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Friday, March 23, 2007

Perfume Review and a Rant: Etat Libre d'Orange Vraie Blond

Before I review Vraie Blond, the last aldehyde of this aldehydic week, please allow me to rant a little and get something out of my system.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Parfum est mort, proclaim Etat Libre d’Orange and very modestly proceed to declare that their collection is “clearly a small revolution in the formatted world of perfumes guided by profitability and consumer tests”. Firstly, any line that speaks about itself in revolutionary terms sets my eyes a-rolling. Because frankly, those who talk about “revolution” the most are the ones that deliver the least. The real olfactory revolutionaries are quietly creating truly original, quality scents without making much fuss about their “mission”. It also makes me laugh when lines like Etat boast the fact that they do not use marketing ploys to sell their scents. “Revolutionary” statements and the very bragging about the lack of marketing are just as much of a marketing technique as the usual pretty girl posters we see everywhere. Secondly, when I smell some of Etat’s scents, I find myself ruing the fact that “consumer tests” were not employed. Perhaps some things that the potential customers would have undoubtedly had to say about the fragrances, might have burst the bubble in which the creators of the line seem to exist. For example, a potential customer might have questioned the necessity of creating a “perfume” like Secretions Magnifique. In his email, Tom once called Secretions Magnifique the smell of a mobster washed out of the Hudson river and that to me perfectly sums up this hideous concoction of blood, sperm and fish. Why would a company create a “perfume” that smells like a floater? The only answer that comes to mind is- because they can. But just because science became so advanced that practically any smell can now be replicated, it doesn’t mean that all the smells out there should find their way into perfume, and just because the owners have funds so unlimited that they can make their every perverse idea come into life, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exercise common sense and have a modicum of taste. Yes, there is the “I Hate Perfume” trend in perfumery and perfumers are looking for new and unusual ways to express themselves, but…between true originality and shallow outrageousness lies a world of a difference.

And that brings me to the point of Etat’s advertising images. The line declares itself to be “free from every taboo” and advocates wearing “sexuality like a second skin (…) like a dare”. What with cartoon penises and pubic hair, the mentality of the tres liberated brand seems to me to be reminiscent of that of teenage boys (I hope the boys of 12-14 who have never drew a penis on the wall of the school toilet and then giggled all the way home, feeling very proud about their rebelliousness will forgive my sweeping generalization). In our fairly open-minded day and age, do the creators of Etat still feel so awfully repressed by the rigid moral code that they have to shout about being free from all taboos and shove their sexuality in everyone’s faces? And if they really, really have to, must it be done in such a juvenile, tacky manner?

Etat’s belief that their fragrances are marvels of “olfactory eroticism” seems to me to be touchingly misguided. They say that their perfumes are for “those who no longer want to merge with the mass but who on the contrary want to rediscover perfume of seduction”. What do teenage boys even know about seduction? Please! When I smell Putain de Palaces, Rien, and Nombril Immense, not to mention Vierges de Toreros and Eau de Floater, I don’t feel seduced, I feel assaulted. Many perfumes in the line suffer from the Too Much of a Good Thing disease. Putain, Nombril and, most sadly, Rien (which on paper sounded very “me”) smell too robust, too forceful, like they have too many notes, like the perfumer excitedly threw together all the ingredients he liked and forgot to self-edit…They smell like they were carved out with an axe, as opposed to being intricately sculpted with a finer instrument. Encens et Bubblegum, while, to me, not actually unlikable, smells too simplistic, too Demeter-like in the literal olfactory translation of its title. The same applies to Divin’Enfant. Je Suis Homme and Antiheros, although absolutely wearable and even pleasant, are rather unoriginal and unexciting. I very much liked Eloge du Traitre, but I feel it is imperative for people at Etat to know that Caron called to say they want their Yatagan formula back ... I would sum up my impressions of Etat Libre d’Orange scents and the whole attitude of the line by quoting the fabulous Nina Garcia: Aesthetically Not Pleasing.

There were two scents that I found to be neither repulsive nor too derivative. Revolutionary miracles of modern perfumery they are not, but I would happily wear them. I will talk about Jasmine et Cigarette next week. Today’s perfume is

Vraie Blond

According to the primitive teenage imaginings of the boys at Etat, a real blond has “a full-fledged décolleté, shapely hips and a sensuous catlike walk” (can’t you just see them drooling while writing the description?). Her “perfectly curvaceous body in a sequined lamé dress” is “a Technicolor vision of the American dream”. So she is basically a hussy with no taste in clothes. Luckily, the scent is not nearly as vulgar as the creators want to make it sound. In fact, it is a very pleasant fragrance that speaks to me about youthful prettiness and innocence rather than of tired, crude sensuality.

On a blotter, the crystalline quality and the sparkly effect of the aldehydic top notes are more apparent. On my skin, the scent has a softer, “fluffier”, “thicker” feel. It is a little candy of a scent, redolent of sweet peaches and velvety myrrh. In the middle stage, a “downy” sort of smell that I take to be vanilla mixed with heliotrope emerges, it has a slight almond undertone, which I could do without but which doesn’t bother me much. The drydown is fluffier still and does smell of the promised suede, but the note could have been a little stronger. All in all, the scent is pretty, smiley, playful and very wearable. It is not particularly interesting, but compared to the rest of the line, it is surprisingly tasteful and lovely. I don’t need a whole bottle, that sweet heliotrope-like accord makes Vraie Blond the kind of scent of which I will tire very quickly, but a decant may be in order.

Vraie Blond, and most of the other Etat Libre d’Orange scents are available at Henry Bendel, $65.00 for 50ml. (At least the line is objective enough about their scents not to overprice them. And on that final caustic note- Dixi!)



Blogger tmp00 said...

Wow- They really bugged you!

I think the reason they didn't bug me as much is that I tried eau de Floater about three weeks before trying the rest of the line. I also assiduously avoided reading the marketing crap, since the small amount of it that I did read made me want to go into debt to fly to Fance and bitch-slap these people.

Rien oddly was the one I really liked: it was big, it was blowsy. it was assaultive and it was primitive. It's a hot gas-station attendant of a fragrance. Revolutionary? Puh-leeze! It was a trick fragrance. Hot for when you were in the mood, but you wouldn't take it to the company Christmas party.

I still think that on the whole that as freshman fragrances they are better than one or two other houses I've tested in the last year (well, one) and I am hoping that eau de CSI Miami is just a marketing cry for help.

I am still going to ignore the marketing, even unto those idiotic graphics (oooh penii, we're so bad) and hope they can do better with the sophmore scents.

11:18 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...


What's the other house you are talking about? Don't tell me... I think I know. Does it have a word "nose" in it? Is the word "nose" used twice? :-) Is there an "a" in between? If so, than yes, Etat is much, much better.

1:10 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colombina, I am 100% in agreement with you. In fact, I wish I could vote for you for something.

Sex is the ultimate marketing ploy. What do they mean "free from marketing?" Thanks for the rant. I needed that.

2:54 AM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada said...

Now you really deserve the title Columbina the Terrible, Tatar scourge of Perfume Pretension!
I second, third and etc. your rant. The marketing I didn't mind so much (I think the picture are kinda cute) but the scents just don't live up to their own hype. I've already written this on other blogs: to me, most of these are like unedited drafts. Etienne de Swardt, the line's CEO, is no Frédéric Malle, that's for sure. And that other line we shall call Nose Square... pff

3:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't like any of them that much. Like CC, the marketing didn't bother me (subtlety can also be over-rated), but the statement of revolutionary intent in the world of perfume (where the difference between cost price and sale price is normally humungous)? Puh-leeze.

5:15 AM EDT  
Blogger Solander said...

Hilarious review! Vraie Blonde was definitely not one of my favs though. I prefer Jasmin et Cigarette, Putain des Palaces and the Yatagan clone.

7:04 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! :-) You can vote for an official title of title Colombina the Terrible, Tatar scourge of Perfume Pretension to be awarded to me, as D. suggests below :-)

8:03 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

It's only 8am, and I laughing out loud, thanks to you! :-) I love the title.
Unedited drafts is a perfect description for the scents, very true. As for Malle, he is "responsible" for so many Edition-like perfume lines that have been launched because people thought that they can do what he could do. :-)

8:06 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I react bizarrely strong to a word "revolution" used in regards to perfume. But when there is both "revolution" and cartoon private parts employed in promoting a line...I see double red :-)

8:09 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

LOL at the Yatagan Clone, but it is, isn't it. The similarity is staggering. I liked it too, because I like Yatagan.

8:10 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I didn't read much on their site, so I missed the part about bragging about their lack of marketing. Very amusing. :-) And, yes, for once in my life, I do think "consumer tests" might have been advisable. I'd love to know how many SM and Divin'enfent (on my skin, as bad as SM) bottles they'll sell. Shock and gag value only go so far. However, that said, I really did love Jasmin et Cigarette and there are a couple of others I think were very well done. I think one of the oddest things of all is that the bottles are truly very tasteful and extremely attractive - rather at odds w/ the penis on the school wall imagery.

8:23 AM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

Blogger ATE my comment. I will try again.

I didn't get to try this for very long, b/c I tried SM right afterwards. I then threw aside the covers of my bed in horror, and poor, timid Blondie jumped off and hid underneath. After I scrubbed off SM, I tried to find her (even calling, "Here, Blondie! You can come out now; the awful smell is gone!"), but she clearly didn't trust me anymore and remained in hiding. Oh, well. On a brief sniff, she was much too sweet for me anyway!:)

8:28 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...


I know that you and Sara liked them much, much more than I did. I also know that to Victoria SM did not smell as hideous as it did to me. I want to borrow your noses, and re-sample everything, just to smell what you smell :-)

You know, I think Carmencanada once said that an ETAT SA told her that in their boutique in Paris Secretions was selling like hot cakes. But of course, it would at first, as such a novelty item.

As for the bottles, here is a quote I couldn't figure where to stick into my tiny little rant: "ELDO bans boastfullness with regards to the bottle: it is through simplicity that the force of the concept reveals real depth". Very Malle-esque of the, and I wish they took this wise principle and applied to everything else to do with their line.

8:29 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

HAHAHA! So funny. Poor Blondie :-) but I do think that she would be too sweet for you (it is kind of too sweet for me), and the suede note isn't nearly strong enough.
Was there an Etat scent that you liked? Rien, perhaps? Or The Yatagan One?

8:31 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

That statement you quoted about the bottles is odd because it seems to be so completely out of keeping w/ the rest of the marketing. I'm thinking a little case of multiple personality syndrome here.
Yes, I thought SM would sell a lot initially, but novelty wears off quickly.

8:54 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I absolutely agree...It's like they don't yet have a clear concept of what they want the identity of their line to be like, it's all over the place, there is revolution, and sexual liberation and simplicity. I am curious to see in which direction they will choose to go next and whether they will truly find themselves.

8:58 AM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

I did like Rien and the Yatagan one, but not, I think, enough to pursue. I think my favorite was Jasmin et Cigarette.

9:06 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I have a feeling that Jasmin et Cigarette might be their most likable one. It is nice.

9:13 AM EDT  
Blogger fmd74 said...

I loved your article and agree wholeheartedly!!

10:41 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! :-)

10:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hee, I really enjoyed reading your rant! I love a good smackdown of a delusional and pretentious line. Vraie Blond sounds quite pretty though.

10:50 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I am so glad. :-) I eased my angst a little and you were entertained. perfect :-)
I think you might like Vraie Blond! Lots of myrrh there, you like myrrh, right?

10:52 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

My fellow Prude :-), I don't think this approach has worked for them or could ever work for anyone, it is too gimmicky, it makes them look like a sort of novelty line, and the novelty wears off all too fast. but I too understand how they felt a need to shock in order to be heard. Now if their scents were better, they might not have needed to be outrageous. I also agree that they should have focused on a couple of decent perfumes they have.

11:45 AM EDT  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

M, lovely rant, thank you! I did not dislike Vierges as much as you did. Jasmin et Cigarette is nice and looking forward to your review. Overall, not feeling the need to own any of these, and not even moved to try to sample the whole line.

12:34 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! :-) Vierges was horrific on me, not as hideous as Secretions, but getting there.

12:38 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post cracked me UP! I bought a few of these while in Paris. Vraie Blonde was one of my purchases. A week or two later, I was boxing it up for possible donation to my coworkers. Your description is really artful and precise. I have been feeling aphasic lately when I describe perfume. I did a less emphatic review of Divin'Enfant today. Cheers!

6:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I am glad I made you laugh :-) I will race to Legerdenez now to read about the Divine Infant.

6:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

You...wore...that actually wore it outside? Like I said to Elle, I would love to borrow your nose just to smell SM, and to find out what it is like when it doesn't smell of corpses eaten by fish :-) I am in awe!

I agree about potential, many ELDO scents do have it, but, as you said, they need good editing.

8:52 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love it when you rant! ;D I didn't judge them as harsh at first but the more I smelled the scents and tried to understand the idea behind it all, the more irritated I became. Completely agree on the unedited drafts statement. I liked Putain des Palaces the best at first but then it just became too forceful.

9:50 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Well then, I'll rant more :-)
Most of the Etats suffer from the Boutique Baldini Syndrom. There were too many different scents in his boutique and the customers became overwhelmed to the point of passing out. Well, a wearer of the Etats (me :-)) becomes overwhelmed like that too.

9:53 PM EDT  

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