Austin Butler Talks YSL, Self-Expression, & Masculinity

Today, almost half a century since Saint Laurent bared all in his signature scent, the latest YSL fragrance invites a new generation to consider what it means to be ‘MYSLF.’ Inspired by the designer’s rich legacy, the eau de parfum’s name plays on the dichotomy of masculine and feminine — and puts the initials YSL at its heart.

MYSLF, the new fragrance from the house of Saint Laurent, is the latest chapter in a story going back to the 1970s. After establishing himself as one of the most influential and boundary-pushing fashion designers of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent turned his attention to the world of fragrance. In 1975 — accompanied by a campaign in French Vogue that featured the designer photographed in nothing but his trademark thick-framed spectacles — Saint Laurent revealed his first-ever fragrance. Its success would set the brand on course to become one of the world’s most respected perfumers, with countless hits from Opium in the 1970s to modern classics like La Nuit de l’Homme and Y.

“It’s just about expressing yourself authentically, whatever that means for you.”

Austin Butler

MYSLF is whimsical and provocative, like Saint Laurent himself, and designed to be worn by men who are not bound by outdated modes of thinking and masculine clichés. One such man is Austin Butler, whose starring role in the Baz Luhrmann-directed biopic Elvis earned him a Best Actor nomination at this year’s Academy Awards, transforming him into one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood. With his high cheekbones, full lips, and a soft-yet-steely gaze, he seems made to be a muse. But there’s much more to this actor than a leading man’s good looks. Like Yves Saint Laurent, Butler is equal parts vulnerable and enigmatic, an artist who lives through his work and approaches the creative process with an all-consuming passion.

He has a commanding presence on screen, where he is known to disappear into his characters, all the better to understand their thoughts and emotions. His magnetism on film is matched only by his uncanny poise on the red carpet, where Butler has already earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most stylish men. Despite all this, however, he remains open, approachable, and refreshingly circumspect, with the calm, cool, and laid-back demeanour of his Southern California roots.

“There are so many versions of ourselves,” Butler tells SHARP, with characteristic modesty. “For me, the time I most feel like myself is at home when I’m with my family, with friends, and my dog; around nature; or at the beach. I think it’s just about expressing yourself authentically, whatever that means for you.”

To achieve this complexity and depth, YSL worked with a trio of master perfumers to develop the new fragrance. “The great challenge was to create a scent that was very diffusive, but not aggressive,” says Christophe Raynaud, a veteran perfumer with over three decades of experience and umpteen blockbuster scents to his name. “We had to express a man who wasn’t a caricature in all his subtlety.”

““I find that our sense of smell, more than almost any other sense, bypasses the conscious mind and gets right to an emotion.”

Austin Butler

The idea for MYSLF was formed in Tangiers, when perfumer Daniela Andrier stayed next to the famed couturier’s former home, Villa Mabrouka. Browsing the Moroccan city’s labyrinthine souks, Andrier was fascinated by the wide variety of orange blossom scents. With a shape-shifting character and an established place in perfume history (from the court of Louis XIV to the ultra-masculine scents of the late 1960s), it was the perfect place to begin. “Orange blossom is the only raw material perfumers have at their disposal that can express, depending on how it is fashioned, every stage of life and gender: the newborn, the bride, a totally manly man…”

The new fragrance opens with citrus top notes, including those of Tunisian orange blossom, but also vert de bergamot, an extract of green Calabrian oranges picked early in the harvest. “It is fresher and livelier because it’s less about the ripe fruit,” Andrier explains. “It imparts vivacious, radiant notes to the opening of MYSLF, and this radiant freshness is long-lasting.”

This bright, fresh opening is balanced by a woody base that adds depth, intensity, and sensuality. To achieve this, the perfumers used a scent derived from sugarcane to provide natural notes and the aroma of ambergris, one of the most precious ingredients in the perfume world. Next emerges the earthiness of Indonesian patchouli, an exotic scent that offers warmth and richness. And lastly, hints of Provençal lavender, herbaceous clary sage, and geranium bourbon from Madagascar paint the final delicate strokes of the picture.

Austin Butler standing and posing with camera

“When you first spray it on your skin,” says Butler, “it’s very bright and you smell a lot of florals off the top. But then it becomes really warm and smooth as it settles on your skin.” The fragrance, the actor adds, takes him back to childhood, when he and his mother would pick oranges from a tree in their backyard. “I find that our sense of smell, more than almost any other sense, bypasses the conscious mind and gets right to an emotion,” he explains. “The smell of popcorn always reminds me of being a kid and going to the movies with my parents; I have so many different [connections] like that.”

Of course, the true beauty of a fragrance like MYSLF is its ability to evoke different memories and emotions in every person who spritzes it. Just as those notes of bergamot and orange blossom call to mind childhood memories for Butler, MYSLF’s complex bouquet of florals, woods, and citrus scents will stir up other distinct hits of nostalgia for anyone who wears it.

“The cool thing for me is imagining people wearing it and all of the memories that then get associated with that,” Butler says. “Like when you fall in love for the first time or you buy a fragrance in a new place and it always reminds you of that city. It’s kind of amazing to get to be linked to something that then could be connected to so many peoples’ memories.”

Learn more about MYSLF.