Art has many reasons for being. One of them is to provoke. There are pieces of art which cause the viewer to confront their beliefs. In every form of art you can name a critical piece which has provocation as one of its aims. Through the emotional response generated it allows for the person to ask themselves where their boundaries lie for the art form. It can also ask you to look more closely at something you would normally avoid.
Etienne de Swardt
If you believe perfume is an art form, then it can’t just be about smelling pretty. It must be about more than that. When Creative Director Etienne de Swardt created his brand Etat Libre d’Orange he decided to give modern perfumery that opportunity.
The perfume is called Secretions Magnifiques. M. de Swardt and perfumer Antoine Lie set out to make a perfume few would like. That doesn’t mean this is a poorly made chaotic mess. It is the opposite. Secretions Magnifique is one of the most precisely created perfumes I own. What makes it potentially unlikeable is what it chooses to focus on, bodily fluids. Not just bodily fluids but the ones which do not smell pretty. As all perfume it was meant to mimic something real. It succeeds brilliantly even if you might want to avoid it.
The perfume opens with a mixture of aldehydes, iodine, and seaweed. This is a harsh opening which asks the wearer from the first second to evaluate their idea of perfume. This turns out to represent the salty base which exists at the foundation of all the fluids they want to capture. Combined with some ozonic notes you get the spine-chilling buzz of adrenaline. Copper scents the blood oozing out. A sour milk accord is followed by a stale sperm. It all is regurgitated in a spill of bile. It is as if you have been accosted by your perfume. You ask yourself questions about fragrance you never thought you would ask. Brilliantly over the final stages powdery iris and sandalwood bring you back to where many other perfumes end. This time the journey asked more of you.
Trying Secretions Magnifiques is a ritual for many. There are numerous online videos full of people making faces as they try it for the first time. I was no different. Except I realized I needed to own a bottle because this was perfume which asked me to look beyond smelling good. It asked me to consider the potential of perfume to exist in the same way as any other art form.
There are only a few perfumers who ask those of us who wear perfume whether it must smell nice. As one who believes perfume is an art form my answer is obviously no. One perfumer who has asked that question more than most is Antoine Lie. From his first perfume for niche brand Etat Libre D’Orange he has made perfumes which color outside the lines.
When Etienne de Swadt was creating his niche line Etat Libre D’Orange, in 2006, he wanted the first perfume for the brand to be one only a few would like. He turned to M. Lie to create Secretions Magnifiques. The resulting perfume captures a panoply of human fluids none of which are pleasant smelling. What it does is also challenge the notion of perfumery. M. Lie makes a fragrance which has stood the test of time as one of the great masterpieces of perfume.
In 2010’s Comme des Garcons Wonderwood M. Lie, under Christian Astuguevieille’s creative direction, would ask the question, “can there be too much wood?”. M. Lie would describe Wonderwood as a mixture of five real woods, two woody notes, and three synthetic woods. This came out at the height of the popularity of the synthetic wood. M. Lie showed that even pushed to the extreme there was wonder to be found within that much wood.
Nu_Be (One of Those) Oxygen was part of the debut collection of this elemental line. M. Lie chose to interpret oxygen in its supercooled liquid form. For Oxygen he blended many of the ingredients within perfumery one would describe as “sharp” to create that chilliness. The mixture of aldehydes, vetiver, and white musks can be too cool for many. I find it one of M. Lie’s most compelling creations.
Jan Ewoud Vos wanted Puredistance Black to convey a mysterious effect. Asking M. Lie to create it turns out to be a brilliant choice. Black is a perfume of darkness with tendrils of fog swirling throughout. M. Lie combines accords to form that stygian depth. I get lost in its enveloping effects every time I wear it.
Barbara Herman went from blogger to creative director for Eris Parfums Night Flower. When Ms. Herman wanted to create a line of perfume which re-captured vintage ingredients in contemporary ways M. Lie was her choice as the perfumer she wanted to do that with. Night Flower is the most successful at doing that by taking three ingredients of classic perfumery; birch tar, leather, and tuberose. Together they make Night Flower one of the best Retro Nouveau perfumes to be made.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.