Yves Saint Laurent Nu : Fragrance Review



Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Is the fragrance market the best arbiter of what is good? In the case of Nu, my answer is an emphatic no! This Yves Saint Laurent fragrance created in 2001 by Jacques Cavallier under the creative direction of Tom Ford explores such dusky and moody territory that it could never have been a commercial success. Yet, for those of us who love to stray over to the dark side, Nu offers a fascinating experience—a combination of opulent incense notes, spicy carnation, creamy sandalwood and the fiery flourish of dark spices. Although the name and the imagery suggest a sensual, femme fatale fragrance, I find Nu polished and elegant, with just enough smoldering allure to keep things interesting.

The initial toasted spice notes of Nu would have taken this rich composition of incense and woods straight into baroque and heavy territory if it were not for the green note reminiscent of pine sap. This bright, resinous jolt, underscored by the lemony bite of cardamom, gives Nu a beautiful lift. As the fragrance melds into the skin and begins to reveal its spicy floral heart, the green notes further serve to offset the heady richness of the composition. The floral notes, oscillating between carnation and jasmine, give Nu a rather vintage aura, even though the overall impression is modern and streamlined. In the drydown, Nu becomes all about musk, incense and sandalwood — dark and rich territory — but it still retains a radiant, vivid quality. The sensation of Nu is between that of plush velvet and cool satin—a beguiling and irresistible juxtaposition.

A similar woody oriental idea with a vivid green note has since been explored in a variety of fragrances, from Alberta Ferretti by Alberta Ferretti to Bond No 9 Bleecker Street. Lancôme Magie Noire, Balmain Jolie Madame and Guerlain Vol de Nuit likewise occupy the same dark and smoldering realm as Nu, even if they place their accents differently. In the same vein, Serge Lutens Serge Noire and Van Cleef & Arpels Cologne Noire are my favorite fragrances that explore the pairing of incense and sandalwood. While Nu is marketed for women, its relative dryness would make it a great masculine fragrance. It is a fragrance I would not hesitate to call spectacular, notwithstanding its market failure.

Yves Saint Laurent Nu Eau de Parfum includes notes of bergamot, cardamom, elemi, white orchid, wild orchid, black pepper, sandalwood, musks, incense and olibanum. There is also the Eau de Toilette, but it is more floral and less interesting. While it has been discontinued, it can be found easily at various online discounters. The only thing I dislike about Nu is the poorly designed bottle, which is clunky and difficult to use.

Update: Nu has returned!

Sample source: my own acquisition



  • Natalia: on my ‘to try’ list! thanks for another wonderful review, V! March 30, 2011 at 5:00am Reply

  • rosarita: One of my all time favorites! Nu is a cold incense to my nose. Thanks for a great review. March 30, 2011 at 5:11am Reply

  • Carla: Thank you! A new old perfume to discover! March 30, 2011 at 7:46am Reply

  • karin: I wore this years ago…bottle ended up with many others during a purge – in the Goodwill bag. Oh woe. But I remember it well!!! March 30, 2011 at 7:54am Reply

  • pam: I LOVE YSL Nu edp! It is a very distinctive fragrance. Unique. But that’s the edp. I hear the edt is totally different and more a floral. Watch out! March 30, 2011 at 8:45am Reply

  • nstephens: I have read and enjoyed your beautiful blog for some years and have now been enticed out of lurking by this brilliant review. I wore Nu when it was first released, loving it, without knowing why (pre blogs/Luca Turin/perfume education!). Now I know it is just that contrast between cool and warm that I find irresistible. I associate it with my first visit to Venice, during Winter and it was the perfect companion (the human one didn’t come up to scratch though I have entertaining stories). Thank you for pointing out the kinship with such scents as Magie Noire and a favourite, Vol de Nuit. It also puts me in mind of Mystere de Rochas one of my all time favs. (btw I remember someone, maybe March at the Posse, remarking that the bottle looked like a female contraceptive case…..!) Nicola March 30, 2011 at 9:33am Reply

  • Alice C: You have added another to my list of perfumes I have to try…NOW! 🙂 March 30, 2011 at 10:11am Reply

  • Dionne: Incense and sandalwood, AND a great deal? Say no more. I’m convinced. March 30, 2011 at 10:57am Reply

  • Olfactoria: Sounds wonderful, a must try for me. March 30, 2011 at 6:58am Reply

  • Olfacta: It’s great stuff. But I agree about the bottle — clumsy and doesn’t work all that well. I wonder if the failure had something to do with the hockey-puck-like bottle. March 30, 2011 at 8:13am Reply

  • Sariah: I love Nu. Too bad it can’t be re-issued by a niche brand in better packaging. March 30, 2011 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Cristina: I must say that for some reason I mainly thought of this as somewhat of an incense rose. Fancy there’s really no rose in it!I must have wanted to think of it as such… March 30, 2011 at 12:56pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome!
    I have even seen 1oz bottle for as little as $25 on some discounter websites. March 30, 2011 at 9:01am Reply

  • Victoria: Cold incense is a great description. I love how it completely avoids the expected sweetness of an oriental. March 30, 2011 at 9:02am Reply

  • Victoria: It is a must try! March 30, 2011 at 9:03am Reply

  • Victoria: If only YSL were to relaunch it! March 30, 2011 at 9:03am Reply

  • Victoria: I have a number of bottles that ended up in the same place. Time to time, I do regret this. 🙂 March 30, 2011 at 9:03am Reply

  • Victoria: I think that it was a combination of all sorts of factors–noncommercial juice, overly erotic marketing image, weird bottle. Another problem is none of those components fit the juice. From the name, Nu, one would have expected some intimate, skin scent, but the perfume is somber and dark. March 30, 2011 at 9:07am Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, Pam! The EDT is not as interesting, thinner and more floral. I prefer the EDP. March 30, 2011 at 9:08am Reply

  • Juno: Adore this and oddly, was JUST thinking about it before I opened the window on this post – thinking about the dryness, which I’ve come to love. As I get older I find sweetness intrusive in perfume. March 30, 2011 at 9:34am Reply

  • Style Spy: Unbelievably, I have never tried this, because it sounds right up my alley. Must seek it out. It may restore my faith in YSL fragrances. March 30, 2011 at 9:51am Reply

  • dee: … add this to my “must try” list; it sounds really stunning! March 30, 2011 at 9:52am Reply

  • Victoria: Nicola, thank you for delurking and for your kind words! As I was reading your story of Nu and Venice, it made me think that out of all places Nu would have captured for me, it probably would have been Venice or Sienna.
    I can definitely see Mystere de Rochas connection.

    I am laughing over March’s comment! March 30, 2011 at 10:12am Reply

  • Victoria: I appreciate the dry quality in perfume more and more, especially as the mainstream launches are getting sweeter and sweeter and sweeter. March 30, 2011 at 10:13am Reply

  • Victoria: YSL M7 is another one I love, such a bold, dramatic fragrance. At one point, YSL did more than release silly things like Saharienne. March 30, 2011 at 10:14am Reply

  • Victoria: If you like incense, it is going to be a great discovery! March 30, 2011 at 10:14am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, I am glad! Nu is worth being rediscovered. March 30, 2011 at 10:15am Reply

  • Marina: I need to get some again, I used to love it so much! March 30, 2011 at 10:45am Reply

  • Victoria: I recently was wearing Serge Lutens Serge Noire and thinking that it is very similar to Nu. Well, Nu is more interesting to me. March 30, 2011 at 11:20am Reply

  • Victoria: I love this pairing, so alluring. On its own, sandalwood can be rather heavy (especially today when it is mostly sandalwood synthetics, which I find overly sharp,) but a touch of incense gives it a beautiful lift. March 30, 2011 at 11:21am Reply

  • Juno: Exactly. March 30, 2011 at 11:29am Reply

  • minette: you definitely captured its varied tactile facets – great job of describing this one. i have the others you mention as sharing similar green territory – will have to look at them in a different light now. love alberta ferretti’s original one – it’s very dramatic. not sure why it went poof. like nu, i guess – its disappearance is not a sign of its quality. March 30, 2011 at 4:24pm Reply

  • sweetlife: I have a decant of this in my closet and have never worn it. The smell around the neck and all those allusions to “cold incense” have frightened me off. But today is the day. Thanks for the push, V. March 30, 2011 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am glad to serve as your muse today (and whenever you need me, for that matter) as you often inspire me too. 🙂 Do let me know how it fares on your skin. March 30, 2011 at 12:38pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Mmm. Now I remember why it took me so long to wear it properly. I don’t get along very well with the opening. There’s a note in there, maybe the resinous sap you refer to, that leans sweet and masculine on me. It reminds me of that overwhelming benzoin note in Obsession–maybe not exactly the same smell, but the same effect.

    I am, however, quite enjoying that gorgeous incense/sandalwood drydown. I think I will have to be brave and wear this a few more times before I pass judgment. I have a feeling it might grow on me. The odd ones almost always do. March 30, 2011 at 1:57pm Reply

  • Victoria: I know, I wish it were reissued. Well, Serge Noire comes the closest to it, but it is missing that green note that makes Nu so vivid. March 30, 2011 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: I smell rose notes in it too, but more like lemony, green roses rather than sweet, honeyed rose absolute. Plus, some orchids and roses tend to share many similar notes anyway. March 30, 2011 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: I can see what you mean about the masculine aromatic-resinous note on top. I used to find it jarring, but now I really like it. Just like I love the camphorous, winter green notes of Tubereuse Criminelle. They serve to offset the drydown and give the whole composition a different twist. March 30, 2011 at 4:02pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you! It is so easy to write about beautiful, original fragrances. They are inspiring.
    I loved Femina by Alberta Ferretti (1993 launch,) which I still miss. It is one of those fragrances that marked that phase of my life deeply. I am not even sure if I can stand smelling it again for the fear of getting overly emotional. March 30, 2011 at 5:13pm Reply

  • Natalia: i try not to buy before i try 🙂 (back to that discussion) yet i just did.. a couple of Memoire Liquides. and now read a bunch of reviews of Ungaro’s Diva and i think i’m on the dangerous path…. oh well, too late to be scared, right 🙂 March 31, 2011 at 4:18am Reply

  • Natalia: cold incense, oh my. you guys are not helping… 🙂 March 31, 2011 at 4:18am Reply

  • Victoria: Diva is gorgeous!
    I also try not to buy without smelling first, but sometimes the temptation is too much! 🙂 March 31, 2011 at 9:56am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: I adore Nu! Is it still on the market? It vanished from Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s- that problematic bottle must have put people off!- but I suspect a lot of the formula was recycled into Tom Ford’s Black Orchid! Good to know that I am not the only one who swoons over a dark, sexy, womanly frgrance instead of inspid and girlish ones. March 31, 2011 at 6:35pm Reply

  • Victoria: I would guess that most of the blog readers (not just BdJ, all perfume blogs in general) are into these kinds of dark, spicy fragrances. One simply gets so bored with the onslaught of pink fruity compotes on the market.

    Nu has been discontinued a few years ago. Best to google it and check out the online discounters, while supplies last. March 31, 2011 at 6:39pm Reply

  • Hariee: Hello Victoria! NU is being relaunched in the UK (possibly around the world, too!) on the 23rd November, as part of a Heritage Collection! November 13, 2011 at 1:22pm Reply

  • Victoria: Great news! Thank you very much for letting me know. I hope that the US launch is not far away. November 13, 2011 at 1:24pm Reply

  • Barcares: Victoria, do you by any chance know whether a beige non-transparent leather alike square bottle of NU (they sell in the same one yveress here) is the same as you are desribing here? I can only find the bottle I described above in Antwerp, and strangly enough, only this purple one, if I look for it in the net. Thanks for your answer.BR June 21, 2013 at 7:04am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t smelled it, so I can’t say, but it’s supposed to be the same as Nu I’m talking about. June 21, 2013 at 7:26am Reply

      • Barcares: Thank you Victoria! Just bought it and enjoying my posession in a middle of a grey telecom office… ))) It is gorgeous and gives me a lovely feeling of being particularly feminine and beautiful. June 24, 2013 at 7:33am Reply

  • Aisha: I was going to reach for a gourmand again today, but decided to give this one a try just for fun. I have two small sample vials of it, so why not right? Oh my! I’ve been enjoying it all day! I spritzed some on right before I headed out to go shovel snow. The warmth of the spices were so cozy. I’m not sure why, but it smelled of cinnamon on me for most of the morning, and I don’t see it listed as a note. I didn’t pick up on the cardamom until just now, and it’s delicious. 🙂 I think you’re right that this would make a great fragrance for men. It’s not overly floral, not to my nose anyway.

    Oh! I’m not detecting incense in this. But of course, my idea of incense is something that smells like a cathedral.

    Nu is a lovely fragrance, and it was fun to reach for something other than a gourmand. 😉 January 30, 2014 at 3:44pm Reply

  • angeliki: Hello! I tested Yves Saint Laurent La Collection NU a few days ago at my local Sephora’s. It is different than the original Nu, but still a work of beauty. The first blast is quite spicy and bold, and the “sweaty” cardamom was pronounced. I did wonder why it was called Nu (french for naked). Fortunately, a few minutes later, bringing my hand to my nose to see how the scent had evolved, I realized the name was spot – on. The olibanum had come forth, and there was such a beautiful sweet incense vibe! It felt as though my body was radiating this sheer beauty all on its own, as the scent had melted into my skin and was travelling up in the air in enchanting wisps of air. I do think this is worth testing. August 19, 2015 at 9:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for this detailed description and good news! August 19, 2015 at 3:01pm Reply

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