One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mister Right: Je Suis un Homme by Etat Libre D'Orange

Etat Libre D'Orange is a French niche perfume line which exists mostly for shock value, or would if its scents weren't any good, which in fact they (or at least some of them) are.

The shock value, though, is indisputably front and centre. Here's the illustration for their Vraie Blonde ("Real Blonde"):

And here's Sécretions Magnifiques (you can figure that one out for yourself):

And here's a bunch of other graphic design, including a woman's lips blowing a breast-shaped bubble (Encens et Bubblegum), an ambisexual mask (Delicious Closet Queen), and a phallic key penetrating a vulvar keyhole (Putain des Palaces, "Hotel Slut"):

Je Suis Un Homme means "I'm a Man", and the packaging shows a pistol morphing into a penis; all the subtlety you would expect from the company.

My first thought on my first wearing of Je Suis Un Homme was, "Leather!", and then immediately thereafter "Citrus!", and then a fusion of the two ideas: "Oh, my god, it's Christian Dior Eau Sauvage Fraîcheur Cuir!"

And I think it is, too, only Etat Libre D'Orange came up with it a year earlier.

The classic Eau Sauvage, a radiant citrus-floral chypre for men, spawned a flanker, Fraîcheur Cuir ("Leather Freshness"), which replaced the light chypre base with leather and wood: it was launched in 2007 and discontinued not too long afterwards. I smelled it in the Gatwick duty-free shop on my way out of London in September of 2007, and like an idiot didn't buy it: I thought I'd already spent enough on fragrances for one trip. And until the day I tried Je Suis un Homme I was pining after it, based on that one brief memory, because it was so obviously good. But we always want the things we can't have, don't we?

Since I can't compare the two directly, all I can go on is my memory of Fraîcheur Cuir and the reality of Je Suis un Homme, and the two are, if not the same, then twin brothers. Fraternal twins, maybe, but twins all the same. Je Suis Un Homme starts off with its two ideas immediately evident and equal in strength: radiant, dazzling citrus and a recently tanned cowhide. It's tempting to call it purely masculine, since it unites two of the staple ideas in men's perfumery, the citrus cologne and the leather chypre: but of course there have been leather chypres for women since the early days of the twentieth century, and women have been wearing citrus colognes for longer than that, so perhaps it's safer to say that despite its name, Je Suis un Homme is a unisex scent with a masculine edge.

As always, the citrus quickly burns up, though it's extraordinarily bright while it lasts. The leather that remains gradually gets deeper and richer, augmented by a spiciness and a slug of patchouli for good measure. (What would perfumery do without patchouli? It seems to be in everything I wear these days.) It is thoroughly animalic and almost indecently sensuous, as a good leather scent should be. The lasting power is not what you'd expect from an animalic fragrance, though: it starts to lose any carrying power after only a couple of hours, turning into a skin scent that can only be detected at close range--no bad thing for something this sexual, but this is a real deterrent to some people, who (understandably) want something that lasts a whole day. But the scent is so reasonably priced for a niche offering--50 mL for $69 at Luckyscent, no more than you'd pay for any department-store brand--that I think it's well worth it.

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