Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme (2006): Modern Man in a Museum {Perfume Review}


L'Homme by Yves Saint Laurent was released in 2006 and has become a bestseller. It is ranked as the 6th most sold men's fragrance in France. The jus benefited from ample advertising budgets as well as the contributions of actor Olivier Martinez as the celebrity face of the scent. The talent of architect Jean Nouvel was added to the mix for a limited-edition bottle shaped as a homage to the male member (officially it is a test tube on a base). The tapping into the nuts-bolts-and-screws imagery obviously was a hit in general, with a bottle design inspired by the Bauhaus aesthetics.

The cologne also arrived in a context where the simple name "L'Homme" was still capable of sounding distinctive and ear-catching a year after Dior Homme breathed new life into the masculine world of fragrances thanks its overdosed floral iris accord imagined by perfumer Olivier Polge (the sleek design-conscious packaging by Hedi Slimane counted as well to define the identity of the Dior perfume). Since then, numerous men's colognes touting a spare manhood label have been added to the point of drowning that sense of being simply a man's fragrance and standing apart thanks to a lack of fussiness. Sensing this, Yves Saint Laurent just released a more narrative flanker cologne titled La Nuit de L'Homme as a sequel to L'Homme (our review of the new scent is up next)...

I had only superficially smelled L'Homme before but decided to do a proper testing on the occasion of the launch of its new flanker La Nuit de L'Homme billed as a nocturnal variation on the original scent. What I discovered is that although La Nuit de L'Homme grabs your attention more at first, it is L'Homme that keeps your attention.

As it happens sometimes and in particular in the cases of big commercial releases, L'Homme is a fragrance that was elaborated by a team of no less than three perfumers: Pierre Wargnye, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion. These big productions can feel like committee-fragrances in the worst sense of the term sometimes, but it is not the case for L'Homme by Yves Saint Laurent which manages to create a moment of poetry in the world of mainstream fragrances for men, and even for women, as I think that its originality, however discreet, is not only relative but real. This cologne offers the added advantage of being borrowable by women, a trait that has assured the longevity and success of some of the super iconic Guerlain men's colognes such as Vetiver and Habit Rouge. I don't know if this is actually happening but it can be worn by women who might be seduced by its unconventional floral bouquet. The descriptive offered by perfumer Pierre Wargnye is very apt. There is a sense indeed of "an almost floating mystery of flowers" hovering above the central part of the perfume. But I would replace the word mystery by that of quirkiness.

A more attentive engagement with the perfume reveals that L'Homme although it may appear at first sniff to be terribly mainstream and animated by the sole ambition of being a successful clone of masculine fragrances of the woody-marine-aromatic persuasion, is actually much more interesting than that. It was in fact dubbed a "floral oriental" and was seen to be a masculine scent with a feminine side to it. Notes include: lemon cedrat, bergamot, cedar wood, tonka bean, violet leaves, basil flowers, white pepper, Chinese ginger and Haitian vetiver.

The interest of L'Homme lies in my eyes in a central accord of florals and bilge that gives out a delicious aura of the illicit and sexual in a composition called L'Homme and which opens in a much more conventional manner, delaying the surprise. A faint whiff of green melon that the perfumers decided not to tune out floats about bringing an unexpected fruity twist to the mix.

Other qualities it possesses is that it is a very well balanced composition with an aerial character that is truly winning.

There are a delicacy and subtlety to the floral bouquet made more masculine thanks to a light yet well present sperm-like accord often inserted in men's colognes to a greater or lesser degree. Here it is quite palpable as it is used to draw direct contrast with the floral notes yet there is cloud-like and soft-focus poetic quality to the mix. It also brings an experimental and modernist touch to the fragrance. The tonka bean is subtle and nutty, smelling of vanilla cookies and warm babies skin, keeping a transparent feel instead of being treated in an opaque, heavy manner. The whole gives an impression of both complexity and clarity smelling like an airy modern installation in a museum that would have been captioned "Man". What you could see is a man getting busy in a ruffly apron in a kitchen with professional-grade steel equipment brushing past a wonderful bouquet of flowers in a Scandinavian crystal vase playing with cold light and air. He is trying to get to a softly smelling baby wafting of warm cookies in order to change its diaper. Somehow he smells like a man and not just because he just cracked open a pile of oysters.

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  1. You are actually right about L'Homme being borrowable by women. A girlfriend of mine turned to L'Homme after the disappointment that the reformulation of Rive Gauche pour Femme caused her. L'Homme has actually become her signature scent.

    • Ah, interesting. I am not surprised.

      I need to check the formulation of Rive Gauche that is currently being sold because I purchased a version from a discounter no long ago that smelled like the one I remember from the 1970s as my mother wore it. Did your girlfriend try the Rive Gauche Intense? It is wonderful: an opulent, bold and furry jasmine perfume.

      Chant Wagner

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