Two years ago I stood in line over two hours outside the Petit Palais to see the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective. It was a warm spring morning, and as I looked down at the fawn-colored gravel at my feet, I wondered if I should be squandering my scant time in Paris waiting in line. I did, and it was worth it. For me, Yves Saint Laurent combined emotion and elegance in his designs. A woman wearing his clothing was always properly dressed, but YSL’s wit and passion — he didn’t shy away from hot pink and hearts — stirred a little of the bohemian into the bourgeois. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz does the same in her fragrances for Denver’s Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition. Ligne Trapèze and Le Smoking are my favorites.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz created six fragrances to complement the YSL exhibition. Three of them — The Beat Look, Euphorisme d’Opium, and La Vie en Rose — summon Yves Saint Laurent Y, Opium, and Paris respectively. (I only tested these briefly, but The Beat Look especially begs for more wear.) The other three fragrances were inspired by iconic YSL designs. An evening coat sparked Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour, an airy wisteria and linden fragrance. Ligne Trapèze stemmed from YSL’s 1958 collection “Trapèze,” and Le Smoking from the iconic Tuxedo-inspired pant suit for women which he launched in 1966 and featured in several couture and prêt-à-porter collections after.
YSL created his Trapèze collection when he was still at Christian Dior. The dresses fell loose from shoulder to hip, allowing the women who wore them to leave their girdles in the closet. Still, it was the late 1950s, so although the dresses weren’t form-fitting, they were keenly tailored and elegant and demanded gloves and hats.
The Trapèze collection must have felt edgy after a decade of cinched waists. Ligne Trapèze communicates that blend of elegance and modernity with a retro feel. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s website describes Ligne Trapèze as “a cool and sophisticated violet-aldehydic perfume with a warm, animalic drydown,” and that’s a spot-on description as far as I’m concerned. She lists Ligne Trapèze’s top notes as aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, peach and rosewood; its heart as centifolia rose absolute, grandiflorum jasmine, heliotrope, jonquil, lily of the valley, orris concrete and violet; and its base as amber, ambrette seed, Australian sandalwood, Brazilian vetiver, castoreum, Siam benzoin and suede accord.
At first spritz, an aldehydic tingle already sweetened by violets rises, but within seconds, the greener, dirtier parts of the leaves and roots of the violet plant join it. Not much longer — about the time it takes Don Draper to shake up a martini — Ligne Trapèze’s supporting florals kick in with its dirty-retro base of sweet ashtray, skin, and wood. Ligne Trapèze balances fresh, innocent violet and greens with an I’ve-seen-it-all sophistication I love. It could be Jean Patou 1000 and Balenciaga Le Dix’s love child.
If forced to cite just one of Yves Saint Laurent’s designs, most people would probably point to Le Smoking. The androgynous, Berlin-sexy Le Smoking suit is undoubtedly what Marlene Dietrich is wearing in heaven right now. If the afterworld allows internet sales, she might want to add Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s perfume to her collection, too.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz describes her Le Smoking as a “green chypre tobacco” fragrance and lists its top notes as bergamot, blackberry, clary sage, galbanum, hyacinth and neroli; its heart as Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, Chinese geranium, grandiflorum jasmine, honey and marijuana; and its base as brown oakmoss, castoreum, incense notes, leather, Peru balsam and tobacco absolute.
On my skin, Le Smoking is a trip to a spring pasture while wearing a classy formulation of Dana Tabu. Le Smoking is a sweet-dirty medley of tobacco, benzoin, incense and dry leather with a chiffon-like veil of tart green overlaying it for the five minutes the green takes to burn off. All those flowers listed in its making? I’m sure they do something important, but they collapse to a sultry, unisex potion fit for double agents who lounge in private clubs.
Neither of these fragrances lasts much longer than three hours before retreating to skin level, but it’s an enjoyable ride while it lasts. They’re a marvelous tribute to Yves Saint Laurent. Hey! It just occurred to me that Yves and Marlene are probably dancing together in heaven's big disco right now…
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Ligne Trapèze, The Beat Look, Le Smoking, Euphorisme d’Opium, La Vie en Rose and Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour are available in a boxed set of all six fragrances in 5 ml Eau de Parfum, $90. A sampler of all six in 1 ml is $45. The scents can also be purchased separately, 10 ml Eau de Parfum for $55 or 5 ml Parfum for $45. For information on where to buy them, see Dawn Spencer Hurwitz under Perfume Houses.