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

Chandler Burr Scent Dinner 10/14 with EB Florals and Chef Michael Hung in LA

One of the things all perfume lovers enjoy is finding new settings in which to experience perfume. One of the most unique of these are the Scent Dinners hosted by Chandler Burr. Mr. Burr has traveled the globe hosting these one-of-a-kind experiences since 2007. What happens is he collaborates with a chef to create a meal which mirrors the perfumes being sniffed. They have been so popular that they are usually private affairs. On October 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA he is holding a Scent Dinner in conjunction with Eric Buterbaugh of EB Florals and Chef Michael Hung of Viviane Restaurant. This is the first US Scent Dinner open to the public in over three years.

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Chandler Burr

For this particular edition Mr. Buterbaugh is using it as the premiere for his latest addition to the EB Florals collection called Kingston Osmanthus, by perfumer Alberto Morillas. All of the courses served by Chef Michael will be associated with other of the EB Florals fragrances. Before you receive the food course Mr. Burr introduces you to the raw materials within each fragrance; then the perfume. After that a food course follows using the raw ingredients you have been experiencing in edible form. It is an eye-opening experience as you get the chance to really interact with the basic building blocks of a perfume. It attunes you to those notes and as you try the perfume and eat the haute cuisine you will experience the impact of fragrance from a new viewpoint.

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Eric Buterbaugh

Mr. Buterbaugh is hosting the dinner in his gallery on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles where his fabulous floral designs will help set the stage for the evening. There are 25 seats available to the public for the price of $395. What that provides is a cocktail hour prior to the dinner where mixologist Ryan Wainwright will mix aromatic cocktails. A full 100mL bottle of the new EB Florals Kingston Osmanthus (which retails for $395 by itself) as an avant premiere gift. This all leads up to a five-course meal served by Chef Michael Hung inspired by EB Florals fragrances with Chandler Burr guiding you through an equally intricate menu of scent.

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Chef Michael Hung

These Scent Dinners are singular experiences as each is different because of the chef and the perfume featured. If you have ever wanted to be part of one and can be in LA October 14 here is your opportunity. For more information and to reserve a seat you can e-mail gallery@ebflorals.com

Mark Behnke