A tribute to Yves Saint Laurent‘s most iconic fashion creations and his legendary tuxedo, Le Smoking, should automatically be an exciting thing, but L’Oreal (which now owns YSL Beauté) hasn’t done anything to merit or live up to the great Saint Laurent name in my eyes. It would be quite accurate to say I despise L’Oreal and the way they’ve gutted my favorite house created by a flawed genius whom I admired and loved like no other in the fashion world, and whose creations were a big part of my childhood via my mother. Now, when I try one of their new releases, I have the lowest expectations and tend to brace myself for disaster.
So you can imagine my surprise when I tried the new Tuxedo and found parts of it were mildly decent, comparatively speaking. No, it’s not a truly good fragrance, and I think it’s over-priced for what it is, but at least it’s not a toxic waste dump or a gooey, painfully commercial, unbalanced and hideous travesty — two things which basically encapsulate my recent experiences with the brand. Compared to those fragrances, this is… not revolting? Well, adequate, at least. And the drydown was moderately nice.
In November, YSL Beauté launched a new luxury collection called Le Vestiaire des Parfums. As the company’s U.S. website explains, there are five fragrances, each an eau de parfum that interprets “a centerpiece of the emblematic Yves Saint Laurent wardrobe. Tuxedo, Caban, Saharienne, Trench, Caftan, a dressing room of five essential fragrance ensembles.”
Le Vestiaire des Parfums Tuxedo (hereinafter just “Tuxedo”) is described as follows:
A spicy unisex scent that blends the matte texture of smoked patchouli with ambergris accord to express a magnetic and dark sex appeal. The sharp black pepper enhanced with the freshness of cardamom mirrors the satin stripe that runs along the seam of the trousers and the lapels of the jacket. With a refined sense of detail, the gleaming effect of the spices electrifies and highlights the sophistication of the garment. A bold masculine look transformed into a feminine staple by Yves Saint Laurent, the tuxedo is an expression of impertinent seduction.
Notes: Smoked Patchouli, Spices, Green Accord
I think that note list is a nutshell simplification. For one thing, it omits the “ambergris” which the company itself specifies in the description. For another, I think the “smoked” aspect extends far beyond an innate facet of the patchouli and is unquestionably a separate ingredient that is an aromachemical. Finally, cumin was noticeable in the drydown, while the middle phase had an occasional whisper of creaminess that hinted at something like tonka and/or cashmeran.
Tuxedo opens on my skin with the purple sort of patchouli that smells like jammy fruit molasses and that bears almost a rose-like floralcy underneath. It’s shot through with leathery, tarry (aromachemical) smokiness that feels, per the norm for such things, scratchy, dry, and somewhat woody in nuance. After a few minutes, tiny pops of something spicy appear in the background, smelling indeterminate and faceless but they are quickly subsumed within the main fruitchouli-smoke accord.
There is something else in the background, too. An equally shapeless hint of greenness floats about that’s too nebulous to pin down, but it’s nothing like either patchouli’s camphorous, green side or anything actually leafy. On occasion, it reminds me almost of a boozy Bourbon rose geranium but, whatever it is, something both mildly boozy and rose-like hovers like a diaphanous veil over the main fruitchouli-smoke accord. After 5 minutes, it grows even stronger, becoming so noticeable in both my tests that I ended up pouring over the official description (twice) and searching all YSL sites to see is someone, somewhere, mentions roses or something floral. Maybe my nose simply associates fruitchouli with roses since the two are so commonly conjoined in mainstream scents. For the most part, though, 95% of Tuxedo’s opening bouquet is simply jammy fruitchouli fused with synthetic tarry smokiness.
Tuxedo is a patchouli soliflore and, as such, is a largely linear fragrance that changes only in its nuances. That said, the changes here feel even more incremental than what I experience with the typical soliflore, perhaps because Tuxedo has so few notes. In the broadest of strokes, the fragrance essentially transitions from smoke-laden, jammy fruitchouli into traditional, true, brown, spicy patchouli.
In specific terms, the first noticeable change (in nuance) occurs roughly 2.25 hours into Tuxedo’s evolution. The patchouli’s jammy fruitiness lessens; the “rose” facet vanishes entirely; the spiciness is more prominent; and the smokiness finally loses its tarry and chemical qualities, becoming more moderate in nature, comparatively speaking. All the notes are fully fused together and feel equal in their proportions. Tuxedo is now primarily a spicy, slightly woody, quietly fruity patchouli scent infused with smokiness. A finger of ambery warmth now runs over its edges, though it’s subtle at this point and sometimes feels more like a softness that has simply rounded out all of Tuxedo’s rough edges.
The microscopic changes continue to unfold over time. About 3 hours in, a hint of creaminess appears in the base, a sort of muted softness that is extremely difficult to describe. It was strongest and clearest in those patches on my arm where I’d applied the smallest quantity of fragrance; they occasionally wafted a sort of delicate, buttery plushness that made me think of cashmeran, tonka, and musk, and once seemed almost like a rose-ish cold cream (but not in a bad way). The portions of my arm where I’d applied a greater quantity of fragrance barely reflected any of that, primarily because quantity amplifies the patchouli above all else, but there was a definite whisper of something nebulously creamy and soft that worked well with the increasingly traditional, golden-woody, spicy patchouli.
Part of my difficulty in assessing any details beyond mere “patchouli” stems from the fact that Tuxedo essentially crashes on my skin in terms of projection and scent at the end of the 4th hour. The degree to which it drops is a little astonishing, and is probably due to the smoky synthetics vanishing at the same time. Using the equivalent of 2 solid sprays from an actual bottle, Tuxedo became so difficult to detect at the end of the 4th hour that I had to put my nose right on my arm and inhale hard to detect it. Even then, I thought Tuxedo was virtually dead and gone a mere 30 minutes later. It’s as though a light switch has been flicked off from one moment to the next, because this is not a soft, discreet fragrance in its opening minutes. (More details on that later.) In reality, Tuxedo actually persists for a while longer, clinging as the merest sliver on the skin, but the amount of effort required to detect it means not only that its nuances or finer points are hard to assess, but also that most people are bound to think the fragrance has an extremely short shelf-life unless they go about with their nose glued to their arm. The impracticality of that for the average user may explain why one of Tuxedo’s admirers on Fragrantica thought the fragrance only lasted 4 hours, and said the “short longevity” did not warrant the price tag.
For me, Tuxedo did endure, but there is no rhythm or reason to what it’s like in its final hours in terms of either scent or longevity. Two patches of my arm in one test wafted a strong cumin earthiness and funk within a patchouli haze; some patches (in both tests on both arms) wafted merely a spicy patchouli; a few patches (in both tests on one arm) emitted only a generalized ambery warmth. Sometimes there was a lingering vestige of smokiness; sometimes there was not. Sometimes Tuxedo ended on amorphous, hazy spiciness; sometimes it was ambery.
It’s probably all OCD semantics about nuances that don’t ultimately matter, but there wasn’t much consistency to the longevity, either. Using the same quantity on different parts of my arms, Tuxedo lasted 5.5, 6, 7.5, and 9 hours. The only common thread was how hard it was to detect in its last hours. As for sillage and projection, it wasn’t bad at first. Using several big smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, Tuxedo opened with about 3-4 inches of projection, but with a large scent trail that extended 8-10 inches. After 90 minutes, the projection was 1.5 to 2 inches, and the sillage was 4-5. The numbers drop so incrementally, it’s not immediately apparent when Tuxedo turns soft but, at the end of the 4th hour, it’s just like that light switch I referenced earlier and the whole thing suddenly seems to shut down.
I haven’t found much discussion on Tuxedo to share with you other than the typical magazine articles with their questionable, ad-driven motivations. On Fragrantica, there are 3 comments at this time, but only one person seems to have actually tried Tuxedo and describes it. “Quisutdeus” tried all the Vestiaire fragrances in Milan in November, and liked Tuxedo the best, calling it the densest and richest of the lot. Yet, oddly, he couldn’t detect any patchouli at all, simply “a very nice, slightly sweet amber with fine spices, very very nice indeed.” However, after a few tests to determine whether it was warranted a full-bottle purchase, he updated his review to add:
I gave it 2 more chances, and I have to say that I really enjoy it, but due to its short longevity on my skin (4 hours) I will be getting it over a split. Please try it on your skin before judging these fragrances. They are all majestic, but if they do not last, I see no point in buying them considering their price tag.
Tuxedo costs $250 or € 240 for a 125 ml bottle. I think YSL Beauté (or L’Oreal) is trying to do the quasi-niche, quasi-luxury thing that Chanel did with its Exclusifs, not only in terms of price (and the elegance of the bottle), but also because the Vestiaire line isn’t widely available. I have the sense that it may be exclusive to YSL because, with one exception, I haven’t found it online anywhere except for the company’s own websites. This is not a fragrance that you’ll find on the YSL shelves of your local Sephora.
I agree with the Fragrantica chap that the price is a stretch for the scent in question. He points to longevity issues as the reason, but I think Tuxedo’s linearity, simplicity, and obvious streak of synthetics also make it a little questionable. Chanel’s Exclusifs are smoother to my nose, and many are also more complex. It’s really not an exaggeration to describe Tuxedo’s entire character as jammy fruitchouli with distinctly synthetic smokiness that eventually becomes regular spicy patchouli with some ambery warmth. That’s truly it, and it’s not an overly reductionist synopsis, either.
Is that worth $250/€240, even assuming that Tuxedo had average longevity and didn’t require major effort to detect after a while? Not to me. But it’s better than many things put out by L’Oreal, most of which I’ve found to be hideous abominations, synthetically toxic, or simply too commercially generic and redundant to warrant any emotion at all. Comparatively speaking, this is a big step up. That doesn’t mean you should buy it, but if you come across it and are a big patchouli lover, give it a passing sniff. If you hate patchouli in all its forms, I wouldn’t bother.