After working for several years with Givaudan perfumers Antoine Lie, Antoine Maisondieu and then the latter’s wife, Shyamala Maisondieu, État Libre d’Orange took its business over to Mane. The new partnership yielded a couple of flops under the sister label Éditions des Sens for products distributed exclusively at Sephora’s, Joséphine Baker by Cécile Matton and Sex Pistols by Mathilde Bijaoui – there was just too much dissonance between the latter’s name and its smell. In fact, it smelled like a compromise with Sephora. Sleeping with the devil is no guarantee for commercial success.
However, the ELd’O/Mane partnership did produce an unqualified success, the Tilda Swinton-helmed Like This by Mathilde Bijaoui. Archives 69, to be launched in March, is a further step in that direction. Named after 69 rue des Archives, the address of the État Libre d’Orange flagship store in the Parisian quarter of the Marais, it is slated to become the brand’s “institutional scent”. Of course, the very address can lend itself to something a bit stronger than innuendo, and Archives 69 does play on the fact: in the ELd’O boutique, the tester is presented alongside an erotic short story by the cult French author Boris Vian, featuring a succubus who may be female or male, or both, and the various acts the narrator performs with him/her… But the interesting point, to me, is the work Christine Nagel undertook on the idea of reversibility implied by “69”.
With top notes of mandarin and prune – the latter reconstructed thanks to Mane’s “Jungle Essence” technique, a CO2 extraction of the odorant molecules of just about anything, which is meant to yield an accurate “photography” of its smell – on a patchouli and musk base, Archives 69 starts out as a transparent “fruitchouli” with a slight touch of tartness lent by the mandarin.
An orchid accord, also Jungle Essence, adds a slightly icy vanilla note that’s a bit reminiscent of ELd’O’s Charogne, a work on the sweetish smell of decomposition. Nothing as challenging as that is going on in Archives 69: so far, the creature may be a succubus but she wouldn’t raise an eyebrow between the aisles of your local Sephora.
The raw-edged waxy aldehydes which I’ve come to think of as a signature of the État Libre d’Orange style are apparent, bridging the gap between the tartness of the plum and mandarin and the mineral incense notes. As these start taking over, Archives 69 loses any hint of girliness and reveals its true nature: it is a sweet fougère directly descended from Canoe, another scent that straddled the gender gap, by way of Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Mâle. But is that the ghost of Womanity lurking behind the vanilla and musk? The latest Mugler is, after all, another Mane product, and its ozonic woody ambery base seems to have carried over into Archives 69, giving it a transparent, crackling texture.
Is Archives 69 as steamy as the buzz lets on? Only if you like yours soapy.