Etat Libre d’Orange Line Review


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.



  • carmencanada: Dear V.,
    Your first notes on this confirm my intuition about this line… Ambitious in its concept and not necessarily rounded out, like many new niche houses. Nevertheless, I am very curious to try it and will plan an outing soon. January 2, 2007 at 3:29pm Reply

  • Elle: Can’t wait for these to arrive at Bendel’s. Nombril Immense, Putain des Palaces and Jasmin et Cigarette are all posing serious threats to my no unsniffed purchase resolution. Am looking forward to your full review of JeC! January 2, 2007 at 7:14pm Reply

  • Cait: Dear Victoria,
    Thanks for the introduction to this line. D and I plan to explore it when I visit Paris this month! January 2, 2007 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Patty: These are intriguing. Even if not completely fleshed out, they do sound like they are interesting sketches. January 2, 2007 at 10:36pm Reply

  • Judith: These sound so interesting! I can’t wait to try them! I also heard good things about their Vierges & Toreros, but I don’t see it on their site. . . January 3, 2007 at 8:02am Reply

  • Robin: Does that mean winter as in over the next few months, or around next December?

    Can’t wait to read your reviews! January 3, 2007 at 10:57am Reply

  • March: V, this makes me ponder. If “mainstream” is under constant pressure to release something that will appeal to many, many people, is “niche” (however you define it) under pressure to release something exotic and interesting, even if the effect is oysters with jam? Sometimes it is too easy or tempting to dismiss something as merely Pretty… January 3, 2007 at 11:29am Reply

  • Sisonne: Dear V,
    Of course I´d like to test the line, some of their fragrance descriptions sound rather promising. Unfortunately they won´t send out samples :(.
    But I´ve to admit that some of the names are pretty ridculous, that puts me off. I know, it´s getting harder & harder for niche brands to promote their stuff, but this is a bit odd. First I thought the whole line is just a joke 😉 January 3, 2007 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Catherine W.: Thank you so much for the note mentioning the New London pharmacy…I’ll add it to the list of must-visit places in New York city next week. I’m still looking for a new favorite scent and still seem to like the Creed’s Santal Originale and have stopped liking Chanel’s Elixir Sensuel. Of course once I get my hands on Chanel’s Cuir de Russie again, I think I’ll be in love with it all over again. I bought a friend Mont Blanc’s Individuel shower stuff for Christmas but ended up keeping as a favorite for me. I seem to be teetering between masculine/unisex and some very girly scents :-).

    Aside from this wonderful blog, what other online resources, and/or cyberlists, are must-reads for someone like me with little knowledge but serious enthusiasm?

    Thanks in advance,
    Catherine January 3, 2007 at 1:47pm Reply

  • Marina: Cannot wait for the next review of a scent from this line! Cannot wait till it is at Bendels. Sécrétions Magnifiques sounds …magnifique 🙂 January 3, 2007 at 8:49am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear D, I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on the line. I hope that you get to meet the founder, who is very charming. January 3, 2007 at 11:53am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear C, even more reasons to anticipate D’s trip to the boutique! 🙂 I am looking forward to the story. January 3, 2007 at 11:54am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, those three are definitely interesting. The best aspect is that they do feel like quality fragrances, made from good quality raw materials. This is not the case for many niche houses. January 3, 2007 at 11:55am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Patty, yes, the line is worth trying, if only for the experience. Still, there are some excellent compositions in the range. January 3, 2007 at 11:56am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, Vierges & Toreros is one of the newest, still to be released. There are also a few others in the works. I like it, although when I smelled it in Paris, I found something lacking about it. I have a sample, and I will revisit. January 3, 2007 at 11:58am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, Sécrétions Magnifiques can be quite shocking, especially on the skin. It is somewhat tame on paper, but wait till you put it on the skin! January 3, 2007 at 11:59am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, no, it is more like January-February of 2007. Very soon, in other words. January 3, 2007 at 11:59am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: March, I think that the problem with niche is that many offerings are nevertheless safe. Le Labo is the case at point. There is not one fragrance from the line that standouts and feels unique. Many are pretty and wearable, but none have either the mysterious quality of Lutens or the elegance of Malle. Or the tender, intimate character of Goutal. Those three are my quintessential niche house. When the lines like Parfumerie Generale begin to spin the exotica out of control and all I smell are common synthetics in their blends (not in all, but in many), then I lose interest. For instance, the best of ELDO do not have the self-conscious “we are just trying to be different” effect. They are just great compositions, offering juxtapositions and harmonies that are rarely explored in the mainstream. Thank you for your great comment, it really made me think about what you said. January 3, 2007 at 12:05pm Reply

  • Great Face: There are so many small perfume makers I’ve never heard of making exquisite perfumes. January 3, 2007 at 12:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Great Face, yes, there are definitely plenty of new lines these days! January 3, 2007 at 4:41pm Reply

  • Nick: Dear Victoria,

    Happy new year!

    I’ve decided that perfume shopping would be much less risky if I walked around with a burly bouncer, someone to buffer the acerbic salesgirls. Its a love/hate relationship I have – its savage! I now have to traverse different counters at different stores just to stay sane and alive! I NEED a beauty counter bouncer for 2007, right away!!! January 3, 2007 at 11:52pm Reply

  • portlandia: LOL – did anyone visit the Etat site? The graphics for some of the fragrances are, well, GRAPHIC. Obviously French, as they would not get away with the imagery in the good old Puritan-conflicted USA. No photos, just cartoonish art – but oh, my! I was laughing out loud and I don’t read more than a little French. January 4, 2007 at 1:51am Reply

  • Donald: I have difficulties in believe that the creator of the perfume dog “Oh my dog!” is able to make another thing that marketing! And, I do not like the idea that “le parfum est mort” (the perfume died), it is easy for him to forget Jean Laporte, Annick Goutal, Patricia de Nicolaï, Serge Lutens and Frederique Malle, as well as few creations of quality in the perfumery of mass. One ended up learning that its noses are of Givaudan!!! but of which makes fun one? Still an event for journalist in evil of news. Now, it any more but does not remain me to go to feel these creations… January 4, 2007 at 8:54am Reply

  • Jeff: Has anyone clicked on the bottles of the first six fragrances. They are showing more than just cartoonish art.

    Some of these sound interesting. But it sounds as if they are trying way too hard with some of their names.

    “What’s that perfume your wearing?”
    “Oh its called Hotel Slut…” January 4, 2007 at 12:25pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I, for one, kind of like the names, but that might be my being, if not French, at least Parisian… I would love to be able to say that I’m wearing “Putain des Palaces” (which doesn’t refer to palaces, but to luxury hotels, like the Ritz or the Crillon). Though I would maybe waver on “Sécrétions magnifiques”. To me, the graphics are in a post-surrealist tradition and I find them quite pretty. I’m waiting for Cait to visit, so I’ll hang on until she flies in and report. January 4, 2007 at 3:09pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: C, oh, it is a shame that no samples are to be sent out. Well, soon enough the Ebay will be filled with them. Plus, the line will be much more easily available. The names are indeed silly. January 4, 2007 at 2:23pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Catherine, I am very glad that I could help. I look forward to hearing all about your trip and visits to the boutiques I mentioned.

    I compiled a series of links to various perfume information websites here:
    as for other blogs, you can check the links on the left sidebar. Hope that it helps! January 4, 2007 at 2:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear Nick, sounds like you definitely need one! I find that to be the worst aspect of holiday shopping in general and perfume shopping in particular.

    Happy 2007 to you! Hope that you had a great celebration. January 4, 2007 at 2:54pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, you are right about the cartoons. They are quite something. At least, they seem to be tongue in cheek, so that is forgivable. 🙂 January 4, 2007 at 2:55pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Donald, there are many companies that try to emulate Frederic Malle to give freedom to their creators. I think that it is a good thing, a setting of some new trend. The creators of niche are up against a lot of battles. For one thing, many perfumers simply do not have the luxury of time to spend creating beautiful and innovative compositions. Especially since the financial reward from niche is rather small. The only reason Serge Lutens and Frederic Malle are able to do this is because of their impressive financial backing. Other niche companies will appear only to vanish a couple of years later. January 4, 2007 at 2:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Jeff, I prefer “The Palace Whore”! 🙂 Yes, the names are pushing it. January 4, 2007 at 2:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, I know, but the effect of saying “Palace Whore” is somehow more to my liking. 🙂 But I am just being silly. No, I do not mind the names at all. I like this irreverent and tongue-in-cheek play on words and images to be compelling. I do not see it as overly serious and pretentious, which is why I like it. And yes, the post-surrealist images are quite something. I like them too. January 4, 2007 at 3:15pm Reply

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