Yves Saint Laurent Y : Perfume Review

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Elisa on a timeless, elegant and somewhat underrated chypre.

A green chypre can feel golden and warm, like the opulent Safari by Dominique Ropion, or chilly and aloof with iris, such as the archetypal Chanel No. 19 and Paco Rabanne Metal. I associate the warm, galbanum-dense chypres with autumn, while I always seem to reach for cool chypres like Metal in spring.

ysl y

YSL’s Y, released in 1964, is immediately recognizable as a green chypre, but has a different feel from others in this family. To me, it’s a summer chypre, with the same aspirational mansion-in-the-Hamptons air as Estee Lauder White Linen. When I play tennis, I do it on free courts, not in backyards, but either way, this seems like the perfect perfume for a doubles match, especially if you’re wearing a skirt. If you prefer to watch from the lawn with a glass of white wine, it would be lovely for that too.

Y opens with a burst of cold, herbal green notes and sparkling yellow aldehydes, like damp grass and sunshine. The floral heart has a flirty, coquettish quality – it’s a bit sweeter than it needed to be, which adds to its girlish charm. Rather than focusing on the austere, powdery, grayish lavender notes of iris and hyacinth, as many green chypres do, Y is fruity and lactonic, with an emphasis on peach, honeysuckle, ylang-ylang, gardenia, and rose. During this stage, it has the soft-focus quality of vintage Guerlains.

Y is on the light side, another reason I like it on hot days – under the flowers, you won’t find one of those dark and dirty patchouli bases that last forever and ever, just a trailing off into a soft woody base with the creamy undercurrent of oakmoss, similar to YSL’s later Yvresse (née Champagne).

Perhaps I’m at an advantage, since I wasn’t alive when this perfume came out, but to me Y feels classic without feeling dated, with a timeless freshness akin to its contemporary Dior Eau Sauvage. This is a great place to start if you need a chypre that’s more approachable and easier to wear than its intimidating predecessor, Guerlain Mitsouko.

YSL Y is available to purchase directly from YSL Beauty for $125/80 ml. It is also widely available at discounters. This review is based on an older vintage.

Victoria’s Note on the current version of Y: the differences are what you would expect from reformulated old school chypres. There is less moss, less darkness, fewer buttery florals, but overall, Y is still an elegant, suave fragrance. It still has lots of character and its distinctive signature.

Yves Saint Laurent Y includes notes of aldehydes, honeysuckle, gardenia, green notes, peach, mirabelle plum, galbanum, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, Bulgarian rose, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, benzoin, civet, oakmoss, vetiver, and styrax.

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47 Comments

  • Aliya: I was waiting for this review! I wore Y for my wedding. It’s super elegant. January 5, 2015 at 9:23am Reply

    • Elisa: Lovely choice! Was it a summer wedding? January 5, 2015 at 9:53am Reply

    • Caroline: I also wore it on my wedding day ….. which will be 21 years ago this April. For the two or three years around that time, I must have gone through at least 4 or 5 bottles – the only scent I have ever re-purchased to that extent (way before my perfume obsession). I loved your review and it reminds me I must go and check it out again to see how much it has changed. I’m also curious to find out if I’m tempted to wear Y again after all these years. January 5, 2015 at 2:54pm Reply

      • Elisa: Congrats on nearing 21 years! January 5, 2015 at 4:58pm Reply

      • Aliya: Congratulations on your anniversary. We’re going to celebrate our 14 years together this April. Elisa, we wanted a summer wedding but it didn’t work out so we married in April. Even better this way because not too hot. January 6, 2015 at 7:59am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Elisa,

    Thank you for a charming review. As I wrote in a lengthy comment following the article, “Organizing Your Perfume Collection”, I have a soft spot for Y. It was the first French perfume that I chose for myself, back in 1980, when I knew very little about fragrance and simply trusted my nose. It was my signature scent for four years before I branched out and developed a perfume wardrobe.

    I noted with interest that you made several comments about the ways in which Y differs from other green chypres, and these are all qualities that attracted me to the fragrance. For example you said that, “To me, it’s a summer chypre”, that the floral heart was “sweeter than it needed to be, which adds to its girlish charm”, that “Y is on the light side” and that it has “a timeless freshness”.

    Along with that burst of “sparkling yellow aldehydes”, perhaps these are also some of the qualities that led Michael Edwards to classify it initially as a crisp floral aldehyde with green notes, although by 1995 he had changed his classification to a fresh chypre with green notes.

    I had heard that Y had been discontinued, so I am so pleased to hear that it is still available, although I’m glad that I have a good stock of the fragrance from the early eighties. January 5, 2015 at 9:45am Reply

    • Elisa: Hi Tourmaline! Interesting about Michael Edwards changing the classification. Makes sense, as it’s kind of a cross between a green chypre and an aldehydic floral.

      I don’t think Y has very good distribution anymore, but they do still list it on the YSL website, so that indicates that it’s in production. January 5, 2015 at 9:55am Reply

  • solanace: Your reviews keep getting better and better, Elisa. 🙂 January 5, 2015 at 9:49am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you Solanace! 🙂 January 5, 2015 at 9:56am Reply

  • trudy: I wore this years ago when I was very, very young. I knew nothing about perfume, I just liked the way it smelled. I thought it had been discontinued as I don’t recall seeing in the stores. Now again I remember it and think, “that was so nice I wish it was still around or I could find something like it”. I remember it had a certain quality….fresh but kind of complex. It made me feel so sophisticated at a time when I was just beginning to venture out into the world. I think I wore Y and Paris. I’ll have to revisit to see how it has changed (and how I have changed too)! January 5, 2015 at 10:21am Reply

    • Elisa: I love revisiting old favorites! Especially when they smell the same, but you experience them differently. You should be able to find some very cheaply online. January 5, 2015 at 10:31am Reply

  • Patricia: With Ysatis and Scherrer 2, Y was one of my favorites in the early 80s.

    Thanks for a great review and a blast back to the past! January 5, 2015 at 10:23am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks Pat! January 5, 2015 at 10:31am Reply

  • Rebecca: Oh I do so love Y! I found a small unopened bottle of the perfume on eBay some time ago and splurged because the A-Z Guide review was irresistible. And that brings us to the dilemma: should one try the vintage and risk never really loving the modern version or directly go for the most recent version where available? I just cannot get used to the reformulations of Caleche, Rive Gauche and Joy, all of which I wore as a young woman, although I know that many reviewers find them very acceptable. For Caleche and Rive Gauche in particular, there is a stony 45 minute delay between putting the fragrance on and actually recognizing it for the one I knew. January 5, 2015 at 10:36am Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, I love the review in the A-Z guide! So evocative.

      But yes, that is a real dilemma. I think with the classics, it’s worth trying the vintage versions, since you can usually find some on eBay if you search. But then, if you try the new version first and love it, it’s not necessarily worth the bother. There are definitely perfumes that I didn’t love or even like until I tried the vintage (looking at you Shalimar) January 5, 2015 at 10:57am Reply

  • Brenda: I was a young woman in my twenties when I first picked up on a comment about YSL. My grandmother and great aunt were visiting me in Canada…where we all lived. The two to them had just been to United States to visit their sister. They were very excited about their purchase of YSL at “a very fancy department store” ….and, probably, suffering a little buyers remorse as well. Though I was already a bit of a perfume devotee, my circumstances at the time only allowed drug store choices, so I was completely enthralled with this mysterious scent. The cap was lifted….I was treated to a dab…and though I have never purchased or worn YSL, I realized in that instant that I had just been introduced to something special. Perhaps to honour those two lovely ladies I will…..sometime in 2015….purchase a bottle of this, for me, memorable potion. I love remembering my first inklings to a scent…..perhaps a magazine page sniff….or a paper stick sample while rushing through a store….or your grandmother and aunt giggling with excitement over a purchase they really couldn’t afford! Such fun….. January 5, 2015 at 11:17am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks for sharing this story! I remember the first time I smelled Gucci Rush in a magazine when I was 19 or so — immediately knew I HAD TO HAVE IT. January 5, 2015 at 11:26am Reply

    • angeldiva: Hi Brenda,
      What a touching story. Today on O.co:
      Y – EDT 3.3 oz. $64.99 US

      P. January 5, 2015 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Adriana Galani: It is a must in my collection together with Ysatis since my midd 20s when one of my more mature friends has introduced it to me. I will never have enough of it and I love that mixture of girlish plus seriousness inn there, which makes it wearable by all age groups. It is a beauty of a scent and I am happy You reviewed it so beautyfully. Congratulations for this review and keep them coming. January 5, 2015 at 11:46am Reply

    • Elisa: I agree this works at any age — it’s elegant but young at heart! January 5, 2015 at 12:32pm Reply

  • angeldiva: Elisa,
    What a well written review, and, I love the ad! I miss having the occasions to wear beautiful hosiery all the time like the model in the ad.
    My experience with Y began last year with the current version. After some trial and error ( mostly error as I took a bath in it) I can enjoy this groovy scent in small doses. I am so curious about the original version.
    I’m surprised to read a description of the perfume as, ” Light.”
    It’s really quite comprehensive on my skin. Evoking a pleasant smelling bayou swamp. I believe I can smell the tuberose and sandalwood. I’d love to take a class so that my nose can smell the distinction between the other notes. But, I don’t have enough experience, yet. I do like Y, and love the memories the others share about wearing it during the 1970’s-1980’s- two eras that I remembered as being very glamorous.
    P. January 5, 2015 at 1:08pm Reply

    • Elisa: I still think sheer black hosiery is sexy! (I wouldn’t call Y light by just any standards, but I do find it light for a chypre — pleasantly light and uplifting.) January 5, 2015 at 3:07pm Reply

  • Leah: Thanks Elisa for the review, so exciting to see this get some attention! Y (in its vintage form) is one of my all-time favorites. It is such an elegant Chypre – archetypal almost – but has a lightness that makes it more approachable than most. The vintage for me is the perfect example of what we love in the Parisienne – chic elegance which somehow manages to remain understated and a bit “undone”.

    Happy New Year! January 5, 2015 at 2:20pm Reply

    • Elisa: I agree, very Parisian! And happy new year to you as well! January 5, 2015 at 4:53pm Reply

  • annemarie: I find Y lovely but rather fleeting – 2-3 hours maybe. What’s your experience Elisa?

    I bought mine about 12-18 months ago when I noticed that it had been repackaged into bottles the same as Yvresse and a few others. Thinking this might also signal a major reformulation as well, I grabbed 30mls of Y in the old bottle, same as the one in the ad above, while I still could, from an online discounter. But I’m sure that between 1964 and 2013 the formula would have been tweaked a lot, so doubt if mine counts as ‘vintage’.

    I only paid about $40 for it. For years Y was very easy to find at the discounters at great prices, but only the major YSL counters carried it and even then might not have had testers. Not sure if the same holds true today. One of the problems with Y is that online search engines don’t cope too well with the single letter in its name! Usually you have to trawl all the YSL offerings to find it. January 5, 2015 at 5:52pm Reply

    • Elisa: Yes, I too find it relatively fleeting, which is why it works well in summer.

      You’re right about the searchability issue! Usually when I search “YSL Y” I just get results for YSL, period. January 5, 2015 at 6:28pm Reply

  • FearsMice: Don’t know how I missed Y back in the 80s — I wore lots of Ysatis then — but my first sniff of Y came last year from a sample of the current version. And why did I order that sample? Because you, Elisa, had described Y so beautifully here in BdJ comments that I knew I’d like it — and I do! A vintage bottle would be worth seeking out… January 5, 2015 at 9:16pm Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, how wonderful! January 5, 2015 at 9:31pm Reply

  • Courant: Y is an absolute favourite which suffered, I think, from a silly name. Why is Y pronounced E and spelt Y? I propose a Bois de Jasmin contest to find a more appropriate name, a little late, I grant you but still………What about Elan? Has it been done? January 6, 2015 at 5:50am Reply

    • Elisa: I didn’t even know it was pronounced Y, you taught me something today! I supposed because it’s the French pronunciation of the letter Y. Never thought about that before. January 6, 2015 at 9:50am Reply

    • Annette Reynolds: Yes, “Y” in French is pronounced as a long “E” in English.

      But I’d be afraid to go into a department store in the U.S. asking for it because I can only imagine the looks one would get, and the comments: “Oh, you mean ‘WHY.'” 😉

      Better to write it down on a scrap of paper and show it to the salesperson and then wait to see how they pronounce it.

      I’ll never forget the first time I went into a – um- very well known department store (this is back in the 80’s) asking for ‘Le De’ by Givenchy. You’d have thought I’d come down from another planet. And when the sales clerk actually pronounced it in a way I can’t even begin to describe I had to back away from the counter and count to at least five to keep from correcting her.

      But having been corrected myself over the years, I just came back to the counter, nodded, and then let it go. There’s no good way to end that encounter…

      What’s the kindest way to correct someone’s pronunciation (someone who should know better)?

      Ah well.

      Lovely post today, Elisa. I’ve never worn chypres well and now you’ve made me want to try “Y!” January 6, 2015 at 12:58pm Reply

      • Elisa: Thank you Annette! My approach would usually be to say, “Oh, I always thought it was pronounced X” — which makes it sound like maybe I’m at fault, but maybe introduces enough doubt that they look it up later! 🙂 January 6, 2015 at 1:15pm Reply

    • angeldiva: Hi Courant,
      I believe that Y was named Y because it was the very first perfume by the late great designer Yves ( EEvz) Saint Laurent.
      P. January 7, 2015 at 7:25pm Reply

  • Aurora: I love this one, thank you for reviewing it Elisa! I find it an easygoing chypre and have memories of one of my aunts smelling of it in the 80s, a signature scent for her along with Parure (alas, Parure).

    As you say it’s a light summer chypre, so my bottle from the 2000s (same bottle as in the ads) hardly vintage, is enjoyable as is. In Europe the version now available is in EDP in the square opaque beige bottle, and struck me as quite good when I tried it recently so that’s a relief. I’m sure your vintage is a beauty though.

    You’ve been surprising me with such interesting choices for reviews and I’ve been enjoying them very much. As commented before I also love Victoria’s addenda with ‘currently available’ and ‘alternative choices’. You are a great team! January 6, 2015 at 6:58am Reply

    • Elisa: Thank you, Aurora! V is good about encouraging me to review older favorites, especially if they are underrated and not too expensive. January 6, 2015 at 9:53am Reply

      • angeldiva: Hi Elisa,
        I’ve read a few suggestions on BdJ about doing a side by side comparison of different scents. So, last night I sprayed Y on one wrist and Private Collection (EL) on the other.
        What an interesting exercise! The Y leafs out (on me it’s huge) with a crystalline green. The Private Collection smelled more organic and earthy. Less perfumey and chemical than Y. But, very potent in a walk through the florist (even mountains) kind of way. I must say that side by side- I enjoyed the Private Collection just a bit more.
        But, I’ve grown to lot Y, too!
        P. January 7, 2015 at 7:30pm Reply

        • Elisa: I also think PC is deeper, earthier, more golden. I once experimented with layering PC with YSL Nu and quite liked the effect! January 7, 2015 at 8:04pm Reply

          • angeldiva: Sounds amazing!
            P. January 8, 2015 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Judith: I have Channel No. 19, Y and Metal in my perfume wardrobe so I guess I have a ‘type’.
    However, while I found Y lovely in the past few years this year it felt a little ‘old’. I guess it’s the candy scents everywhere now – although I don’t like them, they feel ‘normal’ and anything without the sweetness, rose or oud (three ubiquitous notes) feels a bit out of sync in a don’t-sit-next-to-me-on-the-bus way. January 6, 2015 at 8:07am Reply

    • spe: While wearing Y, I’ve received both “you smell good” and “that smells dusty” comments. I had both the parfum and the new EDT and think the parfum elicited the “dusty” remark. I may also have over applied. After selling both of these, I regret it! Is there a new reformulation out? My EDT was in a white square box and I believe the”Y” was italicized, but not sure. Thank you for the review! January 6, 2015 at 9:41am Reply

      • spe: Forgot to say – in my opinion, I feel this is a 5 star because I know of nothing that smells like this – it is utterly unique and a quintessential 60s/70s piece of perfume art. Just my personal opinion, of course! Thank you again for the reminder of this perfume treasure! January 6, 2015 at 9:46am Reply

        • Elisa: You’re right, I think, that nothing else smells quite like it! I didn’t give it a 5 because I find it a simple, somewhat fleeting pleasure; my personal hall of 5-star perfumes would be stuff that really evolves, tells a story, and just makes my eyes roll back in my head. It’s a classic, though! January 6, 2015 at 9:57am Reply

    • Elisa: I find that too, that the prevalence of sweet scents these days makes older scents smell a little off sometimes. I have to try to reset my nose from time to time. January 6, 2015 at 9:59am Reply

  • Aisha: This sounds absolutely gorgeous!

    Although I still have a soft spot in my heart for gourmands, I’ve got to be honest and say I need a change of pace. Lately I’ve been reaching for my “old” favorites like Cristalle, Anais Anais and Safari to give myself a break from confection overload. Y sounds like a head turner — in a good way. January 6, 2015 at 10:33am Reply

    • Elisa: I go through these phases too — I have tons of orientals and gourmands but sometimes I want a dry, even “stiff” floral to break the sweetness. (Not that Y is stiff!) January 6, 2015 at 11:02am Reply

      • Courant: Wearing Cristalle EDT today after showering the sand of Bondi Beach off my derriere. When it’s hot Cristalle is a lovely day scent and Y would follow on from it beautifully for evening January 6, 2015 at 9:59pm Reply

        • Elisa: Yes, that sounds like a perfect transition. January 6, 2015 at 11:27pm Reply

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