I am quicksilver, the fox in the night, emotional about the poetry, love & desire in scent, read me.
Friday 7 March 2014
Faunus Insolitus Sensualis (F**k me Mr Tumnus): ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’ by État Libre d’Orange
confess to be being somewhat of a Ralf Schwieger obsessive; his work enthralls
me, overflowing with technical superlatives, yet elegant, serene, coldly
arousing and exquisitely formatted. I have blogged on his work before,
specifically Fils des Dieu, du Riz et des
Agrumes, also for Etat Libre d’Orange, a curious and fabulously textured
oddball scent that played with the most delicious steamed rice effect over
spices, shiso leaf, coconut, ginger, rose, tonka, leather and amber. A very unorthodox
gourmand, it echoes a Pacific Rim take on the Guerlinade of classical vanillic
Guerlain compositions such as Shalimar,
Jicky and L’Heure Bleue in its
complex and surprising drydown. I also discussed his masterful Lipstick Rose for Editions Frédéric
Malle and his work at Hermès. I don’t want to spend too much time repeating
myself, so if you want to read the earlier piece, please follow the link below.
since I posted that piece back in June 2012 Ralf has been busy with Etat Libre
d’Orange and other collaborators. There are two fragrances for Barney’s, one
for women with the now sadly departed designer L’Wren Scott and a gent’s one with artist and actor
Greg Lauren. He has also created a much-lauded debut scent for Charenton
Macerations called Christopher Street,
a homage to the boho, sexual vibes of one the world’s most iconic
Ralf construct the aloof and ghostly Iris
Nazarena for Aedes de Venustas, the influential niche fragrance boutique in
New York, owned by Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl. It is the second house
scent, after Bertrand Duchaufour’s eponymous debut scent, a wonderful smoky
chypré for Aedes in 2012. I sampled Iris
Nazerena recently and lordy it’s a velvety, alluring marvel. As you inhale,
it’s as if the lights go down and you feel warm hands undressing you.
is the discreet and charismatic Vanille
Insenseé, made for the hip, slick French house, Atelier Cologne, founded by
Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel in 2011. This I own and adore; vanilla of
course but chilled with lime and aloof cedrat, jasmine, amber, oakmoss and
vetiver. The mix is sublime, a mixologist’s take on scent; the elements flow
and caress with immense subtlety. As you all know by now, I love vanilla but
this is a different take on the leathered sheath of dreams. It has milky powder
and vast falling softness. I find ice cream in the mix, snow-white, familiar,
ivory, moreish, solacing and glorious.
brings me to The Afternoon of a Faun,
a perfume I have finally added to my collection after fretting about it for
months on end. Why.. I’m not entirely sure. The reviews are excellent and
people I know and trust have tried it and adored it, telling me just to buy it.
It launched with a lot brouhaha as many recent Etat scents have; swathes of PR
swirling about, lots of info on Nijinsky, Mallarmé’s poem, Vivian Justin-Bond etc. I
remember thinking at the time…oh so much chatter, so much justification for a
perfume. So I let the perfumed dust settle and took my time to decide whether
or not I really wanted or indeed needed The
Afternoon of a Faun in my life.
returned to Etat at the end of 2013, buying La
Fin du Monde, Quentin Bisch’s debut scent for Etienne de Swardt and as a fully-fledged
perfumer. I love it’s popcorny, smeared weirdness, the sense of comfort and
delicate daring played out over its carefully balanced notes of iris, sesame,
ambrette, sandalwood and the smoky trail of faded canon fire.
anticipate in the work of Schwieger is difference. Elements that intoxicate,
intrigue my senses, hold me fixed to my own skin. Very few perfumers can
consistently achieve this, the work rate can be punishing and of course the
briefs vary so much from House to House, with endless mods, testing and honing.
The juice can be endlessly mediocre. Even great perfumers like Duchaufour,
Ellena, Doyen, Menardo and Roucel compromise, resign themselves to market
forces and budget controls. It is the harsh reality of modern commercial
perfumery. Niche is not exempt however, with celebrated houses such as
L’Artisan Parfumeur, Annick Goutal and Serge Lutens launching dull and
unimaginative work, almost as a reaction to mainstream trends, something that
artisan scent has traditionally viewed as anathema.
Libre d’Orange has not been exempt either, some of the fragrances have been
borderline mundane and overhyped. Archives
69 was dull and painful to wear; a great concept on paper; a celebration of
the store, the address, the brand’s iconoclasm, but the scent was suffocated by
an uncomfortable incense/camphor symbiosis that drove me nuts. Malaise of the 70’s and Dangerous Complicity just do not work;
they smell uneasy, unfinished and throwaway in the drydown. I feel dizzy in
them, too much aromachemical frippery.
With The Afternoon of Faun though, I got my
heart’s desire, just as I did when I bought Fils
de Dieu – a sense of giddy wonder, my skin prickling as the perfume rose to
my processing, vertiginous hypothalamus. It contains a narcotic dose of
immortelle, one of my fetish notes so I knew to expect aridity, a soft tobacco
like effect as immortelle fumes out like that on my skin. But there is so much
more, layers beneath layers, a sense of performance and veiled abstractions,
notes masquerading as emotions, cause as effect.
is a collaborative one, a union of Etienne de Swardt at Etat Libre d’Orange,
the performance artist and avant-gardiste transgender provocateur Mx Justin
Vivian Bond and of course Ralf Schwieger. This intoxicating and stimulating
formula had a brief from Mx Bond Vself: ‘Sex
in the grass in the afternoon with flowers nearby.’ How glorious. How
that, all I can think of is the highly charged and fleshily rendered lovemaking
in Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love
between Tilda Swinton's Emma Recchi and her bearded chef lover in his hillside
garden, full of chirruping insects and overgrown grass in sticky summer heat. Of
course one cannot ignore the literary weight of Stéphane Mallarmé’s symbolist
poem published in 1865. L’Après Midi d’Un
Faune, a complex and charged work describing the sensual meanderings of a
faun as he wakes from sleep, dreaming of forest nymphs and dryads, wondering if
what he sees is reality or Did I love a
dream? The language is beautiful, strewn with flowers, skin and emotions. I
love the lines:
…Girls sleeping in each other’s arms sole
I seize them without untangling them and run
To this bank of roses wasting in the sun
All perfume, hated by the frivolous shade
Where our frolic should be like a vanished day.
poem in turn inspired Debussy’s Prelude à
l’après-midi d’un faune, a symphonic poem, ten minutes long and first
performed in Paris in December 1894. The piece is scored for woodwind mostly,
including three flutes (symbolising the faun.. Pan etc), two oboes, two
bassoons together with horns, harps, strings and crotales, a chromatically
arranged set of small cymbals. I have always found it a tricky piece of tonally
compressed music, something I have to concentrate on intensely for the motifs and
effects to rise through and envelope the senses. I am no expert on classical
music and find this kind of work quite challenging. It was interesting to
revisit it in light of the scent however, as the tonal shifts and unexpected flutters
of bleakness in the music from the flute duo are echoed to a certain degree in Schwieger’s
heady and herbaceous mélange of moss and tempered leather.
packaging is based on Léon Bakst’s programme design for Vaslav Nijinsky’s
controversial and animalic ballet, his radical and shocking interpretation of Debussy’s
music and Mallarmé’s faun-dream. Nijinsky was on a kind of sabbatical from the
Ballet Russes and on the lookout for something to play with, to challenge his
talent and confront the mores of the era. Despite the avant-garde developments
in art and literature and the barely suppressed air of sexual hysteria playing
itself out through Art Nouveau and the shock of Bloomsbury, it was still barely
seventeen years since the trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde, an event which
sent shockwaves through the world of the liberal arts and encouraged many talented individuals to flee to more accepting
performed in Paris in 1912, Nijinsky’s controversial interpretation of
Debussy’s music caused uproar and scandal. It was one thing to listen to the
oddity and modernity of the music and use one’s imagination to picture
classical scenes with fauns and dryads etc. It was another thing altogether to
be confronted by Nijinsky’s contemporary deconstructed dance work and overtly
sexualized portrayal of the dreaming, wandering rampant faun.
performer he was a man intent on breaking rules, not for the sake of them, but
the benefit of art, so that things would never be the same again. He wanted to
be remembered, revered. This is what true artistry does, shatters, flaunts and
then holds up something akin to a mirror, reflecting flaws and distance, a
taste of future shock. Innovating is lonely and painful. It is rare to be
completely understood or even tolerated in one’s own lifetime.
ballet used deliberately archaic body language to portray the Mallarmé/Debussy
inspirations. Nijinsky in collaboration with maestro Diaghilev and Bakst
created a tableau technique, working with a static format inspired by the
design of bodies on Greek vases. The dancers had bare feet and the short piece
had a strange erotic compelling quality to it unknown before in classical
formal dance. Conventional dance movements were abandoned in favour of small, animalic
gestures, the body creating tensions and drama from touch, primitive angular
rhythms and a sense of raw preening sexuality that both repelled and thrilled
those who saw Nijinsky’s performance.
pivotal art moments like this are actually quite rare. Nijinsky was a creature
of immense sensual allure and complexity. Only the impetuous slutty Nureyev has
really come close to his raw commanding presence. Very few male dancers are
ever really afforded the opportunity to explode and shock, the ballet world is
a very feminine one, the boys have strictly defined roles, and the Prima
Ballerina is queen. The era of maverick, dirty dancing boys is long gone. The
buff swans of today are rather tame and dull in comparison.
so intriguing to me when I heard Etat Libre d’Orange had commissioned this Ralf
Schwieger piece. His work on Fils de Dieu
had captivated me, shown me new things, revealed a really impressive steamed
rice note, something I had not smelt before. When I go into my Fragrance Study to
sniff and play, Fils de Dieu never
fails to delight me; I close my eyes in wonder and marvel at its quiet verve
and Pacific Rim loveliness. Etat love to play with influences and when it all
comes together perfectly it blows the fucking roof off.
Justin Vivian Bond to the sexual olfactory mix is a typically bold Etat move.
Mx Bond is a multi-talented transgender performer pushing at the limits and
definitions of identity. A self-proclaimed worshipper of radical fairies and
gender outlaws, Mx Bond has declared Etat to be a transcent, created for when
we make love in the afternoon, on the ground, in the woods, surrounded by
flowers, honour(ing) the ancestors who have set us free.
A Mx is
new moniker, no Mr, no Mrs or Ms but a fierce and trangressive badge indicating
allegiance to the balance of both genders in one body, the eternal fascinating
androgyne. The quote above was the brief to Schwieger with no constraints on
artistic interpretation or olfactory direction. Few perfumers could handle this
weirdness, this raw scream of commission. But Schwieger is an oddball; his work
to date has been eccentric and almost deliberately anti-establishment. Even his
Hèrmes work, the menacing gourmand Eau des
Merveilles with its subversive solar stickiness and saltlick compulsion
marked him out as a perfume dissenter, a nose to watch.
of the result? Etienne de Swardt of Etat is a man of scented vision. He sees,
smells, and senses things that many of us just can’t imagine. He provokes, it
is his mission and manifesto. It is never quite as hard-core as one might
imagine, but is still dressed up in the outré,
dedicated flamboyancy of perfume drag, glitter, transgression and sexual
anarchy. The brand in recent years has drifted a little more into the
mainstream I feel, the advertising has more sheen and billboard gloss. The leering
innuendo and shock value feels just a little tired to me sometimes.
I go through phases with Etat, loving and
leaving it. I always have Charogne, Fils de Dieu,Tom of Finland and Eau de
Protection in my collection though, they are my skin-loving, tingling top four.
I added La Fin du Monde in December,
moreish soft popcorn, sesame, gun cartridge and iris, which I just can’t get
enough of it right now. Then a bottle of The
Afternoon of a Faun sauntered into my life like a wicked, coy interloper,
whispering naughtiness in my jaded ears.
I’m still circling it a little, musing,
obsessing over it outlandish effects. It’s on the table in the kitchen, so I
notice it all the time right now and can wear it unceasingly with intrigue and
joy. Right now it smells druggy, such is its narcotic effect on me. As I
mentioned earlier, there is a whacking great immortelle or Helichrysum note
flourished through the composition. Rubbed into a lovely hot dry rose, the effect
is a sense of swooning darkness, tired flower heads drooping into unknown
shadows. I claim a lot of cinnamon from the notes, a very parched and bitter
take on a spice I usually run a mile from in scent. It can smell incredibly
cheap and potpourri-like if it’s handled with anything approaching clumsiness.
But the dryness and odd roasted umber tone in Faun compliments the lurking leather
facet nuzzled and warmed by the wise and twisted use of immortelle.
Each time I wear The Afternoon of a Faun I sense something a little different in its
landscapes, an oddity in the music of the notes, a shift in the olfactive
weather. This is a feature of Schwieger’s work for me; Lipstick Rose, Vanille Insensée, Iris Nazerena and Fils de Dieu all have a certain
chameleon reticence about them, they seem to shift and modify minutely each
time I wear them, revealing new, modest, perfumed truths.
If I had to try and pinpoint what makes
Faun so singular and precious it would be the somewhat deviant binding of moss
and leather in the base of the scent. It is perverse genius, elemental and pitched
perfectly at skin on the edge of desire. The leather smells slightly flayed and
tight, the moss cold and lost in the soft light of a damp winter afternoons.
As Mallarmé’s dazed and priapic faun
wanders the sensual corridors of his dreamy mind recalling the nymphs and
dryads of his sexy siesta, Schwieger’s explicit scent roams the skin from spice
and petal to smoke and hide. The mossy, lichen raunchiness is suggestive of
assignations in crushed and rolling bracken, leaves and earth stuck to flushed
skin. There is enough jasmine and orris to sweeten the mix, a glow if you will,
a blush of finesse and nostalgia.
I love each soft, erotic and quirky stage
of this most unorthodox of smells. It’s as if you rise drugged from a crushed
and sensual bower, leaf-litter imprinted onto skin, brushing insects from
flushed arms and thighs. The air seems awash with flickering memories of
something just out of reach. There is a sensation of being watched, the erotic
gaze loitering, devouring from behind ancient trees and aromatic bushes
layering shuddering frisson to an already dirty and unsettling scent.
As for being a transcent… well who I am to say? The Afternoon of a Faun certainly fetishises the humble Mr Tumnus, and
layers idea upon artistic idea. This is what Etat Libre d’Orange do so well,
you wear so much more than just mere scent, this cunning mix of faun,
transgender queerness, Mallarmé, Nijinsky and cutting edge perfume weirdness
makes for balmy and arresting wearing. It is without a doubt one of the most
eccentric perfumes in my collections and I am beginning to love it deeply,
For further information on Etat Libre d'Orange, please follow the link below: