DE­SIGN SA-born per­fumer Eti­enne de Swardt is en­chant­ing the world with his unique bou­tique scents

Meet Eti­enne de Swardt, the South African-born scent con­nois­seur whose unique bou­tique per­fume brand Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange oc­cu­pies an ul­tra­cool cor­ner ad­dress in the heart of Paris

House and Leisure (South Africa) - - Contents - TEXT AL­LI­SON FOAT PHO­TO­GRAPHS JO­HANNA DE TESSIERES, SUP­PLIED

What hap­pens when just the right amount of en­nui and non­con­for­mity give rise to sub­lime in­no­va­tion and joie de vivre? The re­sult is the ‘Or­ange Free State’ in Paris, where, when you’re of­fered the ‘grand tour down the rab­bit hole in the land of fri­vol­ity and other scented non­sense’, you can ex­pect a fra­grant fan­tasy world.

Per­fumer Eti­enne de Swardt gives the im­pres­sion that he has al­ways tilted a bit off-cen­tre. ‘Ev­ery­thing is be­tween black and white,’ he says, ‘and the best an­swer is al­ways in the grey.’ Born in Pre­to­ria, De Swardt grew up on the French ter­ri­tory is­land of New Cale­do­nia, and after study­ing at ESSEC busi­ness school in Paris, took up a po­si­tion at lux­ury goods con­glom­er­ate LVMH, where he worked for the fash­ion house of Givenchy.

In 2000, he in­de­pen­dently launched a pair of per­fumes for dogs, cats and their hu­mans named Oh My Dog! and Oh My Cat?. And in 2006, bored with the lim­i­ta­tions im­posed within the tra­di­tional busi­ness of beauty, De Swardt es­tab­lished Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange – lit­er­ally, ‘Or­ange Free State’ – which was named after the area of South Africa where his fa­ther was born and De Swardt spent plenty of time as a child. He says that he chose the name for its syn­ergy with a place of strik­ing con­trasts, in­de­scrib­able colours, rare beauty and con­stant change­abil­ity.

Al­though the brand’s per­fumes are avail­able through many re­tail­ers glob­ally, there is only one Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange bou­tique store in the world, and it can be found on the fa­mous Rue des Archives shop­ping strip in Paris. Bold and au­da­cious – just like its prod­ucts – the bou­tique is the per­fect show­case for its fra­grances, all of which are housed in unfussy square bot­tles so that noth­ing dis­tracts from the pre­cious ‘juice’ within. With sharp edges rem­i­nis­cent of the cor­ner on which the store is po­si­tioned, the per­fume bot­tles sport vari­a­tions on the brand em­blem of a tri­colour cock­ade that con­veys the mes­sage of post-rev­o­lu­tion lib­erty.

De Swardt’s un­abashed sto­ry­telling ap­proach and in­trigu­ing prod­uct names piqued in­dus­try and mar­ket cu­rios­ity from the start, and he ex­plains that each of the 34 fra­grances in his col­lec­tion has been cre­ated, rather like po­etry, to awaken the imag­i­na­tion and in­spire free­dom of ex­pres­sion. In short, he has cre­ated ‘a dif­fer­ent kind of per­fumery that’s in­tel­li­gent, with a point of view’.

Sen­su­al­ity dom­i­nates De Swardt’s fra­grance names: there’s At­ta­quer le Soleil Mar­quis de Sade, with its con­nec­tion to the in­fa­mous French no­ble­man and porno­graphic writer of the mid 1700s. Tom of Fin­land is an ode to burly ho­mo­erot­ica, while The Af­ter­noon of a Faun is in­spired by bal­let danseur no­ble Vaslav Ni­jin­sky, whose dar­ing per­for­mances of the bal­let by that name had French au­di­ences of 1912 in a frenzy. And don’t be fooled by the ap­par­ent del­i­cate sweet­ness of Don’t Get Me Wrong Baby, Yes I Do, whose candy-pink charm con­ceals a feisty young woman armed with jazz moves and adult in­ten­tions.

Once he has a dreamed up a story, De Swardt shares his brief with per­fumers and aro­mati­cians at Gi­vau­dan in Vernier, Switzer­land, or at Mane in the French re­gion of Grasse, both of which are renowned ex­perts in the art of chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion. Over the years, he has also col­lab­o­rated with many an in­ter­est­ing celebrity to cre­ate their scent of choice.

Ac­tress Tilda Swin­ton, for ex­am­ple, says Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange showed her it was pos­si­ble to ‘pro­vide the smell of snow, of mist, of my grand­fa­ther’s green­house’. Nose Mathilde Bi­jaoui at Mane took Swin­ton’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions and soon, the ac­tress had a liq­uid mem­ory of her home in Scot­land, redo­lent of ginger­bread, dogs and chil­dren’s feet, all neatly cap­tured in a scent that she takes with her on her trav­els.

An aro­matic ag­i­ta­tor who is al­ler­gic to con­ven­tion, De Swardt’s brand of de­li­cious ec­cen­tric­ity is em­braced by grate­ful ben­e­fi­cia­ries and ad­mir­ers of de­sign, art and style who are a lit­tle out of the or­di­nary. Thank good­ness for scents that, as he puts it, ‘cling to the body and per­se­vere in the mind’. etatli­bre­do­r­ange.com Metropoli­tain Cos­met­ics stocks a se­lec­tion of Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange fra­grances in South Africa (metro­cos­met­ics.co.za).

T HIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE F ROM TOP

Per­fumer Eti­enne de Swardt; the provoca­tive in­te­rior of the Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange bou­tique store in Paris (far right and right) was de­signed by Shed De­sign (shed-de­sign.com); roughly trans­lated, Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes means ‘The son of God and rice and citrus’.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE, CLOCKWISE F ROM LEFT

The per­fume brand of­fers 34 unique fra­grances; ac­tress Tilda Swin­ton’s celebrity scent Like This; Archives 69 is named after the ad­dress of the only Etat Li­bre d’Or­ange store, at 69 Rue des Archives in Paris.

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