Chandler Burr on Creative Directing Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You

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At last October’s Sniffapalooza Fall Ball Chandler Burr showed up with a surprise on Sunday. He revealed that he had been working as the creative director on a new fragrance and wanted to share a sneak preview. The new fragrance is Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You.

The press release for You or Someone Like You gives you an idea of what Mr. Burr was looking for:

“There is an Englishwoman who doesn’t exist. Her name is Anne Rosenbaum, and I created her in my novel “You Or Someone Like You.” She lives, with her movie executive husband, in a house high in the blue air of the Hollywood Hills, just off Mulholland Drive, overlooking Los Angeles above the 101.

I’m fascinated by LA, this strange dream factory that exists in its eternal, relentless present tense, its otherworldly beauty both effortlessly natural and ingeniously artificial. A movie that makes movies. Palm trees, the symbol of LA, aren’t natural there. They were imported, placed in the hills, “but then,” Anne observes to you, “so was I.”

Los Angeles’ smells mesmerize, the astringent mint/green of eucalyptus, wild jasmine vines unselfconsciously climbing the stop signs, catalyzed car exhaust, hot California sun on ocean water (although “You” contains no jasmine or eucalyptus; if you need to know what it’s made of, “You” is not for you).

When Etat Libre d’Orange approached me about creative directing, my perfumer Caroline Sabas and I created not a “perfume” — people in Los Angeles don’t wear perfume – but a specific scent, the scent someone like Anne would wear, an Angelino Englishwoman high in the hills in the blue air.”

I had the chance to get a little more information from Mr. Burr on the perfume he calls “You”. First, I asked the obvious why did he choose now to take on creative direction. He responded, “The moment I started at the New York Times I was frequently asked, "Are you going to creative direct/ create a scent/ collection of scents/ perfume brand?" The Times would have, correctly, forbidden it had I asked, but I had no intention — I was a critic. Frankly I didn’t have any interest. My focus was and is the scent artists. And for years I never wanted to creative direct a perfume. I was while working at the Times getting to know the Etat collection, which I found and find just extraordinary, along with the Comme des Garcons collection the most daring, aesthetics-forward, balls out art-centric scent works in the world. Tilda Swinton's agent called to say Tilda was interested in creative directing a scent, and Etienne was the instant and most natural person to put her in touch with. and I talked on and off about working together somehow. But then I was at the Museum of Arts and Design as a scent art curator, and for obvious ethical reasons it was still off the table that I'd direct a scent.

After I'd left MAD, Etienne called and said he's read my novel You Or Someone Like You, that he liked the title, and proposed we create a scent using the novel's title. That I creative direct it. The concept came instantly. My novel's narrator is a woman named Anne. She's an Englishwoman who long ago married an American guy, now a movie studio exec. They have one son, Sam. She has a Ph.D. in Romantic Literature and is a voracious reader. Anne is extremely private, reserved. She's perceived as a cool customer by most people, and she is with everyone not her husband and son. She lives in the Hollywood Hills — on Macapa Drive, if you want to google map it — above the 101 and overlooking the city. She lives in contemporary Los Angeles. What my (brilliant) perfumer Caroline Sabas has created is the scent Anne would wear.”

Mr. Burr has described fragrances throughout his career as belonging to different schools. When I asked what school, he was aiming for he said, “Luminism, Minimalism, and contemporary Romanticism. I started with exactly this aesthetic mix in mind.”  

This lead me to asking what perfumes inspired “You”, and you, in the process which lead into his long-held belief (one I disagree with) that discussing notes devalues the art, “Of course– Mugler Cologne, Calyx, Jardin sur le Nil are probably the most important. There are others, but their names mention raw materials, and I really–really–am not going to go anywhere near this fucking reductionism of scent works to their materials. It's extraordinarily stupid. You don't give a sense of a new musical work, say something by Max Richter, by saying "It's in D major, 4/4 time, it has among other instruments oboes and violins and violas and flutes, and the notes include D, E, F#, G, A, B♭, and C." That would be idiotic. We say, "It's contemporary Minimalism that draws on Glass and, more, Reich, but Richter is also strongly influenced by the minimalist Romanticism of Satie." If we're going to describe fragrances in a truly intelligent, sophisticated way rather than the reductionist "This building has cement, steel, glass, plastic", it's going to be by using intelligent analogies.”

I finished my interview with a question I am always interested in, how did he know they were finished? “"Finished" is equal to "perfect," which you rarely get to. The mod of "You" that we chose was one that Caroline, our Givaudan evaluator Audrey Barbara, Etienne, and others at Etat loved. My personal favorite was slightly different in one specific way. But we had a long conversation about it, and I trust them, so I decided that we'd go with that one. It doesn't bother me because, I don't know, I guess I just don't think in this case that my perception and taste is perfect and mandatory. Part of it was that Etienne really felt the mod we chose had an Etat aspect to it. He's the creative director of the collection, so that's a pretty compelling reason from my point of view.”

I am looking forward to wearing “You” and should have a review up soon. My thanks to Mr. Burr for taking the time to answer my questions.

Mark Behnke

Under the Radar: Fresh Cannabis Santal- Pot Brownies

There is not a whole heck of a lot of perfumes which feature a cannabis accord. There are more in the last couple of years but it is still a tiny subsector of fragrance. This month’s Under the Radar pick carries the name cannabis in its name but it isn’t really that prominent. Fresh Cannabis Santal is a lush chocolate and patchouli gourmand more than an illicit hit in the dark.

cannabis_santal

Cannabis Santal was released in 2006, Fresh had been releasing fragrance since 1996 and most of them were riffs on sweetness. They were sort of taking the idea represented by Aquolina Pink Sugar and expanding it in all directions. Most of the name of the perfumes were “Sugar fill in the blank”. They had a much less distributed collection called the Index line where they still explored sweet fragrances but they were more interesting than the Sugar line. When I lived in Boston there was a Fresh boutique in town which allowed me to work my way through the many Fresh perfumes. I remember walking in on a fall day and smelling something which stood out among all of the sugar. It stood out because there was a richness to it. I was drawn to it more than anything I had ever smelled in the store previously.

Caroline Sabas

Caroline Sabas

Perfumer Caroline Sabas was given some leeway to break outside the sugar shack; which she used. Her composition is mainly orange, chocolate, rose, and patchouli. There is some cannabis in there and it shows up like a bit of a jack-in-the-box when I wear Cannabis Santal. If you’re looking for a pot connection it is more similar to if you made a batch of pot brownies using orange and rose water to flavor them.

Cannabis Santal opens with a deep orange given that depth by the use of plum. Very rapidly patchouli, rose, and chocolate rise to cover the orange. Very often I talk about patchouli not having that head shop vibe; not here. It actually combines with the chocolate and the rose to sort of dirty things up. It keeps the sweetness from being innocent. It gives the impression these brownies might have more underneath that you suspect. A woody finish which is more vetiver than santal completes the illusion of the label.

Cannabis Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and extremely potent sillage. When I said I smelled it from the door of the Fresh boutique it is not an exaggeration.

Fresh has discontinued much of its line of fragrances with only about a dozen left for sale. Cananbis Santal is one of those survivors. I think it is one of the top tier of gourmands released during that time when there were many of them being released. If you’re looking for that hit off of a joint don’t look for it here. Instead slice off a brownie and wonder why you are smiling so much.

Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy- Out of Control Gourmand

If you’re ever interested in doing a bit of Pop Culture Archaeology the perfume discount bins can be a good digging spot. Just by casting your eyes over all of the celebrity fragrances within you can tell whose star is descending straight to the discounter. Despite the barometer of popularity, the great majority of these perfumes with a once hot personalities’ name on the box are almost all terrible. From a discerning point of view, the number of noteworthy celebrity fragrances is quite small compared to the hundreds which have been produced. Which means the ones that have sunk to the discount bin which are good should be pointed out. That’s what I’m doing this month with Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy.

britney spears midnight fantasy

From 1998 to 2004 Britney Spears was one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Her debut single “…Baby, One More Time” is one of the biggest selling songs of all-time with over 10 million copies sold. As Ms. Spears built on that success releasing three more albums through 2003 she did what has become standard issue for a pop star; she branched out into fragrance. The problem became her first fragrance Curious was released just as Ms. Spears life began to become a very public train wreck in 2004. Despite the infamy it sold well and there were yearly releases which continue right up until today with the release of the nineteenth fragrance in the brand named Private Show.

Caroline Sabas

Caroline Sabas

Midnight Fantasy was the fourth Britney Spears release, in 2007, and was a flanker to 2005’s Fantasy. Perfumer Caroline Sabas was asked to create a more gourmand-style fragrance. The original Fantasy by perfumer James Krivda is a textbook example of why so many celebrity perfumes fail. It had a distinct lack of focus as it veered all over the place. The most interesting thing about it was this “cupcake accord”. Based on what Mme Sabas was asked to do with Midnight Fantasy I am guessing their focus groups also shared my opinion. What she did was go very big and very gourmand.

britney-spears-2016

Britney Spears in 2016

Midnight Fantasy uses the linchpin of every early 2000’s gourmand as its focal point, ethyl maltol. Most of the time the perfumers spend their time trying to rein it in. Mme Sabas lets it spin madly out of control as she wraps it in sugary fruity notes of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, some tropical fruits, and plum. These fruits are swirled into the cotton candy sweetness of ethyl maltol to give an incredibly satisfying candied fruit accord. It has a very provocative attitude of asking you to take it on its own terms or to walk away. There is a fleeting amount of iris and vanilla floating around later on but it is this olfactory package of Five Flavors Life Savers which is what you remember.

Midnight Fantasy has 6-8 hour longevity and above average sillage.

With the current trend of trying to appeal to Millennials with these lightly sugared floral gourmands I would love to see what that generation would think about Midnight Fantasy’s nuclear gourmand. I know I like it because of the intensity. If you’re doing some prospecting in the discount bins and you like gourmands Midnight Fantasy is worth a look.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke