Etienne de Swardt
Photo: Instagram

Founder of niche fragrance house, Etat Libre D’orange, Etienne de Swardt is no stranger to controversy. After working for LVMH for years and creating fragrance ideas for brands such as Estee Lauder, Chanel and Dior, the 48-year-old French entrepreneur felt that his creativity was stifled by the consumerist led beauty giants who simply wanted to stick with what works, rather than take risks on something different. So he went off on his own after a successful career. Going rogue was just about the best thing he did, because through this he created niche perfume house, Etat Libre D’Orange (which is ‘Free State of Orange’ in French).

The French brand caused quite a ruckus in the fragrance world and shook things up with perfume names like ‘Putain des Palaces’ (Sluts of the Palace). They also created avant garde fragrances such as their infamous ‘Secretions Magnifique’ (Magnificent Secretions) that is supposed to mimic the aroma of sex, bodily fluids and all. Safe to say, Etienne is not afraid to add a little shock factor to his cheeky creations and has a no-holds-bar attitude perfumery. Of course, not all Etat Libre D’Orange fragrances are so “out there”. Despite their naughty names, the scent profiles are both unique and utterly wearable, simultaneously fitting in and standing out in a crowd.

BAZAAR caught up with the creator of Etat Libre D’Orange to discuss his creative concepts, views on the perfume industry and more:

Tell us what Etat Libre D’Orange means and how that name came about.

It means Orange Free State. So I was born and raised in South Africa and the family was in a range free state. We call it the Etat Libre D’Orange. Libre means freedom. So I thought that it was a cool name to create something in the perfume industry, bowing to nobody. A land of no constraints, except the quality of the scent.

Tell us about your motto “Perfume is dead, long live perfume!” and what does it represent?

That was the motto at the beginning of the Etat Libre D’Orange. I think that we moved on, but the idea was to rupture the system of the beauty industry that was a little bit too money driven with too much marketing. So the idea of Etat Libre D’Orange, was to go on the road less travelled.

Some of your fragrances have very controversial names. Do you take pride in being daring and having a shock factor? 

You need to start somewhere with funny names, such as Putain des Palaces. The catch phrase was “be a slut, or just smell like one”. If you don’t push the limits, there is no growth. We don’t like having limits at the Etat Libre D’Orange and you can see from creations like Secretions Magnifiques, to a fat electrician, to Jasmin et Cigarette. We don’t please everybody. But there is always one angle to enter the brand.

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What is your definition of daring?

Not existing already. To dare is to try to invent, not to duplicate something that is existing. Perfumes out of your comfort zone.

What is the creative process behind naming and creating these more conceptual fragrances?

I think they are, first and foremost, a concept or a word, or a poem. My mother, and my grandmother, they were literature teachers. I was forged by women so they have a profound influence in my creative process.

ELDO creates risque and sexually charged fragrance concepts. What is the fascination with lovemaking?

Without love, the entire world would be a big waste of space. Perfume is just a tool to amplify the opportunities of encounters.

Which is the most risque and sexy perfume in your opinion?

The most pornographic one is Secretions Magnifiques, by far. The most sensual, could be Jasmin et Cigarette or Putain des Palaces. With the latter, you will be able to visualize the kiss with the lipstick, powdery notes we’ve put in it. Jasmin et Cigarette is that twilight seduction, blending tobacco and jasmine together. So I think that they are two sensual perfumes.

What were the challenges you faced as a niche fragrance house with a penchant to swim against the current?

It was tough, financially speaking, at the beginning of État Libre d’Orange. Olivier is a long friend of mine, and he is my partner, and together we did an alliance to push the business of État Libre d’Orange. The idea was to create a good organic growth, without any corruption on the philosophy of the brand. However, when you are alone from time to time you feel trapped, suffocated, while still trying to juggle finance, logistics, supply and creativity. I was delighted when Olivier joined me 6 years ago, so that we could expand a little on the philosophy of the business but without corrupting that brand image. Because I was not with that big group of investors, I had the freedom to forge the DNA of my brand.

The niche perfume industry has boomed and exploded in last couple of years. What are your thoughts on this expansion and why do you think people are looking to niche brands more and more these days?

It’s a good mutation. I call that the samsara of the economy of business and life. In many other industries there is a kind of comeback to niche because it has more sincerity, more creativity and more risk taking. Furthermore, with more knowledgeable consumers in this digital age, they would like to pick up something different from the rest of the group. it’s thanks to the digital age. In the age of access, information can be distributed more easily, making it easier for the niche industry to flourish.

Related article: Exploring The 5 Senses With Master Perfumer, Serge Lutens

ELDO has collaborated with celebrities like Rossy de Palma, Tilda Swinton and the Sex Pistols. Can we look forward to more collaborations in future? Who with?

Not for the time being. Ogilvy, the ad agency, will be helping us launch our latest fragrance, I am Trash. I think that the message is to that from the trash, beauty can reconnect. The perfumer we picked for this unique project iwas Daniella Andrier. She did Une Amourette Roland Mouret, so this is going to be her second perfume with us.

What scent do you wear the most?

Our Cologne because it washes away the sins from the night before. I also wear Hermann à mes côtés me paraissait une ombre quite a bit because it reminds me of my grandmother.

Which ELDO fragrance would you associate with the following 7 deadly sins:

Etat Libre D’Orange fragrances are available at Escentials Stores in Singapore. 

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