Okay, like last Tuesday’s post, this one isn’t by a guest either, but it does hand the microphone to someone other than myself, which means it’s very much in keeping with the spirit of bringing new voices to Persolaise.com during May and June. In the first of what will hopefully turn out to be a semi-regular series of concise, rapid-fire interviews with industry figures, I’m very pleased to present this brief insight into the mind of Etienne De Swardt, the founder and creative director of Etat Libre D’Orange, unquestionably one of the most irreverent and facetious perfume houses currently in operation.
I had the pleasure of meeting him on the evening of the 31st of May, when he was in London to promote his brand at an event organised by Escentual.com, one of very few UK-based retailers who stock the ELO range. Soft-spoken and self-deprecating, De Swardt entertained the guests with memorable titbits of info, such as the fact that Jasmin Et Cigarette was inspired by Blade-Runner, Fat Electrician was named after a New York hustler and, most interestingly, the undiluted juice of a typical ELO fragrance costs about six times as much as that of a branded, high street scent.
After distributing blotters sprayed with a few of his label’s creations – including the infamous Sécrétions Magnifiques – he agreed to be subjected to my own version of the Twenty Questions game. The rules were simple. He was presented with four piles of perfume blotters and he had to pick five blotters from each pile. He then had to answer the questions written on the back of the blotters. The results were as follows:
In the beginning
At what age did you realise that you’d enter the perfume industry?
In fact, I was not truly into that devotion into perfume. I belong to words and emotions. And in fact, I fell into perfume thanks to Olivier Echaudemaison – he’s a make-up artist for Guerlain. I was attending a business school in France, and he was doing a show, to explain to students in that business school what exactly is the world of beauty. The campus of the school was a little bit out of Paris, and when I took my car on the way back, I met Olivier, and he’d just done the show, and he said, “Hey, young student, drive me home.” And then we spent one hour driving back to Paris. And then he gave me a training at Givenchy. And that was the beginning of it. I was 25. Olivier was my first mentor.
So in fact I never had that vision of, ‘Oh, I want to go into the perfume industry.’ I was lost at the end of my studies, like many, many students. I’m a little bit worried by people with a true vision of what they would like to become. For me, it’s very depressing. I’m in a permanent flotating situation, which is very much Etat Libre D’Orange.
What are some of your most memorable smell related childhood experiences?
Jicky. It was the perfume of my mother, but I don’t want to give you that kind of ‘madeleine of Proust’ cliché! But Jicky was my true emotion with perfumes. I love that Guerlinade. I think that this was a true emotion, and for me Jicky is a kind of time machine, diving into a beautiful childhood.
If you could go back in time and meet your younger self, what advice would you give him?
Don’t fake. Be sincere.
Who were your role models when you were growing up?
My father. But he has betrayed me. [pause] My father was a true male figure for me… and then, I was a little bit lost, making my pathway just by myself... [pause] I was not into iconic sports figures. [very long pause] I’m a big fan of Luke Skywalker. I would be very happy to launch a perfume like ‘There Is Another Skywalker’, because I’m a kid of the 80s. I’m a big fan of Obi Wan Kenobi – but I’m talking about the old Obi Wan Kenobi! I’m truly a boy from the 80s. Blade-Runner and things like that.
Can you remember who introduced you to perfume?
I think that the first one to truly introduce me to perfume was Françoise Donche. She is in fact my mentor. And then Antoine Maisondieu.
Complete the following sentences
One perfume which I particularly admire is… Cologne of Mugler. I think that it was very innovative. I like Alberto Morillas. I think he’s a talented perfumer.
When I walk into the perfume section of a department store I feel… lost. But I don’t like to look at the competitors.
Modern perfumery is… a dead end.
The hardest thing about perfumery is… making it profitable.
One of my favourite smells in the world is… Tuscany.
Which of these do you prefer?
An early start or a late night?
A movie or a book?
Coca Cola or Dom Perignon?
London or Paris?
London. But it can be painful, because of the memories.
The past or the future?
The past. I’m definitely a passé-ist.
What would you say to someone who doesn’t consider perfumery to be an art?
You could be wrong.
What’s the best thing that the internet has done for the perfume industry?
Making people knowledgeable.
Does the term ‘niche perfumery’ have any meaning?
‘Alternative perfumery’ could be a better option. A niche perfume brand is a brand that has not truly taken off. I’m just kidding, but I think that it’s narrowing the spirit by saying ‘niche perfumery’. I think that ‘alternative’ could be a better option, because ‘niche’ means small or restrained.
What’s the worst thing that the internet has done for the perfume industry?
Educating people destroys a little bit of the magic.
Does perfume have the power to change the world?
To magnify the memory, not to change the world.
For a review of ELO’s latest release – Archives 69 – please click here; for a review of Like This – which recently picked up a French FiFi award – please click here; for a decidedly tongue-in-cheek post about the wonderful Tom Of Finland, please click here; and for a recent interview with Antoine Lie - creator of several ELO scents - please visit Grain De Musc.
The entire ELO line is available online from Escentual.com… and although I don’t normally dish out shopping tips, I want to make an exception on this occasion and mention Escentual’s excellent ELO ‘Discovery Set’ scheme. You can buy a sample of all the perfumes in the range for £24.95, try them on your skin and then get £24.95 off the price of a full bottle. Simple, clever and genuinely helpful to customers. Other retailers: please take note!