jeudi 29 septembre 2011

Yves Saint Laurent Saharienne: How not to mine a brand's DNA

(Pour la version française, cliquez ici.)
Ever since Karl Lagerfeld resurrected the zombie house of Chanel in 1983 by systematically exploiting the emblems of Chanelitude, fashion houses have been scrambling to apply the lesson to their own brands: luxury as post-modern combination of sampling and semiotics.
Arguably, the process had already been going on at Yves Saint Laurent for quite some time before the ailing couturier’s retirement, as his team heroically maintained his standards by drawing on the language he had invented (there is a fine line between reworking one’s own ideas and recycling them; between self-awareness and self-parody).
In a way, you could say that Yves Saint Laurent had already, symbolically turned his back on his years as fashion’s enfant terrible when he launched a fragrance called Paris, based on the romantic-nostalgic rose, whose face was Lucy de la Falaise (a second-generation Saint Laurent muse) posing with a straw boater in front of the most iconic of Parisian monuments. It was as though Saint Laurent has ratified his own status as a historical monument; erected his own cenotaph. Nevertheless, Paris and Champagne/Yvresse were fragrances with as strong a character as Rive Gauche and Opium, and however fragile the couturier was, his line of perfumes expressed a robust vision. Someone, at Sanofi (then owner of the licence) clearly knew how to smell (but then, 1993, when Champagne/Yvresse was launched, is practically prehistory in the perfume industry).

Today, while Stefano Pilati “revisits the codes” for YSL Rive Gauche, YSL Beauté, owned by L’Oréal since 2008, is applying the cosmetics behemoth’s steamrolling marketing strategies to a brand whose turnover it aims to double in the next five years, namely by re-launching its skincare line (something L’Oréal has peerless expertise in) with a strong focus on Asian markets.
Clearly, but not unsurprisingly, L’Oréal’s major push has been on advertising rather than on the juices. Of the last three feminine launches, Parisienne (which did well) and Belle d’Opium (which apparently didn’t) both capitalized on the brand’s two strongest “franchises” with lavish campaigns. Pity all the life has been sucked out of the juices.
Now, with last summer’s Saharienne, YSL Parfums tries to pull a Lagerfeld by naming a scent after one of the mainstays of the Saint Laurent canon, the safari jacket he introduced in 1968, making it the first “legacy exploitation” fragrance of the house with no olfactory point of reference.
The ad’s model sports the wild mane and sooty eyes of Veruschka von Lehndorff in Franco Rubartelli’s iconic Vogue photograph, though thankfully not the actual jacket, which would have been overkill. But that’s as far as any relationship between the fragrance and the name goes.
Who, at L’Oréal, imagined that this soapy-clean, hairspray-on-citrus accord could have anything to do with the Sahara, or a desert of any description, or, for that matter, with any Yves Saint Laurent perfume? It might as well have been composed for Armani (Renaud de Lesquen, the president of YSL Beauté transferred over from there). Perhaps it was: at L’Oréal, scent submissions are put in a basket from which any brand can retrieve them. And perhaps it did start out in the lab as a genuinely interesting, “burning” variation on cologne: as it is, the juice is so fleeting it couldn’t raise a blister, or even a blush.
Who, in the corporate offices, still knows how to smell, and trusts his/her judgment enough, to deliver drama in scent rather that relying exclusively on gorgeous ads and exciting new faces to front the product? Mining a brand’s DNA can be a sterile exercise if there is no vision to make its genetic code evolve.

13 commentaires:

  1. It is truly an awful perfume. So what is the connection between a desire to capture the Asian market and perfumes that smell like laundry/bathroom products? Is that what the Chinese actually want to wear? Is that what Westerners think they want to wear? Or what large corporations think they can get away with? And do you think FK's Aqua Universalis Forte was a bit of a lampoon of this trend? I just tried it and it's so over-the-top laundry, I started laughing.

  2. Marla, I don't think that particular scent is expressly designed for the Chinese market. I was mentioning the strategy because the focus seems to be to grow the cosmetics and haircare market there. From what I gather, there isn't much of a personal fragrance culture in China so people go for the big names in luxury.
    And, no, I don't think Francis K. was lampooning: he may have been thinking "you want a clean laundry scent? I'll give you the best there is." It's actually quite lovely and very delicately constructed.

  3. I agree about Universalis, it's like the what they use for laundry on Mt. Olympus!

  4. Your final paragraph says it all.
    -- Gretchen

  5. Thanks very much for the engrossing contextualisation... and yes, Saharienne is another bad joke, from start to fin... well, no, I can't say 'finish', because, as you point out, it fizzles away in the most pathetic (or bathetic?) way imaginable.

    The writing's on the wall, and it doesn't contain the letters L, Y or S.

  6. Gretchen, Olfacta, Persolaise... Yup, it's a bit maddening to see such a gorgeous heritage fizzle out. I'm certainly not laying any blame on the perfumers (in fact not even naming them) since they must do what the clients want with huge budgets like these.

  7. While I've loved & applauded what Pilati has done with the clothes (despite his rumored troubles with the PTB), I have not even bothered to sniff a single one of the fragrances. Too demoralizing. I mean, the very idea of "Belle d'Opium" (Prettypretty + heroin??? Seriously? We're "belle-ifying" the whole idea of dangerous & forbidden?? Can you people hear yourselves?????) nearly laid me flat. Poor Verushka is being ill-served, as is poor Yves.

  8. A sad commentary. But worth it to gaze on the young Laurent. In English and French! Thanks, D.

  9. Amy, I thought Parisienne wasn't at all bad, I was appalled by Belle d'O and Saharienne, well... is really nothing to write home about. I wonder what franchise they'll set up next. Le Smoking?

  10. When you wrote "revisting the codes of Rive Gauche" do you meen they are working on a reformulation of Rive Gauche? Mayby I should rush out and by a bottle while there's still time!

  11. Eva, Rive Gauche has already been reformulated, but a few years ago. No, I was talking about the ready-to-wear lign designed by Stefano Pilati. Though I'm showing my age: it is no longer called Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche to set it apart from the couture house, since they is no longer any couture, but simply Yves Saint Laurent.
    Sorry for giving you a fright!