Fashion couturier Yves Saint Laurent died at the age of 71 at his house in Paris on Sunday. He had been ill for many years and his health deteriorated in the last week. He was born in Oran, Algeria in 1936, in a family of pied-noir French settlers there. He would become an assistant to Christian Dior, later offering his own YSL fashion brand in 1962 with the help of Pierre Bergé before founding his own first ready-to-wear boutique called Rive Gauche in 1966.
Just like he was a major influence on 20th century fashion and images of feminine beauty, he also left his mark on the universe of luxury perfumes. If he was not a perfumer himself, he was an exacting and demanding designer of fragrances, seeing to the smallest details for the creation of the Opium flacon or encouraging the breaking of puritanical codes in perfume advertising with Pour un Homme for which he himself posed naked in 1971 or M7 which featured a frontal view of a male nude model, Aïkido champion Samuel de Cubber.....
His first perfume was Y launched in 1964 followed by Rive Gauche and YSL Pour Homme in 1971. Other fragrances would appear that were like the opposites of the notoriously shy temperament of the couturier. But didn't he say that “I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful, but also to reassure them, give them confidence,”, a belief he seemed to apply to his exotic, self-assertive and glamorous perfumes. The launch of the opulent oriental Opium in 1977 was the equivalent of a Cecil B de Mille movie production for perfume complete with a Chinese boat and fireworks in New York city harbor. Kouros, a men's fragrance, was introduced in 1981 and to this day remains striking for its frank animalistic appeal. Then a more romantic period ensued with Paris in 1983, a rose-violet perfume that was a decisive step in the direction of dusting rose notes of their turn-of-the-century connotations and making them mainstream. Champagne (1993) renamed Yvresse in 1997 due to a trademark law suit with Champagne makers, continued to promote a sleek image of femininity but this time with the whimsical addition of a daring fruity note within an elegant chypre structure.
The man who liked to dress women continued to affirm his fascination for the truth of the naked body with a controversial ad for Opium in 2000 with model Sophie Dahl wearing only powder, jewelry and heels as well as with a fragrance called Nu in 2001. This interest in revealing the body was also expressed with his see-through blouses that people thought were scandalous.
Dividends earned from fragrances were essential to the good health of the fashion brand especially in the 1990s as his haute-couture customers dwindled away.
His most famous perfumes had global appeal and continue to generate interesting flankers. The latest this season are Opium Poésie de Chine, Paris Pont des Amours. A recent important feminine launch is Elle.
Perfume, like fashion, was only second-best to Love with a capital letter for Yves Saint Laurent who firmly believed that love was truly the most beautiful adornment of a man or a woman. He once said, "The most beautiful clothing for a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who do not have this happiness, I am here for them."