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.