You could argue that I´m too much of a prissy, naive American to appreciate the truly liberated sophistication of the Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances. Another potential viewpoint might be that browsing their line is like watching my four-year-old son run around naked, waving his tiny pecker at me. It´s endearing while also being irritating and childish.
The line has 11 scents available right now with a couple more on the way (if they aren´t at Bendel already), and they range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here´s a random sampling, with descriptions clipped directly from Patty´s decant store:
Sécrétions Magnifique (magnificent secretions): iris, cocoa, sandalwood, opoponax – given the traffic this has gotten, I was expecting something horrific. However, I didn´t get the Money Shot (aka what Patty called the Cum Accord). It was more of a Blood Accord. The blood smell, combined with a twist of sweet breast milk, is what makes it so intense – the metallic edge of the scent seems less like sperm to me than a mouthful of blood. The whole effect is a giant DANGER DANGER DANGER warning sign flashing on the side of some stretch of deserted highway late at night. The fragrance equivalent of a car wreck. Frankly, it wasn´t any more horrifying than…
Encens et Bubblegum (incense and bubblegum): peach, raspberry, vanilla, lily of the valley, orange blossom musk, incense — if bubblegum could crawl out of your darkest nightmare, blow itself up and smother you, you´d be getting close to this. One of the worst fragrance assaults I have ever endured. This would be a fine place to note that most of the Etats lasted 24 – 36 hours on me, easily, through daily hot baths. Consider yourself warned.
Nombril Immense (large belly button): patchouli, balsam of Peru, vetiver, black pepper, sweet myrrh, bergamot, carrot seed, ambrette seed. I picked this early on to try, because how can I resist that name? Melding balsam to an extremely condensed bergamot-rich classical cologne, it dries down to a very pretty, mildly peppery balsam with a touch of myrrh.
Putain Des Palaces (hotel whore): Rose absolute, violet, leather, lily of the valley, tangerine, ginger, rice powder, amber, animal notes. My notes say: “Rochas Femme (new version) over the wet spot on the bed.” I could rework that into six more sentences, but why?
Rien (nothing): incense, rose, leather, iris, rock rose, oakmoss, styrax pyrogene, patchouli, amber, cumin, black pepper, aldehydes. The top notes remind me vaguely of Cumming, by Alan Cumming – there’s a lot going on at once, and it has that same earthy darkness, but sharper – closer to Le Labo´s Cistus. It´s strong, with a note in there that registers as almost mentholated. Just about the time I was ready to move on, the drydown bloomed – a blend of spices and incense that floored me so much I went back the next day and reapplied, just to make sure I had the right sample, because I didn´t see it coming at me like a freight train from Heaven when I put it on. It reminds me a bit of CdG Palisander, only spicier and with amazing lasting power — sillage after 48 hours! My winner in the line, by a landslide.
Jasmin et Cigarette (jasmine and cigarette): jasmine absolute, tobacco, hay, apricot, tonka bean, turmeric, cedar, amber, musk. Really, it´s lovely, but all I get is jasmine absolute. I like jasmine absolute very much, but I already own three more-or-less soliflores, and I´m not interested in another.
Antihéros (anti-hero): lavender, musk, wood. A traditional men´s cologne, mostly lavender with a woody, musky base. Look — I can be brief.
Vraie Blonde (true blonde): aldehydes, Champagne, rose, white pepper, myrrh, patchouli, suede. This opens with a flurry of bubbles – aldehydes, champagne, and the nose-tickle of pepper – and for the first five minutes it vaulted to the top of my list of favorites. The rose and myrrh begin to emerge, the aldehydes fade a bit, and it becomes almost creamy. Then the damn thing collapses in on itself like a soufflé. I stood there and stared at the wreckage and tried to figure out what was wrong. In the space of 90 seconds it goes both dramatically flat and sweet. Vraie Blonde would be a textbook example of my inability, for better or worse, to separate my personal preferences from my reviews of fragrances. If you like creamy, rosy scents that don´t smell plastic, maybe you´d like this, and the blonde does smell expensive. But it is too syrupy sweet for me.
Je Suis un Homme (I am a man): bergamot, orange bigarade, lemon, myrtle, cinnamon, clove, cognac accord, leather, patchouli, animal notes. Sometimes when you mix all the colors of the rainbow you get: brown. A muddy, sullen mess of a fragrance.
Eloge du Traitre (praise of a traitor): pine, laurel, mugwort, clove, geranium, jasmine, patchouli, leather, musk. I admit it: I have a soft spot for aggressive herbal scents (Diptyque Elide and L’Eau Trois spring to mind here.) Do I think this scent is genius, or even that innovative? No. But if you like the dark, somewhat astringent smell when you stick your head into the bushes, or wandering the herb section of the plant nursery, you’d probably like this.
Divin’enfant(Divine Child): orange blossom, rose, amber, musk, leather and tobacco. Weird. I get none of the OB, which I’m counting as a blessing, because I think I’ve read some complaints about a sweet mess. The Big Cheese sniffed this and literally recoiled. I get a murky leather that is reminiscent of Miller Harris Rien with less hogpen.
What I know about constructing a fragrance could be written on the inside of a matchbook, and there would still be room for the bartender’s phone number, but several of the Etats smell so … random to me, like the perfumers grabbed the beakers blindfolded and threw them together. Second, I can´t help wondering whether I liked a few of these simply because some of the others were so off-putting. It´s an interesting marketing concept to ponder, isn´t it, releasing a line of scents with few stinkers so the others are a welcome relief? I´m not a perfumer, but I´m willing to wager that creating the Money Shot smell isn´t all that difficult, in comparison to capturing other smells. Bubblegum or Cum, I´m skeptical of this line´s intentions – a position that isn´t helped much by the name of their upcoming fragrance, Don´t Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don´t Swallow.
Regarding the ELO image (for you young’uns, that’s a 70s band): my decision was guided by the following quote about the band’s Greatest Hits CD, from concertlivewire.com:
“Despite covering all the bases, the … main flaw is the fact that it doesn’t hold up well over time. The material made its mark in yesteryear but fails to translate with the timelessness of other oldies acts, and on the particularly outdated selections, make for a pretty painful listens.” In 40 years, which of the niche brands we´re drooling over will have become timeless? Is Etat going to be the Beatles … or ELO? Is there a new-ish niche line out there that you think is early Beatles?