Tag Archives: vintage perfume

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz – When Yves Saint Laurent went to Denver by Lisa Jones

by Lisa Jones

I heard of this line years ago, when we perfumistas could post little parcels of decants and samples back and forth across international boundaries without a care. Stickers? Declaring dangerous contents? Pfft! Such ideas hadn’t been invented, and IFRA hadn’t spoiled our fun with their nasty old regulations about potential allergens.

The world is a safer and sadder place nowadays. Safer, because no postperson has to go to have stitches put in their hands while reeking of Shalimar after a flimsily-packaged bottle smashed in transit. Sadder, because I can’t just ask my buddies to send me ‘a little drop or two’ of something, drop a little parcel into the post in return, and find myself able to try things I can’t ever remember seeing in an actual shop in the UK.

I had tried a few of the DSH fragrances before and was impressed by their style. I like woods and spices, and she handles both well. And of course I had heard about her recreations of classic vintage fragrances such as Guerlain’s Jicky (DSH’s version is Passport a Paris and it’s very good! It has the ‘lemon and lavender floor polish in a posh house’ vibe to it that I love so much).

Photo from The Perfume Magazine

I knew Dawn had created a set of fragrances to complement a showing at the Denver Art Museum of the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective exhibition,  So when my American friend Joe pointed out that there was the annual 20% off sale on the whole DSH collection, I rather splurged. There were so many of her fragrances that I wanted to try – two from the YSL collection for starters. I was able to order from the US and have these sent to the UK because DSH offers what she calls a ‘Voile de Parfum’ format, which doesn’t contain alcohol and consequently isn’t considered dangerous to ship by air.

Le Smoking

“The Tuxedo for a woman was revolutionary and avant-garde at the time that YSL began introducing the style into his collection… Le Smoking is a gender-bending classic that’s great on both men and women.”

Described as “a sophisticated green chypre tabac fragrance” Le Smoking has a deep emerald green opening that has a little rasp to it but no bite as so many vivid green top notes do. This brightens as it opens up, becoming slightly soapy, in a good way. The heart has a spicy aspect to it, with some flowers, but there’s a green woodiness that is pure chypre and that sings like a crystal bell. I adore this heart, it’s gorgeous and wonderfully retro but modern.

It is unisex, and it certainly speaks of classic chypre fragrances to me. The base is lovely and this is one fragrance from DSH I need in a larger size. I’d like to try the eau de parfum spray to see if it’s any different from this formulation, and perhaps has more throw, as the voile de parfum stays close to the skin.

John William Waterhouse

Fou d’Opium

Not to be confused with DSH’s Euphorism d’Opium, from the Denver art exhibit mentioned above, which is a recreation of the eau de toilette strength of the famous fragrance, this is a recreation of the original Yves Saint Laurent Opium parfum extrait from the 1970s. I am a huge fan of the pre-reformulation Opium and have a significant stash, and I have to tell you – this isn’t it. This isn’t even slightly like it. I was deeply disappointed the first time I tried it so I have come back and will give you my impressions of it as a fragrance, pure and simple.

Well for starters, this one isn’t unisex, it’s definitely a feminine fragrance; in fact it’s a vavavoom sort of feminine fragrance. It has round and creamy topnotes, with something a little lush and ripe in there, possibly a rich gardenia note? It is certainly oriental, definitely retro, and possibly a little dark for mainstream tastes (this is a very


good thing to many readers, I know). There’s a funk to it that is indolic and slightly rude – I suspect Sam will have one of her eyebrow-raising responses to this, which always make me laugh. I shouldn’t wear it to work, unless you are Dita von Teese.

I couldn’t restrict myself to just two samples of course, so I shall return shortly with more delights from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.


You can buy DSH perfumes from here. 


Guest Blogger Lisa Wordbird at Your Command!

At the 4160 Tuesdays studio, on the famous swing.

Hello! Lisa Wordbird here. I’ve persuaded Sam to let me come and play, and I would love to know what you want to read about. I have a big box of samples and I’ll review things you’re interested in if I have them or I can get hold of them.

Like Sam, I’m a big fan of a bargain and I think an inexpensive perfume can be just as beautiful as something incredibly costly. Equally, I think that there are perfumes that justify a whopping pricetag. I’m a fan of artisan perfumers like Andy Tauer, Sarah McCartney and Liz Moores, and I appreciate how much goes into creating and producing their perfumes.


Equally, I recognise that some of the greatest geniuses in the fragrance industry are the ‘functional fragrance’ creators. These are the unsung heroes and heroines who produce delicious scents for shower gels, fabric softeners and shampoos on an ingredient budget of sixpence a kilo. Don’t believe me? I am eking out a Shower Crème from Lidl called Indian Summer, which is a gorgeous woody oriental. It cost less than £2 when I bought it 18 months ago.

Personally, I lean towards orientals, incense, chypres, leather and animalic fragrances. Some of the things I like make Sam say ‘Eurgh!’ and look at me as if I’ve left the house without my trousers. However, Sam likes some white flowery things that make me go ‘yikes!’ and feel like I’m a drag queen.

Some things we both love, like vintage Miss Dior. Oh, I love vintage perfumes, too. Partly this is because they can be so much cheaper on ebay, partly because things I bought years ago now count as vintage because they date back to before the IFRA made companies reformulate perfumes to reduce possible allergens. (They’ve done it a couple of times now. The IFRA are not my friends.)

So – what would you like to hear about? Vintage perfume? Scented toilet paper? My boundless love for the Yves Rocher Secrets d’Essences range? Please let me know, and I’ll do my best.


Guerlain Mitsouko: Well Who Would Have Thought It?


 Mitsouko is spoken of in revered whispers by perfume lovers. Reviews are dripping with love and awe.  It’s top of every list as a classic, as a best ever, as a masterpiece. It got to the point where I  was starting to feel a bit “Emperor’s New Clothes” about it.  Should I pretend to like it just to fit in?  It smelled like gone off old paper and lemons last time I tried it.

So what happened to change my mind and tempt me into the web of love for Mitsouko? All I can think of is that must be the weather. I last tried Mitsouko in Winter and it smelled like petrol.  It also reminded me of  Guerlain Jicky, which I still can’t love.  I was starting to think I wasn’t a proper perfume lover and all the other perfumistas would laugh at me. But no, they’re not like that for one thing, and for another thing, as I have said before, there is no right or wrong in perfume, only your personal response.

I tried some Mitsouko this morning, rather disconsolately, before writing it off as an unloved scent. It is a bright, sunny day: more demanding of a light citrus if anything. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrist. There is a delightful roughness to Mitsouko today, almost like a prickle that I often find in aldehydes or chypres. It’s probably the oakmoss. The peaches are there, which I still have a bit of a problem with, but the spices, lilac, amber, and vetiver make this a delightful, slightly raspy beauty.

It is important to remember that this was made in 1919, the year WWI ended. The lives of women were far more austere then, with a post war lack of frivolity. Their tastes were different. They had not been exposed to years of talc, soap, bleach, air freshener and the thousands of perfumes available to us today. I therefore couldn’t help noticing that what makes Mitsouko stand out is an almost total lack of sweetness or sugariness so common in  thousands of scents today. It’s as if Mitsouko could teach us a thing or two about going back to basics.

No vanilla, no blueberries, no gourmand notes (unless you count those peaches): just the spice, flowers, bergamot, oakmoss, and vetiver grass, made complex by their juxtaposition.  I prefer this when it has settled and the peaches have retreated. When that’s happened, you are left with an addictive chypre, replete with spice and a pepperiness that balances all the flowers and stops this from  being just another bouquet.

The only fragrances similar to Mitsouko are L’Heure Bleu and Jicky. However having said that, these three would have smelled very different to a woman in 1919, in the same way that in a few decades time, all our fruity flroals will smell identical to someone looking back at perfumes made from 2005 onwards.

It is said that L’Heure Bleu represented the start of the war, and Mitsouko the end.  Mitsouko is  a combination of melancholia and optimism.

Mitsouko is as essential to a scent wardrobe as a good coat is to your sartorial needs. If you like perfume at all, the Guerlain Heritage scents are a living museum of where modern scent began and it is important to try them, even if you don’t like them.