2006 has seen an explosion of niche/artisanal lines, from Parfumerie Generale to Le Labo. Niche is a rather nebulous term, which sometimes is taken to mean quality and originality, although in reality, it has more to do with the limitations of distribution. As a result, only a few offerings from the new crop of niche can rival Serge Lutens, Annick Goutal and Frédéric Malle, the quintessential niche houses that do not cut corners on raw materials and innovation. Nevertheless, the daring spirit of niche founders fuses a dose of excitement into the perfume landscape dominated by safe choices from the big houses….
“Le parfum est mort, vive le parfum…” Although the founder of Etat Libre d’Orange, Etienne de Swardt, would reject the term “niche” as applied to his line, given its contrived connotations, he would not doubt agree that his fragrances combine irreverence, avant-garde concepts and original juxtapositions. He calls his line “an homage to olfactory freedom,” whether this freedom refers to the creative freedom of perfumers or the avant-garde blends that would not find a stronghold in the mainstream market. The name Etat Libre d’Orange is a reference to a former independent republic located in contemporary South Africa where de Swardt was born.
It is difficult to characterize the line of more than dozen fragrances created by different perfumers with one word; however, intriguing is perhaps most fitting. Admittedly, not every single idea is completely fleshed out, not every formula is memorable. Some fragrances possess the same affected self-consciousness that can plague la nouvelle cuisine—imagine the “oysters served with raspberry jam” effect. Others are the abstract, minimalist creations that are as ubiquitous in the small artisanal lines as the black stiletto heels on women in Manhattan. However, when Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances succeed in creating specific moods, they are difficult to forget. By way of example, Sécrétions Magnifiques is such an erotic cocktail that one needs a cigarette after smelling it. Putain des Palaces beautifully evokes the scent of powder on hot skin. Nombril Immense is a beautiful, effervescent patchouli. In other words, vive le parfum!
Other information on the Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances is available from the Etat Libre d’Orange website. The line is going to debut at Henri Bendel’s in the winter of 2007.
Next: review of Jasmin et Cigarette.