Marquis de Sade by Etat Libre d’Orange

This is a perfume that only lists a single ingredient. Is that even possible? Does it make any sense at all? What’s the Marquis de Sade got to do with it?

So many questions. We will attempt to answer at least some of them, but like the cheese-dream that is perfume marketing, not sure we will totally end up understanding how the Marquis de Sade fits into this.

The brand

Etat Libre d’Orange were formed just over ten years ago by Etienne de Swardt who worked in the luxury perfume industry prior to the inception of this house. He became disillusioned with the attitude of dumbing down perfumes in order to please as many potential clients as possible, so set out to create a new company which was rebellious, fresh and vibrantly true to his ethos as a perfumer.

The brand now boasts 34 fragrances and a great website which describes their founder as a “manwhore”. No really, see for yourself. (Bravo to the marketing exec who crafted that particular page of text, we salute you!)

With branding as bold and in your face as this is, we couldn’t help but hope that their fragrance would have as much gusto.

So, first things first. This perfume only lists one single solitary ingredient: cistus, which is also known as labdanum or rock rose (it’s not a real rose at all). The single note fragrance seems to be a growing trend amongst perfume producers. It’s a bold move which requires the most delicate of touches and the finest of quality ingredients to pull it off. With a single component the perfumer needs to give that light and shade that would otherwise be brought about by a symphony of components working together.

Undoubtedly there is a spot in the market for brands who want to trade on this, often marketing themselves as giving the layering power to the wearer, The Library of Fragrance and Jo Malone are just two brands that do this. But here at The Sniff, one of the things we love about wearing perfumes is the story they bring as they unfold, and the perfect moment that happens when a skilled perfumer holds all the ingredients in balance at just the right proportions so that just for a second, when you inhale, everything is right with the world.

With that in mind, we wondered if it was possible to achieve that with just one ingredient?

Let’s see.

Top notes

The first time our primary tester wore this fragrance, it really did not go down well, at least initially. What you get when you first apply is something which is sweet but faintly burnt, like smouldering plastic, a bit like that smell you get when you put the central heating on for the first time at the start of the Winter and all the dust burns off the radiators. It’s a warm, dry and slightly woody opener, but it’s more twigs than full on wood.

It’s a weird fragrance to put on, giving you the initial impression that it is going to be very linear and not that nice with it. Who wants to smell like a warm radiator?

Can you sense there is a ‘but’ coming up here, because there is….

BUT, after a while we found ourselves charmed by this unconventional and rather secretive scent. It warms beautifully and subtle but fascinating layers start to open up.

Heart notes

Once the perfume has settled, fruity/sweet undertones become more apparent. The fruit isn’t discernible as any particular variety but it has that sort of orange-juicy sticky sweetness quality too it. At times the sweetness threatens to overpower, but it skilfully holds off, just backing down before it becomes too much.

A definite flowery quality also reveals itself in the heart. One of our testers described it as the sort of floral quality you get in a hot house rather than a rose garden. It’s dry, heady, the sort of scent that hits you high up in the sinuses. The quality reminded us very much of dry, brown leaves being baked in sunshine streaming through the glasshouse windows. Of secretive things, things forgotten, things put to one side for a moment which end up abandoned for years.

And it was at that moment we realised that actually yes, there is something really special here. We were drawn in completely, pulled into this mysterious world that isn’t that easy to understand but that made it all the more desirous to try.

Just maybe Etat Libre d’Orange have pulled this off.

Base notes

The lingering base of this scent is very calming, indeed rock rose is sometimes sold as an essential oil used to aid meditation and it does bring a lovely tranquil quality to this fragrance. At times Marquis de Sade has a slightly washing powdery smell to it, but we rather liked that. It definitely has a clean quality. It’s a close scent that stays near to the body with skin musks, earthy and herbal undertones coming through at the end. Once the perfume had really settled and warmed there was a rose-like quality to it too; that bright and heady bouquet that roses have added a cheerful but not sickly sweetness.

This is a tricky perfume and one that isn’t easy to understand, it plays strongly along the same lines as the ethos of the Etat Libre d’Orange brand. It’s a bit like reading a classic book; might not be the easiest thing you have ever read, but surely it will teach you something and thus be worthwhile.

Given the one note that the company list for this fragrance, the depth of flavour that they have achieved with that is remarkable. That alone makes it worth investigating.

The other stuff

The longevity of this fragrance is excellent; it was still detectable at the end of the day, just about. The sillage or projection (the amount that the perfume surrounds you in a cloud of fragrance as you wear it) was moderate and very pleasant indeed, with the floral rose notes being the most detectable.

This is a unisex scent, and we could easily see people of all genders comfortably wearing it. If pushed, we would have to say that it sits slightly towards the more stereotypically feminine side of the spectrum, but only just.

Similarly, this perfume could be worn for any season, but we felt that it would be best in Winter and Spring, when the cooler air would temper the sweet notes slightly.

Marquis de Sade is, for a niche fragrance, quite widely available. We very kindly received a sample from our friends at Bloom Perfume, London where it retails for £82 for 50ml EDP. It is also available directly from Etat Libre d’Orange.

And no, we couldn’t really see, in the end, how the Marquis de Sade fit into it.



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