(image, dreadful 1980s shoulder pads as worn by Joan Collins)
Givenchy Ysatis, 1984. Perfumer Dominique Ropion.
Ysatis gives me some new thoughts on scent and memory. It comes from an era when I rarely wore perfume, and didn’t pay attention to the state-of-the-art at all. Still, I remembered it instantly when I found a perfectly preserved vintage specimen recently.
Ysatis is more nuanced than Dior Poison, less car-alarmish than Givenchy Amarige, less cartoonish than Boucheron by Boucheron. There’s no doubt it’s cut from the same cloth, though. It’s a classic 80s signature fragrance. In the 80s, an era noted for valuing assimilation and aspiration, a signature fragrance wasn’t one that made you stand apart, it was one that loudly signaled your inclusion with a group, or affiliation with a type. No one of these fragrances was fatal, but together, they were nightmarish. (note: At this time I lived in New York City, a city of public transportation and confined spaces.) They made me appreciate the ridiculous slogan of the era: Just Say No.
So, memory. I remember associating this perfume with the go-go sensibility of the 80s. It was a time of gross misproportion, of ill-judged dynamics. Example: shoulder pads aren’t my style, but I can understand their use in suits jackets dresses. In the 80s, shoulder pads were used in short sleeve T-shirts. Imagine a T-shirt so poorly fitted that the bulk of the voluminous fabric hanging about your waist must be tucked into your high waisted jeans. Slapping some packaging material into the shoulders of this T-shirt does nothing to mitigate its inattention to the human form. In fact, it highlights it.
Ysatis shares the era’s sin of volume, but it utterly typifies another great miscalculation of the time, which is the overuse of formality. The market of smart sportswear had yet to be unearthed in the 1980s. The choice was often torn Levi’s or an overly stylized dress, and the hideous dress usually won. A variation of an old bromide was reinvented for the 1980s: If it things worth doing it’s worth doing… with ruffles, chintz and sequins. “Jewelry” was stated,”costume” was implied.
Seen from later eras, Ysatis could be considered tasteful version of the big 80s perfumes. But what is the value of a slightly more tasteful monster? It’s like someone kicking you hard in the balls, but not as hard as he could have. Dominique Ropion is a master of the highly calibrated floral perfume. But for current use, Ysatis lacks the theatricality of Opium and the camp of Poison or Giorgio. They are dated and caricaturish, but they’re fun. Ysatis, Ropion’s tailored monster, is so busy sucking in her cheeks and posing she doesn’t crack a smile.