Perfume Timeline: Yves Saint Laurent

The house of Yves Saint Laurent has given us some memorable and amazing fragrances over the years such as Opium, Paris and Kouros. Lets travel back in time and see the progress of YSL over the years…

[timeline][tright=1930]YSL Co-founder, Pierre Bergé, was born on Oléron Island, Poitou-Charentes, France, on 14 November 1930.[/tright][tleft=1936]Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born in Algeria to Charles and Lucienne Andrée Mathieu-Saint-Laurent on the 1st August 1936.[/tleft][tright=1948]

Pierre Bergé moved to Paris, at the age of eighteen.[/tright][tleft=1950]Aged twenty, Pierre Bergé met and fell in love with the artist, Bernard Buffet.

[faquote]During those eight years, we were never apart for a single day. Our lives revolved around Bernard’s work. That was my apprenticeship.[/faquote][/tleft][tright=1953]Yves Saint Laurent visits Paris, aged 17, and takes part in the SecrĂ©tariat international de la laine competition. The jury included couturiers, such as Hubert de Givenchy and Christian Dior.

Saint Laurent came third in the dress category. He met with Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Michel de Brunhoff, who encouraged Saint Laurent to finish his studies before pursuing a career in fashion.[/tright][tleft=1954]Saint Laurent moved to Paris, and once again enters the Secrétariat international de la laine competition. He won first and third prizes in the dress category beating six thousand anonymous entries.[/tleft][tright=1955]Yves Saint Laurent met Christian Dior, who saw the talent in Saint Laurent and hired him as his assistant.

Saint Laurent said of Dior:

[faquote] I would come in every morning and spend the day next to Christian Dior without talking much. I have to say I learned a lot … There was no discussion between us. I had an idea. I drew it. I showed him the sketch. The proof was in the whole demonstration. Since I’m not very talkative, I preferred that.[/faquote]

[/tright][tleft=1957]Following Christian Dior’s death, Yves Saint Laurent becomes chief designer of Dior at the age of just twenty-one.[/tleft][tright=1958]Yves Saint Laurent revealed his first collection as head of Dior, which was a huge success.

Yves Saint Laurent attended a dinner in his honour held by the director of Harper’s Bazaar France, Marie-Louise Bousquet.

At the dinner he met Pierre Bergé and his partner Bernard Buffet. Bergé left Buffet a few months later to be with Saint Laurent.[/tright][tleft=1961]

Yves Saint Laurent launched his eponymous fashion house, co-founded with his partner, Pierre Bergé. Financial backing was provided by J. Mack Robinson[/tleft][tright=1964]

Yves Saint Laurent launched their debut fragrance, simple named, Y. It was composed by perfumer Jean Amic, and housed in a bottle designed by Pierre Dinand.[/tright][tleft=1965]In June 1965, J. Mack Robinson sells his 80% share of Yves Saint Laurent to cosmetic group, Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz. (Lanvin fragrances would operate separately from YSL fragrances.)

Prior to the acquisition, YSL had signed a contract with Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz to distribute his debut fragrance “Y” in the USA, when it launched later in the year.[/tleft][tright=1971]Two new scents are launched in 1971 – the perfume Rive Gauche and his first men’s fragrance, YSL pour Homme, for which Yves Saint Laurent famously posed nude to advertise.

Pierre Berge says of the image –

[faquote]It was just a provocation on the part of Yves Saint Laurent. The picture didn’t specifically target the gay population, even though it resonated strongly among them. In any case the photo was hardly published at the time. Just barely in the French press. It was only much later on that it became an almost mythical icon.[/faquote]Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz is acquired by Squibb Beech-Nut.

Richard Salomon, the president of Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz, persuades Squibb to sell the haute couture side of the YSL business back to Saint Laurent and Bergé, while the perfume side of the business remaining with Squibb/Ritz.[/tright][tleft=1975]

Fragrances that were specifically marketed to men and women wasn’t something that happened in the seventies. Yves Saint Laurent decided to launch Eau Libre – with the tagline – Tout ce qui est Ă  toi est Ă  moi – “everything that’s mine is yours”.

It would be another twenty years until Calvin Klein’s tried the same idea with cK One (1994).

Though it hasn’t been in production for many years, the company has seen fit in recent years to re-use the Libre name in Libre (2019) and L’Homme Libre (2012)[/tleft][tright=1977]

Yves Saint Laurent releases the fragrance Opium, alongside his Autumn-Winter 1977 collection, inspired by China.

The perfume is a huge success and would reach sales of $30,000,000 in its first year in Europe.

It was due to launch in the States in 1978.[/tright][tleft=1978]

In August of 1978, Opium hits the states and is every bit as successful as it was in Europe. “It’s the most successful launching I’ve ever come in contact with,” Margaret Hayes, of Saks Fifth Avenue, told the New York Times.

There was Just one problem though… the name. It was seen as romanticising drug culture.

Dr. Judianne Denson-Gerber, CEO of drug rehab program, Odyssey House said:

[faquote] When I first saw the name I was shocked out of my mind. The name is terrible; the perfume is delightful. – I wish people like Saint Laurent, who have this creative talent, also had a social conscience.[/faquote]

Not everyone was enamoured with the scent. Estée Lauder reportedly called Opium: [faquote]Youth-Dew with a tassel [/faquote]

After the sale of Lanvin by Squibb, Yves Saint Laurent’s parent company is renamed Charles of the Ritz Group.[/tleft][tright=1979]Scandal over the name of Opium continues in the States, with various groups making demands that the name be changed to something like “Lotus”, “Enchantment”, or “Jewel of the Orient”.

James Tso, chairman of the Committee for Equal Opportunity of the Organisation of Chinese-Americans Inc., wrote in a letter to parent company, Squibb:

[faquote] [Opium is] a menace that destroyed many lives in China and other countries. The negative use of Chinese images to market Opium is not at all unlike the use of negative black images to market a product named Heroin; or similarly, negative white images to market Valium.[/faquote]

Protestors shun Squibb-owned brands and wear buttons which proclaim ‘Kill “Opium” boycott Squibb'[/tright][tleft=1981]

Kouros is the name given to free-standing Ancient Greek sculptures that depict nude male youths. It is also the name given by Saint Laurent to his second men’s fragrance.

The fragrance was created by Pierre Bourdon, and features notes of oak moss, patchouli and musk.

Rudolf Nureyev danced for 1,200 guests at the launch event for the fragrance, at the Opéra Comique in Paris.[/tleft][tright=1983]

Yves Saint Laurent launches the feminine fragrance, Paris. A rose-themed scent composed by perfumer Sophia Grojsman. According to Grojsman, the scent was inspired by Guerlain’s Apres L’OndĂ©e. She told Michael Edwards, in the book Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances:

[faquote] I love Guerlain fragrances, but I said to myself that, if I were to make AprĂšs L’OndĂ©e today, it would be much lighter, airier, younger. … So Paris started as an imagined AprĂšs L’OndĂ©e. Obviously, in AprĂšs L’OndĂ©e, you don’t have roses in the background, but I had the skeleton of a very creamy violet note. Then I worked on the rose to put with it.[/faquote]

Additionally this year, the company added a stronger version of their debut men’s scent with YSL pour Homme Haute Concentration.[/tright][tleft=1987]YSL buy Charles of the Ritz Group from Squibb to take back control of its own fragrances. The deal is worth $630 million. The bulk of the non-YSL Ritz business (such as Charles of the Ritz and Jean Nate) is sold to Revlon.[/tleft][tright=1988]In March 1988 after the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show in Paris, a launch for new men’s fragrance, Jazz, was held in the courtyard of the Louvre.

The perfumer was Jean-Francois Latty, and Jazz was the first major fragrance launch from Yves Saint Laurent, since they reacquired the fragrance rights from Squibb.

Chantal Roos, then General Manager of YSL Parfums, said that Jazz was less divisive than previous release, Kouros:

[faquote] The fragrance of Kouros is more difficult – It is a very animal-type of note. Jazz is certainly easier in a way. It has fresh top notes and the sensuality comes later. It’s more subtle. Kouros is more of a statement. You either like it or not. You can have people totally addicted or you can have people reject it.[/faquote][/tright]

Yves Saint Laurent launches the fragrance Champagne in Europe, with a $17 million advertising campaign.

However, not for the first time, the name of the Yves Saint Laurent perfume kicks up a stink. This time with the champagne producers.

The champagne producers, which included LVMH’s Moet & Chandon, said “the perfume would confuse consumers and compromise the image of Champagne, especially because the perfume is packaged in a bottle resembling a Champagne cork.” Yves Saint Laurent, claimed this was “nonsense”

Pierre BergĂ© had previously acquired the name ‘Champagne’ from Caron, who had used if for the scent Royal Bain de Champagne, and claimed that Bernard Arnault, president of LVMH, had promised him he would not oppose the use of the name Champagne.

[faquote]I was not bound in any way to notify Mr. Arnault but out of courtesy, I wanted to tell him in advance. I also hoped he would not join in any action to block our use of the name. But I am absolutely sure there will be lawsuits.[/faquote]

In accordance with a ruling from the French appeals court, YSL had to stop using the name Champagne in France and French territories by 30th December 1993. The company simply removed the name from the bottle, leaving just Yves Saint Laurent. They said:

[faquote] Women will know how to recognise it and will ask for their’ perfume and its unique bottle. Creation lives on[/faquote]

In 1993, Yves Saint Laurent was acquired by Elf Sanofi, the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals division of French oil company, Elf Aquitaine for 3.6 billion francs.

Sanofi Beauté already owned or held licenses for brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Roger & Gallet.

Pierre Bergé was keen for the house to be French-owned:

[faquote]A French future wasn’t always assured, and I wanted the solution to be French.[/faquote][/tleft][tright=1995]In September 1995, Opium pour Homme launches in Europe, and sees a US launch in 1996.

Why did it take so long for a men’s version of Opium? Jean-Roch Giovachini, the international director of men’s fragrances for YSL Parfums, said:

[faquote] When Opium was introduced 20 years ago, it was considered a scandalous expression of femininity. Culturally, I think men are more free today, more mature, able to show their sensual side. Now is the time.[/faquote][/tright][tleft=1996]After a few years of being nameless Champagne is relaunched with the new name, Yvresse. The name is a play on the designer’s name, and the French word, ivresse, which translates as “intoxication”[/tleft][tright=1998]

Celebrating 40 years of YSL Fashion, the company launch the limited edition fragrance of In Love Again. Maybe not co-incidentally, it is also 40 years since Yves Saint Laurent had met Pierre Bergé.

Also in 1998, a flanker of Jazz is released, Live Jazz, and the original Jazz got a packaging update too.[/tright][tleft=1999]

In late 1999, Sanofi BeautĂ© and Yves Saint Laurent are acquired Gucci Group, fighting of competition from LVMH. Gucci would take’ full control of the trademark, the name and operation of the company, which included the Rive Gauche ready-to-wear collection and fragrance licenses for brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Oscar de la Renta.

As part of the deal, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre BergĂ© would remain in control of YSL’s haute couture line.

Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, the parent company of Gucci Group, would continue the luxury brand purchases over the next few years, acquiring Boucheron, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga.

Tom Ford would be made creative director of YSL as well as Gucci. Yves Saint Laurent wasn’t impressed with his designs and reportedly said “The poor man does what he can.”[/tleft][tright=2000]

Opium hits the headlines yet again after an advertisement featuring a nude Sophie Dahl. The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency received 948 complaints and said the ad was

[faquote] …sexually suggestive and, in an untargeted medium, likely to cause widespread offence[/faquote]

Also this year, Body Kouros is launched “for an affirmed man, who is totally at ease with his virility”

The now Gucci owned Sanofi Beauté is renamed YSL Beaute.[/tright][tleft=2001]

The first YSL fragrance under the creative helm of Tom Ford is launched. Named Nu, this feminine fragrance was created by perfumer, Jacques Cavallier of Firmenich.

The fragrance was advertised with a campaign shot by Mario Sorrenti.[/tleft][tright=2002]

Yves Saint Laurent launches its seventh men’s fragrance, M7. It was one of the first western commercial fragrances to feature some ingredient called ‘oud’

Yves Saint Laurent announces his retirement from the fashion industry. He said in a prepared statement to the press:

[faquote] I tell myself that I created the wardrobe of the contemporary woman, that I participated in the transformation of my times. For a long time now, I have believed that fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves. However, I have chosen today to bid adieu to this profession that I have loved so much[/faquote]

Pierre BergĂ©, added that he though Saint Laurent had taken the decison to retire because he wasn’t comfortable with the direction the fashion world had gone.

[faquote] He no longer feels at ease in a world where people use women instead of serving them[/faquote]


Rive Gauche gets a masculine counterpart in Rive Gauche pour Homme. A company spokesperson said:

[faquote] Tom Ford wanted to wait until the new vision he had created for Yves Saint Laurent, the brand, was firmly established. The relaunch had to be very much about newness as well as about the heritage of the house. This is why he is launching the men’s fragrance; it rounds the Rive Gauche universe and marks the beginning of a new chapter in the story of YSL. [/faquote][/tleft][tright=2004]

Cinéma, the last YSL fragrance under the creative guidance of Tom Ford, is released.[/tright][tleft=2006]

L’Homme is launched – created by perfumers Anne Flipo, Pierre Wargnye and Dominique Ropion, and with an ad campaign fronted by actor Olivier Martinez[/tleft][tright=2007]

Aimed at a similar youthful market to last year’s L’Homme, Elle is launched, created by perfumers Olivier Cresp and Jacques Cavallier.[/tright][tleft=2008]Yves Saint Laurent died on 1 June 2008 of brain cancer at his home in Paris. A few days earlier, he and Pierre BergĂ© had been joined in a Pacte civil de solidaritĂ© (a civil union) in France.

BergĂ© said, “The doctor told me that there was nothing more to do and we mutually decided that it would be better for him to not know. You know, I have the belief that Yves would not have been strong enough to accept that.”

L’Oreal buys YSL BeautĂ© from PPR’s Gucci Group. As well as Yves Saint Laurent, the deal also includes licenses for brands such as Roger & Gallet, Boucheron and Stella McCartney.[/tleft][tright=2011]

The company launches Yves Saint Laurent La Collection – a collection of six fragrances from Yves Saint Laurent‘s fragrance back catalogue:

  • Y
  • In Love Again
  • Nu
  • Yvresse
  • M7 Oud Absolu
  • Rive Gauche pour Homme
  • Jazz
  • YSL pour Homme

YSL yet again suffers the wrath of The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK who banned the advertisement for Yves Saint Laurent’s Belle d’Opium. The ASA were concerned that the ad appears to show the actress “simulate the injection of opiates into the body”[/tright][tleft=2012]The company changes its name to Saint Laurent Paris. Hedi Slimane, who was appointed fashion director of the house earlier in 2012, was given “total creative responsibility for the brand image and all its collections”.

The name change would not effect the fragrances, which would continue under the Yves Saint Laurent branding.[/tleft][tright=2013]Yves Saint Laurent launches the Oriental Collection – a trio of scents, which include Noble Leather, Supreme Bouquet and Majestic Rose.

[faquote]Yves Saint Laurent has drawn its inspiration from the splendours of the East to give birth to an exceptional collection. In honour of its creator and his never-ending passion for the elsewhere, the oriental collection celebrates the mysteries and refinement of a land of infinite richness[/faquote][/tright][tleft=2014]

Black Opium is launched, described as a rock ‘n’ roll-inspired interpretation of the 1977 scent.[/tleft][tright=2015]

Le Vestiaire des Parfums – a collection of high end fragrances – is launched with five scents: Tuxedo, Caban, Saharienne, Trench and Caftan.[/tright][tleft=2017]

For some confusing reason the company decide to launch a brand new men’s fragrance called “Y”.

Co-founder of YSL, Pierre Bergé, died of myopathy on 8 September 2017. He was 88.[/tleft][tright=2019]

Libre, the most recent big YSL launch is released, fronted by
singer Dua Lipa, who says “To be free for a woman in 2019 goes without asking. We live life by our own rules.”

The fragrance was created by Carlos Benaim and Anne Flipo.

The Future for YSL

While we haven’t seen the groundbreaking scents and scandalous advertising campaigns that we did in the Yves-days (and more recently the Tom Ford era), who knows what the future will hold. The brand is still owned by the Gucci Group, and parent company Kering (previously PPR) have recently made noises about bringing their fragrance brands back in house. We’ll keep this article updated if new things happen in the world of YSL.

Please let us know in the comments which brands you’d like to see future timelines for!

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