Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Underrated: 3 More by Etat Libre D'Orange

It really intrigued me, the past six months to a year, watching what people had to say about the last several releases from Etat Libre D'Orange. It intrigued me, when I didn't let it get to me. Like This and Fat Electrician were pleasant enough, to me, but nothing particularly special. Like This (after Tilda Swinton) was a creamy ginger thing; Electrician a now-standard issue grungy vetiver. What was all the fuss? With Sex Pistols and Josephine Baker, both done in partnership with the Sephora Chain, it's beginning to look as if Like This and Fat Electrician weren't merely a temporary downward trend, as I'd earlier hoped, but the shape of things to come at Etat.

I liked what everyone seemed to hate about the brand: how silly they were; how irreverent. They were restless in a pretty refreshing way. What many saw as shock value and empty provocation seemed just as arguably a thoroughly thought-out exercise in dada to me. None of this would have mattered, or been anything other than annoying, had the fragrances themselves not been so interesting and, for the most part, durable.

I loved how offended everyone got by the Etat packaging. I kept thinking, Seriously? It was so fun--such a tease. The ideas at play in the fragrances were so quick-witted. And why not? What makes it more acceptable to put a skanky, animalic fragrance behind a facade of pseudo-respectability? More respectable perfumers could sell any amount of crap in a beautiful bottle, fronted by some boring blonde or brunette, her pose and context (usually prone, typically sex-related) a male's deranged idea of a woman's inner fantasy life, and while people seemed to grumble periodically at the bombast of it all, they ate it up. They still do.

Etat poked fun at all of that with a cartoon phallus and for this they were regarded as pandering to the lowest common denominator, the basest of consumer instincts. The casual or hostile disdain people directed towards the fragrances themselves still astonishes me, given the relative lack of discernment with which most fragrance campaigns are received. Why is it that we praise Etat when they become most like other things, while failing to scrutinize the continued smoke and mirrors of reformulation going on over at stately Serge Lutens?

With Like This, Etat put on its church finery. Suddenly, people who'd slammed them for their so-called pretensions and silliness were praising the company for getting serious, for putting out a fragrance which had stopped all the clowning around. Now this--Like THIS, finally, was a scent worthy of critical discussion. Really, all those theatrics: how tedious that all was. Here was something . It was as if Britney Spears was over all the head shaving, limo-infesting antics. She'd gone back to extensions and gotten all that out of her system. Hurray. Back to mediocre pop. The baby girl voice was perfectly acceptable, as long as she wasn't singing from behind the rail of a crib.

Were we all talking about the same scent? Like This was so pedestrian. I could smell Etat in it, but only just. It seemed to me that people were overcompensating. Maybe because Like This was more approachable, and Swinton herself characterized the company in quite a different vein than, say, Rossy De Palma had a year or two earlier, people seemed to feel the need to use Like This as an example of what had been wrong with the line all along, and why they could now bring themselves to endorse it. Swinton was, like her namesake fragrance, weird as in avant garde. De Palma was weird as in self-conscious parody, willfully bizarre. The one was class; the other camp. These are just my own hypotheses, because, to me, Swinton seemed as likely and as consistent a choice as De Palma. It's how people regard and appraise them which differs.

I own most of the earlier Etat fragrances, and I still marvel at how fun and satisfying they are. I've written about some of them. Others I intended to get to, eventually. Then I got distracted, and lost interest in the line. I resented the turn the conversation about the brand had taken. I still hope this is temporary. Like every line, Etat has had misfires. It tries new things. Regardless, today I wanted to revisit, in print, several of the Etat scents I've never talked about.


You would think this stuff were Secretions Magnifiques, the way people go on about it. "Very disturbing, nauseating, even anger-inducing," began one of the customer reviews at Luckyscent.com, as if she'd been forcibly subjected to something without warning. "I haven't smelled anything this vile in a long time," wrote another.

There's oddness aplenty in Charogne--but it stops just short of truly unsettling, and miles away from disgusting. Lily, vanilla, jasmine, incense, and ylang ylang don't often end up in the same pyramid, to be fair, but surely this is a more unusual and possibly a more intelligent use of ginger than Like This.

Charogne goes on with a slightly off smell. It takes the fragrance right to the edge of what you tell yourself a fragrance should be, but this makes it sound much weirder than it is. Ultimately, Charogne is a great floral amber with a touch of vanilla, and it lasts forever. It speaks to classic perfumery, playing around with the macabre in ways which are infinitely wearable.

Delicious Closet Queen

I liked how self-reflexive Closet Queen was when I first smelled it. It plays around not just with what a typical mall masculine should be but with Etat's own body of work. Closet is a fascinating perversion of an earlier Etat fragrance, Putain des Palaces. Both were created by Nathalie Feisthauer; two of only three she's done for Etat (the other, also good, is Nombril Immense).

Closet Queen and Putain are distinctly different, and yet they speak very strongly to each other. Putain is something of a lipstick violet cum leather, no pun intended. It puts a man in the room with the hooker from the fragrance's title. Closet Queen equalizes the same basic arrangement, conflating genders. It's that same man, after he's locked himself in the bathroom with his escort's cosmetics.

Some days, In some ways, Queen smells like half the masculines at Macy's. That's a big part of it's effect. There's a forcible tension at play between traditional ideas about masculines and feminines, an astringent cedar romping around with a creamy, voluptuous violet and rose. Typically, just when I decide I should be bored with it, the fragrance piques my interest again.

Vierges Et Toreros

To me, one of the weirder Etat fragrances; weirder, I think, than Secretions Magnifiques. Let's face it, the weirdest thing about Secretions is that anyone might consider it a fragrance in the first place, a joke for which some refuse to forgive it, let alone the entire line. Vierges has a tuberose note in it and perhaps one day I will smell it. I'm not sure what exactly I smell, which strengthens my attraction to the stuff.

The notes are: bergamot, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, ylang ylang, leather, costus, patchouli, vetiver, and the alleged tuberose. Again, I smell none of these in particular. But oh what a combination. Vierges is one of the longer lasting Etat fragrances on my skin. Sprayed liberally, I get a stronger impression of florals. For me, it's a far more interesting, certainly more durable, leather than Chanel's equally strange but vastly more short-lived Cuir de Russie. It's a strange, space age take on a floral leather, and every time I smell it I get a little frisson of happiness. Monk, by Michael Storer, has a similar quality to it--an animalic vibe with an underlying whiff of musk and incense. I never want to be without either.


RM said...

I'm with you Brian - I quite like Etat's particular brand of 'crazy' and appreciate it's difference in terms of how they market their product compared to some other brands.
I've only tried a few from the line though and nothing stood out at the time - so I can't say that I'm a fan of their actual scents.
I've always thought that Secretion Magnifique was a great marketing tool as well. How long has it been since that thing has been released and there isn't a week that goes by without someone mentioning it (ok, maybe in not the most positive light) in online reviews or subsequent comments, etc. What great free ongoing advertising for the brand which also cements their status as a bit cult and definetely edgy in everyone's minds.

Tania said...

I'm a big fan of their Rossy de Palma - a rose with a difference. And Putain is sexy.

Aww, I like SM, sometimes. It's just an aquatic floral with a metallic tinge, to me. Other times it just bores me. But I don't get the nausea reaction at all.

It's sad to think that they are bowing to pressure and going all boring.

Elisa said...

I haven't smelled everything from this line yet, but I like Rossy de Palma so much I'd forgive them for a lot. It made me realize how much I like geranium. Probably in my top 10.

Isa said...

I have tried almost all the perfumes in the line and my favourite is Nombril Immense. I'll finish buying a full bottle, I know.

Putain des Palaces and Delicious Closet Queen are very good too.

And I hate SM and Vierges et toreros. I can't stand the blood note that both share.

Laurinha said...

Thank you so much for this post, which puts into words (and very well chosen and arranged ones, at that) what I have been feeling for a while; my fears that Etat Libre d'Orange are struggling to make ends meet and desperately trying to attract a bigger, more mainstream audience (Sephora!!) is the fact that I found their shop and HQ in Le Marais shut everytime I dropped by while in Paris. although I showed up during their alleged opening times, and got no response when trying the telephone number displayed on the door. Adding to this the fact that the early series of fragrances (the only ones I ever found interesting; Like This I just didn't get, other than I had to scrub it off my wrist very quickly) seem to be getting ever more elusive, we might soon be left with Like This,the Fat Electrician and other Sephora-worthy concoctions. What a shame...

Jared said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion Brian- you bring up some good points. If nothing else we need to be critical as to what we accept, what we don't, and for what reasons. Etat is a line I haven't explored very much, and you've inspired me to do that more. I have a little vial of Rien which I really enjoy- incidentally, the new Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir reminded me of something and it finally came to me: Rien. There's some shared bone structure between them (and also with Mazzolari's Lui). Methinks it's time to sample...

queen_cupcake said...

Loved this post--looks like I will have to give Etat another look. And doesn't perfume marketing (and the critiques that follow) these days sound like the "Emperor's new clothes?"

Pimpinett said...

I haven't tried many from this line, but I really like Jasmin et Cigarette and the sheer difference and unusualness of the ideas and marketing. Like This didn't leave much of an impression on me, I should revisit it, but I'm very curious about the leathers and, of course, the notorious Sécretions Magnifiques. Perhaps it's high time to sample them, if it looks like the line is struggling.

I remember someone, somewhere mentioning that one of the leathers - I think it was Vierges Et Toreros - was pretty much one of the old, animalic perfume bases, used in many vintage fragrances, straight up. That alone made me very curious to try it.

FruitDiet said...

Thank you for saying that, Brian. I was reading about Etat before I even got into perfume per se, and the idea of Secretions Magnifiques excited me so much that it partially catalyzed my whole perfume craze.

The hatred that I see for this (probably my favorite, after Estee Lauder) company on perfume message boards and the like makes me question the entire perfume community- is everyone really this boring and conservative and reactionary, wanting everything to be released in the most predictable way, to please the lowest common denominator? Is everyone so easily offended? The way that these stupid women are offended by those cute, cartoon penises and everything, and refer to them as "pornography". Do they even know what pornography is? Where do these people come from? I can't for the life of me understand how people can be as interested in smell and perfume, the most vulgar/ blatantly sexual art, with its history of civet and ambergris and sex-oriented advertising, and be shocked by something like Etat. Aren't they LOOKING for something different and exciting? Especially when all of the perfumes are GOOD, STRONG and AFFORDABLE?! Since wearing perfume at all is un-PC these days, much less hoarding tons of it, you'd think that most perfume people would have a sense of humor about it and want artistic transgression like Etat's. Turns out, no. Seriously, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

I'm so tired of seeing people lying about how they "gagged" when they tried Secretions Magnifiques. I wear it all the time and people say I smell good.