New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You- Chandler Takes the Reins

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When you write extensively about any subject it is inevitable that you are asked if you want to be more than an observer. Perhaps the most ubiquitous question I get is some variation of “Do you ever want to make a perfume?” I can honestly say, as of today, my answer is absolutely positively, “No!” I suspect anyone who writes about fragrance is asked this question. In the case of Chandler Burr I know it took many years for that “no” to turn to a “yes”. Over the last year, Mr. Burr did take the position of creative director for the new Etat Libre D’Orange You or Someone Like You.

Chandler Burr

The fragrance is based on Mr. Burr’s 2009 novel of the same name. Working with perfumer Caroline Sabas, they wanted to focus on one of the protagonists. An Englishwoman named Anne who observes her Los Angeles milieu from her aerie in the Hollywood hills. When I interviewed Mr. Burr about the new creation he mentioned he wanted to create “a specific scent, the scent someone like Anne would wear, an Angelino Englishwoman high in the hills in the blue air.” He is also a proponent of describing perfume as belonging to specific descriptive genres. For You or Someone Like You he wanted it to be a combination of “Luminism, Minimalism, and contemporary Romanticism” He is also an ardent believer that in talking about the art of perfume it shouldn’t be reduced to the ingredients and the focus should stay on the overall effect. I am going to honor that by spending the next paragraph describing You or Someone Like You in that spirit. Then I will dishonor that by spending the next paragraph, after that, doing my usual reductionist analysis.

Caroline Sabas

I grew up in South Florida, and while it is not LA, You or Someone Like You captures what I consider the artificial light which infuses both places. Namely most spend too much time in their car moving from one sterile air conditioned space to another. The Luminism in You or Someone Like You is the ever-present sun reflecting off windshields and glass. It is sharp and artificial further separating one from the natural. To hammer this home there are some aspects of that world trying to pierce the glass but the AC keeps it at bay with glossy chilly laminar flows.

To create the sterility of processed cool air Mme Sabas uses mint as a keynote around which is folded some of the fresher green grassy notes as in, perhaps, the hexenal family. It forms that feel of being inside a car stuck in traffic as the smells of someone mowing their lawn come with the filtered air. More of that kind of green vegetal quality comes through but in quieter ways. Even lighter florals are present but these are synthetic expansive versions of the natural essential oils which further enhances this artificiality at the core of You or Someone Like You.

You or Someone Like You has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I think Mr. Burr completely succeeded in making a perfume within the Luminism and Minimalism schools; I found little Romanticism present. Which is probably for the best because I was much more connected to the chill and glass; finding something more expressive would have been less appealing.

Once Mr. Burr got around to saying “yes” he has, with Mme Sabas, created a fragrance true to what he believes perfume can aspire to.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle received from Europerfume.

Mark Behnke

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