One Thousand Scents

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dirty Mind: Archives 69 by Etat Libre d'Orange

Naturally, you are supposed to think of sex when you hear the name of Etat Libre d'Orange's 2011 launch "Archives 69". And then you are supposed to feel abashed when you learn that you, filthy beast, jumped to conclusions, because it's actually (supposedly) a reference to their address in Paris, 69 Rue des Archives. But in a classic case of having their cake and simultaneously eating it too, the logo for the scent is in fact three people engaged in mutual oral sex*.

Are people that easily shocked these days? Are we really meant to find any of this scandalous? Or am I just jaded?

Never mind. Archives 69 isn't about oral sex, or archives, or a building in Paris, or even the year 1969. What it's really all about, for some reason, is good clean fun.

The top is a bright, fizzy soda-pop burst of citrusy aldehyde with a leaf-green overtone that suggests candy spearmint leaves. (No aldehydes in the official list of notes, which run "Mandarin, pink pepper, pimiento leaf, orchid, prune, incense, camphor, benzoin, patchouli, musk": but since the intro feels like a softer version of Clinique Wrappings they're in there, all right.) The middle is a sweetened, slightly fruit-flavoured version of the relentlessly dry orchid from YSL Nu, but not enough to bring Archives 69 into the dreaded fruity-floral category; despite the candy-coated top, this has nothing of the teenaged girl about it. The base is pleasantly musky and close to the skin.

Archives 69 doesn't read as sexy: it's much too cheerful for that. It's all about having a good time, though, and I guess the kind of fun you're having (and how many people you're having it with) is up to you.

*Not so much 69, then, as 103.5.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Bad Attitude: Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d'Orange

I have an unfortunate suspicion that if Afternoon of a Faun been launched (under another name, with other packaging) by a department-store brand, although it isn't nearly mainstream enough for that, it would have been ignored, or written off as merely weird: but because it was launched by niche brand Etat Libre d'Orange, it is going to be given more consideration, and perhaps held in higher regard, than it ought to be. Because make no mistake: it is weird, and not in a good way. It's not even weird for the sake of weirdness. It's just bad.

Obviously nobody sets out to compose a bad scent. Sometimes they just turn out that way.

Badness is to an extent subjective, of course. Last night on Netflix I watched "The Emperor's New Groove", a movie I must have seen at least a dozen times by now and one which does not grow old, a dazzlingly funny animated Disney flick which broke out of the Disney mold by having only one song and by being gloriously anarchic and meta: it works at an adult level at least as well as it does on a slapsticky kids' level. If you don't like David Spade or animation or comedies, I can get that you wouldn't like this, but that isn't enough to make it bad — just not to your taste. But some of the Netflix reviews were extraordinarily negative: I can't understand how anyone can call it a bad movie, and yet some people do.

The perception of quality, the various rankings of good and bad, is affected by a host of intangibles and biases, and in the world of luxury goods, of which perfume is one, the most interesting is price. People, whether consciously or not (usually not), tend to think that, all other things being equal, the more something costs, the better it is, but for that to work you have to know that it's pricier, which is why even during the Depression, the tagline "The costliest perfume in the world" helped ensure the success of Patou's Joy.

You can't even help this: it's exceedingly hard to overcome this tendency to affix expectations to objects. You think that expensive wine tastes better than cheap wine, and if you unknowingly drink cheap wine which has been transferred to an expensive bottle, you are very likely to give it a higher rating than expensive wine poured from a cheap bottle.

And all of this is my roundabout way of saying that The Afternoon of a Faun ("Bergamot, pepper, cinnamon, incense, rose, immortal flower, orris, jasmine, myrrh of Namibia, moss, leather, benzoin") is, I am afraid, cheap wine in an expensive bottle: a spindly peppered floral, all angles and points, not in an interesting or appealing way but more like stepping on a jumble of Lego blocks (or, I guess, jamming them up your nose). Neither beautiful nor fascinating, the only two raisons d'etre for a perfume, it is instead meaningless and incomprehensible, which is to say that it is bad.

I cheerfully concede that I could be wrong about this, that it isn't actually bad but just not my cup of tea. Entirely possible. I am not the arbiter of greatness. But it smells like badness to me.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Good God: Fils de Dieu by Etat Libre d'Orange

Last week I mentioned that I was putting a hold on ordering any new samples because I already have a bunch and because scents launched in big batches — which they all seem to be these days, on the theory that it's just as cheap to produce and launch four or thirteen as it is to launch one — tended not to be very good on the whole. A few days ago I discovered to my astonishment and borderline horror that I had not only done just that a while ago, I had completely forgotten about it, and so I have not only five more Etat Libre d'Orange samples I didn't even know about, I also have a round dozen samples by a company called L'Antichambre, which I must have ordered because many of them sound extremely delicious and you can never have enough gourmands. But I'm leaving the L'Antichambres in their little muslin bag and working through the Etats for the next few weeks, if you don't mind.

Etat scents tend to have perverse or misleading names, the better to shock and confuse you with. Nombril Immense smells mostly of patchouli: Like This smells like pumpkin soup. Even the apparently straight-ahead names don't necessarily take you where you think you're going to go. Divin'Enfant
does in fact smell like a rosewater candy and baby powder at first, but then it takes a sharp turn into adulthood by bringing in aromas of tobacco, leather, and coffee.
Long story short, Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes ("Son of the god of rice and citrus") smells just like what you think it ought to smell like: sharp, crystalline citrus on top of thick, creamy rice pudding, which you are eating a field of flowers on a sunny day while wearing a brown leather jacket. It is gorgeous, mesmerizing stuff, the perfect example of what Etat does best.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Gotcha: Bijou Romantique by Etat Libre d'Orange (eventually)

So I spent a bit of money getting, and a lot of time thinking and writing about, Luckyscent's Fueguia 1833 collection, and I decided that I was probably just going to stop ordering samples for a while, since most everything being made nowadays isn't (as arrogant as this sounds) up to my standards, when what appears in my inbox but an ad for another Luckyscent sample set, this time for Xerjoff's new Join the Club series?

I was very tempted, as you can imagine. The idea behind the series is a clever one: ten fragrances reminiscent of various clubs — jazz, yacht, book. After reading a few of the descriptions, I clicked on the link to put a sample set in the cart, but before I committed myself I read more of the descriptions, and eventually it dawned on me: I have been seduced and disappointed before by collections, and not even that long ago, because this is exactly what happened with the Fueguia collection*, and the "Best of 2012" sample set (I would beg to differ: en masse, they weren't the best of any year), and presumably others before it.

So Luckyscent, understandably wanting to sell what they have invested in, write a thrilled, glowing review of every single scent, carefully glossing over the fact that — as we all know by now, don't we? — every scent in a collection will not be, cannot possibly be, great. Or even good. So I thought, no, they're not getting my money this time around, alas. As George Dubya once memorably said, "Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. [Long, horribly awkward pause.] Fool me can't get fooled again."**

I love trying new things but even I have my limits. Fortunately, I still have lots of samples from various places, and so for the next little while, unless I weaken, I'll just be pawing through those.


So reading the company's list of notes ("Bergamote & citron d'Italie, baie rose essence, ylang-ylang, sauge sclarée, iris de Toscane, vétiver de Haïti, benjoin, vanille..." — it always sounds so much better in French, doesn't it?) and Luckyscent's lip-smacking writeup ("another delicately hued composition that hovers just on the edge of being the most ethereal gourmand, with the subtle chocolate facets of iris, vetiver blending into the creaminess of vanilla and benzoin"), what would you expect: something thick and luscious, edibly tropical?

Not a chance. To my nose, anyway, Bijou Romantique smells like a whole lot of rather synthetic and slightly burnt spices. There's a bit of iris in there, but not enough to make me hate it, a smudge of benzoin to sweeten the deal, and a little clump of patchouli underneath it all, but otherwise it's nothing like advertised: it isn't a bijou, it isn't romantic, it certainly isn't feminine, and it's gourmand only if you like eating spices straight from the jar with a teaspoon. It took me a while to place it, but Bijou Romantique in fact smells like a reasonably precise copy of late-nineties Organza Indecence.

*I hasten to say that I didn't hate all the Fueguias, and in fact one of them had such an impact on me that this morning as I was heading to the gym I realized with a shock that I could smell the wonderful Pulperia in the air until I realized that, doing construction work, some workers were welding cast iron while others were laying down pitch, the smell of hot iron and tar and the flurry of sparks creating the smell of Pulperia, and what a thrill that was.

**If you watch that video of the speech, you almost feel sorry for him, because the second he starts in on the quote, he loses the thread of it — you can actually see it happen — and he realizes he's walked into a trap that there's no way out of, so he just blunders through to some kind of ending. But it's hard to feel really sorry for him: he doesn't appear to ever have had a coherent, independent thought in his entire life, and he was a stunningly bad public orator, a skill you'd think it would be impossible to get elected to office without. Every verbal trap he ever walked into he set for himself.

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