Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An American Blogger In Paris: Etat Libre d'Orange

Our last full day in Paris (or actually, our supposed last one. We ended up staying another day because of a cancelled flight and airline delays, not that it did us any good, being stuck in an sub-par airport hotel that had no wireless connection) was spent at the Marais. I already wrote a little about it here and The Blond gave a culinary tour in his own blog. But the afternoon was about perfume.

I had the pleasure of meeting Denyse of Grain de Musc (a brilliant bi-lingual blogger who is as fascinating as her vintage perfume collection). We arranged to explore the Etat Libre d'Orange boutique, a line that I only knew by reputation and have previously avoided, mostly because of the marketing hype around it.

Launched in 2006, the house has made a conscious decision to build a reputation of questionable aesthetics (drawings of erupting penises, names like Don't Get Me Wrong, Baby, I Do Not Swallow) instead of promoting the actual quality of the scents (which is high) or the talent of their noses (ditto). The marketing was just a bit too junior high for my taste, so as curious as I've always been about any new releases, sniffing them never became a priority.

Thanks to Denyse who translated and explained, I got to hear about the notes and ideas behind the scents I smelled and tried. And it's always a lot of fun to sniff with another perfume lover. These are the people who would never give you weird looks as you inhale deeply and do a stream-of-conscious blabbing.

First I asked to try Rossy de Palma because I've always been fascinated by the actress/model with the amazingly unusual look. The perfume, however, didn't live up to the legend. It's a rose and not an interesting one. I wasn't moved enough to give it skin space, but then again, I'm not that big on roses to begin with.

Next came Vraie Blonde (a name that alludes to the age-old question of drapes and carpet matching) which earned my curiosity just because. It's a cute little aldehydic bellini, but I'm just not the type.

Encens et Bubblegum was different enough to earn precious skin real estate. There was something about the game of bold sugar and soft incense that captured me. I expected it to be much more crass, like a middle school Lolita who giggles too much and hikes up her skirt to show a bit too much not yet fully formed thigh. Instead, I got something twisted but pretty, girly but not all the way Barbie. It makes me happy every time I wear it, and the only thing preventing me from calling Bendel and ordering a bottle (other than my dislike of such a hassle. I've already whined about Bendel's miserable e-commerce) is the husband's deep disapproval of the bubblegum note. He picks it up in blind testing, so it's not just an aversion to the idea.

Then came Rien. That's one big oxymoron if there ever was one, named "Nothing" but haunting and distracting like very few scents can do. It reminded me of Bandit and has a lot in common with it, except that it's much more butch. It's like Bandit stripped from its floral heart and having everything else about it amplified to an almost cartoon version of a smoky, tarry, black leather scent.

It's fascinating from the very first beautiful/ugly notes. This is the scent I would have expected to see named after Rossy de Palma, her avant-garde face and twisted characters. The first couple of hours are all burnt leather that fascinates, repulses and makes me question my taste. I don't know where or how I could wear it in public, as to a "normal" person who stumbles into my personal space it would smell downright scary and not at all like a perfume.

The drydown is all dark and subtle incense. The smoke and tar are toned downed and it's different enough from Bandit to deserve a place in my wardrobe. I still don't know where I could wear it, and I would advise anyone to sample thoroughly before purchasing (and not to wear it on a first date, unless applied at least two hours prior to your rendez-vous).

If you're somewhat familliar with the ELdO line you know what comes next.

Yes, that one.

I wasn't willing to leave the store without trying the infamous Sécrétions Magnifiques. A perfume that's supposed to have accords of blood, sweat and sperm with a side of milk and is so reviled that sales assistants are rumoured to avoid spraying it. I didn't want to stink up the place so I dabbed it on instead. The metallic opening was certainly unpleasant. I suppose that's the bloody part. Then it became watery and most of all reminded me of a stale load of handwash water that was left in the sink for too long after the dirty clothes were removed from it. There's an unwashed aspect there and a floral laundry detergent but that was about it. Not something I'd like to wear, but not really puke-inducing. And unlike any other ELdO I tried then or since, Sécrétions Magnifiques had the least staying power.

To read Denyse's account of our sniffage, go here.

Images: photos of the boutique (that has a large part dedicated to artistic erotic photography): http://www.parismarais.com. The colorful illustrations that adorn the tester bottles but not the ones that are actually for sale are from the ELdO website.

Etat Libre d'Orange perfumes are available from Henri Bendel in NYC and Harvey Nichols in London, as well as online from the French site (that will ship to the US and charge an arm and a leg for that. It's better to deal with the concierge service at Bendel). If you're in the UK you can also order through amazon.co.uk. Imagine that.


  1. Rien was the one that if I was near Bendels I might pop for a full bottle- but I get tuberose out of it as well, of did the last time I wore the biggie-sized decant I have. Might have to try it again tomorrow.

    I didn't really get blood out of SM, or man-jus, just funky old seawater. But I may have to dig that decant out of whatever hole I threw it into to try it again...

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  3. just out of curiosity what is The Blonde's blog address? (as if I need another blog to occupy my time at work haha)

  4. Tom, I was at Bendel a few weeks ago with the full intention of buying Rien, but started sampling a few others (Charonge and Putain), decided I could live without either and ended up buying Piguet Visa, which I've been coveting for quite a while. I think I made the right choice.
    As for SM, it's more of a weird metallic note before it goes all unwashed. Not really scandalous and not very interesting, either.

  5. Kat, thanks for reminding me. I've meant to link to the post, so did it now.


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