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Natural Perfumes Celebrate Iconic Fashion Muse

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Fashionistas are flocking to the Denver Art Museum to see the only North American showing of the Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective, ongoing through July 8. The exhibit chronicles YSL career from his years at Dior to his finale in 2002. Natural perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has collaborated with the museum to create a series of six original fragrances that each reflect a moment in the designer's career. When I was in Denver last week, I caught up with Dawn to see the show and talk about her scentsation.

How did this collaboration come about?I've worked with Denver Art Museum before—I lead in "pairing events," where I take a group through a show and explain how each perfume corresponds, then the fragrances are sold in the museum store. This is our latest collaboration.

How did you come up with scents that reflect these specific moments in fashion history?Each perfume in the YSL collection is not only inspired by the time and place, but by trends in perfume history and a specific garment in the show. So, for example, in the "Ligne Trapeze" perfume from 1958, I was drawing from the fact that YSL was still at Dior and a kind of cool, haughty, elegant French aesthetic shows up in fashion and perfumes of the period. This aesthetic manifested in perfumes in the form of orris, violet, muguet, and aldehydic styles with typical animalic lingering scents.  I then chose the sparking gem encrusted silk dress from the Ligne Trapeze collection to be further inspired by in my perfume; I wanted to express a sense of sparkle and yet a gauzy, silken texture and a real sense of coolness.

Animalic scents?! What does that mean? Animalic notes smell like it sounds: like animals... and some would say, in their undiluted form, rather like sweaty skin/urine-like/fecal tonalities. This may sound gross but animalic notes add richness, sensuality/sexuality, and fixation to perfumes. It's very common in classic and retro perfumes to have a dominant 'animal' note in the drydown. This was mandatory to add a sex appeal that modern perfumes just don't have.

Are these fragrances all natural? These designs are mixed media; so I used a very high proportion of naturals but they are not exclusively natural. There is no way to express a "designer perfume" aesthetic wholeheartedly using only natural essences so in order to create the most authentic to the time and place as well as a designer perfume ethos, I had to utilize some synthetic components.

Colorado, high fashion, natural perfumes—this isn't a combination that usually goes together. You're right... but for me it fits together in a very postmodern way: I can be inspired by Paris and fashion, be thinking about perfume aesthetics from any era while sitting in my Colorado studio designing. It all happens in the imagination.

What perfume is your favorite? Le Smoking. I love the gender-bending qualities in the materials and I am still very enamored of the retro vibe of the green-chypre meets tabac/marijuana cigarette.  It's very sexy, I think.

Do you anticipate doing more collaborations like this? Oh, yes. The delight is in being inspired by one art form and working with the abstract concepts to translate it into the aromatic art form.  I don't think I will ever tire of this type of creative challenge.

About the collection:

The Collection starts at YSL’s beginning at Dior and his first triumph, the Ligne Trapeze, a cool and sophisticated violet-aldehydic perfume with a warm, animalic drydown.

Next The Beat Look, referencing the Americanization of French culture during the late ‘50’s and taking inspiration from YSL’s first perfume launch “Y”. The Beat Look is an aldehydic-fruity-floral-chypre.

Le Smoking, speaks to the start of an ongoing theme in YSL’s work (the women’s tuxedo) and the women’s liberation movement of the 1970’s. Le Smoking is a green-chypre-tabac fragrance with incense and hints of marijuana cigarette.

Euphorisme d’Opium takes many of it’s cues from the now discontinued original design of YSL’s landmark fragrance “Opium”, a spicy-narcotic-oriental perfume.

The 1980’s are reflected with La Vie en Rose, a sparkling rose-violet perfume modeled on YSL’s 1983 launch of “Paris” perfume and his unmistakable “Paris Bow” gown.

Lastly, a floral-floral, linden blossom and wisteria creation befitting the icon that YSL became called Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour, which was inspired by a radiant floral silk evening coat found in the retrospective show.

To learn more about natural perfumes, click here.

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