Etat Libre d’Orange Bijou Romantique : Perfume Review


Perfume names can be tricky. Noir leads you to imagine something glamorous and wickedly mysterious. You read Sport on the perfume bottle and before you even smell the top notes, you anticipate sharp citrus and lavender. Based on the name Etat Libre d’Orange Bijou Romantique, which in French means “a romantic jewel,” you’d expect something suitable for women who love kittens and wear far too much pink. I can almost hear Emily Howard from Little Britain saying, “It’s a lady’s perfume, and I’m a lady, you see.”

Now, as a woman who loves kittens—and really, who doesn’t!—and has enough pink accessories to dress up the whole city of Brussels, I don’t mind frilly and girly perfumes. But it’s not fair to call Bijou Romantique a frou-frou fragrance. It has a dose of retro charm thanks to its delicately powdered iris and jasmine, but the earthy vetiver and peppery bergamot give it an elegant austerity. Take a deeper inhale, and you suddenly realize that it’s a sibling of Shalimar, one of Guerlain’s crown jewels and the grandest of grand parfums.

Bijou Romantique was created by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui, who already captured my heart with Like This. Her second perfume is less eccentric and adventurous, but it’s equally complex. The citrusy start is a refreshing prelude to the creamy and soft layers that follow. At first, you’re immersed in a cloud of white tuberose petals, then you’re caressed with velvety iris and amber. A herbal note of sage tempers the sugary edge of Bijou Romantique and gives it a green, tangy accent. Imagine that you’ve just rubbed fuzzy sage leaves and smoky vanilla beans between your fingers, and you have an idea of what Bijou Romantique smells like.

The drydown becomes even more refined once it’s colored by the darkness of leather and woods. This soft, warm finale reminds me of vintage purses, their leather having absorbed the perfume of violet bonbons and rose scented lipstick. Perhaps this is the reason why I imagine Bijou Romantique paired with a 50s style full skirt dress and red lips. As Jessica says in her review at NST,  Bijou Romantique is “elegant and a little mysterious, but still approachable — and yes, romantic.”

Unfortunately, Bijou Romantique  and I aren’t meant to be, my romantic streak notwithstanding. The deal breaker for me is a warm plasticky note in its drydown. It doesn’t appear right away, but once the perfume comfortably settles into the plush vanilla and vetiver base, this nagging artificial sweetness grows stronger. The more I keep wearing Bijou Romantique, the more I notice it, to the point that it ruins my entire experience of this otherwise lovely fragrance. My vintage dress might have to wait for another perfume ornament.


Etat Libre d’Orange Bijou Romantique includes notes of bergamot, Italian lemon, pink pepper, ylang-ylang, sage, iris, coconut, vetiver, benzoin, and vanilla. Available from Henri Bendels and online from Luckyscent. 50 ml Eau de Parfum/$99

Sample: my own acquisition

Photography  © Bois de Jasmin (top image)



  • Wendy: Dearest Victoria! You totally cracked me up with your referral to Emily Howard! I can just hear “her” say it….ah those Brits.. They sure know how to do humour 😉 . As for this particular perfume: sorry to say i’ve never sniffed it. To be honest, i don’t even know where i could (did you try it anywhere in Brussels? I was at Beauty By Kroonen and Brown last Friday, and did not see any Etat Libres — great place to sniff perfumes though.. have you been yet??) . I have an Etat Libre sample pack at home, but the only one i found remotely interesting was the Je Suis Un Homme… but that was a while ago, i’m sure they have loads of new interesting fumes to try. Something totally different, tho still perfume related: not sure if you already try to follow any news on the Flemish channels yet, but as this pertains to perfumes you might find it interesting enough to try and understand (some parts are in English and French); i think you’ll be able to piece things together :
    hint: it’s about counterfeit pefumes!! Cheers, and i hope you enjoy the heat in Brussels today! Wendy July 25, 2012 at 7:20am Reply

    • Victoria: I love Little Britain, and Emily Howard is my favorite (although Sebastian is a close rival). The skit “Two Ladies at the Ballet” never fails to make me laugh till I start crying. My husband and I have all of these little sayings between us, like “computer says no.” 🙂

      Beauty By Kroonen and Brown is now on my list to explore. If you have other interesting perfume related spots here, I would love to know. Do Senteurs d’Ailleurs carry the line? I don’t remember seeing it there. My sample is a mail order from Luckyscent, but I got it before I came to Brussels.

      Thank you for a link as well! I just started listening to it, a good language practice and an interesting subject matter. July 25, 2012 at 8:51am Reply

      • Wendy: I just love, love, love Vicky Pollard… especially in the very first series. I think poor Matt Lucas sprained his tongue and then couldn’t keep up the speed of speach after that.. “computer says no”.. I can just totally hear her say it.. ah brilliant!!!
        Senteurs D don’t have the Etats either. Skins in Amsterdam used to have them, but they don’t seem to carry the line anymore i just saw online. Just googled, and in brussels you can find them at Lady Paname -5 rue des Grands Carmes and Balthazar,294 Avenue Louise. For more fume spots check out this site, very useful also for other european cities: Cheerio! July 26, 2012 at 2:39am Reply

        • Victoria: Wow! Thank you so much, Wendy! That website is fantastic. I was cracking up over, “this unmistakable Belgian point of view that can’t be found elsewhere.” Can’t agree more. Also agree with “Belgian art and architecture can be found everywhere in the streets.” One of my favorite areas in terms of architecture is Schaerbeek. So many incredible Art Nouveau buildings. July 26, 2012 at 8:44am Reply

          • Wendy: Ah, then you have to go over to the Autrique House, if you have not yet done so already! see It is amazing! July 27, 2012 at 12:08pm Reply

            • Victoria: I haven’t, but I know the area. I go to Chaussee de Haecht quite often. Thank you for another great tip, Wendy! July 27, 2012 at 5:10pm Reply

  • Lucas: What a great and smile causing review. Bijou Romantique sounds nice (maybe not the nicest, but just nice). It has iris, so I’ve got to try it anyway, iris lover in me craves to try every possible perfume with iris July 25, 2012 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you enjoyed it! And the name aside, I think that men who wear Shalimar (and there are those!) would be able to enjoy this one too. Also, Fils de Dieu, a sister launch to Bijou Romantique from Etat Libre d’Orange, is another Shalimar inspired perfume, and it’s excellent. July 25, 2012 at 8:52am Reply

      • Lucas: I like Shalimar myself although I’ve never worn it. My mum also likes it, but we both prefer Shalimar Parfum Initial.
        And thanks for the heads up about Fils de Dieu, I’m gonna try it when possible July 25, 2012 at 1:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s fun that you can also share the perfume hobby with your mom! July 25, 2012 at 1:43pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I didn’t really like this one when I tried it in Paris. I’ve also got a sample of it which I haven’t yet used. Something about it smelled off to me. But just wearing it once, I can’t really remember what disturbed me about it. Not the greatest fan of Like This either.

    Fils de Dieu on the other hand is a winner. I wore it yesterday and it does so well in the warmer weather as well. I basically want to bath in it. It smells that good. July 25, 2012 at 9:14am Reply

    • Austenfan: Add me to the list of Little Britain fans. I think Lou and Andy are my favourites. July 25, 2012 at 9:41am Reply

      • Victoria: Another Little Britain fan! 🙂 My husband would be pleased to know that I’m talking Little Britain on the blog today. He’s the one who introduced me to this show. Lou and Andy as well as Marjorie Dawes are his favorite characters. July 25, 2012 at 10:22am Reply

      • Barbara: Those two are my favorites! 🙂 July 25, 2012 at 10:39am Reply

    • Victoria: The first time I tried it, I thought, “ok, very pretty.” I kept revisiting it, because I had such a success with Fils de Dieu, and then it hit me that there is something off in the basenotes. Well, I know that it has some fans, so maybe it’s just we’re sensitive to something in its drydown.

      Fils de Dieu, on the other hand, is perfect. I’m regretting not bringing my decant with me, I only have a sample. July 25, 2012 at 10:15am Reply

  • Barbara: I was laughing out loud reading this. A great review! This perfume sounds like it’s worth checking it. I do love me some Shalimar! July 25, 2012 at 10:39am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Definitely give it a try, especially if you’re a fan of Shalimar. July 25, 2012 at 11:09am Reply

  • Ari: Oh, how sad! I loooove Bijou Romantique (and pink, and kittens!) You’re spot-on in linking it to Shalimar- I also sometimes see a resemblance to L’Heure Bleue. It would have fit perfectly in the old-school Guerlain line-up! July 25, 2012 at 11:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh well, I’m sure there is something else out there for me. I’m curious if you liked Fils de Dieu. I was surprised that ELdO chose to launch two fragrances so clearly related to Shalimar. Anyway, you’re spot on about Bijou fitting into the classical Guerlain collection. It has that kind of glamour. July 25, 2012 at 11:29am Reply

    • sammy: Ari, I’m glad you love this one too! I thought it is so pretty!! July 25, 2012 at 11:34am Reply

  • sammy: V, I also laughed at that Emily Howard reference. Totally didn’t expect it in a perfume review.

    Thankfully, I don’t get plasticky anything in BR. It’s cozy and cuddly on me. July 25, 2012 at 11:36am Reply

    • Victoria: What can I say, I’m a fan. 🙂 July 25, 2012 at 1:26pm Reply

  • columbine: am a Little Britain fan too (and of “chewing the fat” as well, same kind of humour)

    not so much fan of Etat Libre d’Orange, although i wanted to be, because they are so cool and modern, both in perfume names and fragrances (and shop).

    Bijou Romantique as a name is the odd one out for ELO, they don’t do “romantic”, really not. so, from your review am even more quizzed that it would be linked to Shalimar, again, not quite the right reference, fashionwise for ELO.

    very strange 🙂 July 25, 2012 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: There is some complicated back story to this perfume. Here is what Luckyscent says, “The name comes from a line said by Hugo Pratt’s cult graphic novel hero, the half-gypsy sailor Corto Maltese, in The Ballad of the Salt Sea: “Adieu, bijou romantique” (“Farewell, romantic jewel). The tagline, “Her price is far above rubies”, is drawn from the Scriptures.” Very straightforward, no? 🙂

      I like some ELdO fragrances very much (Rien, Fils de Dieu, Like This, Rossy de Palma), but it’s a mixed bag. I guess, given such a large line, that’s only to be expected. July 25, 2012 at 1:29pm Reply

  • Naheed: Beautiful review and your description of the drydown immediately took me back to my childhood when I loved smelling my aunts fragrances, especially when she opened her purse to squirt a spritz on her neck…swoon! I love all things vintage be it fragrances, clothes, books, photos etc.

    A friend of mine has recently explored Etat Libre d’Orange and more specifically fragrances, because she stopped wearing perfumes in her early twenties and only on my insist, she plucked up a courage to try some and her first ever fragrance purchase, after so many years, happens to be “loaded” by Strellson. From ELd’O she has sampled “Like This” and she liked it so this one will be another recommendation for my German girl. I so wish that I find this line in my country also. July 25, 2012 at 12:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Naheed! I also love vintage things, things with history and especially old books. The smell of old books makes me weak in the knees.

      You definitely should introduce your friend to this perfume. I think that she might appreciate it. It isn’t exactly like Like This, but you can tell that it was created by the same perfumer. July 25, 2012 at 1:32pm Reply

  • Zazie: Bijou romantique is, for me, the nickname of Pandora, a Corto Martese character that I find a bit obnoxious (BTW, I am a huge Corto Maltese fan). The kind of woman I cannot relate to, in any way.
    I like contrast in all things, perfume and people, and girly girl – that’s not me!!!
    This didn’t prevent me to try BR, but honestly all I got is vanilla. cupcake vanilla. Or plastic doll head vanilla. And it was not only me noticing, even my husband declared: “Vanilla!”. I’m envious of all the notes and nuances you detected ;)!

    What I found interesting was that the annoying vanilla solo was taking place in the fragrance’s sillage. Up close (= nose on my wrist) I got an effect I am very fond of in perfume: vanilla and citrus infused brown sugar. It is sweet but also a with burnt and juicy facets.
    But the sillage is what I notice, and what other people notice, when I don’t pay too close attention to what I’m wearing. Maybe the fragrance works better when it is cold outside. I’ll keep my sample in stand-by! July 25, 2012 at 12:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Some contrast always helps to make things interesting, and as you say, in both perfumes and people.

      I’ve noticed a similar thing with Bijou Romantique. Up close, it smells of warm vanilla and caramel. At distance, I get the doll head. The reason I have been persevering with this perfume for so long is because some elements of it are really interesting. July 25, 2012 at 1:42pm Reply

  • Eva S: I love BR, thankfully I don’t get the plasticky note in the drydown, and I’ll be very careful not to look for it in the future! I’ve gotten compliments as well when wearing it, so there might be a FB in future. July 25, 2012 at 1:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, enjoy it and don’t worry about anything else! I bet that it smells great on you. July 25, 2012 at 1:43pm Reply

  • solanace: I’m a big fan of Shalimar, but I’m afraid of plastic notes. Tauer’s Pentachord White was hell in a bottle to me, so I’ll give it a pass… July 26, 2012 at 4:48am Reply

    • Victoria: Those kind of vanilla-almond notes can be very difficult, because if something is off, they come across as warm plastic. Of course, if you have a chance, you should still try it on your skin. July 26, 2012 at 9:05am Reply

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