While interviewing Etienne de Swardt the other day at Pitti Fragranze, I couldn’t help but be newly inspired by the singular genius, humor, and openness of his imaginative vision, as well as the energy and verve he has mustered to sustain the untamed beauty of Etat Libre d’Orange these past 10 years.
Like a Call of the Wild, Etat Libre D’Orange speaks of audacity, authenticity, and freedom of expression as it invites us to explore an imaginary state of mind, untamed and uncharted. Etienne de Swardt cultivates sincerity, frivolity, and non-sense in a land of confusion.
When I first met Etienne in 1999 — pre-Etat Libre d’Orange — he was already way off the charts. Having left a post definitely on the charts at a mainstream selective fragrance brand, he was already exhibiting characteristics of a para-normal lifestyle, including hanging out with a genuine bitch, Fay Wray who inspired the creation of his fragrance, Oh My Dog ! touted as the first high quality unisex perfume for dogs of all breeds.
Next time I ran into to Etienne was in 2007 at the 69 rue des Archives boutique for the First Anniversary of Etat Libre d’Orange, a street party that stopped traffic for hours and started tongues wagging and ink flowing for years to come. To anyone within an 8 block radius of the boutique, it was totally clear that ‘the cat was out of the bag’ for Etienne and Etat Libre d’Orange, accompanied as they were by the manly presence of every Anti-Hero anyone might ever have fantasized about, the most seductive Putain de Palaces (Luxury Hotel Whore) to walk the streets of the planet, the one and only Fils de Dieu (Son of God), and Sécrétions Magnifiques (Magnificent secretions) (to put it bluntly– semen primarily). And yet, according to the brand’s visionary (or insane) counter-culture DNA, these provocatively named fragrances were superbly crafted by some of the best perfumers in the industry, each a tiny work of art.
In sum, all hell was breaking loose in the fragrance industry.
Ten years later more iconoclastic fragrances have followed, including such gems as, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Baby I Don’t Swallow, Tilda Swindon — Like This, Tom of Finland, True Lust, and Fat Electrician. Perhaps more importantly, Etienne de Swardt is still out there, challenging authority, blasting past taboos, and boldly claiming to be the future of perfume as he lures us down yet another Rabbit Hole in Wonderland, this time with Alice and the Marquis de Sade leading the way.
And gleefully we follow because we know that at some profound level, the ‘frivolity’ and ‘non-sense’ of Etat Libre d’Orange is absolutely essential to our lives, and that it’s thanks to Etienne and Etat Libre d’Orange that a cherished piece of perfume territory remains safely beyond encroachment by The Ordinary, The Predictable, and The Pre-Ordained.
Friends often ask me what it is that drives my passion for fragrances, and I never hesitate when I answer. It’s the people who make the perfumes — the artists, the dreamers, the scientists, and the revolutionaries who through a rare combination of hard labor, rigorous formulas, and magic, transform the essence of their spirit into fragrances and fragrant states — the un-fabric of our un-lives, the stuff of our dreams.
Vive le Parfum-Le Parfum est Mort!
Photo by Sarah Colton for Beauty Fashion Magazine 2007