Etienne de Swardt and Ralf Schweiger of État Libre d’Orange at MiN New York

État Libre d’Orange’s new fragrance, “Fils de Dieu, du riz et des agrumes” by Ralf Schweiger

It seems that the overwhelming consensus in the perfume blogosphere that everyone loves Fils de Dieu, du riz et des agrumes, the new fragrance from the avant-garde house, État Libre d’Orange.  Having read about the scent before I headed to MiN last Thursday night, with its notes of ginger, coriander, lime, coconut, cinnamon and vetiver, I had decided that I wasn’t going to like it because I’m not a huge gourmand fan.  ELd’O’s scents are masterful works of art, where creators are encouraged to take perfume outside the box, push its limits even, and they confound even the most die-hard perfume fans with its unusual combinations of ingredients and in-your-face marketing strategies.

When I arrived at MiN on Crosby Street in Soho, the typically tranquil, dimly lit store was a buzz with chatter, champagne was bubbling in glasses, martinis flowed like there was no tomorrow, and cameras rolled as we all gathered to celebrate the launching of Fils de Dieu in New York.  Despite being a bit shy and totally starstruck, I was able to muster the courage to speak first with Ralf Schweiger, the creator of Fils de Dieu as well as other iconic scents such as Frédéric Malle’s Lipstick RoseEau de Merveilles for Hèrmes, and Orange Sanguine by Atelier Cologne.  Sporting orange pants and scarf (perhaps in honor of the Free State?), Schweiger and I spoke about his hometown of Bielefeld in Germany and, because I work in contemporary art, he described the Phillip Johnson designed Kunsthalle Bielefeld (a temporary art exhibition space that does not have a collection–almost every German city has one) for me in detail.  We talked about how difficult it is for an artist who makes a unique art object, i.e., a painting or a sculpture, versus the perfumer whose art gets disseminated around the world for thousands or even millions to enjoy.  Schweiger noted that what perfumers do is different–it’s not so much of an art as it is artisanal, a craft that one learns and hones for many to enjoy.  Ralf Schweiger is disarmingly charming.

Ney Melo, a tango dancer and perfume enthusiast himself, brought up the possibility of Schweiger making something with the smell of durian (a highly scented fruit from Southeast Asia that people either love or hate).  The sheer audacity of such a suggestion prompted Schweiger to call over Etienne de Swardt to the conversation.  Dashingly handsome, de Swardt joined us and politely entertained our pseudo-serious conversation about making perfume from stinky exotic fruit.  We talked about the iconoclastic Sécrétions Magnifique, which many deem unwearable, and I brought up Antihéros, an ELd’O perfume that I adore for its unusual take on lavender, and is in my mind very wearable.  De Swardt explained how Antihéros is meant to conjure up the idea of the unsuspecting seducer, the one who seems to have no qualities and yet will pull you in.  Apparently, the nose of Antihéros, Antoine Maisondieu, is the grandson of Albert Camus, the famous French writer and Existential philosopher. Maisondieu named this particular scent after the anti-heroic character of Mersault, the protagonist of Camus’ most famous work, The Stranger.

For many of you seasoned perfumers and bloggers, this post might be old hat.  For this budding perfumista and writer, these tidbits about perfume, art, and seduction that I took away from talking with these giants are precious nuggets of gold that I will cherish.  I spritzed some Fils de Dieu me before I left MiN for the evening, and I was instantly transported the Southeast Asia through the lime and rice, but then it developed into a musky, sweaty, and dark scent that had me sniffing my wrist until the next day.  Perhaps being charmed by Schweiger and de Swardt swayed my nose.  Nevertheless, I came away from the evening jubilant at my brush with perfume royalty.

Me and Ralf Schweiger at the launch of “Fils de Dieu” from État Libre d’Orange at MiN New York, March 15, 2012.

PS: The original name of Fils de Dieu is Philipine Houseboy.  It is only being sold by this very politically incorrect name in a limited edition of 2000 from ELD’O’s shop in Paris, so get it while you can!

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