This month’s perfume is brought to you by Tina Turner c.1985, thwacking from her vocal chords the theme song to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’. I can’t quite remember what the Thunderdome was all about, apart from Mel Gibson’s mullet. But in any case, Tina is a vision in the music video. She’s wearing chainmail leggings which can’t have been comfortable, and matching shoulder pads in the style of Alexis Carrington manning a torture dungeon. Why was I watching this? Something to do with my next karaoke song.
As Valentine’s Day approaches in a tidal wave of rose, and Ralph Lauren’s Romance gets pushed to the front of the perfume counter along with the his ’n’ hers Jean Paul Gaultier torso bottles, we need to cut to the chase and acknowledge that partners are generally useless at buying perfume –they’ll just get the pink one which they were told ‘has a dark side by night’. And even if we’re choosing our scent rather than having it gifted to us over a Valentine’s Day set menu of butternut squash soup, steak and chocolate fondant, I’ve made an executive decision that we should abort for now the quest for a perfume that will make us desirable to others. Instead how about a scent for self-appreciation? Something that doesn’t care what the world thinks, that challenges our usual tastes and that refreshes the way we see ourselves?
For me, Mad Max was the way to go. I doubt they had perfume in the Thunderdome, but no matter. I wanted to find a scent that would channel that Tina’s ferocity – and chainmail.
After much sniffing, I arrived at a fragrance that debuted in 1970, making it forty six years old this year: Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent.
I’ve made an executive decision that we should abort the quest for a perfume that will make us desirable to others. Instead how about a scent for self-appreciation?
This was one of the first fragrances explicitly aligned with female empowerment, from the designer who gave us Le Smoking tuxedos. Launched in its metal canister for young women more interested in zooming around in cars than sitting at dressing tables, Rive Gauche was positioned as refreshing, cool and in-control – not bothered about seduction routines.
I’m anticipating many of you will know Rive Gauche and may think it’s not for you. And though it’s arguably dated, I urge you to have another sniff. True, when applied Rive Gauche spends a good hour exuding voluminous aldehydes which seem scarily oversized, like spotting a tiger alongside the cats and gerbils in the vet’s waiting room.
Eventually the clouds part, and Rive Gauche becomes much leaner as its green, geranium-like rose peeps out, made shimmering through the material Rose Oxide. This is where it gathered a reputation as a metallic sci-fi android, and where it meets its match in Tina. Sometimes smelling it in this bright middle phase results in a juddering of the gums, as happens when you bite into a cold Granny Smith apple. Then – and this perfume’s not in any kind of hurry to settle down – Rive Gauche gives us hours of low-lit mossiness.
Rive Gauche plays a slow game; it needs lots of time for re-sniffing, and yes the formulation has changed since 1970s. But even if you don’t like it – and lots won’t – it’s worth getting to know this, or indeed any scent off-radar, via a spray of the tester bottle at the counter, even if for a short fling. Trying perfumes not to our usual palette isn’t just about a fancy dress moment, but about getting to know interesting over eager-to-please. We don’t need another hero.