By a coincidence, the first time I wore The Afternoon of a Faun, the latest perfume from Etat Libre d’Orange, was to a ballet performance. I applied it earlier in the day and by the time I sat in the darkened theater it already melted into my skin. My companion leaned in and whispered, “I love the smell of theater, the mix of wood and floor polish… Oh, wait! It’s you!” And she was right, Faun smells like worn wood, or something antique and patina covered.
Created by Ralf Schwieger, the same perfumer who authored the brilliant Fils de Dieu, The Afternoon of a Faun is inspired by the ballet choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for the Ballets Russes. It was first performed in 1912, with Nijinsky dancing the main role. Set to the score by Claude Debussy, L’après-midi d’un faune told the story of a faun who meets and teases a group of nymphs. The erotic subtext of the plot and the archaically styled dance ran so counter to classical dance that it caused a scandal, and Nijinsky could barely escape the angry fans.
Etat Libre d’Orange isn’t above stirring a bit of controversy, but The Afternoon of a Faun isn’t likely to cause perfume lovers to storm the house’s Rue des Archives boutique in Paris. The fragrance is a nod to classical perfumery–it is rich, warm, enveloping.
The first impression is of myrrh, immortelle and leather, notes that usually don’t reveal themselves till the drydown. But they are used with such a lavish hand and are highlighted so well by citrus and spice that you notice them clearly. Together they give the worn wooden box impression to Faun. You might know that resinous and damp scent if you frequent antique shops.
The woods are layered with plenty of rose, which softens the sharpness and heft of these dark notes. It comes suddenly, but it is a pleasing contrast, as if you took a bite of sweet pastry after a sip of bitter coffee. A lover of spicy woods, I found Faun to hit the spot on these cold, fall days. It is equally suitable for men and women, and like most dry woods, Faun has a teasing sensual aura. One moment it smells elegant and aloof, and the next it reveals its seductive, lean-in-and-smell-me side.
I wouldn’t call it an easy to wear perfume, because the combination of moss, myrrh and leather makes for a rich sillage. Unless you apply faun lightly, it won’t fade into the background and be a pretty scented accessory. It will demand your attention. But like Fils de Dieu, Rien and Like This, my favorites from Etat Libre d’Orange, Faun makes a statement and leaves a strong memory. Such fragrances are increasingly rare to find, and for this reason I would gladly add The Afternoon of a Faun to my best of 2012 list.
Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of a Faun includes notes of bergamot, pepper, cinnamon, incense, rose, immortal flower, orris, jasmine, myrrh of Namibia, moss, leather, and benzoin. Available from Henri Bendels and online from Luckyscent.
Sample: my own acquisition