“Who in the world would want to wear a scent called Putain des Palaces?” moan industry pearl-clutchers. (The name, by the way, does not translate as “hotel slut” but as “hotel whore”: “slut” would be “salope”). Well, quite a few people it seems, since it’s État Libre d’Orange’s best-seller (cue pearls rolling on oak floors and a scramble for smelling salts).
When Nathalie Feisthauer composed Putain des Palaces, she already knew the name, and had been asked by Étienne de Swardt to work around the idea of a woman’s mouth: hence the "I don't kiss" retro lipstick accord. That violet-rose accord, which popped up for the first time in Coty's Rose Jacqueminot in 1904, was radically revamped in Paris and Trésor by Sophia Grojsman, who Nathalie Feisthauer worked with during her stint in New York. Is the accord that seeped from Paris to Putain a tribute? At any rate, Feisthauer’s treatment of the theme does feel like a woman’s whispered message to another: “Yes, the word putain
fires them up, but let’s not take it too seriously: we know it’s a game, not an identity, and we’ll believe in it just enough to enjoy it.” Perfume names are fragments of stories to be inserted in their wearer’s story. And perfume notes are cultural objects and carry subconscious memories to be deciphered. To me, rose and violet resonate with the theme in other ways…
Rose? The lyrics of Gainsbourg’s Ronsard 58
from which the perfume’s name is drawn were inspired by the Pierre de Ronsard sonnet that ends with “gather ye rosebuds while ye may”. As for the mawkish violet, it symbolizes unspoken love, but it also the signature scent of Émile Zola’s formidable courtesan Nana, “that Golden Creature, blind as brute force, whose very odour ruined the world”.
The very etymology of putain
links whores to smells. The word comes from the Latin putidus
, “rotten spoiled, stinking, fetid”, a meaning that alludes to the whore’s corrupted morals as well as to the sécrétions magnifiques
of her johns festering inside her body and the strong scents she uses both to cover them up and to advertise her wares. Thus, Nana’s candid scent and her beast-of-the-apocalypse stink meld perfume with whoredom.
Though it is nowhere near as raunchy as vintage Schiaparelli Shocking or Bal à Versailles, the poster child of skank, Putain des Palaces does feature a delicate whiff of funk. The rose-violet accord, heated by ginger until it sweats raspberry jam, moistens a soft leather note which is more calfskin glove than BDSM. Its powdery facets blend with musk into a retro rice powder accord. Amber and animalic effects hint at pleasure-ripened flesh.
So, who would wear a perfume called Putain des Palaces?
Well, me, for instance. I’ve long wanted, when asked “what’s that perfume you’re wearing”, to be able to answer “Putain des Palaces”, if only for the seriously cool Gainsbourg connection. And since I got round to acquiring a bottle, I’ve been able to do it. People laugh. They say I smell lovely. No one’s asked me for my rates yet.
Photo by Bettina Rheims
I really, really love Putain des Palaces, it's gorgeous. Definitely one of Feisthauer's best. It makes me scratch my head a little when some folks are offended by ELdO's sense of fun via thematics, I get it. The truth is, the boy that can make me laugh the hardest-- he's the one I'll go back to the hotel with at the end of the night.RépondreSupprimer
Carrie, I'm with you on that! It seems that brand of humor doesn't really translate well culturally, but they must be doing something right since they're still around after 5 years... And I'm getting nothing but compliments on Putain des palaces.RépondreSupprimer
Enjoyed your review! It's been a few years since I tried this, but I remember thinking-- such a pleasant rose. The name doesn't fit for me, but it's Etat Libre d'Orange, so that's par for the course.RépondreSupprimer
Ggs, to me it's got a lot more going for it than rose, which is a note I can seldom bear wearing. I suppose it's that jamminess and sensuous base. You should have another sniff! After all, you don't *have* to name your perfume when you're asked...RépondreSupprimer
That one suits me. Especially when wearing one of my animal print dresses ;-). The name is not really in place, because it is not so loud as it would like to be.RépondreSupprimer
I liked it the firs time I had tried it and I don't have ever a problem telling what I'm wearing. I have just one problem here, that I'm familiar with some french but I suck in pronouncing it so I guess nobody would understand what I'm saying. Which can be sometimes actually good ;-).
Civiva, what you say about the pronunciation of French perfume names makes me smile, because whenever I meet with a foreign perfume lover, we have problems understanding each other, since I say the names the correct way, and they say... however they've figured out. There's a site that helps with that called "Frag name of the day".RépondreSupprimer
I'm one of those people who doesn't like the ELd'O marketing angle - it seems designed not simply to offend pearl-clutching matrons, but to turn away business from anyone with a conventional mode of living, saying, "You're not cool enough to wear our stuff. Now go away." And since I'm the epitome of Soccer Mom, I feel unwanted as a customer.RépondreSupprimer
However, a kind friend sent me some PdP, and it's very nice. It reminded me very much of Juliet Has a Gun Citizen Queen, though CQ struck me as being a more powerful iteration of this rose-violet-powder-bodymusk idea, and I much prefer CQ. Still, PdP is well-done and pleasant, much less raunchy than its name suggests.
Mals, I hope you don't think I intended the "pearl-clutching" reference to be dismissive! I was thinking of some people I'd been speaking to, who are nowhere near pearl-and-mink matrons, but acted so shocked it was funny.RépondreSupprimer
And I don't imagine the marketing angle of ELO is meant to be dismissive either. Of course we don't all find the same things funny (it would be a dull world if we did), and some types of humor don't translate very well: this one has certainly gone over badly in the States, and your explanation makes excellent sense.
I've seen the comparison to Citizen Queen. Personally I'm boycotting Juliette has a Gun since they put out a one-molecule perfume as though they'd invented the concept, when it already existed (Escentric Molecules). No reflection on the quality of their other stuff, but it really put me off the brand. We've all got our breaking point!
I love this one. I wore it to accompany my husband to a Methodist ministers' conference, and was dying for someone to ask me what I was wearing, but nobody did. Another time I wore it to meet a fellow perfumista for the first time, and had the uncomfortable feeling that she thought I had poor 'feminine hygiene' habits (admittedly, it was a very hot day). We've met several times since, and I've not yet had the courage to ask her what she really thought was going on, that day...RépondreSupprimer
Tommasina, that would have been a pure moment of comedy! I don't get anything really...whiffy for PdP, but then I haven't worn it in the heat. You should pop the question though!RépondreSupprimer
Amusing choice of photos for the English and French versions: maja vestida y desnuda.RépondreSupprimer
Cociolph: true, I hadn't thought of that! I thought of Bettina Rheims because she's been working for years around the "Chambre close" (closed room) theme in hotels, and because she brings a tough, kinky woman's approach to erotic themes. I thought it suited a perfume composed by a woman on the theme of prostitution.RépondreSupprimer
This can be a whore, but not a common one. I remember this as the first État that i tried, and i was surprised with it. It seemed sophisticated, with a face powder aroma and a delicate flowery accord that morphed deliciously into a leathery base. Delicate and a little bit fetishist, very well done. I used to call it for my sell as Geisha de Palaces, not Putain. Something on the delicacy and the face powder accord of this one always reminded me of GeishasRépondreSupprimer
Henrique, I've never sniffed a geisha, or indeed a high-class hooker, so I wouldn't know... But there is certainly, in these lovely cosmetic accords, an idea of refinement and delicacy. Love, even the paid kind, can be an art.RépondreSupprimer
Me neither Carmen lol But the smell evokes me the qualities you see of Geishas in films... The delicacy and the refinement, and a discreet sensual aspect floating over the almost innocent aspect.RépondreSupprimer
Henrique, as I say, the wearer adds his story to the scent, that's what makes perfume *become* perfume and not just a product.RépondreSupprimer
I've seen this mentioned a few times in the past week -- I think I'll wear it today. I find the perfume itself, and not just the name, funny: it starts off so sweet and the base is really quite raunchy on me.RépondreSupprimer
I actually quite like a couple of Etat Libre d'Orange's offerings. Rien, Rossy de Palma and Like This. I have yet to smell this one but I definitely will. I like roses with a twist and have always adored Paris, YSL. And your review makes this one sound very tempting.RépondreSupprimer
My favourite name of theirs is Rien. It's such a powerhouse and then to have that name. I want one day to spray myself liberally with it just so people will have to ask me what I am indeed wearing.
Elisa, I wasn't aware it was popping up in discussions online -- something in the zeitgeist perhaps? You're right, there *is* something playful in that contrast between the top and base notes.RépondreSupprimer
Austenfan, if you look up my interview of Antoine Lie in the sidebar, you'll see that if Rien packs such a punch, it was precisely so that people *had* to ask the wearer about his/her fragrance.RépondreSupprimer
Whoops, sorry -- I meant Putain de Palaces was popping up a lot, rather than your post. Hope you're not disappointed!RépondreSupprimer
Austenfan, I am a huge fan of Rossy de Palma. I think it's rather underrated.
Elisa, no worries, that's what I'd understood.RépondreSupprimer
And yes, Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection is a very interesting, original scent, I agree.
I read that interview when you first put it on your blog. That and Bois de Jasmin's glowing review prompted me to get a bunch of samples from ELd'O. I am saving up for a bottle of Rien, it's my favourite of this house so far.RépondreSupprimer
It's a pity so few people in Holland speak or understand French so I fear the joke will be wasted here anyway.
Austefan, I agree the joke loses a lot of its edge when you have to explain it!RépondreSupprimer
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Chinese spam attack!RépondreSupprimer
Hello, Grain de Musc... I enjoyed your review, I just bought a FB of P... de P...., after being on the fence for about two years. I am happy with it, and I am intrigued to see how many different opinions are about this perfume... It really is a complex juice, with many facets, me I already smelled it very different ... Two years ago I found it as the loveliest powdery rose+ violet, with a hint of leather and fruits....Yesterday it was mainly violets + leather, slightly powdery, and today is high-pitched citrusy and spicy violet... In my opinion, this is a very smart "putain", who can be very elusive, persuasive, manipulative... Never showing what she really thinks, oe how she really is... Soft and nice as she has to reach her goals, hitting your head with the stiletto as she is angry on you.... :)... Although I dont like her today, I dont regret for buying her... And, of course, my colleagues and clients never will know what is the name of my perfume... I have a serious job... fconsidered too serious and tough for a woman... :)RépondreSupprimer
Hello Gentiana. Indeed, you seem to catch the fragrance in a lot of different moods! I'm sure it's kind of fun to keep its name a secret in your serious, tough job!Supprimer