People say smells are thoroughly attached to memories. The scent of jasmine represents the early childhood in the grandparents garden; the spicy perfume of cologne announced Dad was already back from work; or the smell of coffee, which takes us back to the first years of Uni when when the combination of finals and parties was impossible unless one had a coffee as an ally. It is true, the nose and the brain have a specially nostalgic connection. With just crossing the sheer glass that separates État Libre d’Orange (ELO) from the quiet Redchurch Street, the senses come to life.
The pupils readjust to the contrast of black and white that covers the three remaining walls of the boutique; the ears start grasping the soft melodies that mix with some steps; the fingers, without one realizing, wander around caressing those small glass boxes full of translucent liquid; the senses of taste and smell mix and mingle knowing that the sweetness perceived in the air is just a free sample of what is yet to come. The air is a dense blend of aromas, some of them are heavier than others but they are all there. It is curious that even though the atmosphere is surrounded by different notes, no memory comes running to the mind-all things said about ELO are created from scratch.
The staff like to call the store a "gallery of scents" instead of a perfumes boutique. It is true, on the little stalls 28 perfumes are waiting to seduce each and every customer not only with their fragrance, but mostly with the concept they enclose. ELO could be said to be a conceptual parfumerie. Under names such as Putain des Palaces or Sécrétions Magnifiques, its flasks file mixtures of sweet, leathery, and sometimes spicy  notes that bring to mind those fictional places Étienne de Swardt, owner and creator of the brand, once imagined. While Putain des Palaces embodies the spirit of the sophisticated slut taking advantage of hints of powder, lipstick and leather; Sécrétions Magnifiques speaks about lust and attraction through the combination of notes related to saliva, sperm, sweat and blood, explains Étienne. If not controversial, État Libre d’Orange, is definitely unexpected.
How do you translate into smells the concepts and ideas that the names of your perfumes awake?
Everything relies on storytelling and emotion. We don’t care as much about the formulation, we aim to source beauty from the beginning. We will then achieve a beautiful formulation as well. I have to pick up a theme that can truly ignite an emotion on somebody, including the perfumer. In the case of Charogne for instance, we invited a perfumer to create something which was based on Baudelaire and the mortality of beauty. Through leathery notes we make reference to the corpse.
You usually work with different perfumers, why is that?
A total of nine perfumers so far have been involved in formulating our 28 fragrances. État Libre d’Orange is a land of plenty and thrives on contrast. It feels natural to have different noses work with us, each one with their own sensibility.
How come you’d rather refer to the boutique as a gallery of scents instead of a shop?
That’s a good way to describe ELO. We try to inject a love emotion in the perfume industry. ELO is a counter reaction, we try to reboot the spirit of freedom that perfumers had. We want to give an olfactory speech and story to amateurs and consumers of perfume. That is État Libre d’Orange’s DNA. I love to play on that spirit of contrast.
Speaking of contrast, one of your fragrances is called Rien, which in French means nothing. It has notes of roses, leather, patchouli, cumin… Everything, it feels so full!
That’s the contrast, we named it Nothing but it carries everything. It’s also one of the most costly formulations of the industry.
You’ve worked with Tilda Swinton on a perfume.
Yes, we actually won a FiFi award (a European fragrance award) on that creation because of the quality of the scent.
What was it like working with Tilda?
She’s very into humbleness, she said she didn’t care that much about the royalties, she just wanted to work in a creative atmosphere. So we made "Like This". She was inspired by a middle age poem of Rumi, a Persian poet, and Tilda is a poetess.
It’s not surprising that Tilda, considered an icon of androgyny, decided to work with you, since none of your scents specify what gender it was made for. What do you think distinguishes a female perfume from a male one?
I truly believe that there is no border between male and female. I don’t mind to state what gender it belongs to because I think that the most beautiful seduction is in what we call chiaroscuro and all the twilight areas. I don’t like black, I don’t like white, I think that the best bet is always grey. Being in the border between male and female is a place where everything starts and everything ends: fake femininity and "putain" masculinity or fake masculinity and "putain" femininity. That’s the reason we are beyond unisex, we are omnisex.
I really like that concept of gender confusion, the lack of gender labels.
We always try to go for the unexpected or unsuspected, so people think we are a brand for gay consumers because of Tom of Finland, and then we go and do something with Tilda Swinton. Never be too obvious, that’s the rule.
What makes État Libre d’Orange a controversial brand?
État Libre d’Orange is not a controversial brand per se, at least not in our eyes. We would rather use the term non-consensual. Our long-lasting philosophy is edginess and sincerity. We tell the same stories to the perfumers and the amateurs who come to us.  Saying État Libre d’Orange is only controversial is shining the light on one of the many facets that make it.