Herve Leger : His Bandage Dress and His Perfume

Courtney Love’s “Doll Parts,” Vogue, and Hervé Léger’s bandage dress are my strongest associations with the mid 1990s. It was the summer I came to the United States, and while my parents tried to put our life together in a new place, I spent those first sweltering months in the American suburbs babysitting my little brother, watching MTV and reading magazines at our friends’ house. My mother had one bandage dress that she saved for special occasions. It was a sleeveless, knee-length piece made out of bands of white fabric. It hugged the body in a seductive way, and yet somehow it looked elegant, rather than revealing. From time to time I would put it on, douse myself in Lancôme Trésor and imagine being grown up and sophisticated someday. If the glossy pages of Vogue teased with their unattainable fantasies, the bandage dress was the concrete embodiment of my yearnings for glamour.

The bandage dress put many under its spell, and it propelled its creator, Hervé Peugnet, to stardom. The young couturier started his career as a hat maker, so the idea of creating a dress out of strips of fabric was inspired by millinery techniques. The bands of fabric were knitted in a panel, rather than cut and sewn, which gave the garments their structure and flow. Peugnet worked under Mr. Lagerfeld at Fendi and later at Chanel, and it was Lagerfeld who suggest that he change his name to something easier for English-speakers to pronounce.  Hervé Léger, as in “légèreté”, French for “lightness,” opened his own boutique in 1984 and dressed many celebrities in the 1990s.

About ten years ago, when I was already studying perfumery, I came across Hervé Léger perfume at my company’s library. It was created in 1998, around the same time the Hervé Léger house was acquired by the group BCBG Max Azria and shortly before the designer lost control of his name. His designs were now made by other people, and he had chosen another name and established another business as Herve L. Leroux.

Yet, when the idea for a fragrance was born, Hervé Léger was still in charge of his brand and he worked with the Firmenich perfumer Alberto Morillas to capture the spirit of his couture. Morillas was a perfect partner to Hervé Léger because he is known for his sensual but elegant compositions. For Hervé Léger perfume, Morillas selected an assortment of floral notes and wrapped them around a classical core of sandalwood, vanilla and musk. It was the olfactory version of a bandage dress.

The perfume starts with a layer of sheer jasmine made bright by tart fruit and citrus. It slowly warms up and darkens to the peach-like sweetness of osmanthus, and then, just as slowly, the osmanthus transforms into rose and magnolia. The accord is abstract enough, but it smells honeyed and warm, with a lemon cream accent of magnolia flowers. The flowers eventually fade, leaving a layer of almonds, vanilla and musk.

At the time, Hervé Léger perfume struck me as simple, but just as the bandage dress had a complex construction, so did this airy composition. All of its elements are distinctive, and yet the blend is smooth and harmonious. It’s delicately rendered, but it’s vivid, with bright accents of black currant and sandalwood creating a series of contrasting impressions between the layers of flowers. The overall impression is of a warm, skin-clinging fragrance that goes from effervescent lightness to sweet softness as it dries down.

Hervé L. Leroux passed away last month in Paris, and his perfume was discontinued by the same group that took his name. Nevertheless, the fashion of the 1990s will always be remembered for his iconic bandage dress.

Image 1: Hervé Léger and Cindy Crawfor by Christian Simonpietri, 1995. Image 2: Cindy Crawford for Hervé Léger, photographed by Herb Ritts, 1994, via theredlist.

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36 Comments

  • sara levy: beautiful article and review! I still have a bottle of Herve Leger–love the lavender color of the juice and the elegant column bottle. thanks for the reminder to revisit! December 4, 2017 at 8:41am Reply

    • Victoria: The bottle was also beautiful. The shape is what I also remember well. December 5, 2017 at 2:33pm Reply

  • spe: The scent is too sweet for me, however it does have a beautiful and distinctive bottle. Also, I agree with Sara about the beautiful color of the scent – lavender. So pretty.

    I tried on a few bandage dresses during those years. They are quite comfortable to wear, tougher to actually put on. It felt like putting on a body girdle, or Spanx. Being claustrophobic, it’s not a feeling I remember fondly. December 4, 2017 at 9:19am Reply

    • Victoria: I still have my mom’s dress somewhere in storage, but it’s no longer my style. The construction is fascinating. December 5, 2017 at 2:34pm Reply

  • Gretchen: Oh, I loved that perfume and used it up in a flash. It was light, and interesting, and completely without staying power, but it made me feel so elegant. To have worn a bandage dress would indeed be fabulous December 4, 2017 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: How fun that you also remember it! 🙂 December 5, 2017 at 2:35pm Reply

  • Filomena: I remember liking that perfume too. December 4, 2017 at 11:48am Reply

    • Victoria: We have a small club now. 🙂 December 5, 2017 at 2:35pm Reply

  • Debby: Great article, those dresses were stunning though I was never confident enough to try one.
    The only Herve Leger perfume I have ever been aware of were those released through Avon. Sounds like I missed out. December 4, 2017 at 12:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: I tried the Avon one, but it wasn’t that memorable. December 5, 2017 at 2:36pm Reply

  • Mona: Gosh, I need to try this perfume! December 4, 2017 at 2:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can still find it online. December 5, 2017 at 2:36pm Reply

  • Brenda: I enjoyed this post as I am fondest of all French perfumes…& their creators. The photographs of Cindy Crawford are so lovely and I enjoy the work of Herb Ritts still, usually in Vanity Fair magazine. The phrase “took his name” jolted me with sadness. I don’t think one realizes how prescious our “handle” in life is. Though I willingly wed, decades ago, & took another’s surname – it is not something I would do again. Far too personal to give up! Thank you for the post… December 4, 2017 at 3:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: The Max Azria group were terrible to Hervé Légèr, both as a person and a brand. Azria had a nerve to put his name on Légèr’s designs. December 5, 2017 at 2:37pm Reply

  • Kandice: This was a lovely article and tribute to this artist. I never had the chance to try either his perfume or his dresses, and now feel I have definitely missed out. And I agree with Brenda how sad it is that someone took his name, and he had to work under another. It sounds almost like someone stealing his soul. Very sad. December 4, 2017 at 5:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: He passed away recently, so I was reminded of his dresses and his perfume. December 5, 2017 at 2:38pm Reply

    • spe: He gave up his name – apparently at the encouragement of KL, which is really bizarre. So if it’s not really your name to begin with, perhaps it doesn’t matter? Not sure, Interesting comment, Brenda. I suspect my Mom wouldn’t give up her name, if she was to marry today. December 5, 2017 at 3:03pm Reply

      • Brenda: Yes, spe…I gave up my surname without much thought – it was just done! Not a negative thought about the name I took on **or the person **, but after forty years / and widowhood, I suspect that if I had kept my ‘real’ name …the transition may have been easier. December 5, 2017 at 3:18pm Reply

        • spe: Interesting, Brenda, as my mom is also widowed (young) and feels the same way. December 7, 2017 at 2:47pm Reply

      • Victoria: Not quite. He took a pseudonym and based a business on that. Many artists and designers do that. But he was the first whose name AND brand was taken away from him. December 5, 2017 at 3:25pm Reply

        • spe: Oh, my goodness. It is a tragedy. On the other hand, his clothing is absolutely iconic and your mother certainly had great taste in evening wear. I also enjoy the fact that she got her dress in white! What perfume would she have worn with it, most likely? What would you choose to wear with it today? December 7, 2017 at 12:39am Reply

  • Jillie: A bitter sweet story – so sad to hear of his death.

    I love the details of your first summer in the States – and your mum must be a very elegant, classy lady! December 5, 2017 at 3:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I’m also very sorry. He seemed like a character. December 5, 2017 at 2:38pm Reply

  • Tara: Thank you for such a personal, evocative post, Victoria. December 5, 2017 at 5:54am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for stopping by, Tara! December 5, 2017 at 2:38pm Reply

  • Figuier: Fascinating! I’ve seen pictures of Herve Leger dresses but never seen one irl – they must look fabulous on real, 3-D bodies. The perfume likewise is not one I’m familiar with, although I do remember the bottle from department stores shelves. The 90s was actually a really good time for perfume I think, and seem to have generated lots of these kinds of low-profile, short-lived gems. December 5, 2017 at 6:58am Reply

    • Victoria: True! There weren’t as many launches, and while many of perfumes like Légèr’s faded away, there was much to discover. December 5, 2017 at 2:39pm Reply

  • Eudora: Beautiful post, as always. Lovely tribute. I coudn’t believe my eyes reading Courtney Love at the begining… I have a grunge past so it made me smile. Thanks Victoria. December 6, 2017 at 8:02am Reply

    • Victoria: I listened Courtney Love’s albums from those years for a long time, so I was happy to discover several years ago that not only is she a passionate perfume lover, but that she also reads Bois de Jasmin. She also mentioned it recently in her NY Mag interview:
      http://nymag.com/strategist/article/courtney-love-favorite-things.html
      She wears lots of Kilian, Malle and Fracas. December 6, 2017 at 9:50am Reply

      • Eudora: I’ll read, I’ll keep that interview for tonight, thanks Victoria. I remember her interview in Into the gloss, I loved it and will read it too. I remember her love for Fracas and SKII…
        I only tried Fracas once and LOVE it. Later I tried, because of you, Madonna’s Truth or Dare and I connected the dots. I am in my second bottle and I am wearing it a lot this season. I feel so elegant. I will try Fracas again when I have the chance. December 6, 2017 at 12:50pm Reply

        • Victoria: She also likes iris and incense. Prada Infusion d’Iris was one of the perfumes I recall. December 6, 2017 at 5:04pm Reply

          • Eudora: Prada Infusion d’Iris… It was love at first sight because I loved the original add…do you remember it? But also Infusion d’Iris was the one who introduce me to you and to this lovely perfum world. I found it irresistible and read your review about it (madame Bovary…) so discovered your blog.
            Hermes Iris is on my wishing list.
            Incense… Avignon is my confort-at-night scent.
            Courtney, Victoria and me, yeah! December 6, 2017 at 5:28pm Reply

  • Tara C: I have the purple Hervé Léger perfume too. It didn’t inspire great passion in me but it is pleasant to wear. I must pull it out and give it another wear in his honour. December 6, 2017 at 8:53pm Reply

  • sariah: Courtney Love! What a scoop if you could interview her! I love her song Malibu. Love fracas too. December 6, 2017 at 8:53pm Reply

    • spe: Another vote for an interview with Courtney Love. Somehow I imagine her as a real “girl’s girl.” Like Catherine Deneuve. I’d really like to read about her perfume interests! December 7, 2017 at 12:44am Reply

  • moi: RIP Mr. Leger. I never tried this perfume, but there was a time in my life when a Leger bandage dress was my evening wear holy grail. I tried one on once, and it was one of the most flattering things I’ve ever put on my body. Sexy without being vulgar.

    And I’m such a Courtney Love fangirl. Not only because she provided the soundtrack to my wild single girl days, but because she has guts. And she seems whip smart, not just intelligent but also deeply curious about the world. It would be brilliant if you could snag an interview with her! December 12, 2017 at 8:18am Reply

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