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

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange Attaquer Le Soleil Marquis de Sade- The Lash of Cistus

Marquis de Sade is a historical figure who suffers from the titillation aspect of his life having too much influence on his stature. People tend to focus on the sexuality which has been derived from his name. The thing I learned about de Sade when reading his writings is he was a proponent of the freedom to do everything. The term for that was “libertine”. His belief was you become a deeper human being by experiencing as much as you can. This includes facing the things we are not fond of, on an abstract level. If you face what you believe is unpleasant you might find something illuminating within the experiment. Despite the focus on the fetishism M. de Sade’s philosophy is as embraced by extreme sports people who dive off mountains in flight suits as those who explore their sexuality through the dichotomy of pain and pleasure.

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Etienne de Swardt

If I was going to tell you that a perfume brand was going to use M. de Sade as an inspiration I would expect many wouldn’t go too far down their list of possibilities before naming Etat Libre D’Orange. Creative Director Etienne de Swardt is known for his brand using sexuality as part of its image. You might think a perfume based on M. de Sade from Etat Libre D’Orange would be all slap and tickle with a sly wink. Instead one should also be reminded that the brand has the ultimate fragrance which asks a perfume lover to face the unpleasant, Secretions Magnifique, and perhaps find the beauty. I know I have probably spent large amounts of time with this specific fragrance. Through that study I have probably learned as much about perfumery as any other. For this new fragrance called Attaquer Le Soleil (Attack The Sun) M. de Swardt tasked one of the most talented young perfumers working today to take on an ingredient they find unpleasant while using it in a fragrance. Perfumer Quentin Bisch took on this brief by choosing to make a perfume based on cistus.

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Quentin Bisch

Cistus is the main ingredient of that more commonly known raw material labdanum. Labdanum is the resin that forms on the plant. It has a very green resinous quality often compared to a balsamic nature. M. Bisch has never used the material as a focal point because he disliked it. For Attaquer Le Soleil he decided to not just go for the resin. Givaudan has extracted almost every part of the cistus plant and M. Bisch took these different variations combining them into Attaquer Le Soleil.

This makes Attaquer Le Soleil, in essence, a labdanum soliflore which is supported by the rest of the plant. By having the other sources of cistus, leaves, branches, and flower it has the effect of making it more intense while also making it kinetic in scope. Early on it smells more like a pine tree. It warms into a balsamic simmer that eventually becomes leathery in character. It all converges on the more familiar labdanum by the final hours.

Attaquer Le Soleil has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Much like M. Bisch whether you like Attaquer Le Soleil will come down to how much you like labdanum. Labdanum is an ingredient I like which allowed me to just relax and enjoy Attaquer Le Soleil experiencing the pleasure of a resinous soliflore. If you want to embrace your inner libertine while experiencing labdanum and cistus in all of its glory, then allow M. Bisch to lash you with cistus.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Etat Libre D’Orange.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre- Me and My Shadow

There are many fragrances which speak about capturing shadows in fragrant form. What that means most of the time is the weaving of dark notes within brighter ones. But is that a shadow? A shadow is an indistinct reflection of something which light shines upon. The latest release from Etat Libre D’Orange, Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre (from here on out just Hermann), got me thinking about shadows and perfume.

The incredibly long name of Hermann comes from a Victor Hugo poem entitled “What Two Horsemen Were Thinking in the Forest”. The specific line cited translates to “by my side, Hermann seemed to me like a shadow”. The press materials ask if your perfume might be your shadow. As I wore Hermann I found that it was a shadow of itself throughout its development.

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Etienne de Swardt

Perfumer Quentin Bisch was invited to collaborate with creative director Etienne de Swardt for the second time. His first brief, as a perfumer, was for La Fin du Monde two years ago. Hermann is a very different kind of fragrance from that. Over the past year it seems M. Bisch has been enjoying using many of the Givaudan captive molecules seeing what the newest materials can bring to a fragrance. Hermann is no different as he employs four distinct synthetics. What I think he does very cleverly is to allow each synthetic to provide a shadow to another note. Sort of like one horseman is looking at the other from distance as they travel through the development.

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Quentin Bisch

M. Bisch opens Hermann with a fanfare of green galbanum matched with black pepper. This provides one bookend. The next stage of development is a strong blackcurrant bud note. It is sticky green and concentrated fruit. The last note is Calypsone providing the indistinct replica of the blackcurrant bud. Calypsone is an ozonic melon note. M. Bisch keeps its presence at a whisper because it is meant to be just a shadow of the fruit. The same takes place with rose and the synthetic Petalia. Petalia provides a fruity peony-like shadow to the rose, again modulated to be the lesser of the two notes. Geosmin’s earthy quality gives frankincense a grounded simulacrum. Pepperwood provides the spicy, weaker, twin to patchouli; to provide the other bookend to the black pepper on top. In the final stages Ambroaxan brings this to its finish.

Hermann has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage. You will leave a shadow of scent if you spray too much.

M. Bisch composed a study of olfactory point-counterpoint as for each focal point there was a note meant to reflect it as a shadow does. Hermann is not a particularly dark fragrance in tone. I think I’ll be able to wear it year-round. I think in the summer it might even be more pronounced in its pairs of notes. Walking the beach, me and my perfumed shadow.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle from Etat Libre D’Orange.  

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange Remarkable People- The Joy of Cardamom

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Etienne de Swardt the owner and creative force behind Etat Libre D’Orange is one of my favorite people in all of perfumery. His fragrances perfectly mirror his personality. They both carry a broad pleasure in provocation while having a laugh at the absurdity of it all. The ability to not take it so seriously has led to some seriously amazing perfumes from Etat Libre D’Orange. The other thing I like about the brand is M. de Swardt has steadfastly kept from developing an identifiable olfactory trademark which represents the brand. One reason for that is he keeps working with a number of the best perfumers in the business. Inviting them to run away with him for a good time making a new perfume. For the latest release, Remarkable People, M. de Swardt convinced perfumer Cecile Matton to go for a ride with him to make an exuberant paean to those who choose to be unconventional.

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Etienne de Swardt

Mme Matton is collaborating with M. de Swardt for the first time. Remarkable People is actually the re-branding of the 2010 release called Josephine Baker made exclusively for European Sephora. It was made in small quantity and has been long discontinued. I never got the chance to try it because I hadn’t quite developed my system of getting European perfumes into my hands. Now with it as a part of the permanent collection it will see a little more exposure. I can honestly say I see very little of the chanteuse in this perfume and so the name change I think is for the better. What I do get is a perfume which is a good companion to last year’s Cologne. Both carry an infectious joie de vivre throughout. Remarkable People has a bit of a cologne architecture early before turning woodier at the end.

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Cecile Matton

Remarkable People opens with a fabulous mix of grapefruit and cardamom. The cardamom in particular is noteworthy for the way it melds with the slightly sulfurous quality of the grapefruit. I love cardamom in perfumes and Mme Matton has definitely found my sweet spot with the early moments of this one. Jasmine provides a floral change of pace before Mme Matton brings back the spices with a pinch of black pepper and curry as extracted via Mane’s Jungle Essence Process. This makes the curry presence less hirsute and more cleanly polite while still retaining some bite. The cardamom also remains into the heart to mix with all of this. The base is sandalwood and labdanum combined with one of Mane’s proprietary synthetics Lorenox. Lorenox is described as “woody, ambery, leathery, and aromatic.” In Remarkable People it is the leathery quality that comes out most directly.

Remarkable People has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

There have been a number of new perfumes this year which have made me smile due to their desire to be fun. I should’ve expected M. de Swardt to be one of those who could keep the party rolling. Remarkable People should put a smile on any perfume lover’s face.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Etat Libre D’Orange at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange True Lust- Etienne de Swardt’s Mash-Up

There is a branch of music where a producer or artist takes two different styles of music and combines them into a new version; this is called a mash-up. Musical examples of this are the combination of The Beatles White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album by producer Danger Mouse to become The Grey Album. Or one that got a lot of radio play was the combination of Numb by Linkin Park and Encore by Jay-Z who released and performed it live. When it works it illuminates something new from both source materials. It is a reason why some people layer perfumes as they look to create a whole experience from two or three fragrances to fill in the spaces. Now we have the first perfume mash-up with the release of Etat Libre D’Orange True Lust.

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Etienne de Swardt

Creative Director Etienne de Swardt is playing the part of the producer as he takes two of his previous perfumes 2006’s Putain des Palaces by perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer and 2012’s Dangerous Complicity by perfumer Violaine Collas and combines them.  For True Lust it is a mash-up of the softly floral aspects of Dangerous Complicity, along with the rum, with Putain des Palace’s animalic dry woods. What M. de Swardt says he wanted was, “a marriage of mystery, an uneasy merger of hearts and minds and flesh.” What is surprising is True Lust works for me on that level as each of the perfumes serve to fill in the empty space the other one left which results in something both recognizable and unique.

The early going of True Lust is all Dangerous Complicity as the ginger and rum which opens that perfume opens this perfume. The violet of Putain des Palaces arrives fairly quickly. Right here is a good example of why True Lust works. The ginger and rum have a boozy kind of energy but the violet tempers it with a bit of edgy floralcy. The heart is a mix of the floral hearts of both originals as muguet, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, and osmanthus combine. While all of these notes are in one or the other of the perfumes in True Lust they come together in a way different than they presented themselves previously. This is the moment of the perfumed mash-up where the harmonies are overlaid to the point that you know this is something new from something old. The base is mostly the animalic leather of Putain des Palaces matched with the sandalwood of Dangerous Complicity. This time it is the leather of Putain des Palaces which ends up on top, pun intended.

True Lust has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

True Lust is a perfume for people who love smelling like they are wearing perfume. What I mean by that is by taking two different sources and bringing them together it can’t help but be very extroverted and out there. If you like your perfume well-behaved and demure this is not what True Lust is serving up. It is bringing you a Technicolor perfume experience and if you’re in the mood for it, it is awesome. I wanted an old-time broad shouldered perfume experience and True Lust delivered it.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre D’Orange Rien Intense Incense- More is Better

From the moment of their inaugural releases in 2006 Etat Libre D’Orange promised to be a prominent player on the niche scene. Nothing that has happened in the nearly eight years since those first releases has changed. Etat Libre D’Orange continues to expand their boundaries. For 2014 they are throwing us a curveball; first with the completely “nice” Cologne. The next release for the fall is also something different as it is the first flanker in Etat Libre D’Orange’s history. The fragrance that Creative Director Etienne de Swardt chose to re-visit; Rien.

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Antoine Lie

Rien was one of the original set of eleven fragrances released at the end of 2006. Perfumer Antoine Lie created a leather fragrance that had at its heart leather with the glare of chrome wrapped in a Stygian depth. It was one of my favorites of the original collection and to this day is one of my five favorite fragrances in the line. As I wrote in my Etat Libre D’Orange 101 it is the most approachable challenging fragrance I know. M. Lie provides just enough comfort for Rien to allow the wearer to explore their personal limits of what smells good.

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Etienne de Swardt

For 2014 M. de Swardt has asked M. Lie to re-invent Rien as Rien Intense Incense. If there was one consistent comment from many who tried Rien was that the incense note was more of a suggestion than a prominent participant. For Rien Intense Incense there is no chance you can miss it as the incense is intense, as advertised. M. Lie manages to do this without throwing the whole composition out of balance. If you loved Rien, Rien Intense Incense is proof to the adage that “more is better”.

Rien Intense Incense opens with the same metallic kinetic aldehydes paired with cumin and black pepper on top of the leather accord. The pepper and the cumin are upped in concentration and it makes the chrome more brilliant and the Stygian aspect even deeper. The rose, orris, and patchouli add the same amount of herbal floralcy as was found in the original. There is no hint of a powdery quality even with the increased concentration.  Finally the frankincense bolstered by higher amounts of labdanum, and styrax impose their will. If incense was understated in Rien, not here. This has that metallic quality of the best frankincense and it recapitulates the same character from the aldehydes in the top notes. As Rien Intense Incense heads into its final stage it is bitter leather over a smoking censer.

Rien Intense Incense has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

So often when a fragrance comes out in “intense” form it is just a case of amplifying the notes and a bit of re-balancing. What M. Lie has done with Rien Intense Incense is to take one of the less prominent notes from the original and by moving it to the foreground has re-imagined his original composition beautifully. I will always love Rien for its imagination at the time of its release but Rien Intense Incense is a better fragrance from top to bottom. Yes indeed, more is much, much better.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Etat Libre D’Orange at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Etat Libre d’Orange Cologne- The Nice Side of The Rogue

One of the great pleasures of the recent Esxence in Milan was my first opportunity to meet Etienne de Swardt, the owner and creative director of Etat Libre d’Orange. As he calls himself on the website “Troublemaker & Perfumer”. He is most definitely one of the Bad Boys of perfume and that is his charm. While speaking with him I felt there was always a barely suppressed laugh behind his smile. He is definitely in on the joke, he is actually the joker incarnate. As we sat down for him to show me the latest releases I was ready for the typically double entendre name followed, usually, by a perfume that is very good to spectacular. He slid across the table a brochure which had this on the front, “We’ve given you decadent, we’ve given you outrageous and now we give you nice.” This is the tag line for the new Cologne (A Nice Scent).

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Etienne de Swardt

M. de Swardt told me this was the fragrance he would like to use as the gateway fragrance to the rest of the collection. Because of the style of that collection this is not a trivial task. He asked perfumer Alexandra Kosinski to collaborate with him on Cologne. As I’ve written about previously we really are in the middle of a Colognaissance and Cologne fits right into this reinvention of the venerable form. Mme Kosinski goes with a spine of citrus/floral/animalic but it is done in a very Etat Libre d’Orange way. Yes Cologne is nice but way down underneath it all lurks the rogue who sticks his head up at the very end.

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Alexandra Kosinski

While cologne as a perfume architecture is pretty straightforward what separates the newer modern colognes is the choices made to fill out that architecture. For Cologne Mme Kosinski makes an inspired choice to start with blood orange supported by bergamot. Blood orange adds a tinge of bitter underneath the juicy sweet and it really is made to be a cologne ingredient. The heart is a floral transition of orange blossom and jasmine. Mme Kosinski keeps the florals on the light side but what I liked was she didn’t use versions of these notes that were bereft of their indoles. Beneath all that loveliness there is just a tiny hint of something less wholesome. This leads to a base which is definitely meant to let the more primal urges become more apparent as Mme Kosinski combines a leather accord and wraps it in musk. It is not a boisterous version of these notes but it picks up on the indoles and shows that even A Nice Scent can be a little dangerous.

Cologne has 4-6 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am looking forward to this summer to let many of these new colognes I’ve been reviewing the chance to come out and play in the heat. I’ve been sending some time arranging all of them on a shelf for the sunny days to come. When Cologne (A Nice Scent) becomes available in June this will go right to the front of that shelf. M. de Swardt and Mme Kosinski have succeeded admirably in adding to the burgeoning Colgnaissance and to creating the perfect introductory fragrance for Etat Libre d’Orange.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Etat Libre d’Orange at Esxence 2014.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s note: If Cologne (A Nice Scent) makes you want to explore the line more check out my Etat Libre d’Orange 101 article for five I think you should start with.

Etat Libre d’Orange 101- Five to Get You Started

One of the perfume lines which lives up to the ideals behind niche perfumery is Etat Libre d’Orange. There is almost no other niche brand which so fearlessly pushes the boundaries. Owner and creative director Etienne de Swardt is audacious in the perfumes he oversees for his label. Right from the first eleven fragrances released in the fall of 2006 he laid down a marker that Etat Libre d’Orange was going to be very different. In those first releases is the perfume widely regarded as the worst smelling perfume ever, Secretions Magnifiques. Just do a search and you will see videos of people pulling horrified faces and blog or forum posts plumbing new depths of verbiage trying to describe the experience. I, personally, think it is a masterpiece of perfumery but it is really only for those ready to approach it on its own terms instead of as a rite of passage.

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Etienne de Swardt

Because of Secretions Magnifiques there are many who are wary of exploring the other fragrances in the line and that is a shame because I believe Etat Libre d’Orange is one of the best niche lines on the market. There is not a boring fragrance in the collection and many of them are exciting for the singularity of their existence. If you’ve been wanting to give Etat Libre d’Orange a try and want to sort of slowly expose yourself to the aesthetic and attitude of the line I have five suggestions which might make things a little easier.

Fat Electrician was released in 2009 and was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. M. Maisondieu created a fantastically nutty vetiver by combining chestnut cream with the vetiver. It is bracketed by fulsome olive leaves on top and sweetly resinous myrrh and opoponax in the base. This is vetiver given a new twist.

Fils de Dieu was released in 2012 by perfume Ralf Schwieger. Hr. Schwieger created a Technicolor fragrance which pays homage to all things Southeast Asian. It percolates early with a palpable humidity which contains lime, ginger, shiso, cardamom, coconut and rice. By the end it turns into a sensual accord of leather, vetiver, and castoreum. One of my top 5 new fragrances in 2012.

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Like This was released in 2010 by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. Like This was Tilda Swinton’s celebuscent and she chose to collaborate with Etat Libre d’Orange. If every celebrity labeled fragrance was as good as Like This that segment of the market would be less looked down upon. Mme Bijaoui uses immortelle as the core of Like This and then proceeds to swaddle it in layers of ginger, tangerine, neroli, pumpkin, vetiver, and musk. This all comes together gloriously and Like This has been my Thanksgiving fragrance for the last three years.

Noel au Balcon was released in 2007 also by Antoine Maisondieu. Based on the name this is supposed to be for the Holiday Season but I wear it year-round because it is an easy to wear honey focused fragrance. M. Maisondieu uses the honey as a matrix to trap apricot and tangerine along with labdanum and cinnamon. It all eventually releases to vanilla, vetiver, and musk base.

Rien was released in 2006 by perfumer Antoine Lie. Of all of the very challenging Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances I think Rien is the most approachable. M. Lie created a dynamic intense fragrance which starts with the fizz of aldehydes which reveal a cumin and pepper-laced rose before ending on a leather and frankincense base. It is sharp and piquant and resinous and animalic and completely gorgeous. Of all of the first releases it was Rien which really sealed my enjoyment of the line.

M. de Swardt has a very arch sense of humor which plays itself out over the labels and names of the fragrances but if you can put aside your wariness because of Secretions Magnifiques and your raised eyebrows at the names and imagery an exploration of Etat Libre d’Orange is as good as it gets in niche perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these perfumes that I purchased.

Mark Behnke