Monday, February 8, 2010


Spelled Ysatis. Pronounced ee-sah-teest. The magazine ad looked like this, in 1984:

The scent was so divine I pulled the sniffy-card, or whatever they call them, out of the magazine and kept it in a drawer for, I do believe, years. In those days I was a firm virtuous person who would never dream of spending money on the actual perfume. Besides, I was a product of the Seventies. Everybody was natural then, or scoffed at engineered feminine capitalist self-definition, or both.

Then a couple of years ago I began subscribing to Bazaar, and then to Vogue. Once again I met the perfume industry's sniffy-cards. I try them all. Last year, for my birthday, I gave myself a treat, and bought a bottle of Miss Dior. It's heavy on the orange, but delicious.

And then what with one thing and another, today I decided to buy myself an early birthday present. Why not try -- could it be possible they still make -- Ysatis?

In fact, Givenchy (jzhee-vahn-shee) still makes it. In a delightful blog maintained for three years, from October 2005 to October 2008, Scentzilla says of it:

Nothing better exemplifies the balls out, over the top glamor of the 80s than Ysatis. Ysatis was introduced by Givenchy in 1984. Ystais [sic] was created by Dominique Ropion, who went on to make a number of other perfumes for Givenchy, as well as some other rather infamously bold fragrances like Carnal Flower (F. Malle) and Angel (T. Mugler.)

This fragrance heaves thick floral notes of mandarine, orange blossom, iris, carnation, and narcissus over a fantastically fecund base. And for me, that base is the key to its charm. The combination of vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli, civet and (likely) castoreum in Ysatis is both terrible and wonderful to behold. The whole thing is smoothed over by a heady rush of vanilla and amber, creating a smokey sultry perfume overall.

"Very strong and not for everyone," she concludes. Heaven knows I can't detect all those wonderful things on my wrist, but I do find clove, possibly, and something like a memory of church incense there.

The universe of perfume is absolutely extraordinary, and that alone is a trite thing to say. Better, perhaps, to note that it's absolutely extraordinary there should even be a universe of perfume. It seems so un-Seventies, so un-earnest, when the world has such problems. But there it is. Scentzilla was not, and is not, the only one recording her passions and her knowledge. "Why would anyone collect perfumes?" she asks in her FAQs. And she answers, "Why would anyone collect CDs, movies, or those suspiciously adorable Hummel figurines? We all have different interests, and what catches the fancy of one person may not appeal to someone else." So true. When you finish learning all you can from her archives, you may go on to 1001 Fragrances, written by Paris based fragrance historian yes-there-is-such-a-thing Octavian Coifan. And then to Anya's Garden, Perfume Critic, to a makeup site brilliantly named Eyeshadow Government (complete with blunt motto, "Everyone needs makeup, especially you"), and then don't forget to stop off at Basenotes, where you'll learn -- alas, too late! -- about the Sniffapalooza fragrance, wine, and chocolate event held in New York City this past Saturday, February 6th.

These people, as a man in my house often comments when something is happening, are having way too much fun. May I, too, be a "balls out" perfume critic, just for tonight? Because you see, I have never much liked that most famous fragrance, Chanel No. 5. It strikes me as resembling Johnson's Baby Powder. Could a century of brilliant marketing account for its reputation? The current ad for it is divinely beautiful.