Saturday, March 6, 2010

Etat Libre D'Orange: Divin' Enfant

I've worn and appreciated it for months, but current events brought me back to Divin' Enfant for a closer look. Hearing raves about another orange blossom fragrance, Maison Francis Kurkdjian's APOM, I took the first available opportunity to smell it, and was, to use Nathan Branch's phrase, woefully underwhelmed. While APOM has good longevity, it seems fairly weak in every other respect. There's no THERE there. It surprised me all day, wafting up from my arm. It seemed to have said everything it had to say. What was the point of sticking around?

I thought of APOM again this week, when Etat Libre D'Orange announced the upcoming release of a scent inspired by Tilda Swinton. What a perfect match, I thought. Swinton has always worked with smaller directors on compellingly oddball projects. By choosing her, Etat Libre D'Orange has advanced a celebrity sensibility they initiated with Rossy Di Palma: one that celebrates the unique rather than capitalize on the cliched. I pulled out my bottle of Divin' Enfant, forgotten behind more recent purchases. In contrast to APOM, it seemed even better than I remembered, so lush and dense and full of things to admire.

Listen, don't look at me. I can't smell the alleged marshmallow in Divin'. It doesn't even smell particularly sugary to me, no sweeter than orange blossom itself. People who discuss it on the web tend to engage in a debate about how much of an infant Enfant is. There's supposed to be a tantrum in there, so which dominates: the precious little thing or the monster child? I'm not sure I see the point of that, though I'm guessing this is an argument having to do with how sweet it seems to some. I'm not sure I smell rose, amber, leather, or musk, either, but it's all very well blended, emphasizing the orange blossom without dominating it. I've never thought of orange blossom as particularly innocent. I do smell a nicely judged addition of tobacco, and an interesting counterpoint of mocha, anyway.

Where APOM is rather flat and inert on my skin, Divin'Enfant sings. It has personality, a lot of presence. Whether that presence is adult or juvenile isn't something I've wasted much time pondering. I wear the hell out of it. Enfant has what I'm starting to recognize is a trademark Etat quality: it feels rich and playful without making these things seem like polar opposites. The line merges high and low in fascinating ways, and I think Etat is ultimately far more populist than Maison Kurkdjian, which seems to think that people who can't afford their perfumes but can afford their cleaning liquids will see this as a real bargain and an aspirational gateway. Etat makes one size for all. Aside from the celebrity fragrances, everything is priced the same.

At a time when a small bottle of Chanel costs you between sixty and eighty, seventy five for a niche perfume is about as close to a bargain as you can expect for a luxury item. What you are promised for this is, more often than not, a damn good bottle of perfume. Funny how people dismiss Etat's sense of humor; inappropriate, they say. In bad taste. Out to shock for shock's sake. What could be more ridiculously inappropriate than offering someone who can't afford your perfume a bottle of overpriced cleaning solvent. Only the well off can smell good, by this logic. The rest of us are offered a lovely bucket of mop water. Surely this is more offensive than a cartoon penis. Etat's "sense of humor" makes a practice of poking fun at such B.S., and I can't thank them enough.

I think people are mistaken in viewing this as shock value. Let's be honest. These days, shocking is a great bottle of perfume, as good as its hype.

12 comments:

dea said...

ooohh, no you din'nt!

Tara said...

Brian,

What a great review. I have always loved Etat Libre D'Orange's names (and some of their perfumes). Maybe it's shock value, maybe their just funny, or maybe they actually have a distorted meaning. Whatever it is, at least its not stuffy and serious!!!

brian said...

I guess I did, Dea. I feel pangs of unease, dissing The House of Kurkdjian. I'm sure he's a lovely guy. Lord knows I love beyond reason most of what he does. I even like Rumeur, which is almost unanimously panned. At least Rumeur has oomph. I'm not sure why I've been reacting against Maison Kurkdjian the way I have lately. As a small line, it deserves some credit. However ubiquitous the hype, the product is available in only several retail locations. I appreciate what Kurkdjian is trying to do and I admire the nerve of a perfumer striking out on his/her own. At the same time, I often think of Etat when people start going on about lines like Kurkdjian's, because Etat seems to get no such love, by and large, and yet it's so forward thinking in so many ways. People pick Etat apart and approach them with a bias. Not so lines like Maison FK. Maybe because FK seems humble where ELO seems, what...confrontational? Yet find me an outright bad perfume in that line. Personally I wouldn't say there's even anything mediocre.

dea said...

ha ha ha!

brian, francis is going to come down here and kick your ass! he's going to take off his gloves and slap you with them, then challenge you to a duel. those are his children you are talking about!

i have loved ELDO at first 'read' and even if some of the scents didn't wear well on me, i still love the concepts, sense of humor and execution.

in perfume, as in every other area of commerce, once you get past a certain ratio of quality/costs/profit the decision to price things sky high is purposefully exclusive. they do not want *anyone* to buy it if they cannot easily afford it. (who wants those customers!? you can't build a business off of strugglers!) ...and even some of the people who can easily afford it don't want those who can't easily afford it to buy it. (where is the value if *everyone* can afford it)

Seriously, they honestly don't want the work-a-day folk to buy their stuff. However, when that's the case-- they better be prepared to be scrutinized and made fun of-- because that is what happens when your asking price is beyond the "utility" of the product in question. inevitable backlash. (maybe they're laughing and saying, "ouch. that hurts! ha ha ha" as they count their money?)

if bulgari black was $200, i highly doubt there would be so many lovers. sure there are haters, and ongoing debate about it.. but nothing as hotly contested and critiqued as the stuff that comes out of the gate with high asking prices.

there is a relative psychological threshold that even perfume lovers have that measures quality to price. people don't find ormande jayne outrageously priced, because it seems within the bounds of that quality/price ratio. However, even Linda P. has said/implied they don't make a ton of money.

And here's where it gets murky....at least for me...we want to support these perfumers, right? We want people who make great perfumes to be successful, right? But if they only want people of certain means to buy their perfumes... well, I will harbor some contempt.... and begrudgingly buy a decant..... and wonder if it's crazy for me to save up to buy 50ml of perfume for $220 on my birthday next year. . ..

ya' know?

dea said...

holy crap!

sorry for the long comment! (it didn't look that long when i wrote it)

brian said...

I love long-winded comments! Unless they're dissecting my character or calling me to task for using the word fecal in a review.

Mals86 said...

Oh, no, no, say fecal all you want. But if you're gonna go all Hip and Intellectual on your fecal comments, I'll just go somewhere else that day.

I've commented before how much ELdO copy annoys me. I still feel like they're saying that their fragrances can only be appreciated by edgy, avant-garde people, which I'm definitely NOT. "Secret Club Keep Out" just burns my shorts. I feel the same way about JAR.

Will say that the copy for Like This was probably the first of theirs that didn't annoy me. But the notes don't appeal to me, either.

Mals86 said...

Earlier comment seems unclear. I mean, I'll certainly read fecal comme- um, I'll certainly read comments you make about fecal smells in your 'fumes, unless they get all existential and Sartre-ish. THEN I'd move on until the next review...

olfacta said...

Brian -- Sounds like an interesting scent. The notes you describe are similar to Ineke's Field Notes from Paris (orange blossom, tobacco, coffee, mostly). Have you tried that? If so, are they similar?

bridgmanpottery said...

b, I know I LOVE my bottle of etat. I wear it every single day. love your writing.

Anonymous said...

Went perfume smellin' yesterday, and fell in love with Divin' Enfant. Definitely the best of yesterday's bunch (which included Luten, L'Artisan, and a few others).

I have long-since stopped judging perfumes on their list of notes, because they do not reveal whether I will love something. Similar or identical notes in the hands of two different noses will lead to very different results...

Divin' Enfant is the next bottle purchase on my list... it is just beautiful. And even my non-perfume loving, non-perfume wearing companion (who claims to be allergic to perfumes), loved it. (I made her smell "Sa Majesté La Rose", and guess what? She fell in love with it... ahhh... maybe the birth of a new perfumista :))

-monika

Jules said...

A bit late on joining the comments here. BUT, hey ho, I just had to quip that I absolutely couldn't agree more with this review and the entirety of it's content ! ~ It was an absolute pleasure to read ! ...
And as for all those who bizarrely have a problem with ELd'O's "manifesto" and ad' copy, I fear it has unfortunately either passed right over their heads, or they're in serious need of a sense of humour. (Or both ! ;o) ...
But never mind, they the poor fools missing out on one of the best niche houses around, and for the most reasonable prices to boot. (There is hardly a scent of theirs I don't admire, for one reason or another.) And on second thoughts, if they don't "get it", then they don't really deserve them either, so all's good. :o)
~ Etat Libre d'Orange RULES !!!