Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: Still an Icon


I have very fond memories of YSL Rive Gauche, (named after the arty Left Bank of the Seine) but it has been so embedded in my memory that I find it hard to de construct.  When considering what to write about it, my first instinct was to write “Rive Gauche smells like Rive Gauche”, which of course, would make a short and inadequate review.

rive gauche big scarf

Created the same time as I was (1970) and launched a year later,  Rive Gauche and its iconic tin canister has certainly  played its part in my olfactory memory.  My first memory of it is of my primary school teacher wearing it in 1978.  I didn’t know its name then, but the scent memory stayed with me.

My mother then wore it in the 80s, which is how I learnt its name.  My recent foray was yesterday, when I tried the modern formulation, and unlike many purists, I did not find it lacking.  It was still very recognisable as Rive Gauche and the memories came flooding back, although the opening was a very 70s melange of powder, soap and white noise.

As I said, it’s heard to break this down.  It’s not an Oriental, but it’s sort of Woody.  It’s definitely an Aldehyde and a Floral.  Longevity is remarkable at ten hours..Image

So what’s it like?  It’s very 70s, yet timeless.  The opening reminded me of  Givenchy Ysatis, which isn’t good on me:  it was soap, powder and dust. However, when this small fog cleared, the good old fashioned smell of Rive Gauche was there, just as I remembered it.  It opens with clean smelling aldehydes, with a background of flowers: definitely Jasmine, Iris, and Rose. The flowers are muted though, in a refined sort of way, rather than the modern “in your face” way that can sometimes happen.

rive gauche

Dare I say it?  The Iris calms everything down and keeps this both smooth and rich.  It wouldn’t be the same without it.  The finish is slightly woody (Oakmoss), but the florals stay true and rich.  It’s so good I may consider getting a bottle.  I rarely smell it on anyone these days, which is a great shame.

So hard to describe, yet I could recognise it in an instant.  Are there any fragrances that you remember form when you were very young?  Do you find them hard to describe or it is just me?

Stockists You can find YSL Rive Gauche in many places. Try Amazon UK or allbeauty.com

10 thoughts on “Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: Still an Icon”

  1. All I remember from when I was very young is No.5. All the women in my family wore it. Then three is Evening In Paris which all the girls as school wore. (Two girls in particular come to mind. They poured a bottle of it on me because they had a crush on me and I was not interested) I can describe that one. EWWW it smelled cheep and horrible!

    1. Hi lanier, your comment made me laugh! All those poor heartbroken, cheap smelling girls! I love to hear what other people’s scent memories are. Avon was a big deal in my family in the 70s and 80s so my sister, grandmother and mother often smelled of Sweet Honesty or Occur, or Odyssey.

      1. I love going back through scent memories like an old family photo album. You can read my post of those girls somewhere early on on my blog. The title is “Hey Stinky!”

  2. I wore Rive Gauche in my late teens and early 20s – it was my first ‘proper’ perfume that I chose for myself and I still have a bottle.

    I wore it to work in a graphic design agency a decade ago and all the men of ‘a certain age’ (i.e. my age or just a bit older) in the design studio gave a collective sigh and asked who was wearing it. I had no idea it was so recognisable or so sigh-provoking! When I asked why, one of the chaps explained ‘Rive Gauche is the smell of posh 6th form girls who wouldn’t go out with oiks like us’, which was generally agreed to be the truth.

    1. I love that description! “Rive Gauche is the smell of posh 6th form girls who wouldn’t go out with oiks like us’,” perfect. It’s a curious one. There’s nothing else that smells quite like it. I do like it, but there are too many memories attched for me to own it, if you see what I mean.

  3. I think I’d have trouble describing any fragrances from my youth, including the ones I wore.

    My mother wore White Shoulders and Chanel No. 5 (for special occasions), and I remember them as smelling like “perfume.” She also liked Woodhue, which I always enjoyed smelling, but never made the connection that it was supposed to smell like wood. It had a wooden cap, and I thought that had inspired the name.

    1. It’s wonderful to hear your memories Laurels, especially since I believe we were raised in different countries so it’s nice to know what was going on over there whilst I was growing up over here.

      My childhood perfume memories are so vivid that i wonder what my sons will remember when they grow up. They will smell at least 365 scents and say “that smells like my Mum!”

  4. Love it, love it, love it…….Rive Gauche is the smell of the first term of my first year at university (autumn 1977). It smells of excitement and sophistication and infinite promise, and all these years later, wearing it still makes me feel I have the world at my feet.

  5. Hello Miranda and welcome!
    What a lovely memory of Rive Gauche. I too remember those heady university days where anything seemed possible. In my case it was the 80s and it was LouLou. I am so glad you took time to share your memory with me. You have great taste.
    Warmest wishes Sam

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