YSL Kouros – Handle With Care

In the fragrance world few scents are as hotly debated as Yves Saint Laurent’s 1981 classic, Kouros. On Basenotes it’s more or less a constant stream of asinine chatter. People repeat what they’ve heard, or take a mindset going in to smelling a cologne before actually trying it. For Kouros, the buzzword is “urinal cakes”. Whoever was…clever enough to come up with this association has skewed a lot of people’s opinions.

See, I look at the list of notes and I don’t see urinal cake anywhere. Eucalyptus, laurel, bergamot, artemisia, castoreum, clove, carnation, cinnamon, geranium, jasmine, incense, patchouli, amber, civet, oakmoss, vetiver, leather, and musk. Hmm, didn’t see urinal cake anywhere. What I suspect is going on is people are getting the eucalyptus note, and one of the animalic notes (castoreum from beavers, civet from the cat of the same name), and it’s combining to trigger that scent memory of urinal cakes. To stop there is to miss one of the greater “powerhouse” fragrances you’ll ever find, though.

It’s somewhere between clean and dirty, classy yet extremely sexual. Acclaimed NYT fragrance writer Chandler Burr and I don’t agree on much, and Kouros is no exception. He calls it “is as wearable in the 21st century as 19th-century spats,” which is fine considering he was putting it up against Musc Ravageur and Rose Poivree, scents that are three to four times more expensive. I’m not sure what Mr. Burr is expecting out of it, if you’re wearing it during high noon in an August heat wave it will rise up and kill you. The circumstances to wear a fragrance are as important as the juice itself, and this screams evening wear, for low to moderate temperatures.

What we’re coming to, with the 80s powerhouses like Drakkar Noir and Azzaro Pour Homme being less common on the street, it’s becoming fresh again; that is, Kouros is transcending the 1980s animal-house stereotype and becoming something rather unique in 2008. Just about every designer house under the sun is churning out fresh scent after tired, worn-out fresh scent. Between this and Quorum (another powerhouse circa 1982) I’ve got enough manly-man-man scents to last the foreseeable future. But no scent in my wardrobe, not one, has gotten me more compliments from the opposite sex than Kouros. Beautiful strangers, college girls, family members, college professors, the whole gamut.

This is not to say that you will have the same luck I’ve had with it. Kouros, if applied incorrectly, can kill an elk at 100 yards. You need to apply lightly, with the amount applied inversely proportional to the temperature (KY translation: wear less when it’s hot outside, k?) The only way I’ve found to wear this stuff is to spray in front of me and then walk through the cloud. Two times will do, three is probably one too many. What you’ll find, applying this way, is that it takes on a different complexion than spraying point blank (feel free to experiment at home, out of the company of others if you don’t mind).

Even with this diffused spray, you are wearing one of the great sillage monsters of our time. Even if you can’t smell it, it’s nothing more than olfactory fatigue, others around you can smell it just fine, I assure you. Longevity is good to the point of sometimes wishing it would go away so you can wear something else. It’s still detectable on clothing some 48 hours later.

Now remove the phrase “urinal cake” from your mind. You need to experience it for yourself; I was expecting it and didn’t find it. One of the great truths in perfumery, and one of the most quickly forgotten, is you should wear what you like, and not what popular opinion dictates is good and bad. If I listened to the community at large, my wardrobe would be missing about half of my favorites.

4 thoughts on “YSL Kouros – Handle With Care

  1. Hi there, Daniel-

    I’ve been lurking around your site for awhile now. I’m trying to remember how I found you in the first place– I THINK it might have been this review…

    I was writing to say how much I’ve appreciated your writing (“kill an elk at 100 yards” Hee!), and that you, too, are in a conversation with Chandler Burr. (I rarely find myself agreeing with him, either…)

    Daniel, I’ve linked your blog to my blog, leftcoastnose.com, and I’m hoping you might take the time someday to check out my blog, and maybe even do a reciprocal link.

    Your left coast perfume compatriot–

  2. I have recently purchased Kouros and it has been reformulated. It is strong for an hour and then I can barely smell it. I am wondering if this is how it dries down and if as you say others can smell it even though I can’t. It does smell amazing in the first hour though! I have the reformulated Antaeus by Chanel as well and I can smell it very well for hours. Brent

  3. Olfactory fatigue is a common issue with Kouros, and then people try to put more of it on and it becomes unbearable to people around you. Ask someone around you if they can smell what you’re wearing; I don’t have any experience with the reformulation.

    Thanks for the note. :)

  4. Dear Daniel,

    Hello my fellow perfume friend! Excellent article, and ‘finally’ someone who understands this scent, and knows how to wear it too. I’ve learned from trial and embarrassing error this way of wearing Kouros as well, and man is it incredible once you get it right, a total mood booster to the 10th power. I only wear the first and second editions. The first edition for special nights and the second for regular wearings. Funny thing, I can never smell it either, and that very first edition is the bee’s knees, I can’t get enough of that glorious Civet. Do you pick up on the amazing Ambergris note that runs throughout ? Thanks for the awesome article!

    Warmest Regards,


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