Monday, November 1, 2010

Etat Libre d'Orange Secretions Magnifiques: fragrance review

I'm in the attic of an old video store downtown. Stuffy and with the permeating smell of hot, new plastic from the inner jackets of DVDs with questionable material. The seedy sales assistant is dressed and "groomed" like Ian Lamont in the disastrous remake of The Jackal, only he utterly lacks any charm Jack Black naturally possesses. He's oggling female customers with a roving eye, but it is actually the shy, low-browed "help" with the upstraight collar that is really a sexual offender. That attic smells of dried up semen and surreptitious impositions on unwilling females, of threat and defilement, of a sense of panic where your trachea closes as if you can't breath and no voice can come out...no matter how many primary colours change hues beneath your shut eyelids.

I'm in the operating theatre of a hospital, lying supine and cold. The ceiling above me has the listless greyish white of ashes in a crematorium and I feel like I should belong in one. Lochia is oozing off me, the burden of having my guts torn out, hatched job of 20 weeks when the air was still pregnant with hope. There are no salty tears falling off to the edge of the ears making the familiar plonk sound, only the buzz of the fluorescent lights atop. Nothing moves save the mops across the corridors spreading another layer of bleach on the floors.

I'm in a small African camp where Action Aid is volunteering. A teenage mother of no more than 13 is sitting back up the wall of a thatched cottage, as the weather is taking a turn for the damper, her baby infested by a thousand flies, in the same position as it last had grabbed her breast in an attempt to draw life-sustaining liquid. Liquid which trickles down still under her expresionless face, stale, and mixed with sweat and the scent of famine; whitish liquid on black skin, so agile, so puerile, you think you could take this mother and lull her to sleep herself.

Sécrétions Magnifiques rather amazingly smells like all of these places. I just don't want to be in those places...ever.

Definitely out of the Guy Robert perimeter of perfumery standards ("perfume should smell good") and into avant-garde in earnest, this is a fragrance that acts like Duchamp's Fountain (Urinal); it serves as a springboard for discussion more than an art piece to put and enjoy in someone's home. Smelling aquatic-metallic with an algae note and a lot like sweet floral notes and coconut blanched in bleach (featuring Azurone, a Givaudan trademarked "clean" note), with a spattering of spoiled condensed milk and pure bile in the mix as it "opens up", Sécrétions Magnifiques by État Libre d'Orange is a scent not to leave anyone indifferent and is both totally original and undoubtedly a technical feat (the demonic notes reverberate into eternity opening up with gusto). Supposedly it's trying to replicate scents of saliva, milk, blood and semen, these magnificent secretions for which humans are known (if you were hoping for Eau de Merveilles though, forget it) but there is absolutely no animal hint or human intimacy, rather a sterile Alien accord that is a study on every female fear.
Its perfumer, Antoine Lie, has been known for his work at Comme Des Garcons (888, Lime and Grapefruit from the Energy C series, Wonderwood as well as Daphne), as well as others in the État Libre line (Tom of Finland, Rien, Divin Enfant, Je Suis un Homme, Don't get me wrong baby). Sécrétions Magnifiques by État Libre d'Orange is available as Eau de Parfum. Its fame precedes this bête noire; approach with a sense of respect.

Notes given for Sécrétions Magnifiques:
Iode accord, adrenaline accord, blood accord, milk accord, iris, coconut, sandalwood and opoponax.

For a funnier take with less drama, watch Katie's review on Youtube.

pic originally uploaded on mua by mzterrim sent to me by email


  1. I totally agree. I just smelled Secretions for the first time about a week ago (http://cocktailsandcologne.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/the-magnificently-vile/) and I figured it was a marketing tool for Etat Libre d’Orange: create something outrageous and get some publicity. That's cynical, I know; your assessment -- that it's art -- is more generous. It's probably a combination of art and publicity stunt. Either way, I was tickled to see that Luca Turin loved it.

  2. Anonymous04:58

    no can do the photograph you've uploaded for this.

    i had to check to make sure i had the right site.

    don't like the perfume, either. but seeing a pooer little dead pig being dissected is even worse for me.


  3. As far as avant-garde goes, I have to admire Etat Libre for their sheer audacity in creating Secretions. I very much doubt that any other perfume has been so universally reviled, if not by Luca Turin!

    I reviewed this myself not so long ago, (http://scentlesssensibilities.blogspot.com/2010/09/human-beast.html), and while I can say that I'm glad I was given a chance to make my own impressions, I'm also glad I'll never, ever want to try it again.

  4. Wow, E. you have outdone yourself!

    The pic, which I couldn't even recognize at first, is brutal as are the introductory scenarios. But it all fits together *so* well... and because I'm familiar with the fragrance, it made me burst out laughing. You have captured the grotesqueness perfectly.

    Thank you for such a dramatic and unique take on this scent... even if no one will want to read it again. ;-)

    hugs~~ dea

    p.s. a note to the above, there's a place called tinyurl. you should look into it.

  5. Anonymous11:46

    I think Turin actually gave this one a 5 star! In his estimation it is Etat's star. Like Minette, the pic sickened me far more than the scent (and I found the scent sickening) I regard myself pretty broad-minded but I think I may have just found my boundary - at least visually.

  6. Oh, i wanted to make one additional note-- I use my sample of this to gross-out my non-enthusiast friends. On more than one occasion it melded with the skin of my friend and didn't smell offensive at all! Each time it was a male. So, I am wondering if Luca experienced this fragrance much like these few friends did- interesting but not revolting?


  7. What a waste of money !

  8. I've never had the nerve to put this on my skin -- when I sniffed it on a blotter I practically jumped out of my skin. Some animal part of my brain knew this was what violent death smelled like. The SA at the Parisian ELdO boutique, however, swore blue that many people put it on & loved it. I'm just going to take her word for it.

  9. dea, you bring up a good point - some males I have heard don't find it offensive (case in point, my DH), and it actually doesn't smell that badly on them

  10. Anonymous14:20

    honestly, the picture is too graphic. It's horrible and I wish I had not seen it.

    We had to dissect animals for biology-the professor explained carefully that the animals were worthy of respect, that their bodies were being used to aid in medical advancements. We were to treat them respectfully. Helg, I have followed your blog for years. I don't believe in censorship but please reconsider the value of the helpless dead speciman.

    Yours truly,

    Carole MacLeod

  11. I think the picture is appropriate, considering the subject. I can't imagine having this stuff in my house. Bloody Frieda, you have a brave DH!

  12. C&C,

    thanks for saying so and for commenting in the first place. It's pretty vile in a nauseating way (which can't be but deliberate, hence artful because it's no clumpsiness but a thought-process that inspired it). It's not dirty at all IMO, but like being on a ship feeling absolutely dreadful; as if your insides are coming up to your mouth...if that makes sense. Luca described it as "nautical floral". I found the adjective ironically accurate in view of the above ;-)
    Thanks for directing me, enjoyed the read.

  13. Minette,

    I can see your point. It' not a pretty sight (even more so because it's so clinical) but of all my photos in my archives, this communicated the repulsion (and borderline horror) that the aura of the scent brings. To me that felt honest and from the gut.

    I'm sorry I caused trauma to you looking at it, nevertheless; I think I'm eyeing it with somewhat slit eyes myself... :/

  14. Tarleisio,

    thanks! They really did outdid themselves with this one (looks so gimmicky, smells so nauseating) and your photo made me smile! :-)

    Contrary to you though I don't get ANY humanity in this. If I did, it would be a vast improvement on the liking radar. It's cold, distanced, brutal and clinical to me. Not dirty at all!
    Dirty = intimate, a little human, a little less of a robot or fiend.
    Clinical and sterile = major creeps! Hence the scenarios I wrote...
    At least it's something to bring us out of the yawn zone though isn't it? I mean, look at it; Is it 3 years (4?) since its launch and we're still discussing it -for its smell, not its visual ;-)

  15. Dea,

    thank you so much for your comment. I think you GOT what I was trying to do with this! So not all is lost... even if people won't want to read it again (it reflects perfectly how they feel about re-smelling the scent, right?)

    It's brutal and vile and it's all so elegantly displayed for art & science, eh?
    The poor little piglet was escaping me too, I saw the liver and guts and was wondering and had to horrifyingly tilt my head at an 90 degree angle to see the poor little head...It's pretty daunting to have to work with animals in those circumstances.

    Hugs back at you!

    PS.Do tell me more about the tinyurl. Is it just to shortner URLs? (Google search tells me so). You feel mine are huge then? (they could possibly be!)

  16. Anon,

    he certainly did, not from an aesthetic point, I should surmiss, but from an originality, braveness and technical point. And yes, to all the above. To bring out to the market something which seems almost elegant at first and then turns into surgical steel for mutants is a brave act, isn't it?

    I know...the pic does cause some serious shock; like I said above to other commenters, it reflected my feelings towards the scent and thus felt "honest and from the gut". Hopefully I haven't traumatised too many of you and -even more hopefully- it won't be necessary to use anything similar for illustration purposes ever again.

  17. Dea,

    thanks for an enlightening comment, I haven't experimented with anyone else's skin on this (I like to keep it between me and the blotter; my social life isn't so flamboyantly flourishing that I might risk to alienate my loyal entourage, LOL!)
    Very interesting; I imagine that the opening notes with the sharply floral metallic touch stay on more. Or it dries down to that "clean" musk and bleach sooner without the spoiled milk note? Fascinating experiment to conduct, now who should I put this on without incriminating myself? Hmmmm. ;-O

  18. Ursula,

    well, luckily most of us rely on samples and decants (you can check my article on online decanters or click on Dea's profile for more info) so the financial outlay is minimal.
    If you mean the company has been wasting money to make it, they -surprisingly- report it sells rather well. Enough to justify production for the foreseeable future at least. Maybe people are intensely curious and buy unsniffed, what can I say?

  19. BF,

    she did, didn't she? I don't like it from the vial, on the blotter, on a piece of cloth, nowhere. But I can't deny that is not devoid of its own peculiar charm (especially if one is anosmic to a certain ingredient that to me reads as bleach in Terror Wing at Illville Hospital)

  20. Carole,

    thank you for commenting, especially on what seems like a charged topic/visual. Sorry I have traumatised so many (evidently) by splashing such a brutal photo on the front page. It's the only thing I found to the point though, otherwise it wouldn't be uploaded at all. It just expressed my own horror best and I say that with heartfelt respect for the poor piglet. I believe there won't be another scent to provoke such a gut response to the point of abject revolt.

    I can't imagine being a biology student and having to do such work myself. It's one thing to do it on dead people in anatomy class and quite another killing the animals to do it, even though respect is involved as you say. It takes steel nerves I guess and great fortitude. Science advances at great cost, it seems, no matter what.

    And sincere thanks for your loyalty, much appreciated always.

  21. StyleSpy,

    yes, they do say it sells well and I kinda get how it does. It's not miles removed from a huge dose of ambroxan and dihydromercenol in popular men's colognes, airated with some dewy florals and you're there, only no one was fearless enough to put that in a bottle and actually sell it as is! These guys apparently did and kudos for not being afraid. Then again, I wouldn't want this touching my skin again. I guess I'm hypersensitive; to someone with a thicker hide this would be small potatoes.
    It's rather sweet in a sickening, death-like way, only it's like it's happened somewhere with sea water and decaying algae. Eww...

  22. P,

    glad you "got" the point, like I explained above it's not something I just put there out of disrespect or for mere shock value. It reflects my genuine feelings (it makes me identify with the piglet when I test my sample!)

    Have you smelled this controversy in a bottle yourself?

  23. When I first tried this smell the kids were around me and I felt ashamed, like I did something bad, I threw away the blatter as fast as I could. All was an instictive reaction. And I'm not at all a pudic person and I expose my kids to realities of bodies and nature. But it was something to intim in there.
    So I don't know if it doesn't have to do with animalic and human intimacy.

  24. Tamara*J18:08

    Crazy pic! It's your blog dear , do what you want. If this is what the scent means to you (and I whole-heartedly agree!) than so be it.
    I'm wearing Lyric right now- thank God for that ha! ;)

  25. Anonymous18:29

    I have lurked for a long time on this blog. Like Minette, I thought I had ended up on the wrong site.
    It is offensive in the extreme and I can't bear to look.

    Also: what IS the point of producing a "fragrance" like this?

    I shall think again before I return and read.

    Sincerely yours,

  26. As a meat eater, I have no problem with this photo.

  27. Maria,

    interesting point. I hadn't thought about it that way. Maybe the decomposing stuff entering the equation? Very intriguing story, thanks for bringing it here!

  28. Tamara,

    thanks for the support. It was a calculated risk posting such subversive visuals. But I'm not into the whole "perfume is escapism, I just want to read about beautiful stuff" school of thought, I guess. I like things that make you think. And maybe toss. Why not?

  29. Linda,

    whatever you decide is your decision of course and I won't try to twist you into a false acceptance. We all have our limits and if yours has been crossed, well, it's been crossed. I can accept that.

    I can't talk about what is "the point of such a fragrance"; I suggest you email the company about that last part.

    However, I can and will ask you why you find the picture offensive. Brutal, yes, most certainly. Disturbing, yes, on a number of levels. But offensive...to whom? The people seeing it on this page? The animals subjected? I mean, it's common policy (alas!) and it happens all the time in laboratories across the world in order to test for biology reasons, animal disease, viruses and microbes, drugs to be used for children and adults...no matter how we like to close our eyes and sign petitions for animal rights and no testing for cosmetics. It's such a much bigger issue than that!
    Unless I have misconstrued the term "offensive" and anything brutal, ugly or horrendous is automatically considered offensive to someone/some group. I suppose denying it won't make it go away, will it?

  30. BF,

    I wonder if people have stopped and noticed that there's medical equipment around and there is actually medical tissue around the "tray".

  31. therese1922:36

    So provocative, I love it!

  32. Hmm, I wonder how many of the traumatized and offended victims enjoy a nice BLT every now and then.

  33. Why not ?

    I find Secretions fascinating to smell, though I don't find the need to own it.

    I don't question descriptions or visuals; the perfume frankly suggests both.

    What is creativity to one appears to another as aberration.

    Long live free speech !

  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. Anonymous00:58

    Funny, maybe because I'm a biologst, but I just saw the fetal pig and thought, "Huh. This perfume must smell like formaldehyde."

    Hear, hear, Gina.

    Fantastic review. I have got to smell this stuff (as long as it doesn't smell like formaldehyde).

  36. Anonymous03:44

    Well-- the dissected pig is a brilliant illustration for this product, and brilliant writing. There is something sort of mean and sick about this fragrance. Interesting to think there are some people who can wear it.

  37. FragrantWitch10:36

    Excellent evocation of the fragrance. I for one would be glad to have been put off applying this to my skin by reading this review. If you are horrified by the pic/ review imagine how you would feel wearing it!

  38. Hi E -- No, I usually pay for samples, and would rather not spend money on something purposefully disgusting, however much LT thinks it to be some sort of landmark. I don't think there are any stores in my city that offer the ELDO line, so instore testing is out.

  39. I actually don't think it's all that bad...I wear it on occasion in small doses. I only wish it came in a splash bottle though...one of very few scents that I find too strong to spray.

    I don't get any of the "secretion" notes that everyone else smells...just a salty floral with a wet-dog note.

  40. A friend (well, maybe she's a friend..) sent me a sample of SM to test, with the warning that I should try it with soap and water close at hand.

    I thought it smelled like a sex crime scene being investigated by the police, or what I imagine such a thing would smell like: hideous. I think I was most put off by the metallic element, which made me think of bloody knives.

    I'll comment that I didn't *enjoy* the photo, but that a poor little dissected pig was certainly preferable to the image that was already in my head and associated with this scent. I found your remark that SM is "a study on every female fear" very insightful, as that was exactly the impact on me.

  41. Therese,

    it's refreshing to have something provocative around!! :-) Agree.

  42. Gine,

    BLT?? :?

    I'm thick, just Googled it (amazing what one can find through it). Bacon-tomato-lettuce sandwich. Correct?

  43. Dearest Ida,

    thanks for stopping by, honey!
    Isn't it a very distancing, sterile, operating theater horror of a scent? It seems so elegant at first and then it's ice cold.
    Thanks for the support!

    (Missed you on POL!! Hugs!!)

  44. Anon,

    thanks! You have to smell this stuff (not on yourself, preferably) because it doesn't smell of formaldehyde. If only...

    You're a brave soul, being a biologist!

  45. Anon,

    thanks for the compliments. I did think the photo fits the product.
    I'm equally amazed that people wear it and wear it well. Then again not everyone is nausated by the same things, I guess. It's funny to hear that men are more lenient to it than females. I thought it played on female anxieties myself...

  46. Fragrantwitch,

    it's really a "mean" scent. It sneaks up on you. It doesn't smell THAT bad, but it produces very unpleasant feelings all the same.
    Having said that I am glad I tried and re-tried and yes (masochism big time) re-tried for a third time. Who said perfume writing is a pleasurable experience? :-)

  47. Fakharuddin40,

    really?? "adorable"??? You really mean it?

    I'm usually deleting outward commercial spam right away, but I'm leaving this be, because I just about fell off the chair reading the formulaic comment on THIS particular review & fragrance. This needs to be preserved for history's sake on how NOT to spam blogs.


  48. P,

    hello oh smart one!
    It's funny how people will flock to sniff something that is purported to be a landmark. Tommy Girl, I'm talking to you!! ;-)

  49. Dane,

    thanks for chiming in! What an interesting comment! Another male concurring on the innocuous nature of this scent; knock me down with a feather.
    After some thinking, I believe there is something in this, you know. The more I hear testimonies, the more I realise that there must be some purposeful direction that scares women away. Could it be the ultimate female-alienating scent? :D

    To be perfectly honest I don't get too much sperm (Unless said man had drunk the Bosporus by the gallon and fell on a knife and bled to death soon after; in which case how would I ever be able to sniff his semen???), but the milky blood (lochia to be exact) is there....oh dear god, it's there...
    Wet dog isn't one of my favourite notes either. Dry dog is a different matter, though.

  50. M,

    it's a must sniff to be sure. I don't think there was any malicious intent in sending it to you. Or perhaps they were desperate to evacuate their zip code of the miasma! :D

    Katie said something about it smelling like a crime scene and I do think your own addition about it being a sex crime (with all its hideous facets and conclusions) is very apt! Indeed.

    Thanks for confirming my comment on it being alienating on the women, specifically. Men and women reporting on it based on their men's view seem to find it less scary. WHAT is this adrenaline accord consist of that horrifies women only, I wonder! (Interesting question to ask to Antoine Lie, isn't it?)

  51. I didn't have a problem with that photo, which is far more benevolent than several images that came to not just my mind, but likely others' as well!

    What I think is the most interesting thing about SM, apart from that fascinating little factoid that women, for several valid reasons are violently repelled and men are not, is precisely that it challenges our preconceptions on perfume and turns them completely upside down - much like that perfume coffret did for the release of 'Perfume - The Story of a Murderer'. Who knows - that might even have been an inspiration?

    I also think that it's a good and all-too infrequent thing to be challenged by an artform we all too often seem to take for granted, with all the prejudices and preconceptions that come with those associations of a given aesthetic.

    I'm glad I had the ovaries to try this - but I'm also glad I'll never have the urge to try it again!

    Above all, I'm glad to find something that challenged me - and made my olfactory horizons just that much wider!

    That doesn't happen every day, or even every year!

  52. Great discussion, isn't it, Tarleisio, it seems to have sparked all kinds of interesting comments!

    I think you hit the nail on the head, actually!! It does challenge our preconception about perfume; and for that -like you- I am very glad. It's unusual amidst a tide of dull generic issues, so we should be thankful, really.
    Having said that, I wonder how it would fit in another line or another time-frame (can't imagine it). The Mugler coffret for Perfume, story of a Murderer had the added bonus of representing scenes from the book: It didn't really shake us the same way IMHO because it was based on already "vile-smelling" fiction. We had already "seen" those olfactory landscapes and people through the eye of the mind and were prepared. For Secretions, we were not... Apart from the Net reputation that is (First time I came into contact with it, a couple of years ago, I expected something dirty and like rotten garbage; I was violently surprised to see it was neither. Second testing I was positively whiplashing with the expectation of what I knew I would smell)

  53. Chalk me up as one who loves SM! I was raised on a Texas farm, and ELDO SM reminds me of the smell of a cow being milked: warm milk squirting into a zinc pail. A completely benign image! I don't get semen or violence.... As SM dries, it starts to take on a smell that reminds me of iron-pressed linen, mingled with the smell of a small child's morning-abandoned bowl of LUCKY CHARMS cereal.

    To me, it's that vile Davidoff COOL WATER (Hommes), with its punky, disgusting, fey little "almond" note that reminds me of semen.

  54. Rasputin,

    thanks for stopping by and for your interesting comments!

    It's lucky that you don't happen to be repelled by the sort of sterile & sterilized atmosphere of SM and can find warm, milky, familiar and rather pleasant images to associate with it. It gives me the creeps personally (evidenced, I guess), though I have come to the conclusion that it's women who are actually repelled by it, not men (wonder if there's some kind of anti-pheromone in it that would produce this effect; now seriously...).

    Have to agree with the CW reference: it does have something semen-y about it, doesn't it!


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