Sweet Little Monster

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- a review of Etat Libe d’Orange’s ‘Divin’ Enfant’

You see them everywhere, such a pop culture staple they show up on postcards, bags, posters, coffee mugs, internet memes. Cherubs. Those two trouble-making Raphael angels peering up into the heavenly domain, wondering what fun they’re missing.

But in Renaissance iconography, there is no such thing as a simple ‘cherub’. All those lovely, rosy, plump babes come in two varieties, the Cherubim, who are mainly preoccupied with matters celestial and not much interested events down below, and….Putti, who also have wings and also are babes whose cheeks you want to pinch.

The Putti are only interested in worldly matters – such as getting into as much trouble as they possibly can. I’m in no position to determine whether the Putti were simply a pictorial metaphor for toddlerhood (although I suspect that’s the case, having survived two, if just barely), or simply a secular, philosophical counterpoint to the celestial Cherubim.

What I know is this: I have a thing for Putti. Something about them appeals to my sense of humor, or is it mischief?

Now, another kind of babe trouble lurks for the unsuspecting, only this trouble is an Etat Libre d’Orange perfume called ‘Divin’ Enfant’ (Divine Child), and this creature is no cherub, but all putto, all the time…

I know not a few perfumoholics who scorn the Etat Libre line for either creating that ultimate in <ahem> performance art perfume, Secretions Magnifiques, or else for cheeky, irreverent marketing and a penchant for iconoclasm – in their copy, their (stellar) artwork and even the juice itself.

Nevertheless, the fact is that Etat Libre d’Orange creates perfumes that are every bit as beautiful, as complex, and as arresting as anything at all else in niche perfumery.

This post-punk iconoclast happily dived into their line, enjoyed every minute and loved not a few. And in a fragrant world that has elevated itself in the collective mind as being above all else ‘haute’ (if not ‘haute-y’, or simply haughty!), with lofty inspirations and super-heated ad copy, it does wonders for my own internal perfumoholic bs-meter to come across a perfume house who makes no bones about their core philosophy, which I could sum up as:

Perfume should be…fun!

Enter this li’l Devil…Divin’ Enfant.
See those perfectly pink, pinchable cheeks? It’s the olfactory phrase – with all that might imply – of ‘Oh, Baby!’ Literally in this case, since the sweetest orange blossom you’ve ever had the pleasure to sniff bubbles forth like froth in a champagne glass, but this is no sultry siren awaiting her moment to lure you in, this is very much…Eau Baby, Eau! All insouciant, ebullient allure and innocence, it’s all you can do to restrain yourself to only being able to articulate vowel variations on a theme. That theme being…

Awwww…

How darling! How cute! How sweet! How utterly, totally adorable!

Adorable, yes, as all babies must be, and sweet, as they also must be or we’d surely eat them.

Don’t think that idea didn’t occur to me with Divin Enfant, since orange blossom – apparent from top to bottom – is soon joined in by a sweet, vanilla-tinged marshmallow, and go ahead. Shrug off your foibles and surrender to such charms. You might as well, since you’re feeling quite a bit fluffy yourself by now, with a grin on your face the width of the candy aisle, but who cares when sugar babies make you this happy?

Right at the instant when the perfumed permagrin is tattooed from one ear to the other, you sense ominous thunderclouds rumbling in the distance.

How can that be? This baby was eau so sweet and happy, exuding nothing at all but dimpled, rosy candied orange blossom charms when suddenly, what is this? Coffee and tobacco and leather, too?

Ah, yes. Remember, this enfant is divine…and those thunderous rumblings come ever closer as Divin Enfant pinches your cheeks and chews on your nose, as sweet and as alluring as ever, but this baby gets into all kinds of trouble, drinking your coffee as you look the other way, locating that clandestine stash of smash-glass-in-case-of-emergency cigarettes in the secret compartment of your handbag, chewing on the leather falls of that hand-braided flogger you snagged from a ‘friend’ last night that no one was ever, ever supposed to know about.

Naughty bébé, indeed! Or is it, come on, ‘fess up, you who are one naughty bébé?

It’s you. I know…

Right when you give up, right when every ounce of your ‘get up and go’ just got up and left, Divin’ Enfant sighs one last, spent sigh, a sweet baby’s breath of amber and musk, the far off vanilla tinges and that sublime orange blossom both fade away in the sunset hours (some very long time later), and…is out like a snuffed candle with that abrupt surrender to the inevitable all babies have – one second going at about 350 km/h, the next, sleeping sweet, cherubic dreams perched upon an amber moonbeam.

Divin’ Enfant is a putto and no cherub, despite all those angelic orange blossoms and that fluffy vanilla marshmallow. If I were to set an image to it, it would be Margo Nahas’ famous artwork used as the cover for Van Halen’s album, 1984 – that very worldly putto holding a cigarette in his hand that may (or may not!) be candy.

As it is, the best way to describe it would be either cutely subversive or else subversively cute, I’m not sure which.

Who cares? It’s fun.

In other words – one sweet little monster indeed!

Etat Libre d’Orange Divin Enfant is available at Luckyscent, everywhere Etat Libre d’orange perfumes are sold, and for EU customers, directly from the Etat Libre d’Orange website.

Perfumer: Antoine Lie

Notes: Orange blossom, marshmallow, rose, coffee, tobacco, leather, amber, musk

Image: Leon Perrault, ‘Sleeping Putto’ (1882)

Disclosure: Sample provided by Anthony of NKDMan, who likely thought I forgot. I didn’t. But I’m very, very grateful!

Shut up, Gertrude!

- Or…not all roses are created equal!

Among my collection of books and cookbooks is a book, ostensibly a cookbook but actually very much more. It contains not only a plethora of outrageous recipes that would have health fanatics screaming for their heart fibrillators, but also anecdotes from two extraordinary lives in extraordinary times, two lives that openly dared to fly in the face of convention – and sometimes propriety – and as such became inspirations for me as well.

The book is ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’, part cookbook of questionable virtues, part extraordinary testimony to the lives and times of two fabled iconoclasts of the early 20th century – Alice B. Toklas, partner, helpmeet, and frontline editor, and Gertrude Stein, art collector, literary salon hostess and resident genius.

Like all relationships viewed with the rose-tinted glasses of reminiscence and in hindsight, the reality of Alice and Gertrude was much more complex and far more extraordinary than the book would suggest – they were both raised at the tail end of the Victorian age, after all – but what’s really telling in our own iconoclastic age is that today, we remember Gertrude for two things, one of which I don’t consider relevant at all and the other for a simple throwaway poem that came to define her in popular culture. Gertrude Stein was considered a literary superstar in her day, but now, say the name (if it registers at all!) Gertrude Stein, and unless you’re well-versed in art history, famous American ex-patriots or impenetrable poetry, this is what you’ll think:

 ‘A rose … is a rose…is a rose’.

An entire lifetime of literary output, and you’re remembered for five words. As they say…

You don’t get to choose what you’re famous for.

This is when I say…shut up, Gertrude! As dedicated gardeners, flower lovers, perfumers and perfumoholics are very well aware, entire olfactory universes lie waiting for discovery within those velvety petals, and with the exception of those scentless blooms sold at florists these days, there’s no such thing as just…a rose.

Roses occur in nature in every hue except blue, green and black, and depending on the variety, exude a unique, multifaceted perfume that can be…lemony, tea-like, musky, greenly fresh, narcotic, spicy and fiery, earthy and warm – and these are just the living flowers, mind, well before they’re turned into concrete and absolute and essential oil in their infinite varieties, all of which will reflect the qualities of the roses themselves. Rose is also attributed to the goddess Aphrodite – no accident, since the scent of roses can be very erotic, quelle surprise!

I’ve been thinking about roses and wearing rose-centered perfumes a lot lately. Rose has a stimulating, uplifting effect on my overall mood, and during a very frantic March, I needed all the help I could get…

Gertrude may have considered rose as just another ‘flower’, for which I’ll forgive her since she was an Aquarius, yet I have other plans for your delectation…here are my personal favorite perfumed Odes to the Rose in no particular order of preference, which each prove that even Shakespeare got it wrong on roses. By any other name they might well smell as sweet, but they would not be those multiverses of perfume and poetry contained within the velvet folds and musical tones…of rose.

The Maharani of RoseNeela Vermeire Créations Mohur

We perfume bloggers live for those moments of olfactory epiphany when suddenly, a seismic shift occurs in our amygdalas and our noses blow our minds. This happened to me when I was given the opportunity to discover a brand-new line that is currently taking the perfume world by storm – Neela Vermeire Crèations. I knew Neela had collaborated for over a year with Bertrand Duchaufour, I had read the reviews. I thought I knew from roses. I was delighted to be proved so very, very wrong. For Mohur, Neela’s tribute to both the glorious Mogul empire and the British Raj, is nothing less than a Maharani – a Great Queen – of roses. Spicy and fiery, earthy and decadent, with more rosy-floral facets than any diamond can boast, it’s an outrageously spectacular rose perfume, opulent yet also as ethereal as a fervent wish on a full moon. It’s one of the most magnificent roses I’ve ever had the pleasure to sniff and to wear. As I have and I do and I indeed will for as long as I can ever love a rose…

The Wildest HeartLiz Zorn’s Sinti

Liz Zorn, indie perfumer extraordinaire, was unknown to me when I received a decant of her heart-stopping tribute to rose centifolia, Sinti. Sinti is not your usual rose perfume cliché, there’s nothing in the slightest that will remind you of rose soap or Eau de Granny. For one thing, this rose is wild at heart, wild and untamed and blooming unseen in a secret Saharan desert oasis, as green as nature itself and as surprising as a sudden beam of sunlight on that instant shock of …rose. It is bitter and a bit thorny, with its herbal bite of sage and galbanum that blooms into a fevered dream of one feral flower, easily unisex, easily worn, and all too easy to love, even though it never can be tamed.

A Rosy Dance on Moss Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges

Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges took no time at all to pirouette its way into my rosy heart – it was love at first sniff! Ballets Rouges is by bounds and leaps a green, silky opening that segues into a pas-de-ballet of roses so real, I’ve had people turn to look for the bouquet when I’ve worn this. Yet rose is not the whole story in this perfume, for down below beats a heart of green and a pulse of chypre with a ribbon of oakmoss so dark and luscious, this diehard chypre fan is reduced to molten jelly in gratitude that there are still perfumers who love oakmoss and roses as we do. Put the two together in this peerless pas-de-deux as Ellen Covey did, and even I can dance en point forever more those perfect, mossy, rosy steps.

Iconoclast RoseEtat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy di Palma L’Eau de Protection

If anyone knows how to do celebuscents (that hated category) flawlessly, it would be Etat Libre d’Orange. Their tribute to Rossy di Palma, the feisty, fiery actress Pedro Almodovar so adores, is a thorny, spiky, emerald-green and crimson red tattoo rose that obeys no laws but its own, which is every reason to adore it just as much as Rossy herself. From that bright, green opening bite to the dark patchouli pulse below, Rossy the rose perfume is the quintessential Rossy…unusual, unsettling and beautiful in its defiance of all those tired, trite rose tropes. This is a rose that shows its thorns plain as day and glows its crimson-lipped beauty as soon as you come closer. If you dare.

The Mozart of RoseEnvoyage Perfumes L’Emblem Rouge

When perfumer Shelley Waddington of Envoyage Perfumes worked with master distiller Dabney Rose, they danced a tandem that made precisely the rose perfume no one else would dare – the very essence of a classical rose perfume wrapped in a burgundy promise of perfection. L’Emblem Rouge is a thick, lavish, Oriental rose, spicy, green, and darkly romantic. It dances its own Mozart minuet on your skin with its burst of orange and spice, violet and orris, and all its pleasures proves as you muse that Mozart may be music, and rose may be a flower, but that doesn’t make L’Emblem Rouge any less a marvel – or Mozart any less a genius!

The Rosy RevolutionsTauer PerfumesUne Rose Chyprée & Incense Rosé

I’ve said it before in several locations and I’ll happily say it again – I personally consider Andy Tauer a perfumer of such stellar magnitude, I think he should be paraded down Fifth Avenue and carpet-bombed with rose petals by an adoring crowd, except I suspect he’ll have turned them into Un Rose Vermeillé (which I have yet to try) or something else equally spectacular before the parade reaches East 81st Street. The man knows his roses, knows them as only a truly dedicated rose lover can, and has done audacious things to roses that only prove how little Gertrude – or Shakespeare – knew of roses. When I recently was given a chance to name a bunch of samples to try, these two jumped off my keyboard and into the email before I could even blink. Certain things – and certain perfumes – you just…have this hunch about, although in this case, it was more of a neon blinking billboard. Une Rose Chyprée is a rose of reinventions and revolution, dark and light, depth and sweetness, no one element taking a backseat to the other. It’s Rose, Oh, Yes! But Wait! There’s So Much More! A breath of oakmoss, a kiss of vanilla, a whole library of everything rose and fire and all its splendors, too! Incense Rosé is yet another sleight-of-hand rabbit from Andy’s hat – again, not a rose, and not an incense and not like anything else your imagination could dream but something otherwise and elsewhere…from the blinding sunshine brought of its orange/citrus open to the smoky-tinged labdanum and frankincense drydown, if you’re curious what else can possibly be said about roses…look no further. I can guarantee you one thing only – you will be surprised! And roses will forevermore never be the same…

So Gertrude…hush. Yes, I know you’re dead, but I can still feel your crotchety ghost breathing down my back as I type, said with a sneer and a hint of that grande dame you also were:

“Well, obviously, I had other, more important things to contemplate than roses!”

But stop a moment and think…about a rose, and know that by any other name, it’s very much more than sweet…

Original image of Gertrude Stein, Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1913, from indicommons.org. ‘Gertrude en rose’ version – me.

With big thank you hugs to the Great Facilitators: Shelley Waddington, Ellen Covey, Anthony of NKDMan, Nick of Les Senteurs and the incredible Neela Vermeire.

Best of the Best 2011 – Worn and Adored

Being the true confessions of a dedicated perfumoholic

The problem with being a perfume blogger – apart from the fact that most of your surroundings think you’re certifiable -  is that you by necessity wear a lot – I do mean a LOT – of perfume that you sometimes may love and sometimes…may not. It will inevitably happen that you encounter your own brand of philistinism when you introduce your skin to a highly touted house and your chemistry flips you the bird as this much-marketed brand turns into either a hydra on your skin – sprouting another head of awful the more you scrub – or else…that you’re falling in love with juice that will entail selling off your seven-year-old to pay for it.

The things, the monsters, the hydras I have endured…I rarely wrote about. It just didn’t seem the polite thing to do. But surely, some day I should write about that infamous rite of passage for any hardcore perfumista…sitting out the duration of three whole dabs of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Secretions Magnifiques’ on my skin without scrubbing. It was a bit like Anthony Bourdain drinking venomous snake blood in Vietnam because he wanted to be that guy who could brag about it with impunity…Well, I wanted to be that gal, and if Katie Puckrick had the ovaries to do it, then by Golly, so did I!

I did. I also turned green, then purple, then blue from holding my breath among other things. I dare say Anthony of NKDMan now owes me a bathtub sized drink…;)

On the other hand are the ones I simply…loved. Loved for their beauty, their peerless construction, the heart-rending drydowns and mood-enhancers and sex-me-uppers and just. Plain. Loved.

Aftelier

Cepes and Tuberose was my gateway into all things Aftelier. So compelling, so stunning, so simultaneously earthy and divine, spicy and sweet, it’s now become one of my Great Immortals, and on most days, there will be a tiny dab of it on my person somewhere. My Goddess Freya ‘fume. Sophia, another goddess in my novel Quantum Demonology, would surely love Fig. Something about jasmine sambac gets me. When it gets with fir and turns to fig, I’m done for. I’ve loved it – that much! I take Tango and Candide with me wherever I go just to breathe in their wonder. Whether it’s the completely seamless opulent bouquet of heaven that opens it or the perfectly balanced animal drydown of yes! Civet! Yes! Castoreum!…my little vial of Secret Garden is going fast. My ex hates it, which makes it a classic right there!

Atelier Cologne

Call me a philistine, but I have yet to meet an Atelier Cologne I haven’t loved, worn and killed off completely. I want one of each in those big, glorious 200 ml bottles. But for now, I’ll settle for a small bottle of Trefle Pur. Because it’s lucky! I just know…

Amouage

Ah, the many perils of Amouage. I first fell in love with Ubar – fatally and forever – and next with Epic Woman, although that took a while longer, but it crept up on me. Then, I met Memoir Woman. That took five tries and I was…toast. An instant love was the outrageousness of  Opus V – a slam dunk for this iris lover which will soon be reviewed – and then, Suzanne sent me a sample of Jubilation 25. “If this isn’t you…” she wrote ominously. I’m terrified it is…me! The good news, from my perspective, is that Lyric Woman is gorgeous …and hates my skin. I now eye that sample vial of Gold somewhat askance…and I don’t want to hear anything about Memoir Woman in extrait. I’ll wait until the day I show up in Knightsbridge, smoking plastic in tow, and they can tell me anything they like, so long as they tell me they take Amex as I take one of everything!

Aroma M

I’ve drained my sample set of Aroma M d-r-y. Geisha Blue (a verdant sanity saver for total stress-out days), Green, which is my other favorite absinthe, Violet, a deliciously subversive chocolate violet, Rouge, the spice fest to spice up anything at all, or the newest, Amber Rouge…Aroma M perfume oils are stunning, beautifully packaged in their Yuzen paper wrappings and they last and last and last. So will our love affair, I just know it!

Balmain

When I need a break from p-e-r-f-u-m-e, when all I want is to get on with my day and not worry about what I wear, when I get hit by acute indecision in the morning, Balmain’s Ivoire is what I reach for. A seamless, perfect dream of a green floral chypre that does everything a perfume is supposed to do – make me feel beautiful. It always does.

Caron

SuperMario Jr’s favorite perfume on his mother is Caron’s Bellodgia, one of the greatest carnations ever made. I make a point of wearing it when he’s sick to cheer him up. (His own, to his mother’s horror, is Amouage Memoir Man. He has sometimes insisted on wearing it to school…) Maman, meanwhile, has become addicted to the bad-gal leather of Tabac Blond extrait, thanks again to Suzanne. Yes, it’s the current formulation. I’m sure it was better before. But this is now and this is it and Tabac Blond is surely one of the sexiest scents I’ve worn this year? Wear wisely. I never did hear back from the guy I was with last I wore it to such stunning effect!

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, Dawn…she breaks my heart. First, there was…Vert pour Madame, and I have maybe three drops left, it’s such a perfect throwback to those Great Green Chypres we loved and adored. Then, I received a tiny vial of 1000 Lilies, and lilies don’t get any better, no matter what they say. Next, I discovered Sampsuchinon, which really puts the sass to my spice, and finally, she slayed me with Pandora and Paradise Lost. I love all of them when I can. Which is nowhere often enough for my liking.

Etat Libre d’Orange

Yes, I know. I know. But Etat Libre also gave us Like This…and I did indeed, like that, so much it’s all gone…as is Rossy di Palma, a thorny, spiky, green rose I also dearly loved.

Guerlain

In my year of revelations, two Guerlains – both from the L’Art et La Matière line – have converted me into a huge fan of Thierry Wasser. I haven’t yet tried Shalimar Parfum Initial – although I would like to – but Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Iris Ganache have made it into my regular rotation, and I’m so not a gourmand gal. I blame Carrie of EyelinerOnACat. That’s right. My nose had nothing to say in the matter at all!

Histoires de Parfums

There is no justice in this world if I don’t get my grubby hands on at least a decant of HdP 1740 – Marquis de Sade. Should be classified as a drug of a most lethal kind, so naturally, I’ve gotta have it!

ODIN NYC

I’ve only ever tried ODIN NY-04 Petrana (although I’ve heard so many great things about the others!), but for an iris lover, it doesn’t get any better, or classier, or chewier, or cooler. Then, I had the inspired idea – no such thing as too much iris! – to layer it with Iris Ganache. Petrana cuts some of the white chocolate overload of IG, and they dance in such beautiful tandem all day and well into evening…

Opus Oils

SInce I was done in by a dangerous bloom, my Flapper perfume oil from the Les Bohemes collection has seen a lot of action in my neighborhood, and never fails to land me compliments. So does Giggle Water. And Absinthia, my other favorite absinthe. Does this mean I’m dangerous? No. It means you must run, not walk, straight to Opus Oils and try them for yourself! You know you want to!

Ormonde Jayne

Linda Pilkington, how do I love thy genius? Let me count the ways…Tolu, a golden, glorious wreath of resinous perfection, Orris Noir, the world’s richest, warmest, thickest, sex-me-up iris got me into a flirt…five hours after I’d applied it and it was still going strong! Taïf, a dark, rich, red desert rose…Frangipani, Osmanthus and Champaca when life’s a bowl of cherries on a flawless summer’s day…oh, yes! Genius!

Penhaligon’s

Once upon a time, I received a Penhaligon’s Scent Library..and then proceeded to murder Malabah and Blenheim Bouquet. That’s love! Amaranthine’s utter strangeness and so-wrong-it’s-right-ness was stolen by a colleague. That’s purloined love!

Puredistance

There is no right way to say this, but say this I must – yet again. If you have the kind of skin that cozies up to green, then you must surely adore Puredistance Antonia. It is a masterpiece of a perfume – at once a reference to all those Great Greens of old and yet totally modern, too. It makes me happy and grateful beyond belief to know that Anne Bezantian felt as I do – and created what is – or what should be – a Classic with a capital C. Sigh. A forever love!

Robert Piguet

I never expected to conjure up the ovaries to fall for Fracas this year, but I did. With a vengeance. But there’s more intrigue from Piguet…since back in my Badass Days (when I was a good deal younger), I wore Bandit extrait…So I ordered a sample of the EdP from First in Fragrance, so I’d have something to complain about, only to find it was only slightly softer and not too changed these days, and that thrilled me no end. Bandit is another of my Great Immortals. Next I knew, I ordered a decant from TPC, because I’m still that kind of badass…and then, things got a little…weird. For this Bandit was not MY Bandit, with its bitter leather-violet-galbanum vibe and ashtray undertone (which is precisely why I love it, something only perfumistas can understand), but rather a fluffed-down, muskier version. Not even the color of the juice was the same. Came to find out that the US version is markedly different – why, I don’t know – and also, that I want that Euro ashtray version, so bad, I can taste it! On the other side of February 1st, I foresee an order…My sample is almost gone. I will cry my bitter isobutyl quinoline tears.

Serge Lutens

It gives me an evil amount of pleasure to state that I have managed to turn four of my friends and acquaintances into diehard Lutensoholics. Now, there are five of us where I live. I lured them in with Fleurs d’Oranger (best orange blossom ever created!), hooked them with Boxeuses, and wiped them up with Ambre Sultan. The Arabie is m-i-n-e. (and Suzanne’s! Cumin lovers, unite!) The Vitriol d’Oeillet I can share. If L’Eau Froide is half as good as I hope, this town is toast. Meanwhile, I have an inexplicable craving for the glories of Encens et Lavande…and want to try De Profundiis very badly. Cèdre I’ve loved for a quite a while, and thanks to JoanElaine, it can love me right back!

Skye Botanicals

The boy of the household – whatever Hairy Krishna, the ginger fiend thinks to the contrary – is a bit blasé about the amount of sample vials in different locations around our apartment. “Argh, Mom…why do you always smell of something?” he asked me yesterday. Nevertheless, he’s being indoctrinated by proximity. A seven-year-old who wears tiny dabs of Memoir Man to school has, I foresee, a very bright future. But one he loves beyond all reason is the one I spray on his pillow every night – Skye Botanicals Fuzzy Blue Blanket. It has replaced the lavender/neroli blend I used to use to get him to sleep. It works! He sleeps, if usually a half hour later than his mother would like…

Mainstream hits and misses

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t like very much of what came out this year at my local shops…Chanel no. 19 Poudré was such a massive disappointment for me, Prada Candy hated me with a fury. These two words should never occur in the same sentence: Caramel and hairspray. Gah! Bottega Veneta made my best of list. There are a few Guerlains I need to investigate properly – Insolence among them, and yes, you may shoot me! But the closest thing to a mainstream find – and I can’t even find it here – that I loved was a flanker to one I do like: Mugler’s Alien. I said it – I’m a sucker for intergalactic jasmine sambac. When Aromi of IlMondodiOdore sent me a sample of Alien Liqueur de Parfum, it took me no time at all to decide I. Just. Have. To. Have. It. It’s Alien but better, smoother, richer, with a smoky, satinwood, resinous amber drydown to die for.

Ah, we perfume bloggers have it rough. So many ‘fumes, so little time. The ones we had to wear to review, the ones we wanted to love but couldn’t, the ones we loved so much, we couldn’t review them, and the ones we love so much, we wear them even on the days we claim we’re wearing nothing at all! These were mine in 2011. What were yours?

Image: The Queen’s Crown, made for Queen Sophie Magdalene by court jeweler Frederik Fabritius, 1731. Royal Danish Collections, Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Monday Mini Miscellanea


- or…too many perfumes, too little time!

Not so long ago, I sat down with my ever-propagating collection of samples and reached the conclusion that if something weren’t done, I’d drown. The guilty pleasures I love to wear and have yet to review, the guiltier pleasures of stuff I need to review and I don’t know where to start, the perfumes I really should be reviewing if I want to take this somewhere…and really, people, summer vacations are too precious to tie yourself in knots over all the things you should be writing, when you are in fact supine on the grass painting cloud pictures with Spider-Man Jr.

So in my little blue review box I have five perfumes from five different houses, all different, all neglected and all of them several shades of self-perpetuating headache. Not for being so bad that none of them merited their own review, but simply because…mini reviews are cool! They cut to the chase and free up energy for something truly spectacular to come, and trust me…it’s coming!

I’ve already said too much!

Party Girl Gone Wrong
Angel Garden of Stars Peony Angel, by Thierry Mugler
If I were ever to make up a Top Five of perfumes I loathe, somewhere on that list you would definitely find the original – and for a time nearly ubiquitous – Angel. You may love Angel. You can have her. Any way and any time you please. This flanker, part of the Garden of Stars series, was off to a promising start the first time I tried her. Sweet, as Angel is, heady and very pretty, or so I thought. The second time, not so much. She became the ‘friend’ you invite to a party on that fatal ‘more-the-merrier- premise, only to drink a vat of chocolate mojitos, strip in your kitchen sink, make a pass at your boyfriend, bawl when he turns her down, and disintegrates into a sodden, sorry mess at 3 AM. And worse…she just won’t leave!
There’s peony in there, all right, pretty at first but soon screaming in horror over the company she’s in…patchouli, pepper, chocolate, and Big, Bad Viagra Wolf Vanilla, the second before they all…eat her alive and entire, and you’re left with that gory Wes Craven horrorfest known as ‘Angel’s Revenge’. It comes in a 3D Director’s Cut that runs at least eight hours…too long.
Notes: Pepper, peony, patchouli, chocolate, vanilla

The Hamptons Haughty Go Nicely
Eau d’Hadrien, by Annick Goutal
This is a lemon that went to finishing school in Switzerland, married very well, and now spends her time doing appropriately worthy things with her perfectly appropriate, beautifully turned out children, also lemons like herself, while the Big Lemon Cheesecake does unspeakable things on Wall Street.
There is no room for surprises in Ms. Hamptons Haughty’s universe, because even that slightly risqué touch of grapefruit never overstays its welcome. And when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade you enjoy in a Baccarat glass with a view to the Atlantic on the right stretch of the Hamptons and not even the discreet cypress drydown will ever, ever tell that if pressed hard enough, this lemon will admit sotto voce…she hates Ralph Lauren. That’s just not…nice, and this is a veddy, veddy nice lemon.
On the other hand and the other side of the picket fence, her snarky neighbor calls her Pledge behind her back, and knows exactly what the Cheesecake gets up to in the meatpacking district.
Notes: Citrus, lemon, grapefruit, cypress

The Prettiest Wannabe
Petalia, by Chantecaille
Petalia tries, really, really hard. If I were awarding report cards for effort, she’d surely deserve an A. She is fluffy gardenia, sweetest tuberose and all things gloriously beautiful, and yet somehow, some way…she disappoints. It’s not that she isn’t beautiful, it’s not that she isn’t immaculately turned out and flawlessly coifed, it’s not even the fact she has not one speck of lipstick on her perfect pearly teeth.
No, it’s that Petalia has a deep, dark secret. She wants to be something else, someone else, someone else who had this very same idea several years ago and pulled it off with such panache and èlan. She really, really wants to be Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, but she’s just not…all…the way there yet. Honey, I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. But TG got to me first and best and always, and there you have it. Now, Petalia has a major identity crisis. She tried so hard, and for a lot of people, that will probably be good enough. Not me. I’ll keep my EL PC TG, thank you. Because I’m that kind of picky…errr…witch!
Notes: Gardenia, tuberose, woods, musk

Surfing the Island Breezes
Vents Ardents, by Envoyage Perfumes
If happiness is a Caribbean vacation, then here you go, folks…here’s Montego Bay in a spray, here’s take me a-w-a-y…the perfect cure for the miseries of summers in the left armpit of Northern Europe. Shelley Waddington put de lime in de coconut (and just a touch of that), added rum, a few leaves of bay, a good Dominican cigar and stirred. Voilà! Montego, back when it was cool, before it was ruined by ‘all-inclusive’ and package tours, back when you could look up and see Ian Fleming knocking out the next James Bond blockbuster on his terrace, and meanwhile, life was a tradewind breeze on a perfect moon-shaped beach beneath the coconut palms before a sea such an improbable shade of blue. Stella got her groove back in Jamaica, mahn…and yours truly looked up from her wrist and remembered…oh! That’s right! It’s summer…
I’m going to pack this one away for January, when I need all the Jamaica I can get…
Notes: Citrus, vanilla, bay, tobacco and Jamaica rum

The Tattoo Rose
Rossy de Palma, by Etat Libre d’Orange
There are celebufumes, and there are…the Etat Libre versions. No one, but no one does ‘em like ELdO. If Tilda Swinton Like This did wonders for pumpkin and immortelle – which it did! – then surely Rossy de Palma should do miracles no less for Bulgarian rose. Ah, Rossy, heroine and mainstay of so many Almodovar movies, and if ever there were proof that attitude can get you far indeed, that you are as devastating as you can think, it would be you! My neuroses have never been the same since I met you in ‘Women On the Verge’…And then you got in cahoots with Etienne de Swardt and made your eponymous perfume, and I now have twice as much to be grateful for! Because this is a glorious, twisted, unusual rose, the rose with all the thorns and all the petals, a spicy, fiery green and smoky rose, this is a rock’n’roll and Gothic kind of rose, as beautiful and as unique as you. My kind of rose, and I do like the unconventional – in roses as in roll models. I really need a full bottle of this, just to prove to all those wan wannabes what a rose can do for you! And for me. A rose is a rose is a Rossy, too!
Tattoo this rose, somewhere I can show it…
Notes: Bulgarian rose, bergamot, geranium, ginger, jasmine, black pepper, cocoa, frankincense, patchouli, benzoin

Hands down, Rossy de Palma won the day. But Vents Ardents surprised me in all sorts of good ways on a cool, gray day, and I can’t wait to see what it might do for my mood in dismal, darkest January…

My profound thanks to the Great Facilitators, Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, Lucy of Indieperfumes and Anthony of NkdMan.

Raspberry and Plums


- Perfume and the generation gap
Yesterday after work, I had a meet up with a female friend and mentor of mine, who takes a keen interest in perfume, this blog and yours truly, not necessarily in that order. To that end, I brought a bag packed with most of my sample and decant collection, which for reasons I have yet to fathom seems to be growing exponentially. All through the morning, a few of the other ladies, all of them in their twenties, eyed that bag and wondered at those boxes, until one of the girls finally summed up the courage to ask what was in them. It was our lunch break. I hauled them out…

Most of these lovelies know nothing of niche perfumes, and all of them have never known the heyday of broad-shouldered Perfume with a capital P. What they do know is that yours truly is the local Sillage Monster. They know I never wear the same thing two days in a row, they know I wear…a lot of it at any given time, and they know I sure as shinola don’t smell anything like their mothers…so their curiosity was killing them.

One girl – let’s call her Annie – opened up a box containing various Lutens, Amouage, my Atelier decant and the results of a sample spree at First in Fragrance. “I always wondered,” she said, “what it is about you and your taste in grandmother perfumes.”

Grandmother perfumes?” I asked. Having recently acquired a young and ardent lover, ‘grandma’ anything was the last thing on my mind.

“Yeah,” piped in let’s-call-her-Beatrice, “they’re, like, heavy and heady. We can smell you after you leave the room.” She grabbed my decant of Boxeuses, sniffed, and wrinkled her nose.

I nodded toward the gang of testosterone in the room. “I haven’t heard any complaints so far.” Two of those guys still had fond memories of the day I showed up in a cloud of Bandit. They had been happy to say good morning ever since. My male boss on the other hand, took me aside later that day and told me I really shouldn’t wear Bandit to work. It was too…distracting. Score one for Piguet!

“Well, they wouldn’t, would they?” sneered Annie. She was still miffed I had scored a lover who was seriously cute and just her type. “Phew…” this was her reaction to my beloved ‘Ubar’, “damn, this stuff is…awful.”

“Only because you think you’re supposed to smell like watered down raspberries-with-rose,” I said.

“I hate those,” Beatrice reached for my purse spray of Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger and inhaled. “Holy…cow. So that’s what that was.” She bravely sprayed a wrist. “Oooooh. Wow. Gotta say it, this is sexy.” She didn’t stop sniffing. Her eyes were shining. When the jasmine and tuberose began their little pas-de-deux with a flurry of nutmeg and ambrette, she stared at her wrist as if she couldn’t believe such marvels existed.

“Too much.” Annie shook her head. She opened up another box and hauled out a white bag emblazoned with the Etat Libre d’Orange logo and ‘Le parfum est mort – vive le parfum.”

It figured the first one she would pull out would be ‘Secretions Magnifiques’. “Look…this one has a…” she waved the little booklet around. Our table erupted. “Yes, it does.” I snatched it away from her. “Trust me, you really don’t want to open that one.” Luckily, there was plenty else to distract her. ‘Rossy de Palma,’ ‘Vraie Blonde’ and ‘Nombril Immense’ were quickly discarded. ‘Noël à Balcon’ found favor, and so did ‘Encens et Bubblegum’ and ‘Jasmin et Cigarettes’. “This, stated Annie with finality, “is more like it!” She dabbed a little on one wrist. “I like it more and more…How much is 100 euros again?”

Beatrice was feeling adventurous. I knew it was the ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’. ‘Like this’ was inhaled. Her eyes opened wider. She grabbed the little glossy black box and took off the rubber bands. “So this is the one you’re working on for your book…” She took off the lid. There was no need to sniff, because the bass line of the Devil’s scent wafted in all its potent extrait strength glory all around the table. One four-letter word escaped her. “That’s the general idea,” I said. “You mean…” Annie’s eyes were as big as saucers, “people will actually buy this stuff? Like, pay money for it? And…” her voice dropped to a whisper as she tried to grasp that idea, “Like…wear it, too?”

“Well, it’s not finished yet…this is just the foundation, so to say…or the first draft.”

Meanwhile, a sweetheart Sri Lankan we’ll call Cherry, inhaled deeply. “This…she stated with millenia of heady Hindu perfumed history dancing in her head, “is…good. Really, really, good.”

“Have I got something for you…” I opened up Doc Elly’s box and located ‘Siam Proun’. “Here, try this.” “Oh! Oh!”. Cherry was in the grip of some powerful emotion she didn’t quite have the words for in Danish. She muttered something in Tamil. “It smells like…love, and home, and everything beautiful! Like something Saraswati would wear!”

“You’re learning, sweetheart!” I gave her a hug. “Then you shall have it!” She already owned ‘Gujarat’. She had been a darling ever since. If I gave her Siam Proun, she might let me snag a few of her pistachios.

“Pooh….” Annie waved her hand. “Too…much, if you ask me.” She sniffed her jasmine and cigarette-infested wrist. “Where can I buy this? And how long until payday, anyway?”

Beatrice turned the decant of ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’ over and over in her hands. Every so often, she sniffed at her wrist. Then, she straightened her shoulders, tossed back her ponytail, and sprayed the other wrist. “No such thing as too much, if this is what it smells like!”

I almost regretted not bringing ‘Ambre Sultan’, but there were maybe five sprays left, and they were m-i-n-e.

“Well…” Annie gathered up the mess of Etat Libres and put them back in their bag. “That was…an education.”
“What I want to know…” Beatrice sniffed again. She’d trail that sillage for the rest of the day and love every millisecond. “Is how do you write about it?”

“Yeah!” echoed Annie and Cherry, “How do you? Write about it?”

I gathered up decants and purse sprays and sample bottles and put everything back in the bag. “Search me. I don’t know. I just open up a sample or a bottle and…let my nose do the talking!”

“I know how you scored that cutie…” grumbled Annie. She pointed an accusing finger at the bag. “It was one of those…grandma fumes!”

Not true, but I’d never tell…


Later, after a decadent chocolate cake and a lot of laughter, my mentor – we can call her Denise – and I settled down with the boxes.

Denise is a few years older than I, a lot more settled and yet – she has never lost that sense of fun and mischief, which is one reason we get along so well. We hit it off instantly, that cold February day we met, and we’ve hit it off in a big way ever since. I adore her for the way she can rearrange my mental furniture in new and more efficient settings, and for letting me be myself. Once the mentor part is out of the way, we park business where it belongs and get back to the important stuff – like friendship.

She told me of a recent visit to Strange Invisible Perfumes in Venice Beach, and then went through my sample boxes.

“You know…I went to Luckyscent’s Scentbar in West Hollywood, I went to Sephora, and I went to that store in Venice Beach, and I even blazed through duty-free in Los Angeles and Amsterdam, but it’s gotten to where I don’t dare to buy perfume these days unless you’re with me. You know…” her brown eyes danced across the table. “Because you know what real women like!”

“To smell womanly, you mean?”

“Yes, to be…unique, to feel special, to feel…just a bit better than yourself!” She inhaled Andy Tauer’s ‘Incense Extreme’. “I remember you wore this the day we met.”

“I did.” And frequently ever since.

She found ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’. “OMG…this should be banned.” She sprayed an elbow.

“You realize that once you start batting for Team Lutens and Sheldrake, it’s over,” I said. “You’ll never be the same again, you’ll be corrupted for life, it’s the road to perdition…”

“Good!” She let it settle and opened ‘Ubar’. “I can see why this made you cry. Wow, it’s stunning. Just…” she breathed in. “Stunning. I can see why mainstream is so incredibly boring after this.” Her face had the word ‘epiphany’ written large all over it.

“Well, I like a challenge, and a journey in the bottle,” I said.

She eyed my decant of ‘Boxeuses’ and opened it. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” She sprayed a wrist. “Are there laws against this anywhere? If there aren’t, there should be!”

“Only in Canada…and Detroit,” I said.

“I can’t get over how incredible this is!” She sniffed. And sniffed her elbow, where ‘Fleurs d’Oranger’ bloomed its siren song. “I can’t decide. They’re both so gorgeous…” She had a faraway look in her eyes. “Second opinion!” She jumped up and consulted her hunky husband in the other room. A few minutes later, she came back. “He said ‘Boxeuses’, so ‘Boxeuses’ it is!

Before I left, she had me write down the web address of Serge Lutens. Less than an hour later, I received a text message while standing in the checkout line at my local supermarket. “Just bought Boxeuses! Can’t wait! And I can’t thank you enough, either!”

A convert to niche, to Lutens, and to plummy, yummy leather. And a bevy of beauties who realized that maybe there was more to perfume than raspberry and watery rose. Jasmine and cigarettes, jasmine and tuberose, plummy, yummy leather and priapic artwork thrown in, too!

Not so bad for a humdrum Thursday…

A Homecoming Dream


A review of Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Tilda Swinton Like This’

Sometimes, you can encounter a combination of disparate elements that in theory seem so utterly wrong and alien, you wonder how it can ever work. Scallops in a vanilla-white wine sauce, dark chocolate and curry, lavender cupcakes – all the things that shouldn’t work yet somehow do, sometimes beautifully, sometimes not.

Then come the occasions when you wonder why no one thought of it before. When idea and execution come together in a flux so seamless, the result seems like some elegant, effortless sleight-of-hand, and the rabbit out of that hat has orange fur with gold-brown polka dots and will redefine the word ‘rabbit’ for all time to come in your own mind. One singular combination – but it still has long ears, a fluffy tail and eats the carrots in your garden.

Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Tilda Swinton – Like This’ is one such rabbit. When it was released last year, I read the reviews and thought to myself: Pumpkin perfume? Gingerbread? Pumpkin pie? R-e-a-l-l-y now…

Famous last words. Because on May 5th, ‘Like This’ won the Fragrance Foundation France’s award – the perfume world’s equivalent of an Oscar – for best specialty/niche fragrance, a distinction I personally think Etat Libre richly deserves for several reasons.

For one thing, this isn’t anything like a Demeter. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s not about the pumpkin at all, or even anything normally categorized as ‘gourmand’. It could be me, but I don’t get anything resembling ‘pumpkin pie’ in the least – and that’s a good thing.

Right away, I get a tangy, sharp zing of mandarin and ginger, an electric bolt of summer, heat and all things ‘happy’ to my nose, but that’s just the beginning, there’s this indescribable crème brûlée scent of almost-burnt sugar and within moments, an earthier ribbon of vetiver and what I suspect might be that ‘pumpkin accord’ weave their way into the picture. I can smell neroli, too, and rose, say the notes, but the neroli is dancing a joyful fandango on my skin and I never notice that. What I most definitely notice is immortelle creeping in to the limelight like some sentient vine, shooting sunshine-yellow blooms unfolding in fast-forward on my skin to sing the song immortelle sings so well.

The worst thing I can say about ‘Like This’ is that if you hate immortelle, this probably won’t change your mind. I thought I did. I thought that maple syrup+curry were vastly overrated, and I thought I would hate this, but if it’s the vetiver, the heliotrope, that pumpkin thang, or just my ever-expanding olfactory horizons, I don’t care and know less, since I have to sit down. I feel dizzy, dizzy in a way that happens more frequently these days, in the grip of some inarticulate emotion that boils down to…happy. Not ecstatic, not delirious, not my usual overexcited puppy-dog mode, but happy-content, happy-comforted, happy-peaceful, happy in a way that makes me want to laugh at nothing more and nothing less than the simple, incredible pleasure of being alive in my skin, in this moment, in this company. I applied liberally this morning, and these thirteen hours later, a hint of skin-but-better still remains.

‘Like This’ is …a dream of a homecoming, when you have sampled a taste of all the adventures this world has to offer, and it was…enough. It’s when open arms reach out to hold you and draw you inside to a fireside and a perfect cup of Darjeeling with two warm gingersnaps on the saucer, and you feel body and soul come completely together for the first time in a long time, because you’re…home.

It’s that perfect, contented moment, a fleeting flower frozen in amber for eternity, that you will love and cherish always.

It’s like saying goodbye to a lover on a Sunday morning, when he pulls you close and asks: “What will it be like, when I see you again?”

And you grab his shirt and pull his head down to yours and brush a taste of firelight and spice across his lips and you say:

“Like this.

Notes: Yellow mandarin, ginger, pumpkin accord, immortelle, Moroccan neroli. Grasse rose, vetiver, heliotrope, musk

I have never drained a sample vial so fast in my entire life. If that’s not love…

Disclosure: Sample generously provided by Anthony of NkdMan, who gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse!

Image: Fossil Mall

The Softest Sell


- when image is everything
At one important point in Quantum Demonology, one of the characters says “I can believe anything for at least five minutes, it’s all in the persuasion.”

So if you stop to think about it a little further, would you not agree with the statement that nowhere is that persuasion more emphatic than with …perfume? That art most ephemeral of all, fleeting as a spring wind, yet a perfume can engrave itself upon your memory and your emotions in such a visceral manner, it might as well be hewed in Carrara marble by Bernini to endure for eternity.

We buy, consume, wear perfume for so many reasons – to reflect our many and often disparate selves on any given day, to celebrate spring, summer, fall…or the first snow. We wear perfume to seduce and entice, or simply to seduce and entice ourselves into a newer, better self, however we choose to define it. We use perfume to define or emphasize a mood, a feeling, a certain emotion. As in…

“Today, you don’t want to mess with me. I am cool, confident and completely collected. Today, I wear Chanel no. 19.”

Or…

“Tonight, it’s you and me. The world stops at the door. Tonight, there are no…cell phones, no Twitter feeds, no Facebook status updates. Tonight, there is only now. So tonight, I shall wear Tabac Blond, for you alone…”

So by association, and by associating all the images conjured up in naming only two perfumes, two whole movie trailers play in the reader’s mind…Armani suit, well-behaved hair, an impeccable presentation of the ten most relevant facts a client needs to know to take the bait and pay the bills. Don Draper, eat my dust!

Or something black and slinky, something altogether different for an altogether different purpose…some time definitely after dark.

At least, that’s what yours truly tells herself in front of the perfume cabinet. Your mileage – or your perfumes – may vary.

But in choosing, buying, consuming perfume – whichever one you choose for whatever reason – you are buying into not just the juice, you are choosing, buying and wearing an entire aesthetic, as well. This was brought to my attention by some of the comments I received for my blog on Etat Libre d’Orange’s ‘Vraie Blonde’. Which got me thinking…and as we all know, that means trouble!


Behold, one of the glories of the twentieth century – Jacques Guerlain’s immortal ‘Mitsouko’, beloved, worshiped and adored by perfumistas and normal women alike since its creation in 1919. Because…it’s perfect. It is every bottled aspiration any woman and many men could ever hope to have, and – it’s Guerlain, who broke new ground in a world of ostensible soliflores with the still very modern ‘Jicky’ in 1887, and even then, they had been in business for over sixty years. Guerlain, to our jaded minds, wafts heritage, class, refined taste and a certain refined aesthetic native to France especially, where all aspects of life are sensual pleasures to be celebrated, explored and taken to entirely new heights. Buy a Guerlain perfume – almost any Guerlain – and you are buying an entire history in a bottle, all wrapped up in the heady aura of…Mitsouko, Shalimar …It is a compliment to your most excellent, discerning taste in that most excellent, ephemeral art form that is – perfume. In the unlikely if not implausible event anyone says it smells ‘weird’, please, just shoot that ignoramus on sight!

At the other end of that same super-sophisticated aesthetic spectrum, we have…the line of Serge Lutens. Whereas Guerlain has its nineteenth-century heritage to claim as its own, Serge Lutens as a perfume house has only existed since 2000, and yet, it would be fair to say that few other lines – and indeed few other perfume houses – have done so much to explore and even refine the singular and very personal aesthetic inclinations and preoccupations of M. Lutens and his perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. The brand, the concept, the very perfumes themselves are unique and uniquely intriguing, not least because this is not a mainstream brand, and these perfumes are nowhere near mainstream.

Yet the branding – of a super-luxurious, super-exclusive, inside secret of the cognoscenti fits the perfumes, even though many of them are challenging, shapeshifting, mercurial creatures who seem to take a life of their own on skin and bloom in ways we may or may not like. A Serge Lutens perfume can be difficult in a way no Guerlain can, can be downright obstinate and insistent and you can likewise insist that this…thing…on your skin is a horror story not even John Carpenter could cook up, until that one day, that one day you catch yourself thinking – as with Tubéreuse Criminelle pictured above…whoever could have guessed that gasoline and mentholated mothball could evolve into such peerless beauty? So you are hooked forever-and-a-day, and there is no cure, no panacea, no balm for that spot on your soul that only a Lutens could find and appease.

Meanwhile, we’re still in luxury territory, still within the safe and beautiful confines of sophistication and discernment and our own most excellent taste. There’s no disparity between the juice and the brand, nothing we need to outright reject, because it’s still…perfume. A necessary adornment and the only accessory that really matters, as Coco Chanel once said.

Perfumes came and went, perfume houses bloomed and died, all of them to the last bottle catering to our need for definition, our hunger for the extraordinary, the necessary, the hotly coveted…luxury, even if it were the only luxury we could afford, even if we would never wear or afford haute couture in our lives, we could aspire and breathe in that rarified air and for a moment believe ourselves to be…rare, exclusive sophisticates.

But times were changing, people’s perceptions of luxury and branding were changing – even luxury brands were – and are – becoming watered-down commonplaces, available to anyone with enough rubber credit and a bad case of the ‘screw-it-and-I’m-worth it’s. Other lines joined the fray in upping the ante to maintain that exclusivity, through price tag or limited distribution, all to better separate the plebes from the patricians, the cognoscenti from the clueless. Some of those lines merit their outrageous price tags, and some are just more…noisy hype in a world where everything is hyped as ‘luxury’, to the point where it can be hard to define what the word even means any longer.

Which was where that blog entry came in. Because in the comments, I came across several statements that quite simply stopped me in my tracks. It was a Japanese ‘satori’ moment, an ‘Aha!’ moment, when with a few select words, my entire perspective on perfume changed. Possibly forever.

In an Internet age, when everything new-ish is so five minutes ago, when chocolate, bath towels and even something so mundane as toilet paper can be marketed as ‘luxury’, along came …you guessed it…another perfume house, and this time, nothing ever would be quite the same again.

Enter the renegade perfume house of Etat Libre d’Orange, and pictured above, quite possibly the most universally reviled and deplored perfume ever created. No one who has ever experienced it can forget it, and many simply don’t have the stomach to try. It doesn’t even stop with the perfume itself. It’s the entire concept of the line. Because some of the comments stated quite unequivocally that the brand itself and its marketing concept was enough to reject the line entirely, and that was what stopped me cold.

Etat Libre chose a very different approach to marketing themselves as the Next New Kid On the Block. Instead of über-sophistication and exclusivity, they chose to sell themselves on shock value – and a certain adolescent – or tongue-in-cheek, if you prefer – image, and a definite salacious slant. With names such as ‘Putain de Palaces’ (Palace Slut), ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong (Baby I Don’t Swallow’) or even the infamous ‘Secretions Magnifiques’, they turned perfume marketing and branding entirely on its head, and even managed to raise quite a few hackles in the process by challenging all preconceptions as to what constitutes ‘perfume’ – that it must be beautiful, it must be luxurious, it must by definition be a continuation on an eternal theme – to smell good. And anything that smells…good must perforce be marketed like perfume has been marketed since the beginning of time – with the aesthetic we have come to associate with….perfume. Sacred, special, sophisticated, mirroring back to us our own…sanctity, uniqueness, sophistication.

Not so, if Etat Libre is anything to go by. They may have advertising copy Beavis and Butthead could have written (on a good day), their perfumes may have salacious names, and one of them may indeed be the bottled Texas Chainsaw Massacre in full Technicolor, 3-D and Smellavision, but all the same, they are doing quite well for themselves in spite of – or because of – that iconoclasm that dared to question our preconceptions of perfume and perfume marketing.

I have no problem with either personal choice and preference or iconoclasm – I actually gravitate toward it more often than not. If some would prefer to reject Etat Libre’s creations simply for their Beavis and Butthead aesthetic, well – it’s a free country, right? We’re inundated with choices every day. The old cliché – to each his or her own – is nowhere more true than in perfume. One woman’s Poison is another woman’s Obsession, etc.

Personally, I would never write off a new experience of any kind I might stand to learn something from. (If nothing else, I could always use it in a novel!) I would never reject an entire line on principle, because in my daily life, no one would ever know about my super-deluxe-exclusive-only-available-every-other-decade-limited-edition-and-distribution-vintage-in-18K gold-bottled…perfume. My surroundings would pass their judgment something along the lines of…good/bad/yuck/let-me-rip-off-your… etc. Which is fine by me.

What is very fine indeed by me is the occasional…huh-huh…Beavis..check-this-out-dude…reminder that sometimes, marketing can take itself too seriously, perfumes can certainly take themselves too seriously, and what we really need to do is just…chill out, laugh and let our hair down a little. There is a space and a headspace for our longing for the ephemeral dream that is perfume, for that flawless, shining moment of transcendent beauty that gives us such joy simply to exist, to live and to breathe! There is a place for our inner teenaged longing for irreverence and off-color, too, should we be that way inclined.

And above all, sometimes we need a reminder – that it’s only perfume, people! The softest sell of all!

Images:
Illustration for Le Galion’s ‘Snob’ by C. Maurel, 1957, belledepub.free.fr.
Vintage Guerlain Mitsouko, guerlainperfumebottles.webs.com
Limited edition Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle, megsmakeup.com
Etat Libre d’Orange Secretions Magnifiques, Etat Libre