The bold range of fragrance names immediately had my mind wandering to an avante-garde Andy Warhol styled perfume factory. I had visions of the bottles with matching platinum blonde wigs, bondage chains, and a perfume-filled condom as a gift with purchase. The sexually suggestive imagery for each scent in the press kit, had me blushing as I sat on a packed subway car and felt like a prepubescent schoolboy who had just doodled in his three-ring binder after watching a decadent gritty Justin Timberlake video.
The phallic-revolver reminded me of the pop star making out somewhere in some dark, grainy room; sweaty writhing bodies fill the screen and then the naked back of a female disappears. I hoped I couldn't say the same with the scents' longevity. I wasn't dissapointed. I had the opportunity at Holt Renfrew's business suites in Toronto, to meet personally with Creative Director of Etat Libre D'Orange, Etienne de Swardt (he's bringing sexy back). Along with his perfumed perfumer posse, Antoine Maisondieu (Funny, Moschino, Paul Smith Extreme, Gucci Rush Men) and Shymala Maisondieu (Je Veux - Dana, Charogne, Etat Libre d'Orange), Antoine Lie (Davidoff Adventure, Kenzo Parfum d'ete, Armani Code) and Nathalie Fiesthauer (Kouros Tattoo Energizing -YSL, (all liberators of the cookie-cutter "pre-Oz" approach to perfumery.) de Swardt (the wiz behind the curtain) prefers the more sensual, ok, more sexually erotic blends that appeal to fragrance trollops. The kind of provocative blends that can be used for pre, during and post-coitus gymnastics.
Upon meeting de Swardt, an immaculate Frenchman, I couldn't help but notice that he appeared crisp and freshly laundered, which was amazing considering the eight hour flight from Paris to Toronto. He recounted with animated spirit working with LVMH Parfums for seven years and overseeing many big launches. I find my mind racing to tick off their their perfume brands; Givenchy, Christian Dior, Guerlain, Loewe, but find myself interrupted with a giggle when he tells me his next big venture was of all things, prestige perfumes for dogs and cats with “Oh My Dog and Oh My Cat”. I inform him I used the doggy scent on my own dog the day before at the vet's office and we end up talking dogs and exchanging pictures like proud parents. The project involved perfumers and Veternarians and only someone with a vivid imagination could take on such an avante-garde brand.
His jump to stylizing blends, in de Swardt's words “ subversive themes without taboo” lessened my prudish sensibilites after smelling the feast of alternative aromas from Etat Libre d' Orange. The Creative perfumers are all well respected and established in the perfume industry. The blends are quite intricate and innovative. Liken the concept to a designer fashion show with gimmicks galore, get backstage, and view the real artisanship up close. In fact, if anything, in some cases, the scents tend to be more esoteric and abstract, some, downright “Jackson Pollock” in style. The usage of expensive Absolutes of Bulgarian Rose in “Rossy de Palma” reflects a big movie star's dressing room, filled with bouquets of exquisite red roses. Amber-scented candles lift the aroma like an airy perfumed garland. “Secretions Magnifiques” although marketed to smell of blood, sweat, sperm and saliva takes my nose to a pebbled beach where the salty seaspray mixed with the sun, sparkle on the skin, diffusing a salty / mineral element.
There are three new additions to the coffret of eighteen scents en route: Rossy de Palma, based on the eclectic actress; Noël au Balcon (the gift of woman to the man who waits) and Tom of Finland (think of illustrated orgies with gay themes from the 1950's) have been added for 2007/2008 season.
I ask de Swardt if he invented the names and themes such as Hotel Slut and Jasmine and Cigarette and his salacious eyes reveal he probably had a lot of fun doing so. I came with a list of celebrated sexual and dominant well-known personalities and asked him to marry the personalities with his fragrance range. He looked at the page and instinctively paired them so quickly which told me he is more gut than brief!
Delicious Closet Queen Proust, George Michael, Oscar Wilde
Vierges et toreros (Virgin and the Torerero) Guy de Maupassant
Vraie Blonde (Real Blonde) Madame de Pompadour
Putain des Palaces (Hotel Slut) Mata Hari
Jasmin & Cigarette
Edith Piaf, Collette, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Jane Birkin
Je Suis un Homme (I am a Man) Gene Simmons (Kiss), Mick Jagger
Rien (Nothing) Toulouse Lautrec
Divin' Enfant (Child Divine) Mae West
Nombril Immense (Belly Button) Catherine the Great
Don't Get me wrong baby I don't swallow Heidi Fleiss
Eloge du traitre (Praise of a Traitor) D.H. Lawrence, Warren Beatty
Etienne de Swardt is a fragrance bucaneer of sorts. I envision his stance with perfumed sword when he says with great fervour “Freedom and olfactive erotiscism, a libertinage olfactif as we say in French.”
“Join our new republic where the passion continues!”
Vive la subversive…or take a sniff behind the curtain, you won't be dissapointed.
Photos by Marian Bendeth at Holt Renfrew*