Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Etat Libre d'Orange Sex Pistols: Cultural Anatomy of a New Fragrance

Two new fragrances are getting issued from French-based brand extraordinaire Etat Libre d'Orange this coming autumn 2010. News had leaked at the beginning of the year, but now it is officially confirmed. And the first of them demands its own dissection since it hinges on several cultural axes and one relating the political with the "scentsical"; always within the scope of Perfume Shrine.

Le Parfum Sex Pistols, the brainchild of Etienne De Swardt, the owner of the infamous niche brand is "the scent of anarchy and rebellion worn to bring out your inner punk". Etat Libre d'Orange despite their French roots seems hell-bent on bringing out the most influential of the British: what with their collaboration with Tilda Swinton for Like This recently and now with the Sex Pistols, the revolutionary punk-rock band of the late 1970s whose motto was "We are not into music, we are into CHAOS". All too brief (just 2,5 years of presence and one LP album) and they're still being discussed, nevertheless. Not least because of the legend of "doomed youth" of its tragic man Sid Vicious (his name ironically taken off Johnny Rotten's pet hamster), dead at 21 after a heroine overdose following the accusations of doing his girlfriend in while on a drug-induced high.

The coincidental timing wanted the new fragrance to be scheduled right after impresario Malcom McLaren's death, the man who proclaimed he "used people like clay, like a sculptor would" in order to make the Sex Pistols, initially a subcultural manifestation aided by his lover fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, his very own anti-establishment art project, taking full credit years after the band's splitting for creating the social and cultural phenomenon. To wit, watch the Great Rock n'Roll Swindle. Yet critic Greil Marcus reflected on McLaren's contradictory posture: "It may be that in the mind of their self-celebrated Svengali...the Sex Pistols were never meant to be more than a nine-month wonder, a cheap vehicle for some fast money, a few laughs, a touch of the old épater la bourgeoisie. It may also be that in the mind of their chief terrorist and propagandist, anarchist veteran...and Situational artist McLaren, the Sex Pistols were meant to be a force that would set the world on its ear...and finally unite music and politics. The Sex Pistols were all of these things" [quoted: Hatch, David, and Stephen Millward, From Blues to Rock, p. 170]. Of course the underlying chasm between McLaren and charismatic (and intelligent) Johny Lydon -or "Rotten" as he was widely known "thanks" to his early-70s-British-teeth; the lads sport pearly whites now- makes the auteur's ambition on McLaren's part rather ambiguous. The political agenda was inchoate, the effectuation of change not really solid in anyone's mind, the identification with the working classes not really there [Campbell, Sean, "Sounding Out the Margins", pp. 127–130.]
If it had been any other perfume brand, I would have talked about spoliation... Yet something about Etat Libre makes the most unlikely projects seem acceptable! After all they did a scent after homoerotic sex artist Tom of Findland. And another one called Fat Electrician, sporting the (predictable) dawn of a butt-crack on the advertising images. McLaren himself had stated "[Punk's] authenticity stands out against the karaoke ersatz culture of today, where everything and everyone is for sale.... [P]unk is not, and never was, for sale." Then again, there is a lot of "watering the wine" with the passing of years, as even the mouthpiece of the band capitulated to commercialization. All right, it was to fund the reunion of his PiL group because Virgin Records (who had the Pistols signed) refused to sign them, but looks incongruent. And nowadays when the international economic crisis is sending off people into their own little conservative cocoon, how does a conceptual project materialize in a product?

Also related is that De Swardt has "set up a new company, Editions des Sens, to create fragrances which are a little less niche and have a slightly wider market appeal". [source] A reverse concept of "editions" for a wider audience rather than more limited, the way it was back when Malle introduced his own. It's interesting to contemplate in the greater scheme of things.
The unisex juice for Le Parfum Sex Pistols by Etat Libre D'Orange was created by Mathilde Bijaoui from Mane and opens with lemon, grey pepper and ambrette notes. The heart has black plum, aldehydes and heliotrope, drying down to patchouli, orcanox and leather at the base. Luckily not the vomit note of warm beer consumed in punk concerts...we've been spared.
Anyway, the perfume hits international stores in September. Never mind the rest, here comes Le Parfum Sex Pistols!


  1. You know Helg , I kind of think they have "had their day" - sort of what we call here - daggy.

    I shall watch and see if it is a big seller.
    I have been wrong before! :)

    Stay cool in your heat Helg and if the Malle is not doing it for you - try Diorella or eau de chamille by goutal. :)

  2. Hello dearest M!

    How are things? How's the family and the dogs? :-)

    The SP, oh they did have had their day, it all seems like coat-taling (is this the expression?) on a cultural legend, which of course is nothing new.
    I guess the selling part will depend on the smell itself, since it's a niche release. Surprisingly Putain de Palaces I hear does well, so people are not necessarily put off by names (in what concerns Etat Libre at least, not in general, LOL!)

    The Malle is good so far, but Diorella is a mainstay. And I love many lighter Goutals for summer! (Camille, Ciel and Musc) Thanks for reminding me!

  3. It's tempting to think of the Pistols as the Monkees of Punk, but PiL -- now there was a great band.

    From what I remember of the British punk scene (which is not much) the only possible authentic note(s) would be beer (top) and vomit (bottom).

    It will be interesting to see what ELDO comes up with (no pun intended).

  4. I think Etat seem very arty- with Tilda connection and all- so they probably really are trying to do punk perfume- I'd be interested to try it- in the day I should think the Pistols smelt of tabacco and being unwashed but I wonder what they will come up with.

  5. Anonymous15:50

    I like the spirit of Etat Libre d'Orange and some of their fragrances but I think a Sex Pistols scent isn't reallly in the spirit of punk at all ! If this scent had been released in their heyday I imagine the band would have attended the launch event purely to smash up all the bottles, run amok amongst all the shocked genteel beauty journalists and then urinate on the tester strips proclaiming that to be the true scent of the Sex Pistols!

  6. P,

    I would tend to agree with you on the notes!

    In many ways the antithesis of punk. But they're just so quirky at ELDO that it might actually be interesting. I suppose Rotten would have replied "bollocks" if asked, LOL! (he's very outspoken and straight-shooting, isn't he?)

  7. K,

    they are quite arty, true. Yet punk perfume sounds a bit of an oxymoron. Perfume being a product/ artwork that has the immediate effect of making one more presentable/agreeable to others and to himself and punk being at the edge of making everything and everyone unpresentable, destroying rather than mollifying. Unless they come up with another Secretions Magnifiques, which is probably close in concept to the above latter part. ;-)

  8. Konglish,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting.
    You expressed what has been lurking in my mind most admirably and eloquently! Yup, can't see how the SP would tolerate such a bourgeois activity such as producing/marketing/wearing perfume (as explained upthread in my comment). Then again, who is owning the SP brand nowadays? Virgin? Lydon? The heirs of McLaren?


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