Yves Saint Laurent Paris : Perfume Review

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There’s a twenty-year-old ad for Yves Saint Laurent Paris that says everything you need to know about this iconic fragrance.  In the ad, the model Lucie de la Falaise leans against a wall while holding a huge bouquet of light-pink roses.  Everything but the model’s face and the bottle of perfume is in gauzy soft focus, including in the background the Eiffel Tower.  De la Falaise looks otherworldly in this city of muted pinks and greens, serene, elegant, and very, very French.  Surely the City of Light is scented exactly like this, is it not?  Isn’t Paris a veritable rose macaroon, tinted pink as Yves Saint Laurent’s fantasy fragrance is?

Paris is an ebullient and romantic daydream of a scent that interlocks a fruity, jammy, and abstract rose with violets that smell the way candied violets look.  One spray and (nearly) all is revealed. This is not a perfume of special effects but one that opens big, stays big, and gives you a bit of sandalwood as a basenote souvenir.

Perfumer Sophia Grosjman recorded the central floral bouquet at larger than normal volume, resulting in a spectacular bloom that is at turns mildly powdery and mildly syrupy, like dessert wine.  On my skin violet always dominates rose, with iris adding a cloud-like textural element and jasmine adding more clean sweetness. Bergamot in the top expresses lemony fruitiness that is at perfect pitch with the floral soufflé. As the sandalwood appears, so does the type of soapiness that one finds in expensive, finely milled French hotel soaps; it’s cottony-clean and delicately musky.

Paris is not built to act at skin level.  Instead, it hovers above, floating in a dramatic waft. How much it wafts can be controlled by the method and amount of application.  I would, for instance, never apply as liberally as I would at home if I were going to the office.  Not to be forgotten is that Paris is a fragrance of its times, meaning that it was released in the 1980s and it has that grand 1980s presentation and tremendous olfactory sonic boom.

For years I’ve only worn the eau de toilette.  The reason behind this is that what makes Paris great for me is not a boiled-down essence of its notes but its lightest formulation (which in today’s terms is quite strong) that lets loose the notes where I can admire them from a distance.  Eau de parfum was too concentrated for me and suffocated the lovely airy space where juniper and hawthorn peek into the bouquet.  Granted, the sandalwood base is relatively lighter, too, but Paris has always been beautifully inflated at top, as if the base were merely there to provide some mostly hidden ballast.

In addition to its sophistication, Paris succeeds on its frothiness that you want to grab and bring back down to earth while inherently realizing the futility of such an effort.  It’s ravishing and unnaturally beautiful—artifice as art. No bouquet ever smelled like this, no city was ever that pink or that gauzy. If by today’s terms Paris seems gaudy, remember that there was a time when it spoke of unerring and impossible sophistication of a type I fear is a bygone thing.

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32 Comments

  • JennyJo: I loved it then and still love it today and so does my husband. It makes me smile and want to sing and play a pretty little Haydn thing on the piano. I prefer the EdT too. September 14, 2012 at 8:19am Reply

    • Suzanna: Glad you are still enjoying it, JennyJo! Your comment has made it my scent of the day! September 14, 2012 at 9:47am Reply

      • JennyJo: Thanks! :-) September 14, 2012 at 11:18am Reply

        • Austenfan: You have got Le petit Nicolas as your gravatar! How wonderful. September 14, 2012 at 2:57pm Reply

          • JennyJo: Yes, I’ve always loved him and have read all the books countless times – and they still don’t bore me. September 14, 2012 at 5:38pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I could almost kiss you for this. My favourite perfume and the only one in my collection that has been there for over 20 years.
    Unfortunately it seems it has changed over the years ( what hasn’t?) I have a collection of mostly older bottles ( both EDP and EDT). I agree about the the EDT being the best way to enjoy Paris, it seems the most cheerful of the concentrations. If that makes sense. September 14, 2012 at 10:16am Reply

    • Suzanna: I agree! “Cheerful” is a great way to describe it.

      I don’t mind today’s version (EdP is too thick, though, for me) because I have revisited it after a long hiatus! September 14, 2012 at 10:31am Reply

      • Austenfan: Oh, and isn’t that Ad great?
        I quite like the EDP, I remember wearing at least 4 to 5 sprays of it when I was still at University. September 14, 2012 at 10:40am Reply

        • Suzanna: That ad has stayed in my mind for years. One of the best!

          I am too wimpy for the EdP, or was (I had vintage), so perhaps will try again. September 14, 2012 at 10:42am Reply

          • Austenfan: I even own two mini bottles of extrait; like a softer, rounder version of the EDP. The bottle in the ad is an extrait bottle. September 14, 2012 at 2:58pm Reply

            • Suzanna: You know, I saw a Paris dry oil on eBay last week. A dry oil! I imagine it must smell much like your parfum. September 14, 2012 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Miss Kitty V.: When I was a kid and I went shopping with my mom, I used to sneak off to Nordstrom’s and marinate myself in Paris. To me it smelled like the ribbon candy my grandma would have at Christmas, all stuck together in one big hunk in the bowl. I didn’t buy my first bottle of it until I was in college, but by then it was better as a nostalgia scent, and one I never wore. Now I’m kind of regretting giving my bottle of it away, and may have to revisit it… September 14, 2012 at 10:47am Reply

    • Suzanna: Miss Kitty V., I know the ribbon candy very well, and I am laughing at the description–so very apropos! Too sticky sweet! Pretty to admire from a distance, though.

      I think once you fall in love with Paris, you stay in love with Paris. Give it another try! September 14, 2012 at 11:03am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Ah, Paris! It is the olfactory equivalent of a pink tulle ballgown. (I once saw an acquaintance in one of those at a formal event in New York. Bunches of pink tulle on a 30 year old woman. It was not a pretty sight.) Much better to wear the perfume version, I think! September 14, 2012 at 11:12am Reply

    • Suzanna: LOL, Elizabeth! And it is acres of pink tulle as you say. September 14, 2012 at 2:25pm Reply

  • yomi: Paris is a bombshell! It is lovely and floral yet really sophisticated as well. This is really haute perfumerie and high art. One of the best of that time – and I dare say even now.
    There is an ad with a poem supposedly by ysl in those days – it goes thus…

    Paris, shades of a blue gray sky,
    A woman with a bouquet of roses,
    Paris holds a thousand places ,
    Where I might see her again,
    And press her flowers against my heart…
    I can smell her perfume.

    Such a lovely poem and a perfect description of the perfume’s mood… September 14, 2012 at 12:02pm Reply

  • Suzanna: Yomi, yes, haute parfumerie, and of a style I wonder if we will see again. Really the waning era of that type of bombshell perfume, and now we have bombshell in another way and I think not as good–just cheap in many instances. September 14, 2012 at 2:26pm Reply

  • Emma: One of my favorites of all times. It has changed of course but quite honestly the current version is still pretty good. I have an older bottle from the early 90s, the topnotes are gone, it lacks the cool freshness it’supposed to have, the fond is extremely beautiful but smells a little dated too (soapy rosy sandalwood). I think the new version is just the way to go for this perfume. September 14, 2012 at 4:53pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Emma, thanks for commenting on vintage vs. new Paris. That’s very helpful info to have! September 15, 2012 at 7:14am Reply

  • annemariec: Wonderful review – not at skin level but a dramatic waft. Yes, that’s it exactly!

    I adored Paris and wore is to death for years. I even collected some of those lovely ads. But finally my brain rebelled and started telling me that the scent was like bubble gum, very artificial and nasty. I’ve hardly gone near it since so I must give it another try.

    I love that idea of finely milled French soap. I have a mini of a flanker to Caleche – Caleche Parfum de Soie I think it is called – which has exactly that effect. It’s like soap without screeching ‘CLEAN’. A great bed time scent. September 14, 2012 at 4:58pm Reply

    • Suzanna: annemariec, the idea of soap without a screech is exactly right, and that’s an attractive thing in its own right no matter the frag. September 15, 2012 at 7:15am Reply

  • Andrea: Paris: a perfume that doesn’t morph into something else entirely, by Sophia Grosjman (creator of some of my favorites), not “dirty”, centered on rose…. In other words, all of the ingredients for my “perfect perfume”. Why, oh why can I not smell what everyone else seems to smell?! Even as a teen, when Paris first arrived on the scene, I would catch a (I’m sorry to Paris fans!) insect spray-type scent which turned me off. I have tried over the years to like it, but that “thing” just turns me off.

    I know I am in the minority over this; I wonder if years of growing up in Miami (cockroachs love to retire there!) and smelling Raid has changed my Olfactory nerve. Does anyone know what is in Paris that could possibly read “insect spray” to me? I am truly curious and mean no offense to anyone who adores it… I wish I could adore it, too, and stop my endless search for the “perfect rose” perfume! September 14, 2012 at 9:36pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Andrea, that’s fascinating! I doubt you will find the culprit, because each one smells differently and one can only guess at the cause (some synthetic) and remember, some functional perfumer somewhere made the scent for Raid! September 15, 2012 at 7:16am Reply

      • Andrea: That is TOO true! My mother seems to have an antennae up for “Raid” scents, too… She smells it in things like Bobbi Brown Beach, Bond No 9 Fire Island. I think my “issue” may be a blackberry-type note, as I also smell a “hint” in a popular Diptyque scent that has rose. Maybe it is genetic? Or perhaps years of “bombing” a huge 1940s Florida home on the bay has permanently altered our senses!;-) September 16, 2012 at 4:50am Reply

  • Astrid: I love this perfume! This was an immediate favorite as soon as it hit our area in the mid-80′s. Thanks for the awesome review and scent blast from the past. September 15, 2012 at 6:34am Reply

    • Suzanna: Astrid, it was huge everywhere, I think. I wish someone would write about hit perfumes, their background, their effect, their theme, their life story. September 15, 2012 at 7:17am Reply

  • Sisty: “base note souvenir” — such a brilliant, evocative description of a linear fragrance. I think linear fragrances, done well, are underrated. And if you have a little “souvenir” at the dry down, it’s like an unexpected gift. September 15, 2012 at 7:39pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Thank you, Sisty! I wore Paris tonight to an outdoor restaurant and that souvenir wafted up and into the warm night air quite beautifully. September 15, 2012 at 11:39pm Reply

  • Ling: I first came across this fragrance when I was but a poor student who couldn’t afford any luxury (and yes, perfume WAs a luxury back then)..
    Then forgot all about it, until I saw it again recently at duty free shop in an airport during transit, decided to buy the EdP, and have been using it everyday since then..

    Love the fragrance, and love the review! December 20, 2012 at 9:19pm Reply

    • Suzanna: Ling, I’m so happy you have found Paris and are wearing it so much. Enjoy! December 21, 2012 at 8:47am Reply

  • Teresa: The best perfume of all! No comments, it´s perfect! a DREAM! October 12, 2013 at 10:33pm Reply

  • Poppy: My best friend in high-school always wore Paris and whenever I smell it today it brings back the most fabulous memories. May 9, 2014 at 4:10pm Reply

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