Vintages The 1970s Fresh Scents, Part 1: YSL Eau Libre

The 1970s Fresh Scents, Part 1: YSL Eau Libre

07/20/15 16:43:24 (15 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

For a unisex fragrance meant to embody the fresh liberty of the spirit, as attested by its name, comparison with today's standards on a similar concept is fascinating. The trending vision of a "refreshing" lifestyle fragrance is far removed from the world of the 1970s when Eau Libre first came on the stage (1975) only to be shortly eclipsed by other fragrant releases by that magician couturier, Yves Saint Laurent.

To wit: Smell bestseller Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana (the women's version, which could be equally worn by men as well, would do) and consider its character: sweetly "clean" and with a sharp tang that aims at catching the sinuses. And even though it is meant to be used as a dry skin veil (the Med's idea of groomed, where humid is abhorred) it still recalls a lemon sorbet!

In comparison fresh scents of the 1970s, such as Diorella or Eau Sauvage (both by Dior) will strike you as totally abstract with no naturalistic depiction proclivities, intense and complex, like a green cocktail whetting your appetite by its very magical appearance.

The green juice inside the bottle of Eau Libre smells dry, intensely so in fact like bitters. There are no syrupy fruity notes but only citrus resinous ones as those of the rind instead of the juice. It's also quite aromatic and with a bitter note reminiscent of galbanum. Eau Libre, clear and unbridled, takes flight into the wilder arpeggios of freshness. It's the freshness of meadows and undergrowth instead of the fabric softener emanating from the washing machine. Today citrus colognes still signal "clean" but their load owes a heavy debt to the laundry atmosphere of musks more than to grassy vetiver (khus) and its traditionally cooling aura.

YVES SAINT LAURENT

EAU LIBRE

Year of release: 1975

Notes: aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, petitgrain, hedione, cedar, vetiver and musk.

The structure of the traditional Eau de Cologne demands a certain balance of cooling tangy hesperides with the bitterish tinge of herbs; the medicinal side of one is balanced by the edible juicier side of the other, while both mesh in the middle where their respective non-edible facets overlap. The herbal aspect is the "aromatic" part of the equation. The total is traditionally anchored by musk tincture. The latter is replaced in the 20th century with a careful and restrained dosage of synthetic musks plus woody notes such as a bit of sandalwood or Vertofix to make the by nature volatile top notes not evaporate into thin air immediately.

Still, the classic Eau de Cologne is meant to be incadescent and ephemeral; to be refreshed all along the day. The 1970s fragrances tried to bypass that latter characteristic by offering a twist into the classical cologne of ther 18th and 19th century; a challenge that is still relevant nowadays when niche fragrance brands such as Biehl (trying with white musk, to bring but one example) continue the search for that perfect "last touch of grooming preparation" olfactory product. Historically speaking, no one did it quite so well as Edmond Roudnitska for Christian Dior with his somewhat chypre leaning compositions (namely Eau Sauvage and Diorella, both perfect in a heatwave). But feeling Eau Libre and seeing its cool-toned emerald hue makes me think that this unknown contestant is just as nice; just as perfect for warm weather.

The progression from citrus into the more mossy earthy elements is quite speedy in Eau Libre by Yves Saint Laurent. Contrary to modern colognes that take their time to establish the synthetically enhanced citrus notes before sinking into an indelible loop of scrubbed musk the depths of Eau Libre seem to appear almost immediately under the effdrvescent affluence of soapy hesperides (no doubt thanks to aldehydes); like a lining that's beginning to show at the point of overstretched seams, it hints at what's beneath.


The ads for Eau Libre were revolutionary for the times; long before CK One made it safe for fragrance designer brands to champion social activism by representing majorities and minorities "as one." Top model Marie Helvin and a beautiful black guy  I can't quite place displayed a languorous attitude, leaning back to back with their eyes closed in sensuous rapture. A very French view of fragrance image that must be the antithesis of "dynamic" as attested by the American-generated images of similar concept scents of the "go-getter." Just look at Charlie, the first "lifestyle" fragrance of the 1970s showing Shelley Hack striding in pants. Eau Libre is clearly a different breed.

We will continue with more scents of the 1970s in this category. Stay tuned!
 

Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests.

Her writing was recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she contributes to publications around the world.

 



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rickyrebarco
rickyrebarco

I remember the super green scents of the 70s. My signature then was Estee Lauder, the original Aliage, I loved it!

Mar
26
2016
Ambergris Intoxication
Ambergris Intoxication

Old Spice Burley should be added to the database! citrus, woody, spicy, aromatic! MANLY!

Sep
15
2015
funnyboy
funnyboy

Have just found this article about the great Eau Libre.
It was one of my favourites back in the 70's when as a teen I first found my love of perfume.
There is nothing to compare these days and it did have fabulous lasting power.
Has anyone got any idea how the vintage bottles smell these days as When one appears for sale I have big doubts about purchasing a cologne of this age that could have turned.especially as it wouldn't be a cheap buy??

Aug
24
2015
Tapinview
Tapinview

Just want to say I love your writing Ms Elena!
And Diorella, what a towering masterpiece! I fall in love with myself when I wear the (vintage) perfume :):):)

Unfortuneately I havnt smelled this vintage beauty of which you write... I dare say it never reached the shores of Australia......

Aug
16
2015
curlykitty8
curlykitty8

This is a fascinating subject because the fragrances of the seventies truly reflected the changing times where women were pursuing all facets of liberation and equality.
As a loyal fan of anything citrus and unisex, what an enjoyable stroll down Memory Lane!
Thank you for this blast from the past. We've come a long way, baby!

Aug
14
2015
ChaiLatte2009
ChaiLatte2009

I love this AD.

Jul
21
2015
Mr Cornells
Mr Cornells

Touché! Ms. Vosnaki! Touché!

Jul
21
2015
drugstore classics
drugstore classics

Thank you, Elena, for this extremely well written article about 70's scents, a favorite genre of mine. And a SERIES of articles? The only thing better than your writing is knowing there is more to come! <3 <3 <3

Jul
21
2015
Henriette
Henriette

Yes, Eau de Lanvin was truly unisex but as far as I can remember it was more of an Eau Fraiche than marketed as unisex.
In the '30es unisex was not a concept widely accepted in perfumes and elsewhere.
The very first unisex fragrance targeted as such is indeed Eau Libre which complemented the unisex fashion creations by YSL (the tuxedo suit for women, the sahariana jacket and a few other iconic clothes which have become a classic ever since).
BTW: the first Eau de Lanvin from 1933 and the newer version have nothing in common apart the name.

Jul
21
2015
passionata20
passionata20

I have read that actually Lanvin launched one of the first unisex fragrances cslled "Eau Lanvin", first lsunched in 30's and relaunched in 70's. Can anyone confirm? Thank you.)

Jul
21
2015
Henriette
Henriette

Thanks Elena for your excellent article.
The striking thing about Eau Libre was its exceptional staying power. It lingered all day on skin, unlike the usual refreshing eau de colognes or eau fraiches.
It had a mossy, resinous heart that rendered Eau Libre more than just a refreshing cologne.
Another amazing quality was its being masculine on men and feminine on women.
I have often wondered why it was discontinued with such a haste; after all it was a beautiful complement to a line with the modern Rive Gauche, the classy Y and the opulent Opium.
I would love to know the nose who created it, a genius for sure, behind another genius named Yves.

Jul
20
2015
ysatis
ysatis

A lot of thanks for reminding me this beautiful era (belle epoque) of fragrance making. It's a good nail into the new but not modern synthetic cheap mixtures in luxury flacons. And yes, the image not included naked people but it so handsome and nice.

Jul
20
2015
Indigo Perfumery
Indigo Perfumery

Don't forget Geminesse by Max Factor, although it probably would not be considered "fresh."

Jul
20
2015
ezequiel91
ezequiel91

Excellent, Elena. Very interesting subject. Keep on this!!!

Jul
20
2015
NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

Very excited for this series, Elena. I love the scents of the 1970s! :-)

Jul
20
2015

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