One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Centre of Attention: Etat Libre d'Orange Nombril Immense


There is real, hard-core patchouli, the kind that smells a bit dirty, the kind that people associate with hippies and head shops. I can't wear that stuff at all. And there is the new, sanitized, molecularized synthetic patchouli, the kind that smells very fresh and clean, the kind that has been showing up in many fragrances for years now. I loved it for a while but now its ubiquity has begun to bore me.

And then there is Nombril Immense, which has somehow found the middle ground between these two. A mix of various patchoulis? A recent synthetic which combines the best of both worlds? No matter. It's completely dominated by the note, which is neither dirty nor hygienically steam-cleaned, a sort of lived-in smell, friendly and approachable.

There's a little bit of citrus and some black pepper in the top, and a bit of sexy balsamic warmth in the base, but otherwise Nombril Immense (the name means "Cosmic Belly-Button" and suggests countercultural navel-gazing and also the centre of the world) is all about the patchouli, so simple yet so colossally appealing. It does what fragrances are supposed to do: it makes you smell good. (I had two people tell me exactly that last week, despite the fact that I wasn't wearing very much of it: it has a presence.) The middle of the scent also has a chocolatey overtone: I can't wear Serge Lutens' Borneo 1834 despite its being a patchouli-and-chocolate confection, because it's that strong-and-dirty patchouli allied to a dusty-cocoa chocolate; Nombril Immense is the same idea but done, if not "right", then in a way which I can wear.

The website for Etat Libre d'Orange has this to say about their scent:

Exotique et précieux, ce bois indien subjugue ceux qui le respirent

which means "Exotic and precious, this Indian wood captivates all who inhale it," which is untrue at least where it claims that patchouli is a wood: the plant is an herb, not a tree, and even if it were a tree, its wood would be irrelevant since the oil is extracted from the plant's leaves. But the French have certainly never let the facts interfere in their perfume advertising.

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