2/22/13

Rive Gauche Pour Homme (Yves Saint Laurent)


Bleu Sans Titre RP 6 by Yves Klein

I can just imagine the briefing process for Rive Gauche Pour Homme. There, in a corporate board room, sits Tom Ford, a few other corporate big shots, and Jacques Cavallier. The memo: "Assemble a fresh aromatic fougère in a retro-barbershop style, reminiscent of Barbasol shaving foam. Incorporate elements from every major player in this genre since 1970 - Paco Rabanne, Azzaro Pour Homme, Kouros, Drakkar Noir, Cool Water, but have the final product feel smooth and polished, a hologram of all-American post-shave ablutions seen through a new lens. And don't forget to take a number." I wonder how many numbers there were on Ford's shortlist of desirable noses for this assignment, but can only think that Cavallier was on tap from the get-go (he did Opium PH, after all), with mere back-ups waiting in the wings in the unlikely event that he come up short. I feel RGPH has a message for its wearer. Something about it whispers "agenda scent," a perfume with a mission to recapture memories of past wet-shaving glories in an innovative way, which many men seem to think it accomplished. This is a widely-loved fougère, second only to Azzaro PH.

The beautiful thing about Rive Gauche PH is that it is fairly new; it turned ten this year. Wearing it is a lesson in postmodern compositional form, a design so streamlined and turtle-waxed, it takes the fun right out of note dissection while smelling it. I say this of few fragrances, but there's really no point in breaking things down here. Yes, it's an aromatic fougère, and yes, it contains all the usual suspects - bergamot, lavender, coumarin, musk, all pleasantly trimmed with heady rosemary and star anise notes, - but the only way to describe this fragrance is to ascribe color to it: Rive Gauche PH smells blue. And not just any blue - it is the ultimate olfactory expression of that deep, crisp, ambiguously violet-like blue invented by the artist Yves Klein, a shade appropriately named after him. From the outset, RGPH adopts a very dry, clean, austere tone, presenting a fresh haze of powdery morning air. It's truly sublime.


The not-so beautiful thing(s) about Rive Gauche is that it is (a) discontinued, and (b) derivative. The first issue is simply a matter of commercial folly, which could be rectified in the future if people put up enough of a fuss. The black and brown can has been replaced by a L'Oreal "La Collection" remix, which word of mouth says is not nearly as good as the original. Having noted L'Oreal's handling of Kouros, I have a few different emotions about their treatment of RGPH. In a way, I have doubts that it's all that bad, because Kouros is an easy formula to fuck up, and yet it still smells good. So how badly could they have treated Cavallier's formula? It's scarier than the Kouros situation because the fragrance has been dramatically repackaged and segregated into an exclusive line, exactly where it doesn't belong. But I'll suspend judgment until I try it. So far, I'm happy with the old version, and even happier to see it's still widely available online for not much money. I only paid $37 for my bottle.

The second issue is more complicated. While it smells fantastic, fresh, dry, a bit dark and dusty, there are disturbing moments in its opening and drydown where other aromatic fougères of yesteryear appear and then recede back into the fog. It's like catching glimpses of familiar faces in a dense crowd in Times Square on New Year's Eve, and having every effort to walk over to them hindered by that shoulder-to-shoulder scenario. In the opening I catch sight of Drakkar Noir and Azzaro Pour Homme, after which there are a few moments of Rive Gauche, and then there's Azzaro and Cool Water, then a slate-grey coumarin accord (more RG again), and hey, Paco Rabanne, is that you? And was that Brut beside you? This happens on an endless loop, and it's both interesting and distracting. But the overall impression this EDT generates is one of cool, herbal freshness, lavender couched in the masculine tradition of soapy patchouli, woods, and musks. Despite all the obvious nods to its progenitors, it's original enough to stand on its own, and beautiful enough to overlook its referential nature. Familiarity, in this case, definitely does not breed contempt.












6 comments:

  1. Great post. I'm not a big cheese in the fragrance community, but I've tried the new version of RGPH (just a couple of sprays to the back of a hand, admittedly) and... I think it holds up pretty well. I'm not saying there's no difference, it might be a bit thinner, but I'd be hard pressed to pin down anything too drastic.

    For me the real problem is that you're being asked to pay quite a bit more money for slightly less than two thirds the quantity. I know we're in a time of inflation and growing costs, but it feels like YSL is taking the piss. It's not like they're even sinking money inro seriously promoting the stuff. In most of the YSL concessions where I've seen it, it's tucked away in the back, presumably for fear that it might draw people's attention away from L'Homme and co.

    I think it's an extremely elegant fragrance. At the risk of stealing Luca Turin's black suit analogy, to me it says Tom Ford in a black suit rather better than Tom Ford for Men does.

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    1. I agree, RGPH is way more black suit-worthy than TFFM. And I like TFFM a lot. But to me, YSL's style somehow feels a little more classical and elegant than most of the competition.

      That's interesting too about the new version of this fragrance. Good to hear that it's not vastly different as people are complaining it is . . . better a minor tweak than a major overhaul. But the new pricing is confusing. I'm not really sure what the thinking is with that. Seems counter-productive, like a deliberate attempt to hurt sales. Why bother with the new version for that much more money when you can still get the old one on the cheap?

      BTW - try not to become a big cheese in this community, or any community. We need fewer cheeseballs, and you sound like a straight-shooter. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. In terms of getting RGPH on the cheap, I suspect that situation won't persist much longer. Or at least stocks seem to be thinning out in the UK. The main British discount site is out of the old 4oz bottles, the prices fetched on ebay seem to be creeping up and the prices on British Amazon also seem to be ticking upwards. Having had a look on Basenotes I get the sense that there's a general impression that we're approaching the point where the 4oz bottles are getting thin on the ground, so there may be a bit of a rush on. Certainly I'm thinking of getting at least one backup bottle fairly soon.

    I like TFFM but, like the rest of the Tom Ford range that I've tried so far, it doesn't excite me enough to make me want to spend the money. If the price point was a bit lower, maybe. It feels to me like RGPH and TFFM are maybe moving towards the same ground from different directions. RGPH takes an old-school style that has fallen out of favour and modernises it somewhat, nudging it back within the sphere of contemporary mainstream acceptability. TFFM feels more like a fragrance that is naturally aligned with contemporary youthful tastes, but handled in a way that raises the level of quality and interest above when might normally be expected. For me RGPH is the more successful, but that's probably a combination of a) personal taste and b) significantly more attractive pricing.

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    1. The difference between RGPH and TFFM is more a case of genre to my nose. Where RG is a light aromatic fougere, TFFM is a fresh oriental in an unusual, early 1990s style, reminiscent of things like Red for Men and Baldessarini. I think the audience for TFFM is actually a little narrower than for RGPH because today's teenage and early twenty-something guy gravitates towards Sephora-grade ozonic-aquatic compositions, and TFFM is a very different woody-spicy approach to that idea, to the point where it really doesn't cowtail to that kind of demographic. RGPH, on the other hand, is very fresh and "blue" in its scent profile, but at the same time it's an assembly of classic aromatic ferns like Drakkar and Azzaro. Guys in their upper twenties, thirties, and forties, and even fifties are still wearing things like that. So it's a bit of a mystery to me why L'Oreal and YSL have opted to discontinue the original and replace it with a more-expensive variant. But there's no accounting for taste I guess, even that of the manufacturer. I just hope they're trying to make room for something even better. I won't be devastated when RGPH disappears, but it'll be very disappointing for me nevertheless.

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  3. Hello!

    Although, after all these years, you might already have come across it (or studied the differences yourselves), here is a great comparison of not only the old and new RG, but all reformulations of Tom Ford's YSL Creations, and it might give another persective: http://raidersofthelostscent.blogspot.se/2015/09/yves-saint-laurent-la-collection-side.html

    I myself own the "La Collection" and think it is absolutely lovely. Bought it immediately after my first try at an airport, which was just a couple of months ago. Prior to that I had no idea that it even existed, although I know that I had seen the botte of the original RG (pour femme) on some occasion. Now this was both lucky and unlucky at the same time. Lucky because I encountered such a beautiful fragrance, which afterwards has inspired me to explore other classic fougeres to which this scent is clearly a romantic tribute. In a way it has made me revisit and awaken the faint memories of childhood (I was born in the early nineties). For instance, I recently ordered Azzaro PH, and I haven't even consciously smelled it.

    The unlucky part is that I, at the time, didn't know that this in fact was a re-launched version, which means I missed out on the opportunity to buy the older one for a much cheaper price. You know, there is nothing quite like impulsive purchases to give you a rush. Then again, as the author of the article in the link mentions, the difference -- although minimal -- might be an improvement. The fact that "La Collection" has lost the anise element to become slightly warmer/rounder, I see as a way to distinguish itself from its forefathers, potentially losing that "derivative" stamp but simultaneously becoming easier to digest for the contemporary audience (not that I care, but anyhow).

    By the way, I would like to say that I enjoy reading this blog a lot. It is both comforting and striking to see someone devote this amount of time to the subject of fragrance. I hope you will continue!

    Greetings, Drilon

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    1. Congratulations on your La Collection bottle! Even though it is not the original formula, it is still a masterpiece and worth wearing and enjoying. There is often a lot of denigration of reformulated and repackaged classics, but just as often these criticisms are unwarranted, so fear not and enjoy! And thank you for sharing and reading my blog!

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