Etat Libre d’Orange: The MB&F Of The Perfume World
by Martin Green
This perfume house was founded in 2006 by Etienne de Swardt. Originally from South Africa, de Swardt moved to Paris and gained experience with different perfume houses but eventually became frustrated by the traditional approach of many of them.
He thought he could do better, so he did.
The unusual name of the brand means “Free State of Orange,” and comes with an even more unusual motto: “le parfum est mort, vive le parfum!” (“perfume is dead, long live perfume!”).
Although perfume lovers did not run toward Place de la Bastille chanting this tagline, de Swardt did cause a revolution in the perfume industry by not only coming up with unusual scent combinations, but also by boldly breaking down existing taboos.
MB&F also does the latter to some extent. But where the brands really align is in the concept because, just like MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser, de Swardt serves as conductor and creative director for his brand – although de Swardt is far more controversial then Büsser is likely to ever be.
Etat Libre d’Orange’s scents are made by some of the leading “noses” in the industry. One of de Swardt’s favorite “nosy” collaborators is Antoine Lie, who has an imposing track record, having also been the perfumer for scents by Kenzo, Van Cleef & Arpels, Versace, Guess, Davidoff, and Armani.
One year after founding Etat Libre d’Orange (the brand refers to these twelve months as “year zero of perfumery”), de Swardt and Lie created Tom of Finland, a very masculine scent that is aromatic, woody, and imbued with tones of leather.
Not a surprising composition when you realize that this scent is a tribute to Touko Laaksonen, a Finnish artist who used “Tom of Finland” as a pseudonym under which he achieved great fame with his homoerotic fetish drawings. One of these drawings also graces the packaging of the scent.
The power of Etat Libre d’Orange is that the brand is not blatantly and wildly bashing taboos, but that there is actually substance behind it. While the concept of Tom of Finland might scare some people away, the scent itself is highly lauded by perfume lovers with its combination of a classic leather smell combined with fresher notes like vanilla and a dash of pine.
Etat Libre d’Orange can at least also partially chalk its success up to the clarity of its concept. De Swardt is in charge of safeguarding this and has created a short list of rules to guide him and serve as a promise to customers.
One of these states that French graphic designers Ich and Kar guard the design language of the brand; this ensures that the corporate identity is instantly recognizable, yet at the same time also allows each scent to have its unique character conveyed through the packaging.
A scent was created in honor of the godfathers of punk rock that combines tones of pepper with lemon and patchouli, a combination that recalls the turbulent, rebellious entrance of the band in the worldwide music scene in the 1970s in an olfactory way. The bottle is inspired by the design of the band’s first single, “God Save The Queen.”
De Swardt’s brand is perhaps a bit more intense in many ways then MB&F with its extreme approach, but just like Büsser’s brand it has most certainly pushed the boundaries of the industry establishment. This mini revolution did not replace the sitting nobility with false promises, but actually created top-notch and well respected scents together with some of the best people in its industry.
For more information, please visit www.etatlibredorange.com.
Also published on Medium.