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Eau Libre by Yves Saint Laurent

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Unlike M7, a more recent and better-known flop from the house of Yves Saint Laurent, Eau Libre never did achieve the status of cult classic. I've had limited success finding information on Eau Libre online, which could simply be a function of the fact that it dropped in the mid-1970s and may only barely have survived the decade. I think it's a possibility that had the internet not existed, M7 might have passed quietly from the scene in similar fashion, largely forgotten. But enough about that; let's get to what I do know about Eau Libre.

Released in 1975, Eau Libre was marketed as a unisex fragrance. This was apparently no afterthought. From what I gather, perfumer Michel Hy went to the proverbial drawing board tasked with creating a scent for both men and women. The notion of a unisex perfume was not exactly new at the time; indeed, it's one that went back hundreds of years. My (limited) reading on the subject suggests that the gendering of personal fragrance was relatively unknown prior to the 20th century. Until then, by and large, perfume was perfume, and it was up to the consumer to determine whether or not a scent was a good fit. This was no longer the case by the 1950s, by which time consumers had gotten used to the idea that men were meant to smell a certain way, and women another. I say this only to point out that, in the mid-1970s, the idea of developing a fragrance for women as well as men must have seemed quite novel, even bold.

And while I wouldn't describe the scent itself as bold, I do think YSL hit the mark. Eau Libre is neither overly "pretty", nor particularly "butch". To me, it presents as a citrus Eau that has been masculinized—slightly—by adding a dollop of shaving cream.

So what happened? Again, information is hard to come by, but it seems that Eau Libre sold poorly and was discontinued after just a few years. My newest bottle has a batch code (on the box) that dates it to 1979. I found a review by someone who claims to have a bottle from 1982. When I first researched the fragrance, I got the impression that YSL pulled it very quickly. But 1975 to 1982 (or even '79, which is as late as I can personally verify) is not all that bad of a run. Of course, sales may have been dismal for much of it.

I had always wondered about the categorization of Eau Libre as a unisex fragrance. It's one thing for the public to decide, after the fact, that a particular scent reads that way. It's another for the house that created it to have made a conscious effort to develop a unisex scent and launch it as such. For example, I think Ô de Lancôme falls into the former category. Here on Basenotes, Ô de Lancôme is classified as unisex in the Fragrance Directory. I have no issue with that and enjoy wearing it myself, but I've not been able to find any evidence that Ô de Lancôme was in fact marketed as a unisex scent. But what about Eau Libre?

Well, friends, new information has come to light which may settle the question. I recently acquired another bottle of Eau Libre that came with a fascinating little artifact. It's a survey, on a postcard, soliciting feedback from Japanese consumers on this new YSL release. In Q1, consumers are asked about their general impressions of the scent and package design, and how the fragrance compares with the one they're currently using. Q2 asks the user to circle the words that the scent calls to mind (youth vs. maturity, hope vs. ennui, urban vs. rural, daytime vs. nighttime, vegetal vs. animalic, etc.). Q3 is where it gets really interesting, because it asks the user's opinion on the marketing tagline, which was, simply, "The world's first unisex fragrance." It goes on to ask whether the user has heard the word "unisex" before, and what they think when they hear the word. Space is also provided in which to comment freely on what the word brings to mind. Finally, Q4 asks what fragrances the user currently uses, and what age range the user falls into.

This bottle has no batch code that I can find, but the post card does provide a clue as to the age of the fragrance. On the reverse side of the card (just below the number 1982), I found the following:
"No postage required if mailed by 31 March 1976."
It seems to me this bottle of Eau Libre must have been produced several months prior to that date.

Have any of you had the opportunity to try Eau Libre? (Does anyone even remember it?) I quite enjoy it, but can't say I feel like any sort of gender-bending trailblazer when I wear it. As I said in a discussion in the Vintage Forum, Eau Libre strikes me as a pleasant little scent that probably never caught on, rather than some lost masterpiece. That's not to talk it down. It's a quality scent, and one I clearly think enough of to have bought a backup. Maybe it's my way of saying you're probably better off not dropping a bunch of money on a blind-buy just to acquire one of the few bottles that are available online at any given time.

Well, that's Eau Libre. I'd love to hear your comments, and if you have questions, I'll do my best to answer.
Thanks for stopping by.

Updated 6th August 2019 at 06:58 AM by roro




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