Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of a Faun : Perfume Review

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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 , 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

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58 Comments

  • rosarita: I haven’t explored Etat Libre nearly as much as I’d like, it’s such a prolific line. This sounds like one I would like if not love. Thanks for the review! November 16, 2012 at 7:38am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that for the price, Etat Libre d’Orange is one of the best niche lines. The quality is great across the board, and the collection is original and distinctive. It’s very large now, which makes it kind of intimidating to approach. But if you love incense (I think that you mentioned enough opoponax before), there are many fragrances in the line that use this note. November 16, 2012 at 9:26am Reply

  • Annikky: So glad to have you and Suzanna back! I think I am officially addicted now, because I kept checking the blog every day, even though I knew full well that you won’t be back before Thursday. I choose not to worry about my behaviour.

    The scent sounds fascinating, although I am slightly wary of the immortelle. Based on the music, I expected something lighter, but I didn’t really consider the story and context of the ballet. The Faun must wait a bit, though, as I have gone slightly overboard with my sampling and need to exercise some restraint.

    By the way, my 3,5-year old daughter loved your fall still life: she kept walking around with my iPad and insisting that everyone look at the “pretty picture”. I found it quite adorable, but I would, of course. November 16, 2012 at 8:31am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s the nicest compliment on the photo! Thank you so much for sharing it. And how adorable! :)

      Glad to be back too. I had several work related trips one after another, which made the past couple of months super hectic. I missed chatting with you, and I look forward to catching up.

      Immortelle here is mild, and it plays up the incense and woody notes so well. I’m usually wary of too much immortelle, but here it’s a nice touch. November 16, 2012 at 9:24am Reply

      • Annikky: Victoria, I’m reporting back, as I have finally received my sample and I really like it. I find Faun very easy to wear because of this worn-in quality you mention. If I concentrate, I do realise there are woods, flowers, citrus, incense, spices and resins in there, but to my nose it is so well blended that in the end it smells like this scent and nothing else. It feels like the components have been mingling and infusing for years, but at the same time there is a certain lightness, like someone had just opened the window of an old attic and let light and some fresh air in. As you predicted, I don’t get much immortelle and am not bothered by it’s presence at all. However, it might be that my stance on immortelle is softening anyway, as I have been testing and enjoying Naomi Goodsir’s Cuir Velours, despite the pretty serious immortelle note. Thanks again for the review, I wouldn’t have known to seek out Faun otherwise. January 18, 2013 at 7:13am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m glad to hear this! I really think that it’s an impressive, well-crafted fragrance. It smells very distinctive and much more than the sum of its parts. Enjoy it! January 18, 2013 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Barbara: I feel the same way! My morning routine isn’t the same without V’s blogs. November 16, 2012 at 10:09am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you both! You make my day. ;) November 16, 2012 at 3:40pm Reply

  • Cyndi: I’m glad that you’re back! I missed your reviews, and I read your archives. Funny enough I was tempted enough by your review of Rien to order a sample. It’s now a must have. The Faun also sounds like something I would like. November 16, 2012 at 8:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Cyndi! I’m so happy that you liked Rien. It seems to be a sleeper in this line, but it is one of the best perfumes I know. The Afternoon of a Faun isn’t as dramatic, but it’s also really well-made and original. November 16, 2012 at 9:17am Reply

  • Rachel: Ok, I know that blind buying is a no-no, but I’m such a big fan of Nijinsky that I bought a bottle of this ELDO perfume unsniffed. I’m happy to report that I loved it. It’s warm and rich and it lasts for hours on me. Did you try Dangerous Complicity? November 16, 2012 at 9:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m glad that it turned out to be a winner! The lasting power is great, isn’t it?

      Dangerous Complicity was a disappointment. I found it to be thin and sharp and not all that memorable. November 16, 2012 at 3:38pm Reply

  • Austenfan: This sounds wonderful. I got Fils de Dieu in June in Paris. It was a bit of an impuls buy but one I have no regrets about at all.
    It is so wearable and fun and comforting. Thanks for the review! November 16, 2012 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I also have no regrets at all about Fils de Dieu. I’ve been wearing it on regular basis, and every single time I discover something else to enjoy about it. November 16, 2012 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Kyle: Dangerous Complicity turned out to be so boring that I gave up on trying TFofAF. But based on your review, it has some guts. November 16, 2012 at 10:01am Reply

    • Kyle: (sorry for a clunky abbreviation!) November 16, 2012 at 10:01am Reply

      • Victoria: :) The name is poetic, but rather long. November 16, 2012 at 3:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: It does, Kyle! Definitely more interesting than Dangerous Complicity. November 16, 2012 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Barbara: V is back! Yay!!!!! I feel like you were gone for weeks. :) November 16, 2012 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much. I too feel as if I were gone for ages. November 16, 2012 at 3:40pm Reply

  • Nikki: Nijinsky! There is an amazing movie made about him, very surreal: The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky.

    Lovely review as always, Victoria!

    It is Diaghilev who wore Mitsouko I think…I love this era and the Ballet Russe in Paris, the colors and costumes, bright purple with orange…I wonder which perfume you imagine for the Ballet Russe? Frederic Malle has the Russian Nights candle which is lovely… November 16, 2012 at 10:34am Reply

    • OperaFan: I remember seeing that movie (circa 1990’s) – Narrated by Sir Dereck Jacobi, and I believe it was in the movie that the ballet was shown in its entirety?
      It didn’t look that new in our post modern day but I can imagine the type of reaction it would have triggered in that era. The movements were highly stylized and, yes – highly erotic. November 16, 2012 at 11:26am Reply

    • Victoria: I saw The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky a few years ago in NYC, and it left such an impression on me. So nice to see it mentioned by you.

      Diaghilev even sprayed curtains at the theater with Mitsouko. November 16, 2012 at 3:42pm Reply

      • Margo: Spraying curtains with Mitsouko has to be one of the most divine things I have ever heard. This is giving me ideas! November 16, 2012 at 3:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: It does sound wonderful, doesn’t it! And I finally have curtains in my new apartment. :) November 16, 2012 at 4:05pm Reply

      • Nikki: It also left a deep impression on my mind… It was a great movie, and Nijinski’s compassion for animals was deeply moving as described in his diaries. That sensitivity is what also drove Nietzsche over the edge: the beating of a horse in front of him. They were ahead of their time.

        Roja Dove mentioned that he likes to spray his curtains with Chamade once a year… November 16, 2012 at 4:03pm Reply

        • Victoria: He was ahead of his time for sure, a talented artist and an incredible performer too. His jump was amazing. The contemporaries would say that he looked to be suspended in the air. November 16, 2012 at 4:10pm Reply

  • OperaFan: This is fascinating. I’m not sure I’d want to smell like an old theatre or an antique shop, but kudos to ELdO for attempting to evoke the impression. I think it’s about time I give this house a try. Modern ballet ows much to the innovations brought about by the Ballet Russe. November 16, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

    • Victoria: It doesn’t necessarily smell photorealistically of these places, but rather it evokes the ambiance. If you like woods, leathers and chypres, you might find it an interesting perfume. November 16, 2012 at 3:44pm Reply

  • Margo: Your reviews have so much depth, thank you. I haven’t tried Faun yet but I like Rien very much. I have a sample pack of 25 from ELd’O and am really enjoying playing with all this range has to offer. I love my roses and find both Rossy De Palma and Putain Des Palaces intruiging and engaging. November 16, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Margo! Rossy De Palma and Putain Des Palaces are among my other favorites. They really smell memorable and distinctive, and they make me dream. One can’t ask more of a perfume! November 16, 2012 at 3:45pm Reply

  • Cheryl: This description sounds lovely. I hope to sample this soon! November 16, 2012 at 12:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you will enjoy this perfume. It’s definitely something that might require a slow courtship, but if you like woods and leather, it’s addictive. November 16, 2012 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Apollonia: Welcome back, Victoria! I missed you and Suzanna too! Love the name of this perfume, and I must admit, even though I have what my family calls “a ridiculous” amount of scents (what do they know?), this one sounds SO intriguing and right up my alley. I love Nijinsky and this particular ballet with the weird, quirky movements and the way the hands are held (as can be seen in the lovely photograph). Now I must investigate Rien, Fils de Dieu (love that name) and the whole line! Thank you! I always learn so much from you and your impressively astute followers! November 16, 2012 at 2:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: Anything over 2 bottles seems excessive to most of my non-perfume friends. :) But once I get them started on perfume, they don’t look back either.

      I love ELDO’s latest names too–Fils de Dieu, The Afternoon of a Faun… November 16, 2012 at 4:00pm Reply

  • silverdust: Okay. I’ll admit my ignorance. This is the first time I’ve heard of “immortelle.” Can you attempt a description of this note? November 16, 2012 at 2:59pm Reply

    • Austenfan: “Immortelle, everlasting plant, helichrysum. These words in the perfume descriptions refer to the essence derived from the Helichrysum angustifolium or Helichrysum italicum. Immortelle smells like maple syrup or burnt sugar, with a hint of smoked woods and tobacco. The steam distilled oil is earthier and greener, with a lingering fruity sweetness.”

      Quoted from this very blog.

      http://boisdejasmin.com/note/immortelle November 16, 2012 at 3:11pm Reply

      • silverdust: Thanks! November 16, 2012 at 3:15pm Reply

        • Victoria: If you scroll down to the bottom of each review, there are links to the dominant notes. I admit that not all of them have the actual descriptions, but most do. If it says, “see explanation, then it means that there is a whole post on the subject. November 16, 2012 at 4:06pm Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you! Little by little, I’m adding the descriptions to all of the notes. November 16, 2012 at 4:04pm Reply

  • maja: Lovely story, indeed. There is something so fascinating about Russian ballet so I guess the scent must be fascinating, too.

    ps. And yes, you were missed. :) November 16, 2012 at 3:05pm Reply

  • Ariane: Talk about creating a lemming!Your review makes me want to order it unsniffed!I so love Debussy,and the first piece I heard by him as a child was L’apres midi d’un faune,I fell in love with it!
    I really like Rossy de Palma and Like This and appreciate Etat’s pricing,you made me curious about Rien now as well-and,like everyone else here,am so glad you’re back,I love your poetic writing! November 16, 2012 at 3:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t recommend ordering it unsniffed, because I think that like all dramatic perfumes, it might be love or hate. But if you have a chance to try a sample, go for it.
      Rien is another stunning scent. I haven’t found anything quite like this. November 16, 2012 at 4:07pm Reply

  • Mel: Welcome back, Victoria! You were missed! The only Etat Libre I own is Like This and it’s finally time to wear it b/c I consider it, for me, an autumn/winter scent. You mentioned earlier Etat Libre has some good incense scents. Which are your favorites? November 16, 2012 at 4:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Like This is definitely one of my favorites, and I love the sweet/savory richness of it. Another one I love is Rien (it’s probably one of my top favorites from the line). Rossy de Palma is great if you like earthy, smoky roses. Fils de Dieu is another one I’m addicted to. November 17, 2012 at 9:03am Reply

  • George: This and the previous L’Etat de libre Orange must be two of the best named perfumes for a long time. I plan to get my nose around them at some point. Fils de Dieu sounds of most interest. I’m never though how overally effective the seemingly dadaist manifesto of the brand is, and so far what I’ve smelt have been interesting rather than completely loveable with one that is obviously an intended curate’s egg of a fragrance. I shall explore further with Fils de Dieu as my starting point as you seem to taken with it, as I like the idea of a Shalimar made strange type fragrance. I wonder what fragrances you, Victoria would class as truely surreal or dadaist. Tubereuse Criminelle (with a name that suggest poet and thief, and maybe Jean genet) always seems to be a deliberately subversive fragrance, and I think a lot of Roucel’s work wanders into that territory. November 16, 2012 at 5:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: You know, I didn’t realize it until I was at their Rue des Archives boutique recently that they’ve changed the packaging and some of the names. Gone are the obvious sexual references, and everything is more modern and abstract. I don’t mind the change, since I didn’t care for some of the old names.

      When it comes to scents that are surreal, to me Christophe Laudamiel’s creations top the list (especially the ones he did for Perfume, the movie). I don’t want to wear them on my skin, but they are interesting to smell. Also, Comme des Garcons are among the scents that definitely have a surreal edge. Comme des Garcons original is woody, incense heavy and metallic, a combination that smells like a place or a person. It’s quite strange. Compelling, but strange. November 17, 2012 at 9:06am Reply

  • Daisy: I’m sad to admit that I haven’t really clicked with many of the fragrances in the ELdO line. But I really like The Afternoon of a Faun a lot. It continually challenged me, in a good way. I would get whiffs of something masculine and familiar throughout the day and would wonder what that wonderful smell was. It was me!

    Like you said above: addictive. Especially the drydown. It may just have to go on the Xmas wishlist :-) November 16, 2012 at 7:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s on mine too. :)
      I also liked that it changes on me. There are some nice contrasts in this scent, which makes it interesting to wear. November 17, 2012 at 9:07am Reply

  • JCParodi: I stopped by London Pharmacy in Chelsea the other day on the way to the Gym, and sprayed this on my arm, I couldn’t wait to finish my work out so I go back and purchase it. It is a very old school Chypre, stunning, but, it has a strange twist, the Immortelle smells like fenugreek, which gives the scent a very unique aura, almost like a Dill, Celery note, yet it is enveloped in the most surreal oak moss base. this is a modern masterpiece, it kinda reminds of a dressed down El Attarine, which I also love, however, AOAF doesn’t have the cumin. me like it more, much more. November 17, 2012 at 1:20am Reply

    • JCParodi: Oh, one more thing, this is avail in a 100ml size, as are all the other ELO scents. later this month. November 17, 2012 at 1:21am Reply

      • Victoria: Thank you for the heads up! That’s good to know. November 17, 2012 at 9:09am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a great description! I discovered that the combo of immortelle and moss is one of my favorites. They seem to marry so well together–sweet and savory, warm and cool. November 17, 2012 at 9:09am Reply

  • neil chapman: Sounds brilliant. A lovely review. Just one question: for me, almost all wood scents are destroyed by that creamy sandalwood thing (ambroxan?) in the base. I can enjoy them and then as soon as that smell appears I am in horror. Is there any of that here? What is the final note like on the skin? November 17, 2012 at 3:29am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t get anything like fake sandalwood here, and I know exactly what you mean. I read in one of his interviews that synthetic sandalwood is one of Ralf Schwieger’s least favorite notes for its ability to appear sharp and jarring, and I’ve noticed that it’s rarely found in his perfumes (or if it is, it’s blended quite well). November 17, 2012 at 9:11am Reply

  • Lori: I had the wonderful opportunity to see Ballets Russes on New Years Eve three years ago in Paris at the Palais Garnier opera house. What a fabulous performance. And I’m equally familiar with the lovely music from Debussy.

    So I was very excited to try this perfume, which came as a sample on an order from Surrender to Chance.

    Sadly, I don’t know what it is, but there’s a note that is nearly intolerable to me. Somewhere in the cinnamon, it overwhelms, like perhaps the little faun’s pelt has gone bad. I’ve read your review and it makes me want to go upstairs and try again. I actually never put it on because a whiff from the bottle was all I could take. But perhaps I’ll give it a try by wearing it for a while to see if it relaxes on the skin.

    Thank you for your blog and all your wonderful reviews. I so enjoy them!! January 17, 2013 at 5:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lori, try it at least on a piece of paper. The headspace that you get from the bottle might be too concentrated, and plus, it can behave so differently on skin. If it’s completely intolerable, you can always remove it with some detergent! January 18, 2013 at 3:29pm Reply

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