Grasse, the cradle of perfuming in France, has done an impressive job of associating perfume with refinement. When you think of luxury scents, it’s easy to imagine fragrant fields of flowers or the elegant crushing of petals.
The best-known perfume brands build on that romance. Consider Guerlain’s ultra-lavish “The Legend of Shalimar” from 2013, Dior’s modern fantasies featuring Natalie Portman or even Kenzo’s award-winning “My Mutant Brain” from 2016.
All that baggage is part of what makes Etat Libre d’Orange’s latest creation so disconcerting—and intriguing.
A co-creation project with Ogilvy Paris, Etat Libre d’Orange has concocted a perfume made out of trash. It will be called “Les Fleurs du Déchet” (The Flowers of Waste), a play on Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil).
A spot touting the perfume opens with an almost pornographically vivid shot of dead flowers and moldy fruit tumbling over fertile soil. Earthworms take residence, winding through fleshy waste. A voiceover recites, “Trash, but never waste. The most wanted scent, made from the unwanted: Etat Libre d’Orange.”
Poetry aside, its English brand name is far more brutal: “I Am Trash.”
Etat Libre d’Orange is “a luxury perfume brand that exists to defy convention,” founder and CEO Etienne de Swardt explained. The brand name translates to The Free State of Orange; de Swardt said it’s more of a mindset than a perfume house.
Defiance is rooted deep in Etat’s DNA. The company is located in Paris’ Marais district, a trendy neighborhood.
Its address? 69 rue des Archives, on a corner that crosses the rue Pastourelle.
“The 69 is not a coincidence—it’s in keeping with the sensuality of the brand,” said de Swardt. Even its position on a crossroads is intentional: Etat Libre d’Orange exists as “the crossroads between perfume and imagination,” not to mention “edgy design.”
From the jagged edges of its perfume bottles to its prickly displays, “edge is a psychological mindset and a physical one for us,” he added.
Its 40-plus house scents—with names like “You or Someone Like You” and “Putain des Palaces” (Palace Whores)—are targeted to non-conformists “who don’t want to smell familiar, go against the grain,” project manager Terry Fouchy of Ogilvy Paris noted.
“‘I Am Trash’ is for these people, curious to know what a perfume named ‘I am Trash’ smells like and brave enough to wear it.”
There’s something to be said for the relationship between waste and luxury and combining them so flagrantly. While the positioning seems odd, it casts light on the less sexy ingredients that go into perfume, from ambergris—a waxy lump from the digestive tracts of sperm whales (allegedly found in the original Chanel No. 5)—to skatole, a compound from feces and coal tar.
French perfume specifically has a history of producing perfumes that are deliberately “impolite, as well as animalistic,” writes Susannah Frankel for The Independent. That heritage conceives bizarre iterations, even today—the Nosulus Rift, an olfactory VR device created by Buzzman Paris to promote a South Park video game, used jasmine essence to echo a faint fecal note.
But there’s also an ecologically responsible element to “I Am Trash” that condemns the waste luxury so often represents. Its creation is driven by a question: How can we reuse the exorbitant amount of waste left over from the industry’s process of fabricating perfume?
“Luxury can’t ignore anymore the fact that our planet is not a tonneau des Danaïdes,” said Ogilvy Paris creative director Juana O’Gorman, using an expression that means something like “bottomless pit.”
“It’s a shift that our society needs to take, and will,” she continued. In a culture driven by overconsumption, “we have the tendency to trash things and people very fast—in real and virtual life. Everything that doesn’t fit our perfection is immediately deleted. Everything and everybody will, one day or another, be trashed.”
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