Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent is a good reminder that the 1970s offered more than John Travolta and polyester. It's so incredibly chic that it's sometimes hard to accept it as part of that particular decade, until two things happen: you look up high fashion of that era (not the stuff your mother still stores in boxes down in the basement), and you realize that while very French and elegant, there's an edginess to Rive Gauche that doesn't exist in iconic floral perfumes of the previous decades (think Caleche, Ma Griffe, Madame Rochas, and many others).It's the same kind of feeling you get when you look at Saint Lauren's designs for Mick and Bianca Jagger on their 1971 wedding day (the same year Rive Gauche was released).
Rive Gauche is a seamless aldehydic floral. It's hard to point at most of the single notes, especially at the beginning, where this is just a cool cloud in the Parisian sky. The abstract floral heart was declared a rose by Luca Turin, and I think the degree of rosiness varies between vintages. have a couple of 1970s bottles, bought in pristine state, and what I get from them is considerably smoother than an aldehydic rose. According to Nigel Groom the floral notes are gardenia, honeysuckle, jasmine, ylang-ylang, orris, geranium, and magnolia (while the base is sandalwood and vetiver). The truth is out there, hiding behind the metallic canister and the distinct metallic note. It's related to two Paco Rabanne perfumes: Calandre (1969, by Michael Hy who cooperated with Jacques Polge on the creation of Rive Gauche), and the greener, colder Metal from 1979.
|Karl Lagerfeld's bathroom, photographed by Oberto Gil for Underground Interiors, 1972|
All of this is more a reference and a ballpark to the universe in which Rive Gauche exists (existed, rather). It's perfumy, with just a hint of powder, and a woody-musky dry-down that sends me right back to my childhood and my general idea of "perfume". In that sense, Rive Gauche is the all-chrome version of Chanel No.5 and its various offspring. Rive Gauche was a natural development: a bit harder, pointier, crisper, but just as stunning in its original state.
The dry-down of the fragrance, at least in the EDT versions that I have, goes back a bit to the familiar sandalwood and musk realm. It's easy to settle into and live with, just like a perfectly-tailored expensive pantsuit. There's dryness, courtesy of the vetiver, that I think would appeal to men who are not afraid of the aldehydes and flowers that precede it, and a depth that lets you know that whatever they put in was the real thing, before the ever receding standards (and manufacturing costs) of designer fragrances. Rive Gauche is highly satisfying when I wear it and when I pick up a scarf or a sweater saturated with it from the day before. It's more than just nostalgia: this is truly a great perfume worth exploring, because it makes everything feel just a bit more refined than it actually is: like the 1970s through this particular prism.