Etat Libre d’Orange Vraie Blonde, 2006

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(image Amanda Lepore by Terry Richardson)

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu.

Etat Libre d’Orange’s schtick is easy to dispense with because it’s so ridiculous. I love the perfume that ELDO make, and I support the notion that perfumery needs to be shaken up. The grade-school boyishness, though, undercuts a more interesting discussion.

But the perfume!

Vraie Blonde is often compared to Chanel 5 and it should be. Not so much for a similarity of scent, but for the fact that they are similarly abstract. Vraie Blonde is a myrrh fragrance in the way that Chanel 5 is a floral fragrance. It doesn’t smell like any one thing but experiencing it, I catch images of butter cookies, peach skin, muscat grapes, porridge, closets, make-up, and baby skin. It’s all over the map in the best sense.

Vraie Blonde doesn’t smell like anything else I’ve smelled. It doesn’t suggest or allude to any other scent. This experience of encountering the new and assimilating it by attaching concepts and meanings to it is how I (we) deal with the unknown. The unknown is necessarily abstract because I can’t perceive it. In identifying something new, I categorize it, attach descriptors to it, compare it to other ideas and experiences and eventually start to get a handle on it. I name it. To some degree, this is what I do with all perfumes, or more broadly, with all scents. There is no proper language to scent because, other than for perfumers, the olfactory is a read-only medium. Here is my rationale for seeing all perfumery as abstract by definition.

Back to Vraie Blonde. It’s just lovely. It’s blanketing and dense. Though others describe it as bubbly and champagne-like, the classic aldehydic descriptors, I find it quite the opposite. It’s enveloping. It draws you into it. It reminds me in feeling, if not in scent, of Robert Piguet’s Baghari, another smoldering aldehydic perfume. Vraie Blonde sits at the exact point between activity and passivity and waits for you to tip it one way or the other.

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