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.