25 August 2012

"Did I Love a Dream?": The Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d'Orange

Of all the overwrought inspirational narratives thrown about these days to accompany every new perfume launch, those of Etat Libre d’Orange are at least entertaining: toreadors and virgins, a Rumi poem and (my favorite) the memories of a washed up Jersey gigolo, etc. And even while the house’s press material sometimes bears little relation to what actually comes out of the bottle, the quality of the perfume itself usually satisfies long after the novelty of the story has faded. The Afternoon of a Faun, composed by Ralf Schweiger of Mane, falls squarely in this category.

The press release about the scent glosses on the bestial movements in Nijinsky’s scandalous ballet of the same name (he evidently humped a nymph’s scarf at the end), and the sensuality of the Stéphane Mallarmé poem that inspired the ballet. This is not unexpected for a house that makes fragrances named Excretions Magnifiques and Putain des Palaces. But in this case, the verbal nod to eroticism merely distracts from a quite pleasant experience centered around myrrh and immortelle, or as it’s referred to in the press release, “immortal flower” (essentially a black sheep of the sunflower family, if you’re wondering).

After a disappointingly generic opening shot of bergamot, Faun turns pleasantly dusty with spice (listed notes include pepper, cinnamon and incense). There is a vague notion of iris and leather in the heart, and then the myrrh and immortelle are there, appearing quite suddenly and bringing much-needed depth and color to the whole arrangement.

It may be the peculiarities of my skin, but I’m always hyper-attuned to the maple-like, “curried” facet of immortelle, and it plays quite nicely with the more mildly sweet nuttiness of myrrh. That said, the fragrance is also so smoothly blended that no one note ever truly dominates -- a quality that Denyse Beaulieu ascribed to another recent Mane release, Blanc de Courreges, and explains thusly: “…enough action and evolution … to keep the nose engaged, but not to the point that the scent is using you as an exhibition space. This ease of wear, with the notes smoothed out into a fluffy haze, is what I’m coming to see as the in-house Mane style.”

Fluffy haze, indeed. I’ve become so used to searching for graceful phrasings to describe the meticulous composition and structure of a perfume, but I can’t even try unless I feel I’ve got a good grasp of those things to begin with. The Afternoon of a Faun goes about its business in a far less literal manner than many perfumes: it makes no outright statements, only suggestive intimations. It’s downright illusory, quite like the faun’s waking recollection of his romp with the nymphs.

 The Afternoon of a Faun will be available in a 100ml edp, launching in October.