Perfume Directory

Rive Gauche (1971)
by Yves Saint Laurent

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Rive Gauche information

Year of Launch1971
GenderFeminine
AvailabilityIn Production
Average Rating
(based on 344 votes)

People and companies

HouseYves Saint Laurent
PerfumerJacques Polge
PerfumerMichael Hy
Parent CompanyL'Oréal Group > YSL Beaute
Parent Company at launchCharles of the Ritz Group

About Rive Gauche

Re-orcestrated in 2003

Rive Gauche fragrance notes

Reviews of Rive Gauche

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (1971) is claimed to be the greatest floral aldehyde perfume of all time by esteemed critic Luca Turin, and was deemed so important by Tom Ford in 2003 that he went through great pains having it reformulated by 2 perfumers (including the son of an original perfumer), in order to maintain its integrity without precious natural ingredients that could no longer be feasibly used. To place such value on a fragrance says a lot about it before ever sniffing the sprayer, so what's really happening on the original "left bank" of the late Mr. Laurent? Well for starters, this was made to christen the opening of the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique, opened on the left bank in Paris, originally being composed by both Michael Hy and a young Jacques Polge back when Parfums Chanel was still under stewardship of Henri Robert. Indeed, while Robert was making the final signature perfume for Gabrielle Coco Chanel in the form of Chanel No. 19 (1971), Polge & Hy were creating this "griffe" masterpiece for YSL, meant to be an eye-catching accessory to the "prêt-à-porter" collection of the same name aimed at young women. Today, the cold and metallic aldehydes and dry soapiness of Rive Gauche come across old-fashioned and grandma-ish to the noses of women used to sweet "fruitchouli" and watercolor fruity floral perfumes, but back in 1971 when this was released to the public (a year after being exclusive to the Paris boutique), this was a daringly youthful perfume in strict contrast to the powdery florals, green leathers, or thick oriental patchouli fragrances worn by gals in the 40's, 50's, and early 60's.

In a way, this was a continuation of what Yves Saint Laurent started with Y (1964), infusing inspiration from Paco Rabanne Calandre (1969) and Fidji by Guy Laroche (1966) before it. Also, if we want to include the blue collar perfume champions Avon in the conversation, we can say Charisma (1970) also presaged this by some degree, with a similar soapy aldehyde rose countenance, just minus the coldness and adding some civet musk. The introduction to Rive Gauche is really just ravishing grimness in the form of those freezing aldehydes, like an iced peach lactone with stiff bergamot sprayed from an upside-down air duster. Green galbanum leads the way into rose and jasmine savon with muguet, musky indolic ylang-ylang, and cool orris. Fans of cold iris perfumes such as Lutens Iris Silver Mist (1994) owe existence of such perfumes to Rive Gauche. The base comes on with a plonk of quality Mysore in vintage, but something else taking up the slack of the missing precious wood in 2003 bottles and beyond, but the difference is less exaggerated than lovers of the vintage would extol, although I understand they'll see differences thrice as much. Lighter woody aromachemicals do leave other notes to come up more in the modern version, but they're also there in vintage, just squished down a bit by the sandalwood. These include oakmoss (or evernyl in modern), a sliver of tonka, vetiver, and a dry amber. Rive Gauche wears very clean, and very "chypre", lasting for hours on skin with a slight bitterness and late-stage powdery "boss Bitch" feel that makes this perfect for the Miranda Priestly in everyone. Best use is work, social events, and day wear through all but the winter months.

I'd personally call something this cold and sharp unisex, but like with younger women, a lot of younger guys are going to wrinkle their nose at the total lack of sweetness and roundness this perfume presents. Even when Tom Ford had Daniela Andrier and Jacques Hy (son of Michael) extensively "repair" this in reformulation, he knew that the life of Rive Gauche depended on offering more modern options, releasing a Rive Gauche Light (2003) to accompany the re-launch, and even added a male counterpart simply called Rive Gauche pour Homme (2003). Since Opium pour Homme (1995) came 18 years late, he didn't see any problem with introducing Rive Gauche pour Homme 32 years late either, and evidently YSL would make a men's Y a whopping 53 years late too, so it's just something with Yves Saint Laurent perfumes anyway. Rive Gauche pour Homme would smell like luxury shave foam in a can, which I guess fits the aesthetic more than the original Rive Gauche, even if the point of the metal can in the first place was to express modernity and the then-futuristic "cold" metallic nature of the fragrance. All told, Rive Gauche was the opposite of the raunchy virile "liberated" perfumes postwar housewives wanted, representing a different kind of independence as their daughters, who were entering college and the workplace in record number, wished to express. What's old was new again and another wave of heavily aldehyde-based perfumes would dominate into the 70's and 80's thanks to fragrances like Rive Gauche, just with emphasis on humorless and massively green overtones, tomboyish enough for men decades later to flirt with wearing. Left bank or left-hand path? You decide. Thumbs up.
17th January, 2021
In 1971, the same year that Rive Gauche was launched, Yves Saint Laurent released what is now called la collection scandale. The designer looked to the war years for inspiration, the time when France was occupied by the Nazis. This scandalised the French press and his Quarante collection (of Forties fashion) was severely criticised.

Not withstanding, the forties look made it onto the streets - where fashion was still typically flares, A line dresses and loose, hippy kind of things. By contrast, Saint Laurent's square shouldered jackets, cinched waists and high heels had a very different, tailored, buttoned up look.

And, just as wearers still do today, YSL backed his clothes with a matching scent. So, not only did his couture break the Carnaby Street / Biba mould, his new perfume did the same thing with the patchouli soaked pongs of the time. Rive Gauche was a volte-face. A crisp, tailored perfume that drew on wartime classics like Bandit, Miss Dior and Coty's Muguet des Bois; aldehydics to a woman.

Like Bandit and Miss Dior, Rive Gauche is dark. It's centred on a deep floral; an abstract bouquet, occluded with thick layers of musk and topped with dusty powder. This sweetens the composition (though not too much, in fact it's very dry) but there is just enough to soften what could otherwise become too hard. Even so, it feels like a black lacquered box with a floral design.

And then, there comes the masterstroke; a cherry-red fruity note, largely hidden but shining out in sillage. Suddenly, what was in danger of becoming too Lady Bracknell takes on the liquid sheen of Ma Griffe, a green aldehydic, the first so called teen scent (1946).

For a while, Rive Gauche runs the tightrope of elegant chic; repression on the right side, gaîté on the left. But it falls into neither, and as time goes on it sees a rapprochement with patchouli, amber and biscuity musk; an earthy Café hum, a tired green bouquet, the press of warm bodies.


There was an aldehyde revival in 1977, a boom that lasted for the best part of the eighties, but Rive Gauche appeared long before that. This masterpiece by Jacques Polge was very much an original and - like la collection scandale - not part of a trend. In fact, it's tempting to see it as one of the embers that blazed up - just as Punk Rock came to town.

After No5, Rive Gauche set the aldehyde bar so high, few have come close to it, before or since.

*****

Vintage, stoppered vial, 3.5ml, box with paper insert

13th November, 2020
This smells much like a stereotyped powdery vintage floral mix, with predominant rose and lemongrass opening that goes towards metallic aldehydes and soap with time.
I’d like to sample the original version and understand what makes it special, even if I find it beautiful now.
Adding: why am I hating the bottle so much?
27th October, 2018
In the early '80s I was a dedicated wearer of YSL's "Y", but one sniff of Rive Gauche and I remember how prominent it was at the perfume counters and on my friends. And this is in that same green citrusy rose family as YSL's "Y", but with a much bigger rose. This is the scent that Don Draper's second wife would have worn, with her French-Bohemian chic and her batwing Pucci dresses.

I'm getting a Parisian-soap sense from this, and finding it captivating, even though I usually dislike soapiness. There's something so retro about this soap lifted by aldehydes, kind of like original Ivoire. This is also making me recall Rabanne's "Calandre", another great favorite of mine in this era, with its soap-and-metal accord. It's interesting that so many reviewers can't detect the rose here; to me it's large, and I sense none of the other florals some describe. There's nothing sweet about the floral aspect, in fact it's rather spiky. I can picture this fitting right in with the Le Smoking era of androgynous Saint Laurent fashions, even though I'd only ever associated "Y" with those images at the time. In fact, this current version would make a great casual office scent for a man today.

What I'm sniffing is a contemporary version, and Turin gives pretty high marks to the 2003 renovation of this scent, which I presume this is, but I'd still like to experience that resinous quality that he says gave the older stuff a darker background. And other accounts note that there was a sizeable plonk of sandalwood in the vintage aluminum can version.

Sadly, the two sprays I applied had almost vanished after 90 minutes. I'm going to reapply just to experience that green citrus/rose again and to see if I can find any oakmoss in the drydown. But I already know I'm going to add this to my vintage hunting list, and I regret not giving this scent more attention in its heyday.
20th November, 2017
Mid-1980s edt: This is a nice, wearable floral, perfectly unisex. It smells like it uses high-quality ingredients that are no longer available or no longer used, and that give it an effortless refinement.
19th March, 2017
I had this in the late ‘80’s, and loved it. It was a fabulous scent that was reformulated and, in my opinion, ruined when I came across it years later. I remember feeling very sophisticated and "grown-up" when I bought it. I was lucky enough to receive a sample of the ‘86 stuff (thanks purecaramel!) and it was wonderful to try it again. After three hours of wear, I was enveloped in a lovely, soft veil of creamy jasmine and gardenia, with a touch of powder. There was also a very faint indolic note – not enough to ruin it, in fact it just made it more intriguing. The bergamot and the green notes add just the right amount of tang, which stops this from being too powdery sweet. I don’t get much of the peach, but I do get a bit of the rose. One of our students came in to my office today and straight away said “oh, you smell soooo good!”, so the sillage is obviously good. I seem to remember this being a bit spicier on me way back when though, but ugh, I’m so old now that it could just be my memory playing tricks on me ;) This is a good one, and the staying power is right up there – 11 hours and still going and still lovely. Apparently it has been reformulated again – is that true? Has it improved from its first re-formulation? Would love to hear your thoughts.
06th September, 2016

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