One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Death's Sweet Embrace: Etat Libre d'Orange Charogne


Earlier this month I wrote about Serge Lutens' De Profundis, which is supposed to be about death in an abstract way, and Etat Libre d'Orange's Charogne is a play on the same theme, but the intention is more literal: "charogne" means "carrion", the body of a dead animal.

While Lutens scents are usually peculiar in the service of a bigger idea (Miel de Bois, say), Etat Libre d'Orange scents seem to be peculiar for the sake of their own peculiarity: sometimes I think they came up with a name or a concept and forced the scent to fit that, and other times it seems as if the perfumer had said, "Why don't we try this for the pure hell of it?", and then they just bottled the result. Sometimes it works, as when they grafted a candy-and-baby-powder accord onto a leather-coffee-tobacco base in Divin'Enfant: sometimes it doesn't, as it didn't in the baffling Encens et Bubblegum, to name just one. I can't tell if Charogne works or not: it's off-putting in a way that is hard to pin down in words. (It took me a whole week to get this far with it.) I like it and then I don't, I want to wear it again but then I want to scrub it off, or at least be wearing something else, but I keep coming back to it.

As for what Charogne actually smells like: not carrion! There's decomposition in it, but floral, not animal: a bowl of plastic-wrapped candy and a plastic-wrapped bouquet of flowers (mostly funeral lilies) a couple of days past their sell-by date sitting in a funeral home permeated with incense fumes. The synthetic plastickiness is not only obvious but clearly deliberate. It is sweet, in the way that overripe flowers and fruit are sweet, and the incense has a spiciness to it which doesn't cut through the sweetness but amplifies it, like eating a whole loaf of cinnamon-raisin bread. There is a suggestion of leather near the end, but it's more like Naugahyde seat covers than real leather: you wouldn't call this a leather scent, that's for sure — maybe a floral oriental, or a straight-up oriental. Or maybe it's just in a nameless category all its own.

It is just the damnedest thing: I wear it and wear it but can't tell if I like Charogne or not. It really is a puzzle. You should try it, though. I am pretty sure you've never smelled anything quite like it.

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