Seldom do I smell a fragrance so vile that I get a sore neck from the violent way I try to remove my nose from the scene. A perfume can be too screechy, like a cleaning product, or too sweet, like a confection, or maybe a cologne just hits your sinuses wrong and gives you a headache. But how often does one just smell bad?
Browsing the superb second floor fragrance section of Henri Bendel on Fifth Avenue, I was distracted by a display of fragrances with some interestingly offensive packaging. One, “Vierges et Toreros,” showed bloody sheets. Another, called “Fat Electrician,” showed a butt crack peeking out of jeans. The actress Tilda Swinton (Orlando, The Beach) has her own scent here. Clearly, Etat Libre d’Orange is a company that prides itself in being different.
Curiosity got the better of me when I spotted Sécrétions Magnifiques, with its ejaculating phallus label. A quick spray on a sample card, a whiff, and…whiplash. This has a piercing scent that makes you want to get away from it. But what is it? Is this supposed to be the smell of semen? An olfactory ode to male sexuality? If this is the smell of sex, then it is the morning after a humiliating one-night-stand with someone who normally repulses you. If it’s raw sexuality, it’s the cold, lonely kind. The card above the bottle, partly visible in the photo, says this:
Like blood, sweat, sperm, saliva, Sécrétions Magnifiques is as real as an olfactory coitus that sends one into raptures, to the pinnacle of sensual pleasure, that extraordinary and unique moment when desire triumphs over reason. Masculine tenseness frees a rush of adrenalin in a cascade of high-pitched aldehydic notes. The sensation of freshness is gripping. Then the fragrance reveals a metallic side, precise and as sharp as unappeased desire. We are on a razor-edge… skin and sweat mingle, and tastes of musk and sandalwood. The slightly salt marine effect stirs, arouses, and sets your mouth watering. Tongues and sexes find one another, pleasure explodes and all goes wild. Confusion reigns supreme. A subversive, disturbing perfume. It’s love or hate at first sight. Sensuous jousting is rarely satisfied with half-measures…In between Don Juan and the Woman who offers herself, arms are laid down…who will be the first to surrender?
This is hate, not love.
About a week ago, I came home from a big liquor convention ranting about a Chinese beverage that made me cringe in disgust. I was a kid reacting with equal parts fascination and horror at a dead animal: it’s stinks, but it’s so different. I delighted in the disgust I felt, the way you might at an exotic food: “Hey, this is awful…try it!”
This is the only explanation I have for the chemist and fragrance reviewer Luca Turin’s glowing review of Sécrétions in Perfumes: the A to Z Guide. He must have been so surprised by it that he got excited, and reviewed it well because it did something unexpected. Here’s his review in its entirety:
Sécrétions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d’Orange
(five stars) nautical floral
Stupendous secretions! The Dada name had me drooling. The fragrance is both less and far more than I expected: It is not an animalic (supposedly) raunchy thing that works on the assumption that we collect soiled underwear or frequent the same nightclubs as cats and dogs. It is, however, an elegant fresh floral in the manner of Parfums de Nicolaï’s Odalisque, given a demonic twist by a touch of a stupendous bilge note, which, my vibrational nose tells me, can only be a nitrile. I remember years ago mounting an impassioned defense of a forgotten Quest material called Marenil, which smelled just like that: oily, metallic, entirely wrong, and begging to be used intelligently. I’m delighted to see it was possible.
But is it wearable? I don’t think it is. I have to smell this again (I don’t know if I can bring myself to spray it on my skin), but to me this seems like a novelty fragrance, the kind of thing that happens when an avant garde company decides its weirdest experiments might be useful as a fun marketing tool.
I’m not the only one who reacted negatively. Elsewhere on the web, The Scented Salamander said, “It tends to provoke a gag reflex in you if you smell it from too up close.” Katie Pukrick reviewed it on video, and said upon smelling it for the first time, “Oh no, oh no, that’s horrifying! I can’t believe someone made that on purpose!” That Smell said, “When it comes down to it, this stuff smells gross. Fascinating. But mostly gross.”