Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is a Colorado-based niche perfumer with an extensive catalogue of scents. Exploring the DSH Perfumes site is a tantalizing affair that takes you down the boulevards of Paris, through ancient Egypt, and at present, through the fashion and perfume history of Yves St. Laurent.
DSH’s latest project is a collaboration with the Denver Art Museum on a set of fragrances (DSH calls them her “designs”) that complements a touring exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion. The exhibition is the first complete retrospective of YSL fashion. The museum is the only American stop on the touring schedule and DSH’s fragrant tributes are available for sale at the museum, at the DSH Essence Studio in Boulder, Colorado, or on her DSH Perfumes Web site.
The YSL Retrospective Collection is DSH’s fifth such collaboration with the museum (others involved King Tut, Cities of Splendor, Artisans and Kings, and Color as Field) and it is one she has executed with intelligence and artistry. Each of the scents is itself a piece of artwork that complements the fashion-as-art aesthetic of the exhibition.
DSH has approached this task as if “appointed in-house perfumer.” It sounds like an impossible task, but DSH has made it a successful one. Her six fragrances are soft-focus designs that span the five decades and showcase the highlights of YSL’s career.
Ligne Trapeze is floral that celebrates a silver trapeze-shaped dress from YSL’s first collection in Spring/Summer 1958. Ligne Trapeze is spangled with aldehydes over a misty violet bouquet whose drydown has a distinct ambrette seed note. A touch of castoreum in the base joins a suede accord to give Ligne Trapeze a supple, skin-scent quality.
The Beat Look
The Beat Look is a leather chypre inspired by both the 1960 “Beat Look” collection for Dior and by 1964’s fragrance debut “Y.” Like “Y,” The Beat Look opens with the crispness of aldehydes over pulpy fruit notes (peach and plum). White florals comprise the heart: jasmine, gardenia, honeysuckle, neroli, and rose bloom over an elegantly earthy drydown that is smoky, resin-y, mossy perfection.
Le Smoking celebrates 40 years of YSL’s tuxedo designs for women. DSH interprets this theme with herbal, fruit, and floral notes over tobacco, marijuana accord, incense, peru balsam, oakmoss, leather, and castoreum. The brilliant touch is that this fragrance, which might sound like a heavyweight, dries down to a light, erotic skin scent.
The iconic Opium (1977) forms the idea behind Euphorisme d’Orient, which DSH places in a “Spicy-Oriental” category. Euphorisme is based upon the original Opium formula, which DSH has enhanced. It sounds as if it might be dangerous territory, but DSH handles it smoothly, creating not a dupe but a chypre/Oriental for the 21st century with delicious orange/pimento notes shining through a veil of carnation and spice. DSH added honey and pink pepper notes that were to the best of her knowledge not in the original. Euphorisme is seduction by spice.
La Vie en Rose
Alongside Opium, Paris (1983) was YSL’s triumphant moment, a symphonic rose/violet with a sweetly candied core. DSH interprets both Paris and YSL’s famous “Paris Rose” satin bow (Fall/Winter 1983) in La Vie en Rose. Competition was tough, but this was my favorite of the collection. Lovers of the original Paris should fall in mad, crazy love with La Vie en Rose. I ran through my sample, spritzing with abandon, in a few days.
DSH used the idea of the original as a springboard to add what she calls “sparkling notes.” La Vie en Rose was like a silk ruffle of rose, violet, linden that was less weighty than the original, with more added natural notes and expanded drydown. The linden separated the rose and violet while still showcasing the original’s unique cosmetic/candied appeal.
Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour
The last scent in the collection is based upon an evening coat of quilted silk with a linden and wisteria print from Fall/Winter 1994. In Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour, linden is blended into ozone for a weightless, silvery souffle. Ozone note lifts this modern floral beyond the skin and into the air around the wearer. Fans of linden will adore this literal fragrance; it’s like walking through early summer where linden trees bloom.
All of the scents are treated with delicacy. This is important where the theme might seem to dictate weighty scents like the originals. The leather chypres are as easy to wear as the florals. The YSL Retrospective Collection is a thing of beauty that has been created with obvious love for and understanding of the YSL legacy. From the demure violets of the late 1950s through the spice route of the disco age to the airy florals of the 21st century, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz covers the fashion/fragrance career of St. Laurent with passion and exemplary care.
On line, the fragrances are available as 1 ml samples (individually or as the set), as 10 ml EdP or as one dram parfum. A collection box of all six scents in 5 ml miniature flasks of EdP is available at dshperfumes.com.
Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum (www.denverartmuseum.org) runs through July 8, 2012.
Image: Models wear Yves Saint Laurent art-inspired dresses at the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent Room at the National Gallery in 1998 by Stephen Lock.