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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 (it's an old postcard). 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 well 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 20th May 2020 at 07:36 AM by roro

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  1. Cook.bot's Avatar
    I love finding these bits of paper ephemera tucked into an old perfume.

    Here's a question, non-scent related: since there's no Western text at all on the postcard, why do you think they used Western numerals all over it?
  2. roro's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Cook.bot
    I love finding these bits of paper ephemera tucked into an old perfume.

    Here's a question, non-scent related: since there's no Western text at all on the postcard, why do you think they used Western numerals all over it?

    I do, too. The little strips of paper that come with some vintage perfumes (e.g. Patous) are always a nice find.
    This postcard cleared up something I'd long wondered about Eau Libre, which made it especially cool.

    I'm not sure why, but Western numerals are used far more often today for just about everything. Does it look odd to you? I guess kanji characters are still more commonly used for ordinals.

    You may have noticed that the number 1976 does not appear on the card. That's because they used the traditional year designation 昭和51年, which is Shōwa 51, or the 51st year of the reign of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito).
  3. Cook.bot's Avatar
    It seems like almost all my bottles of vintage "Y" have come with little pamphlets. Love that. And then there's Eau d'Hermes, and the adorable tiny book that came with the coppertops.

    If the traditional Japanese numbering of years meant that you had to memorize the begin dates of emperors' reigns and then calculate forward from that, then I can understand the switch to Western numbers!
  4. roro's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Cook.bot
    It seems like almost all my bottles of vintage "Y" have come with little pamphlets. Love that. And then there's Eau d'Hermes, and the adorable tiny book that came with the coppertops.
    None of my bottles of Y have come with pamphlets. And what's this about an Eau d'Hermes book? Maybe you did a show-and-tell in the forums, but I can't find the post now.

    If the traditional Japanese numbering of years meant that you had to memorize the begin dates of emperors' reigns and then calculate forward from that, then I can understand the switch to Western numbers!
    The only era I have any kind of handle on is Showa, because I know the year I was born and can calculate forward or backward from there.

    I do see addresses and even phone numbers written using all Japanese characters from time to time, but it strikes me as a bit precious in this day and age. But what do I know? I'm a gaijin.

    五八二ー四四九七
    vs.
    582-4497

    It's probably the simplicity of Western numerals that explains their prevalence. All can be written by hand without lifting the pen (although some do for 1, 5 and 7). Also when typing, the Western numerals have dedicated keys, and have since the days of the typewriter. But even on a computer, it takes some doing to get Japanese numerals to output.

    That's my theory, anyway.
  5. Cook.bot's Avatar
    And what's this about an Eau d'Hermes book? Maybe you did a show-and-tell in the forums, but I can't find the post now.
    No, I don't think I ever did. And it's too tiny to scan or photograph, barely bigger than my thumbnail. Let me see if I can find an online image of it. It's very cute.
  6. roro's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Cook.bot
    No, I don't think I ever did. And it's too tiny to scan or photograph, barely bigger than my thumbnail. Let me see if I can find an online image of it. It's very cute.
    It must have been something -- or someone -- else. I do seem to remember a post you made along those lines. . . ah, I remember what it was. And I have a hazy picture of the images in my mind. Tissue paper was involved. Some samples with unusual packaging, maybe? Sorry to be so vague.

    That Hermes booklet sounds very interesting. I've never seen anything like you describe.

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