Super Scent: My Top Five Etat Libre d’Orange Fragrances

Super Scent: Etat Libre d'Orange
Super Scent: Etat Libre d’Orange

Super Scent is back, people. Let us rejoice! If you’ve not encountered the series before, please let me fill you in. Essentially, for each instalment of Super Scent, Persolaise, Basenotes and I (please click the links to view their pieces) pick out our top fragrances from a particular brand. In the case of Persolaise and I, these are our personal favourites, whereas Basenotes offers a round-up of reader favourites using the data found within the fragrance directory. Now that you’re filled in, we can get on with this edition of Super Scent which is all about the most punk-like and pop art perfume brand of them all: the dastardly dirty and downright devilish Etat Libre d’Orange.

Etat Libre d’Orange (The Orange Free State) climaxed onto the scene in 2006 with a collection of 10 fragrances. Founded by Etienne de Swardt, who is described on the brand’s website as a “troublemaker and perfumer” (although he is more of an art director than an actual perfumer) the brand shook up the fragrance industry with fragrances inspired by, amongst many other things; cum, high-class hookers, belly buttons and nothing, and with a battle cry that shouted “perfume is dead, long live perfume”. They are a rebellious purveyor of perfume that doesn’t take itself to seriously, but most importantly they like to challenge our preconceptions of what a fragrance can be. Is it unwearable art or is it a marketable consumable? Eat Libre d’Orange seem to think that perfume can be anything one wants it to be.

This was a tricky one, I’m not going to lie to you. At the time of writing, Etat Libre d’Orange has an extensive catalogue consisting of 32 fragrances and the rules of Super Scent dictate that I must pick a top five. I’ve narrowed down my selection to those scents offered by the Orange Free State that I enjoy the most, but there are many not included here that I love, admire and respect, scents such as; Rien, Charogne, Jasmin et Cigarette, Eau de Protection and Fat Electrician to name but a few. So, without any further moaning about how hard this has been, let’s take a delve into the risqué world of Etat Libre d’Orange with my all-time top five!

No 5: Sécrétions Magnifiques (Antoine Lie; 2006)
No 5: Sécrétions Magnifiques (Antoine Lie; 2006)

At número cinco we have the infamous vomit inducing pillar of filth that is Sécrétions Magnifiques. No list of Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances would be complete without it, just as no Tarantino move is complete without blood, guts, gore and endless diatribes. Sécrétions Magnifiques is Etat Libre d’Orange’s manifesto fragrance. It paints, in a splash of god knows what, them as a brand that celebrates every type of olfactory experience and one that does not necessarily wish to create beautiful things, in fact they’re quite happy to make something fascinatingly ugly in the name of art. God love ’em.

Sécrétions Magnifiques is the most disgusting fragrance I have ever smelled. It’s also one of the most intriguing. Designed to recreate in scent, bodily fluids such as blood, sweat, sperm and saliva, Sécrétions Magnifiques smells like a wet metallic dog dipped in cold milk. Its level of repugnance is only matched by its tenacity, which is akin to an atom bomb of coital carnage. Sounds pretty neat, huh? The truth is that Sécrétions Magnifiques is gross but that really is the whole point and it would be fair to say that this ode to the body’s magnificent secretions is more of an olfactory statement than a wearable fragrance – a fragrant flag in the ground, as it were. Still, the fact that it is absolutely vile doesn’t stop it from being a whole lot of fun!

No 4: Like This (Mathilde Bijou; 2010)
No 4: Like This (Mathilde Bijou; 2010)

Tilda Swinton? Etat Libre d’Orange? Lots of ginger and orange ingredients? What could go wrong? Absolutely nothing, that’s what! Tilda Swinton is a fascinating creature. Not only is she a superb Oscar winning actress, fashion icon and elfin master of androgyny, she also knows how to art direct a fragrance, and Like This, Swinton’s collaboration with Etat Libre d’Orange and perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui is the delightfully auburn proof. Believe me when I say that it is very good.

Like This is named after a Rumi poem and contains ingredients that Swinton loves. It has a bright flash of ginger up top, accompanied by pumpkin, vetiver and immortelle in the base. The whole thing smells like ginger shortbread biscuits and orange-coloured tartan. It’s a miss-mash of fragrance that shouldn’t work on paper, but comes together beautifully in reality. It’s not a fragrance for all, but then again Swinton isn’t either, and that’s just fine. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case the nose, and Like This certainly is beautiful to my nose.

Fils de Dieu du Riz et Des Agrumes (Ralf Schweiger; 2012)
No 3: Fils de Dieu du Riz et Des Agrumes (Ralf Schwieger ; 2012)

Etat Libre d’Orange are at their very best when they flirt at the intersection of palatability and innovation. I guess that means I like their scents to be weird enough to be new and exciting, but not so odd or uncomfortable that they are difficult to wear. They don’t always get the balance right (see Sécrétions Magnifiques – I love it but there is no way in hell it’s going on my skin) but when they do, by gum they do good work. Fils de Dieu du Riz et Des Agrumes is spot on in terms of weirdness and wearability, and it’s the best example of their many attempts to create novel yet fashionable olfactory experiences.

Fils de Dieu (as I like to call it for the sake of brevity) is a gourmand, but not like we know it. Rather than paying homage to sweet delicacies, as so many gourmands do, this one is that rare thing: a savour gourmand. Inspired by thai cuisine, Fils de Dieu is a veritable platter of delicious zingy things – coriander and lime, and milky things – coconut and starchy rice, with a touch of animalic musk to boot. It may sound like a culinary nightmare but in truth, Fils de Dieu is brilliantly executed and has enough transparency to make it a unique summer scent. Give it a go if you want an unconventional gourmand, you won’t be sorry.

No 2: The Afternoon of a Faun (Ralf Schwieger; 2012)
No 2: The Afternoon of a Faun (Ralf Schwieger; 2012)

Here we are, the top two super scents by Etat Libre d’Orange! I must admit that I did dilly-dally with my two finalists, swapping them around in fits of indecision and editorial rage. I am happy with the order of my choices (for now) which leaves their most classical piece of work, ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’ at the number two spot. I see this one as Etat Libre d’Orange’s most serious fragrance because it channels a classic (Mitsouko) but presents it in an incredibly modern way. It was also created in conjunction with Mx Justin Vivian Bond, the legendary transgender performance artist, which only adds to its coolness.

The Afternoon of a Faun is inspired by the Nijinsky ballet of the same name and it is a straight-up old school chypre, all mossy and pointed, with a twist. The twist comes in the form of a a great big slog of immortelle, which provides a heft dose of curry spiced animal swear. To my nose, the experience of wearing/smelling The Afternoon of a Faun is akin to stepping into a hot stuffy forest where one can feel the soft moss crunching in-between their toes and can sense the smell of amorous fauns in the undergrowth. It sounds like my kind of afternoon, to be honest.

No 1: Tom of Finland (Antoine Lie; 2008)
No 1: Tom of Finland (Antoine Lie; 2008)

Finally at numero uno we have Tom of Finland. That’s right, Etat Libre d’Orange’s homage to Finland’s, nay the world’s greatest homoerotic artist, is at the very top of the list and that’s because it is my personal favourite. I’d file Tom of Finland firmly under ‘not what one expects’ because it isn’t the burly leather and man-stench that is expected from a fragrance inspired by an artist who largely drew hairy, steroid-pumped muscle marys with gigantic, throbbing hardons barely concealed in their leather pants. Instead it is… Sorry, I lost my train of thought there…

Tom of Finland the fragrance celebrates a different side of Touko Laaksonen’s fetish art, specifically the energetic spirit of good, clean fun found within many of his pictures. It’s a surprisingly fresh composition that opens with squeaky lemon aldehydes and saffron and settles to a rubbery vanilla with a latex and suede-like feel to it. In my mind, the picture painted by the fragrance is one of handsome, moustached gents in a locker room, each one fresh from the shower, in which they have cleansed with some sparkly lemon soap, before horsing around and whipping each other with towels as they step back into their leather pants.  Gosh darn it, I’ve gone and lost my train of thought again…

Join the Discussion!

What are your favourite Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances?

Let me know in the comments box below!

[Header image via Grant @ Basenotes]