Hold the presses! Before I commence with this review, could someone do me a massive favour and take a short trip down to the underworld and check that the river Styx is still in full, bubbling-hot lava flow? I ask simply because it seems that hell has indeed frozen over and that the impossible has finally happened – Etat Libre d’Orange, also known as the world’s most naughty and rebellious perfume brand, have brought us the most unexpected and out of character perfume – a humble eau de cologne.
Now, you may be thinking that lots of brands bring out eau de colognes and that this isn’t particularly noteworthy a launch, so I should stop making a big old fuss. But one should remember that Etat Libre d’Orange are in fact, the very people that, amongst many other things, bottled the erotic cartoons of infamous Finnish illustrator Tom of Finland, and brought us olfactory interpretations of hotel whores and magnificent bodily secretions. They are not ones to shy away from controversy – in fact, they actively court it and shock factor is an old friend that they simply cannot keep away from. Luckily for us lovers of fragrance, their perfumes mainly deliver the olfactory goods and whilst their names are often gimmicky, the scents themselves rarely are.
With their eau de cologne, which is snappily named ‘Cologne’, FYI (no gimmicks here, thank you), they have created, what they like to call “a nice scent”. This could be, and should be viewed as a massive break from tradition for the Orange Free State, who are famously more prone to naughty than nice, and that would be a fair summation. But as the brand explains, they like to break rules, including their own. So it is with an unassuming cologne that this renegade purveyor of perfumes steps away from their usual modus operandi – a risky move that has resulted in a fragrant outing that really is most unusual for such a rebellious brand.
“You can always expect the unexpected from Etat Libre d’Orange. We break the rules. Sometimes, we even break our own rules. We’ve given you decadent, we’ve given you outrageous, and now we give you nice. We pay allegiance to the concept of a modest cologne. Not an ordinary cologne, not a basic cologne. A proper cologne that achieves the perfection of simplicity.”
– Etat Libre d’Orange
Top: Blood Orange and Bergamot
Heart: Jasmine and Orange Blossom
Base: Musk and Leather
How Does it Smell?
The typical trajectory of a traditional cologne is thus: bright citrus followed by a floral heart and a wide range of base materials ranging from herbaceous notes to vetiver and musk. Etat Libre d’Orange’s Cologne certainly follows suit and despite the fact that one may think that this apparent olfactory rehabilitation is going to be some sort of sick trick, trust me when I say it is most definitely a proper cologne with all of the requisite parts. There is no beast lurking in the shadows, nor is there any innuendo or filth – Cologne really is just that – a cologne.
That said, Cologne is a modern interpretation of these traditional accords and presents an eau de cologne that is unconventionally full-bodied and long lasting. The fragrance starts with sharp and juicy orange notes that feel suitably fleshy and full of pith, with a subtle sense of sticky bitterness that is wonderfully like fresh marmalade. A dab of bergamot gives the whole thing a subtle glisten, ensuring that the blood orange doesn’t become too bitter, allowing it to just teeter on the edge of being acerbic. It’s a well-executed balancing act, for sure.
The heart is a tightrope walk of fruit and flowers. Orange blossom, an ingredient which is present in many a traditional cologne, plays a prominent part in Cologne’s development adding sunny floral tones, as well as a subtle soapiness that make this particular fragrance the cleanest thing the brand has ever done, evoking the image of stark, white bathroom tiles.
In the base, Cologne delivers a soft bed of white musk, as billed. Once again, everything feels squeaky clean, light and airy, with just a touch of soft warmth in the background. The promise of leather however, never really comes through and whether that’s an issue entirely depends on how clean you like your colognes (I like ’em pretty clean, it has to be said), and this one is so sterile, it practically squeaks when it walks.
Smelling Cologne, it is clear to see why Etat Libre d’Orange’s last fragrance was named ‘La Fin du Monde’ (The End of the World), and it seems that their fragrant ode to Armageddon was perhaps representative of a shift in the way they do things. Cologne comes after this olfactory apocalypse, rising from the ashes as a virtuous angel that shows a nicer side of a brand who seem to have, against all the odds and past evidence, the ability to behave themselves after all.
This new direction may be seen as a cause for panic; after all, Etat Libre d’Orange takes pride in courting the unconventional and famously started their line with the distinct battle cry of “perfume is dead, long live perfume”. Personally I am in two minds about this apparent change of heart, and I don’t think we should start rioting just yet (we can leave the looting for later on – I’ll call you).
Firstly, I am a big fan of the brand and I would always encourage them to continue with their fragrant freedom fight against they hyper-commercialised world of perfume. I also celebrate their diverse and challenging body of work. Therefore, a cologne would not be at the top of my list of launches from a renegade brand such as this, and I can’t help but worry that with this new fragrance, they are turning over a new and less-bold leaf. It would be a crying shame if they decided to stop pushing the envelope in exchange for wider commercial success.
The other half of me however, really enjoys this very simple, yet modern take on the humble eau de cologne. It’s such a juicy little thing with good presence and longevity, characteristics that are seldom found in this style of scent. It’s an absolutely fantastic wear on long and hot summer days (I gave it quite a lot of mileage over the summer months), or just on those occasions where one simply wants to smell fresh and clean. It really is brilliantly executed.
So is this the end of Etat Libre d’Orange as we know it? Will they cease to battle the bland and promote the provocative? Who knows? What is clear is the fact that Cologne is a solid assurance that, whatever happens in the future, this punky perfume brand will always make quality perfumes that tick the most important criteria box of simply smelling good – and that’s something one simply cannot complain about.
Etat Libre d’Orange Cologne is available in 100ml Eau de Cologne for €100.
Sample via Escentual. Notes and quotes via Etat Libre d’Orange. Image 1 via osmoz.com. Image 2 via fragrantica.com.