Etat Libre d’Orange is enacting another revolution, as the latest fragrances from this house turn towards the ecological - reflecting over our practices as we move rapidly into the future, full speed ahead. Etat Libre’s vision of the future marvels at all of its strangeness, with a little bit of productive desolation to keep us on edge.
Away from the original shock of their earliest works, from Putain des Palaces, Jasmin et Cigarette, and Secretions Magnifiques which felt like revolutionary commentaries upon artistic creativity and the moral limitations faced in perfumery, or even the personal comforts of Like This, You or Someone Like You, and Eau de Protection, Etat Libre says enough is enough, prophesying:
We believe that a new post-religious “jihad” is approaching, coming from an often disillusioned and polluting West, and echoing a new animistic era. Those who have committed crimes against the environment are repenting, and democracies are acknowledging nature as the sacred focal point, meant to be shared. - Etienne de Swardt
Etat Libre wears their worries on their sleeve, concerned for the state of the human subject and their outright disappearance, whether it’s their loss in the faceless mass of the crowd, or as they become increasingly indistinguishable from cybertechnology and artificial intelligence. The worry is alarmingly existential: how very French it is, to find themselves amongst the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Emil Cioran, and Simone de Beauvoir!
Like the essays and the novels of these famous thinkers, Etat Libre’s perfumes are those of solidarity: they make us feel less alone in our angst, finding a comfort in imaginative estrangement when everything – and everyone – appears so humdrum about the state of the world. When they proclaim: “to the bottles, citizens!” They mean it. This is their rallying cry, declaring independence from all that is standardised, too consensual, far too insipid. This motto remains unchanged - for this is art, after all.
The perfumes in this series are an artistic commentary, and do so by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. It is exciting because the compositions are full of novel materials (from novel methods of extraction) and new aromachemicals. This article details how Etat Libre d’Orange tells a story and conveys a theme through its ingredients.
Exit the King recapitulates our worries and welcomes a new world in the same aromatic breath: nothing can rule us! Something must fall for something to rise, and Exit the King is the scent of a magnificent new world, a burst of fresh air that makes us forget the old and overwhelming powers that be … and that were.
It takes a chypre, resolutely old and new at once, to convey this message in scent. Exit the King pleats old and new together as a traditional form holds a thrilling combination of ingredients. Power combines with remarkable freshness in this fragrance - a familiar patchouli, moss, sandalwood, and ambergris base begins to erode upon the force of exciting and new top notes, transforming what is typically heavy and rigid into something gloriously lightweight. It is charged through and through with a soap foam accord that consists of aldehydes and musk, in addition to a generous floral heart of delicate rose, pure and suggestive jasmine, and the green waxy spark of lily-of-the-valley. This is seasoned with pink pepper and Timur pepper notes, furthering the atmosphere of this scent. Both of these notes employ a unique ‘Jungle Essence’ extraction process, which relies on a supercritical solvent that bathes natural material to essentially absorb its aroma. This ensures high olfactory fidelity with the natural material, presenting new possibilities unknown to the old guard.
The total perfume is magnificent: it blurs many lines but is clear in each of its movements; it is resolute. Technically, it is precise, functional, and sharp. Its soapiness pairs with a certain herbal dryness, like suds that bubble across the surface of wood and spice notes. It is surprisingly thin and direct for a chypre, but after a while, it is clear that Exit the King hosts a complex and technical medley of ingredients that has engulfed the wearer all along.
Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil become the Flowers of Waste (Les Fleurs du Dechet) in this fragrance, as evil takes on a new sense in the modern era. I Am Trash responds to our ecological anxieties with optimism, finding value in waste and treating seriously the trash-treasure reversal.
“Dear world…”, sermonises Etienne, “Do not throw anything away because at the bottom of our trash lies the fermented distillation of great love. The garbage trucks hold flowers that can still bleed, the peels and rinds that can still give.”
This is a counter-revolution for Etat Libre d’Orange, still noisy and disruptive, but ultimately functional. So before it’s too late, let us (s)pray to the god of waste, our dear lord of leftovers. It is a reminder that perfumery is an industrialised domain - too often an industry intent upon high and maximalised production. The entirety of I Am Trash’s composition relies on upcycled material - things that would have previously been disregarded as waste products. With I Am Trash, it is clear that Etat Libre d'Orange's is concerned with a 'sense of tomorrow'.
Legendary perfumer Daniela Andrier makes good use of this material: this is a vibrant fruit-dominant fragrance, crisp and full with apple, strawberry, and tangerine notes - as if they were a compote unified with the delicious and soothing touch of rose. There is spice here, in the thick of this glorious assortment of valuable 'trash', amongst brilliant woody synthetics including Iso-E Super and Akigalawood, which are notes that are fine and translucent but never delicate - imparting amazing structure to the work. Deep in the base, find a soft medley of amber and musk.
And when someone asks you what you're wearing, proudly declare: I Am Trash!
She was an Anomaly & The Ghost in the Shell - Cybertech Futures
This pair of fragrances represent Etat Libre d’Orange’s admixture of joy and fear as they confront technological futures. As artificial intelligence integrates itself into our lives to a dizzying degree, these fragrances explores what’s possible with this new technology.
In She Was an Anomaly, AI is a handmaiden - but it is in its malfunction where creativity becomes apparent. The human, or the perfumer, is left to take care of the rest. The AI in question is Givaudan’s ‘Carto’, a tool that intelligently composes ingredients in order to maximise their olfactory performance. In this instance, it suggested an overdosed blend of iris and musk, and perfumer Daniela Andrier finalised the formula. And so it remains reliant upon the human touch.
From the perspective of the machine, it makes us wonder: is the anomaly the human? Indeed, AI relishes in harmony according to programmed diktats, and this fragrance is a harmonious blend of iris that is earthy, plush, and cool to the touch, with a blushing heart of soft sandalwood wrapped in white flowers and steeped in musk. It is almost unctuous up top, fixed in place with amber molecules. Anomaly wears like the ideal skin scent, natural-smelling, undemanding and pristine, and is meticulously refined. The human persists in their exercise of aesthetic choice - the way the ingredients come together remain the work of a human imagination, not an (artificial) intelligence.
Etat Libre’s later The Ghost in the Shell casts doubt over the continued perseverance of the human subject. Its composition is strange, like an ‘alien’ forced to create something out of human, all too human materials, without any notion of common taste or sensibility. Ghost is remarkable for this reason.
Ghost in the Shell is pure future, an accelerated leap into new olfactory territories and the glorious result of grafting ultra-modern materials onto familiar ones - producing an unmistakable strangeness. To describe the smell of Ghost in molecular terms seems inevitable, but not very telling. Ghost is to be smelled and felt: its initial impression is a splice of jasmine weaved between sharp and shiny yuzu and creamy lactonic musks, ranging the gamut from ozonic, aquatic, and artificial. It is dominated by a metallic effect - prominent at the top and persistent into the base.
It is somewhat unnerving, working over the surface of the natural, causing its partial disappearance. A combination of citrus, milk, and metal - it disturbs yet soothes after a while; it is weird yet mesmerising. It will call to mind vinyl, rubber, rainstorms, plastic, milky skin, merging all of these materials in a transcendent act. Ghost simulates on a cybernetic play - the machine is realised on our skin. It is poetic, dream-like, yet alienating. Ghost reiterates the reminders, or the warnings, of the theorists of the postmodern: technology is an extension of the body … and after a while, nature disappears. Between utopia and dystopia, Ghost is the liminal stage in this sequence - a new vision of the body entirely.