, I was stunned by the beauty of her YSL pieces, many of which were both interesting *and* had a timeless quality, which is a tough trick.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you about Y compared to Vent Vert and Silences. I keep going back to Silences, thinking this time it will suit me better, but Y is a better alternative for me.

    YSL clothes! I'm so jealous. Did you get to keep any?

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is a timeless fragrance, just like YSL's timeless clothing.


  8. Anonymous says:

    R, so true! It was as solid forty years ago as I'm sure it will be forty years from now.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I'm sure many/most are aware but i thought i'd add that in France “Y” is pronounces E GREC , as in Greek i. Just FYI !

  10. Anonymous says:

    The name of the perfume and of the letter of the alphabet is 'i grec', pronounced 'ee grehk' – not 'e grec', which would be pronounced 'uh grehk' in French.

    But it *is* pronounced 'i' ('ee') when in a sentence.

    'Y' doesn't mean 'there' or 'here' on its own – only within a sentence, where it always refers to a word mentioned (or implied) in a previous part of the sentence. On its own, it doesn't mean anything at all. In the case of the perfume, I don't think it's anything other than the initial of Saint Laurent's first name.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely adore this. Have never tried the edt or edp, but perhaps I should. There was a poll on MUA just the other day asking about what constitutes elegance. For me personally, it's all about high quality and extremely good editing. This is one of the most quintessentially elegant scents I can think of because it's so beautifully edited. Thanks for the great review!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Sure makes for a different sound than just plain “y”!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the French lesson.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I never really thought about the composition of scent in terms of editing, but you're so right! Y definitely fits the bill as a well-edited and elegant scent. This could be the nut of a whole different post: what makes a scent elegant as opposed to chic or pretty.

  15. Anonymous says:

    You bet! She had a closetful of really nice stuff. Mostly my sister-in-law and I liked different things. I ended up with some gorgeous YSL, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Escada, some other things (like a great vintage Pucci shift). The heartbreaker was she had tiny 5.5 feet; SIL and I were like the Cinderella stepsisters trying to jam our big feet in those!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Now I'm truly burning up with jealousy. A Pucci shift! I heard that Marilyn Monroe was buried in Pucci.

  17. Anonymous says:

    The one thing I could contribute to this discussion, A. Hope you didn't mind. :-)

  18. Anonymous says:

    Oh, thanks for that! I'd forgotten it was Y-Grecque, which means, I believe, a Greek Y? As opposed to a Roman Y? Anyhow, I'm going to have to look for the EDP. Drag me to the mall, sigh.

    And in Spanish, Y means “and…..”

  19. Anonymous says:

    There was no letter 'y' in the Roman alphabet, only 'i'. That's why 'y' is called 'Greek i' in French (it sounds the same as 'i' but it's a Greek letter, which, in French, only occurs in words derived from Greek). :-)

  20. Anonymous says:

    i have just discovered this scent…along with yvresse….both have to be in my top 10

  21. Anonymous says:

    I love it, too. It's such a basic.

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