État Libre d’Orange Nombril Immense: Baby Soft Patchouli

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

“Baby-soft creaminess” might be one way to sum up Nombril Immense from État Libre d’Orange (hereinafter just “État Libre“). In French, “Nombril” means belly button, so the perfume’s name translates to “Immense Belly Button,” or “Enormous Navel.” It’s a name wholly in keeping with the whimsical, playfully avant-garde, often satirical, always provocative style of the French perfume house. I’ve frequently found that their attempts to shock or titillate don’t match up to the actual scent in question, and Nombril Immense is no exception. 

Source: Lenoma.ru

Source: Lenoma.ru

Nombril Immense is a unisex, patchouli eau de parfum that was created by Nathalie Feisthauer, and released in 2006. État Libre describes the scent and its notes as follows:

With ‘Nombril Immense’, the accent is on the exceptional quality of the patchouli. Exotic and precious, this fragrant wood from India literally captivates. ‘Nombril Immense’ is an invitation to introspection, to discover new emotions and open the mind to a new spirituality. Patchouli is a sacred wood in Hindu temples; it inspires meditation and leads the way to the shedding of one’s mortal coil in the effort to access timelessness. ‘Nombril Immense’ is an authentic piece of nirvana and it smells like bliss.

Composition: Patchouli, balm of Peru, vetiver, black pepper absolute, opoponax [Sweet Myrrh], bergamot, seed of carrot, kernels of ambrette absolute…

Source: howbenefitstea.com

Source: howbenefitstea.com

Nombril Immense opens on my skin with crisp, fresh bergamot and patchouli, followed by a gentle dose of sweet, nutty myrrh, all ensconced in a creamy, warm, slightly musky embrace. It’s very smooth, and is an extremely close copy of the drydown in Guerlain‘s L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme (which is a wholly unisex fragrance no matter what its name may say). Both fragrances have the same lemony, patchouli, creamy Chai tea accord, though Nombril Immense’s thinness and lightness renders it closer to L’Instant eau de toilette (or LIDG) than to L’Instant Eau Extreme (LIDGE). 

Source: Obsessivision Etsy Store. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Obsessivision Etsy Store. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Nombril Immense feels extremely sheer, gauzy, and weak. This is no dense, chewy, molten patchouli with dark smoke, serious spiciness, leathered or toffee’d nuances. There is no cognac booziness, no earthiness, and no intensity either. A hardcore patchouli lover like myself might uncharitably call it an anorexic, socially tamed, submissive, and demure patchouli that is more suitable for a dainty tea on the Upper East Side. It certainly isn’t the rollicking, boozy patchouli of Jovoy‘s Psychedelique or Oriza‘s Horizon. However, I’m sure that those who despise actual patchouli would find Nombril Immense to be an extremely refined take on the note, and they wouldn’t be wrong. This is a baby-soft patchouli whose true, defining characteristics have been stripped out and replaced by creaminess. So much creaminess that, later on, the fragrance almost verges on the milky with the feel of a baby’s lightly musky sweetness.

Ten minutes in, new notes emerge on the scene, albeit in the most muted, muffled form imaginable. There are microscopic hints of toasted nuts, stemming in part from the sweet myrrh and the peru balsam, along with a stronger element of something vegetal that vaguely resembles carrots once in a while. The light touch of citrus remains, but there is no black pepper, vetiver, or spice. As a whole, the main bouquet is of creamy, milky patchouli with a touch of lemon in a bed of musky sweetness.

That’s really it for Nombril Immense. The perfume never veers from its core essence in any dramatic way, and the only substantial change is in sillage. Nombril Immense seemed to evaporate off my skin almost within minutes, with the weakest sillage imaginable after a mere 20 minutes. It feels like a baby scent, not only in terms of its cloud-like softness and milkiness, but also in terms of that sweet muskiness that hovers all around. Something about it really calls to mind a baby for me.

Source: vimeo.com

Source: vimeo.com

Less than 90 minutes in, Nombril Immense is a skin scent, and I felt sure it had vanished an hour later. To my surprise, however, extremely intense sniffs with my nose plastered right on the skin turned up a tenacious smear of scent. I essentially spent the next few hours looking like a crazed bloodhound as I attacked my arm to detect it, and I was consistently taken aback to find Nombril Immense was still there, chugging away as a wisp of milky patchouli with weirdly vegetal, warm muskiness. All in all, Nombril Immense lasted just a hair over 7 hours on my skin with 4 gigantic smears, but only 4.25 hours with a more normal application.

On Fragrantica, others report similar trouble with Nombril Immense’s sillage and longevity, but a few people really adored the fragrance. Let’s start with the numbers:

  • The votes for Sillage are: 11 for Soft (no skin trail at all); 6 for Moderate; 1 for Heavy; and 1 for Enormous.
  • The votes for how long Nombril Immense lasts on the skin break down to: 3 for Poor (30 min-1 hr); 5 for Weak (1-2 hrs); 3 for Moderate (3-6 hrs); and 5 for Long-Lasting (7-12 hrs).

I think the absolutely terrible sillage is partially responsible for some people thinking Nombril Immense has only 30 minutes to 2 hours of longevity. It takes a hell of a lot of work to detect it after the 2nd hour. Is it worth it? Not in my opinion.

Yet, a number of people on Fragrantica seem to really like Nombril Immense. Amidst all the talk about its total lack of sillage, a few people found the fragrance to be “soft, feminine and very comfortable,” or  a “[v]ery sexy, decadent patchouli[.]” One person wrote that Nombril Immense was “patchouli, patchouli, and more patchouli,” which is correct as there really isn’t much to the scent besides that one core note. Another found Nombril Immense to be the essence of innocence:

so unique, simply innocence. A baby. That’s what I have in mind. It just so motherly to me and it reminds me a lot of my childhood, I smell like this!! LOL. A bit of baby talcum powder and a hint of sun and sweat from playing outside for 5 hours and power nap time. LOL. I love this smell, I’m wearing it mostly night time though.

Source: funylool.com

Source: funylool.com

Others weren’t so excited. One commentator thought that Nombril Immense was pleasant, but had “that Etat drydown that IMO a number of their scents have that doesn’t thrill me – something too powdery about it (and ‘dirty’ at the same time).” A few others mentioned experiencing a baby powder note in the drydown as well. For one man, Nombril Immense took refined patchouli too far: “While some softness in a patchouli frag is appreciated by those of us who don’t want to smell like we slept in the woods for a few days, I do want some earthly edge.” In the eyes of one female commentator, Nombril Immense was a “more expensive version of Jessica Simpson‘s ‘Fancy Nights‘,” which hardly seems to be a positive endorsement.

I think how people react to Nombril Immense will depend largely on how much they love or hate hardcore patchouli. I find it hard to imagine that a true patch head will actually approve of Nombril Immense, though they may like it as a creamy, woody musk. In contrast, those who associate patchouli with dirty, sweaty, earthy hippies reeking of a head-shop aroma will probably think Etat Libre has created the best version ever. In my opinion, the average person nowadays doesn’t actually like patchouli in its true, original form, so this sort of denuded, de-fanged, baby patchouli is a much more approachable construct. However, that softness might also make the scent a little feminine in some men’s eyes, as it lacks any sort of edge.

At the end of the day, Nombril Immense is an affordable scent that’s pleasant, but has a lot of flaws. If you’re looking for a more complex version of creamy patchouli Chai Tea, I’d suggest the Guerlain L’Instant Pour Homme in eau de toilette. It has a light floral (jasmine) component which makes it wholly unisex; it’s an equally refined, creamy patchouli with discreet sillage; and you can find it for much less than Nombril Immense. If you want a more intense, serious, spicy, smoky version, then there is the superior L’Instant Eau Extreme eau de parfum version (which is also covered in that same Guerlain review). On the other hand, if you’re looking for something creamy and feminine, with a baby sweetness, milkiness, and softness, then Nombril Immense might be your comforting cup of tea.

Cost & Availability: Nombril Immense is an eau de parfum that only comes in a 1.7 ml/50 ml size and is priced at $80, €69, or £59.50. In the U.S.: Nombril Immense can be purchased from LuckyScent for $80 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, with samples for $3. It is also available from The Twisted Lily, and from MinNY. Outside the U.S.: You can purchase Nombril Immense directly from Etat Libre’s website where it costs €69.00, with samples available for €3.00. (There is also a Discovery Set or Coffret of 18 Etat Libre fragrances, all in 1.5 ml vials, sold for €39. However, Nombril Immense is not included.) The perfume is also available from Etat Libre’s London store at 61 Redchurch Street, as well as from its Paris one located at 69, rue des Archives, 75004. Elsewhere in the UK, I found Nombril Immense at London’s Les Senteurs for £59.50, with samples also available for purchase. In Germany, the perfume is available at First in Fragrance for €69. The site ships worldwide. In the Netherlands, I found Nombril Immense at ParfuMaria for €64. In Italy, it’s available at ScentBar, and in Russia, I think it’s sold at iPerfume, but I can’t read Cyrillic to see if it’s available for online purchase. For all other locations or vendors from Canada to the Lithuania and Sweden, you can use the Store Locator listing on the company’s website. Samples: you can order a sample of Nombril Immense from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.75 for a 1 ml vial. Samples are also available at a number of the vendors listed above.

État Libre d’Orange Rien: Bondage Leather

Candice Swanepoel in "Strict" by Mert & Marcus for Interview Magazine September 2011.

Candice Swanepoel in “Strict” by Mert & Marcus for Interview Magazine September 2011.

A cool chick, dressed in fake leather that she’d bought at a cheap, second-hand store. By day, she worked in the industrial backrooms of a carpeting warehouse, trying to get the smell of dust and sanitized, synthetic cleaners out of her hair. With her torn fishnet stockings and combat boots, she exuded an air of toughness like the black whip she wielded at nights, in her other job, as a dominatrix at an exclusive BDSM club downtown. The clean scent of her slightly musky skin was coated with powder, the palest of pink roses, a touch of iris, and a sharp sweetness. The pale delicacy of it all contrasted with the feral meow of the raunchy cat smell that lingered under the fake leather, and with the incense that she loved to burn. On her evening breaks at the club, she would lounge nonchalantly against the wall, her long leg in its black patent, thigh-high stiletto boot crooked behind her as she restlessly flicked the whip to the side, and did her best James Dean with each long drag of her cigarette. When men asked her name, she would coldly reply, “Rien.”

Source: Lenoma.ru

Source: Lenoma.ru

Rien is a leather and aldehyde fragrance from the quirky, eccentric French niche house of État Libre d’Orange (hereinafter just “État Libre“). It is an eau de parfum created by Antoine Lie and released in 2006. The fragrance gives a nod at Robert Piguet‘s legendary Bandit, but without the latter’s famous green-black hues from galbanum. It also shares similarities to L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s Dzing! and Molinard‘s Habanita. Like all those fragrances, Rien is a love it-or-leave-it proposition. I hated it. Deeply.

État Libre describes Rien and its notes as follows:


Nothing is Everything. Do not believe what you first see… under the demureness of the name, there is the spicy savor of blackcurrant bays and the musky notes of blond suede. ‘Rien’ is a second skin perfume, a perfume that clings to the body and perseveres in the mind. Like venial sin on the verge of becoming mortal, it is irresistible and resolutely pervasive. As light as mohair and as precious as cashmere, the fragrance envelops skin with a powdered caress. It has the meticulous elegance and hypnotic beauty of a modern Dorian Gray, in a feminine/masculine version. An entrancing fragrance that leaves an unforgettable imprint. Utter charm, utterly charismatic. The vanilla/opium accord of the drydown reinforces the addiction. ‘Rien’ is an essential. A perfumer’s confession


Incense, rose, leather, cistus [Labdanum], oakmoss, patchouli, amber, cumin, black pepper, aldehydes…

I’m a bit confused by the fact that some of the notes mentioned in État Libre’s story aren’t included in the notes. “Blackcurrant bays?” Apart from my ignorance as to what constitutes a berry’s “bay,” there is also the issue of Luckyscent listing a few additional or separate elements. For example, it lists mousse de chene (which is technically different from mere oakmoss), in addition to styrax (a vanillic resin) and iris. If Luckyscent is correct, then the complete list of notes would look more like this:

Incense, rose, leather, iris, labdanum, mousse de chene, styrax, oakmoss, patchouli, amber, cumin, black pepper, aldehydes.

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

Source: hdwallpapers.lt

Rien opens on my skin with aldehydes and a nuclear blast of black-green. For once, the aldehydes don’t translate on my skin as pure soap and foam, but rather as something fizzy, sweet, and with a wax candle undertone. They also have a salty, nose-tickling smell that is enormously similar to Alka-Seltzer tablets dropped in water.

Dried oakmoss or tree moss.

Dried oakmoss or tree moss.

The green note smells sharp — so much so that it almost resembles galbanum more than mere oakmoss. Yet, despite its pungent, bitter acridness, it clearly has the traditional musty, grey mineralized feel of lichen. It’s an extremely cold note that has a mineral and metallic clang to it, along with a salty quality that obviously carried over to impact the aldehydes. The grey-green moss is also infused by incense, though it is not the usual dark, black, smoky kind. This is more like the mentholated, medicinal, almost anise-like tonalities of myrrh, but without its cold, white, High Church feel. The overall combination feels as sharp as the crack of a black-and-green leather whip across raw flesh. Have you seen those old films like “Mutiny on the Bounty,” where mutineers or slaves were whipped as punishment across their backs? That’s the crack you feel here with Rien’s opening. 

Civet. Source: focusingonwildlife.com

Civet. Source: focusingonwildlife.com

Some other notes stir and whimper submissively under this aggressive barrage of sharpness. There are subtle flickers of a pale, pink rose and of a slightly powdered iris hiding fearfully in the base. More defiant is the feral meow of the civet, sounding like a cat in heat as it lets off a sharp, bitter, animalic note. I’m not one of those people who always thinks civet smells like a “cat’s anus,” but something about the note in Rien strongly conjured up that pejorative term. Civet is a note that cannot be naturally harvested any longer due to animal cruelty and abuse issues, so the aroma is commonly replicated by synthetic versions. In Rien, it might be some very cheap stuff, because the civet feels not just animalic, but so sharp that it could cut you. Then again, given the rest of the fragrance, it’s undoubtedly intentional….

Source: ellequebec.com

Source: ellequebec.com

The most interesting parts of the fragrance to me are the leather and the mousse de chene. Let’s start with the former. There is something very synthetic about the leather, almost intentionally so, because the material smells like new, unworn, black patent shoes mixed with the cheap, plastic-y smell of fake, plastic leather, or “pleather.” As a lawyer in San Francisco, one of my areas of speciality was sexual harassment defense, and I gained some working knowledge of BDSM and sex clubs, as well as every possible kinky twist that you might imagine in a city as sexually open as San Francisco. When I wore État Libre’s Rien, all I could think about was bondage leather, whips, and rubber outfits in San Francisco (and a truly bizarre case). Here, however, the material always has a slightly powdered, dusty, rubbery, plastic, industrial undertone to it. I wouldn’t be particularly fond of the aroma, in and of itself, on the best of days, but when combined with the waxy, fizzy, nose-tickling aldehydes, the acrid, black incense, and the crack of the oakmoss, it’s really is not my cup of tea.

"Evernia Prunastri" lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

“Evernia Prunastri” lichen moss. Source: supermoss.com

And let’s talk about that oakmoss. Mousse de chene is actually a specific type of oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) which is an oakmoss absolute according to The Aroma Connection blog, and, in some people’s eyes, seems to be considered the “true” oakmoss. It’s a grey lichen which grows on trees and has an intensely dank, pungent, fusty aroma that can also be salty and smell like tree bark. Still, the truth is that “real” oakmoss of any type is essentially banned out of perfume existence, so substitutes are used. There is a very interesting, detailed, and somewhat technical discussion of the different types of oakmoss on The Aroma Connection, including the various synthetic versions or additives thereto. The site also helpfully provides the following aroma description:

It should also be mentioned that a range of commercial oakmoss products exists, some offering a warm, leathery-mossy character, whilst others offer have woody, mossy – almost marine-like aspects.

Here, both types of aromas are present. The oakmoss has a sharp mossy, salty character that smells quite distinctly like the bark of a tree, but it also has a leathery quality to it. Later, it turns warmer, but the opening moments of Rien are really a whack on the head with its colder, sharper aspects that are further amplified by the black pleather and acrid smoke.

Thankfully, about forty minutes, Rien starts to soften its sharp edges, turning smoother, sweeter, and a hair less insolently hostile. There is a gentle warmth stirring deep in its depths, aided by the slow awakening of patchouli along with vanillic touches from the styrax. Unfortunately, these more positive aspects are off-set by a soft, sweet, musky smell that feels like the aroma of newly placed, industrial carpeting in an office, or rolled up carpet in a warehouse somewhere. It’s a smell that is sharp, musty, dusty, almost glue-like, but also sanitized clean. I blame it on the combination of the aldehydes with the oakmoss, along with some help perhaps from white musk. Atop this dusty, somewhat industrial, musty, clean bouquet is a sprinkling of sweet powder; it’s not quite vanillic, but it’s definitely not like iris or makeup powder either.

Source: ehow.com

Source: ehow.com

At the 75-minute point, Rien’s base is a mix of cloyingly sweetened, dusty oakmoss with bondage leather, rubber, that sanitized industrial aroma, and some patchouli. The whole thing is wrapped up with sharp myrrh-like incense smoke, and even sharper animalic civet. The syrupy brown sweetness now filling the oakmoss juxtaposes sharply with its more pungent, mossy, mineralized aspects. The juxtaposition grows even more contrary when you add in the synthetic, “office clean” vibe and the dominatrix’s rubbery, black leather. I can’t bear any of it.

Source: Thriftcore.com

Source: Thriftcore.com

I’m also having extremely pained flashbacks to L’Artisan‘s Dzing!, a fragrance that almost made me lose my mind with its extremely similar dusty scent mixed with synthetic, cloying sweetness. Dzing! reminded me of those cheap trinket, tourist shops you find in Tijuana where the smell of plastic toys and shoes from China mixes with dust, vanilla air freshener, clean notes, rubber, and sweetness. Both perfumes are intended to be leather fragrances but, to me, the “leather” in Dzing! smelled solely of cheap, industrial plastic accompanied by cloying, synthetic, vanillic sweetness. It’s nowhere near as bad in Rien — the aroma is more dusty pleather than hardcore, pink plastic with glue and chemical undertones — but the two fragrances share enough synthetic similarities to make me wince. 

At the end of the second hour, Rien’s combination of aldehydes with plastic leather remains the dominant feature, but the oakmoss recedes a little. Slowly rising to take its place is the patchouli, resulting in a discordant dusty-musty-soapy-patchouli combination. The amber also becomes more prominent, though it never once feels like labdanum with its wonderfully nutty, rich, sometimes dirty, resinous characteristics. Instead, the amber here is just a generic, vague, muted warm glow in the base, infused with myrrh smoke, styrax’s vanillic hues, the feral animalic skank of the civet, and those godawful industrial synthetics. Is there no end to this nightmare?

The perfume continues its subtle shifts. Slowly, Rien transforms into a bouquet of clean, musky, supposedly “skin” tonalities with aldehydic underpinnings, accompanied by fruited notes from the patchouli. There is powder that feels a little like that in makeup, thanks to the orris, but it also resembles powdered vanilla. The sharpness of the synthetic civet vies with the swirl of equally sharp dark smoke, which now feels more like frankincense than bitter myrrh. And the floral elements grow more prominent.

By the start of the fourth hour, Rien is a soft blur of clean, musky, aldehydic skin infused with muted floral notes of rose and iris, as well as a fruited elements that resembles dried raspberries. The smoke and plastic leather wrap it up like a bow, creating a bouquet that calls to mind the sharp, powdery, fruited, black leather, florals and smoke of Molinard‘s Habanita eau de toilette. (A combination that resulted in my struggling enormously with Habanita as well, by the way, and which ended in me disliking it immensely.)

Rien’s undercurrent of animalic, almost urinous civet remains unabated, as do the prickly, biting synthetics in the base, but Rien has (thankfully) lost its aura of freshly cleaned, commercial carpeting. The reason may lie in the growing warmth and amber in the fragrance’s foundation, which has finally managed to diffuse some of the oakmoss-aldehyde-pleather combination’s bite. At the same time, the sillage drops, and the whole bouquet hovers just an inch above the skin. Rien is still extremely potent when smelled up close, and I suspect the synthetics are the reason why.

So, to summarize, we’ve gone from Bandit to Dzing! to Habanita. No matter how much I may dislike the fragrance, I have to give Rien credit for pulling off so many clever referential nods in a row. Rien remains in its Habanita-like phase for a few hours before reaching its last stage near the end of the seventh hour.  At that point, Rien is really just powder on my skin with a slightly floral nuance and quite a bit of stale sourness. The bloody fragrance sets me free just after the tenth hour when it finally dies away. I rushed to put on some Puredistance M, so that a leather fragrance I actually enjoyed would wipe the bad taste away.   

Sons of Anarchy photo via wall321.com.

Sons of Anarchy photo via wall321.com.

As noted earlier, Rien is one of those difficult fragrances that people either love or hate. To balance out my perspective, I thought I’d share the views of The Non-Blonde who accurately describes the fragrance as “edgy” in a review which reads, in part, as follows:

It’s dirty, animalic, leathery, and smoky. There’s a hint of hot asphalt and burnt rubber, the kind you get when notes of black leather, cistus, and cumin come together. But Rien is also directly connected to Robert Piguet’s Bandit, not just in the smoke, leather and uncompromising oakmoss, but also in the softening that happens when the fragrance unfolds and gives a peek at its floral heart (more apparent in Bandit’s extrait concentration).

I used to think of Rien as very butch. I’m not so sure nowadays, though it is completely gender neutral. Rien is urban, has a distinct and deliberate synthetic twist– rubber, smoke, and some metallic parts, but also very human and warm. Wearing Rien is like taking a whiff of skin warmed under the biker’s leather jacket. […]

Rien can be downright dangerous in large amounts. I’ve noticed it the very first time I tried it and I maintain this view to this day. It’s one of my favorite perfumes from ELdO, but its non-perfuminess and the medicinal quality it takes when sprayed lavishly can be a major turn-off for those who don’t appreciate its style and heavy dusty leather boots.

I think we detect very much the same thing, particularly as Rien does have a whiff of warm skin under a biker’s leather jacket, in addition to ties with Bandit and the “deliberate synthetic twist” that she noted. I may have different terms and aroma sensations for the synthetic parts, since Rien was more sanitized, industrial office carpeting on my skin than asphalt, but the synthetic and urban feel is very much the same. Where we part ways is that she happens to think Rien is “daring and seductive,” while I simply hate it. Profoundly. And, no, I did not apply a lot. It doesn’t take much to be deluged by Rien’s abrasively acrid, synthetic, extremely sharp weirdness.

People’s assessment of Rien on Fragrantica is generally very consistent in terms of how the fragrance manifests itself on people’s skin, but there is a big split as to whether people actually like the final result. Some consider Rien to be a “masterpiece” precisely because of its difficult notes. Others found it to be utterly unbearable. Some examples of the range in perspective:

  • it’s suede and little else. Smells like a department store leather jacket area. Also has a nice hint of industrial carpet. Ever walk into a new office? Yep, that’s what I’m smelling. Not something I’d want to wear. I don’t smell anything animalic or balmy or like incense or wood. JUST ALDEHYDES.
  • Truly the bizarro spiritual successor of Magie Noire and Aromatics Elixir! It smells yellow, pissy, leathery, turpentine-like, but also like patchouli and clean earth. At times it smells like a corrupted Chanel No. 5, with muted and expensive-smelling florals. A masterpiece with unbeatable strength and longevity, great in hot or cold weather, and devastatingly sexy on men and women alike. If you want to project a certain fuck-off image then you must have it. Vastly superior to the more timid Bandit, I must say.
  • All I smell is brand-new snow tires in a garage. [¶] And I can’t scrub it off. Must be those 60,000+ mile steel-belted tire models. I just might have to wrap my wrist in a towel and duct tape it up…so that I might get to sleep tonight.
  • strong aldehydes, remining me of grandmas classical perfumes, and the heavy leather scent. There is also a strong animalistic note and the animalistic and oakmoss notes clash with something industrial, plasticky.
  • I’ve read quite a few of the reviews here and mostly I see negative remarks. All I have to say is – ARE YOU PEOPLE CRAZY? This is one of the most magnificent perfumes I have ever smelled! And believe me I have smelled (and owned) a lot of great perfumes. Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, Guerlain’s Mitsouko (which is my most favorite scent ever!), L’Heure Bleue ( some say old-fashioned, I say classic) -I could go on and on, but I won’t. [¶] Anyway, my point is I would put Rien in the same line up as any of the greats. It is a masterpiece of perfumery. And this is said by a 56 year old woman, who only a couple of years ago was afraid to go out of her Guerlain, Chanel, Dior comfort zone.

There is the same sharp split at Basenotes. The negative reviews talk about such things as how Rien is “mainly a piercing, industrial note like glue, solvent or hot light bulbs. A woody-spice note in an quirky mutant, sci-fi vein. Hot plastic, volatile glue… really not my scene.” The positive ones rave about how Rien is a challenging, strange beauty that has ties to everything from Habanita, Bandit, and Dzing!, to such famously skanky or urinous fragrances as Kouros and Bal à Versailles. On both sites, I get the impression that men generally seem to outnumber the women in terms of loving Rien, so I’d definitely not worry about the fragrance being very feminine in nature.

How you feel about Rien may depend on how you view certain notes. If you’re someone who is ambivalent about Bandit, please be aware that the leather here is much more intense, not as smooth, and is significantly more synthetic or industrial in feel. If you dislike aldehydes, industrial notes, black rubber, synthetic plastic aromas, incredibly sharp civet, urinous elements, and/or super mineralized, dusty, pungent oakmoss, then stay away. On the other hand, however, if you’re someone who loves oakmoss fragrances that are very animalic, skanky, aldehydic or dusty, then I’d definitely recommend you giving Rien a test sniff. (But do not blind buy!) If you go one step further and genuflect before the altar of Bandit, Habanita, or Kouros, then Rien should absolutely be your next stop. I’m sure you’ll enjoy cracking that whip to the feral yowls of the civet!


Cost & Availability: Rien is an eau de parfum that is most commonly available in a 1.7 ml/50 ml size, but which can also be purchased directly from Etat Libre’s website in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle as well. The prices listed there are in Euros: €69.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, and €119.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle. Samples are also available for €3.00. Etat Libre offers worldwide shipping, and free delivery to or within France. In the U.S.: Rien can be purchased from LuckyScent for $80 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, with samples for $3, and from MinNY. You can also purchase it from Parfum1 in the large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle for $149. The site offers free domestic shipping, with international shipping available for a fee. Outside the U.S.: You can purchase Rien from Etat Libre’s new London store at 61 Redchurch Street for £60, as well as from its Paris one located at 69, rue des Archives, 75003. Elsewhere in the UK, I found Rien on Amazon UK for £58.49 for the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle through a third-party vendor . It is also sold at London’s Les Senteurs for £59.50, with samples also available for purchase. In Germany, Rien is available at First in Fragrance in the small size for €69. The site ships worldwide. In the Netherlands, I found it at ParfuMaria in the large 100 ml size for €119. In Italy, it’s available at ScentBar and in Spain, it’s sold at The Cosmeticoh. In Russia, Lenoma carries the full Etat Libre line. For all other locations or vendors from Canada to the Netherlands and Sweden, you can use the Store Locator listing on the company’s website. Samples: you can order a sample of Rien from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.75 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review – État Libre d’Orange Fils de Dieu

He brings the sun.

etat libre d'orange fils de dieu perfume bottle and boxBringing the warm joyousness of the sun by way of a perfumed ode to the Asian tropics — an ode that sparkles with the very brightest of zingy, crisp citruses; that luxuriates in the creamy sweetness of sticky coconut Thai rice; and that strokes you with the velvety headiness of jasmine, before turning into a soft, golden, amber embrace. That is the journey offered by Fils de Dieu, a unisex eau de parfum from the whimsical, playfully avant-garde, often satirical, always provocative French perfume house, État Libre d’Orange (hereinafter just “État Libre“). The perfume’s full name is actually Fils de Dieu, Du Riz et Des Agrumes which means “Son of God, of Rice and of Citruses” and, to make matters a little more confusing, used to be called Philippine Houseboy. (Terrible name! Thank God for the change.)

Fils de Dieu was created by Ralf Schweiger, and was released in 2012 to much acclaim, landing in the Top Five of CaFleureBon‘s Best Perfumes of 2012 list. The perfume veers far outside the parameters of my usual style or preferences, but I actually like it and think it would be a great, easy, casual summer scent.

État Libre describes Fils de Dieu and its notes as follows:

He brings the sun.

Fils de dieu comes from the Philippines to spread a message of warmth and enlightenment. Here, find an innocent wisdom that points to dreams and liberation. This is the golden eye that reflects beauty and conflict, rapture and pain. Fils de dieu is an emotional fragrance, a scent that requires a sympathetic connection between the server and the served, the giver and the taker, and the willingness to exchange roles.

Composition : Ginger, coriander leaves, lime, shiso, coconut JE, rice, cardamom JE, jasmine, cinnamon, may rose, tonka bean, vetiver, musk, amber, leather, castoreum…

I have no idea what “JE” stands for, but let’s move on. What caught my attention with Fils de Dieu is how it can be many different fragrances in one. I tested it twice — once in chilly, air-conditioned temperatures, and once in muggy warmth. The first time, and with the impact of the cold, I noticed Fils de Dieu had three, distinctly separate stages that can be summed up essentially as follows:

Stage One: Almost all crisp, aromatic citrus cologne notes – about 90% citrus, 8% lemongrass-y vetiver, and 2% jasmine;

Stage Two: Primarily jasmine in nature – about 75% jasmine, 15% citrus, 5% lemongrass-y vetiver, and 5% other notes;

Stage Three: A whole other perfume — fluctuating levels of vanilla and amber for the most part, followed by spices, a dash of castoreum, and flickers of other elements.

Yet, it was an entirely different matter when I turned off the air-conditioning (which was a painful experience given where I live), and let the tropical humidity do its work. In the sort of thick, wet air that must resemble Fils de Dieu’s Philippine inspiration, the perfume bloomed to become the sort of scent it was clearly intended to be: a slightly sweet ode to Thai food, interspersed with exotic, tropical, heady jasmine, custardy vanilla, citrus, spices, and sensuous warmth.


Let’s start with the first test, where Fils de Dieu bewildered me by being a crisp, citrus cologne for the entirety of its opening. The perfume starts on my skin with fresh shiso that smells minty, just lightly peppery, and incredibly fresh. Within seconds, it is joined by zesty lime and bergamot, both shining brightly with an almost translucent radiance.

Source: onlyhdwallpapers.com

Source: onlyhdwallpapers.com

Fils de Dieu quickly softens, with the citrus notes fading to slightly more muted levels, and flecked with a bright rose tonality, along with the merest hint of airy jasmine. Then, the citrus comes back, stronger and heartier than ever, only this time headed up by bergamot. As always, its main companion is the lime, which feels a wee bit bitter now. Rounding out the top three notes is vetiver which has a very lemongrass-like nuance here, instead of its more common, rooty, dark, or earthy characteristics. Five minutes later, a rice note creeps in. It’s milky, barely sweetened, and evocative of boiled jasmine. The note is so insubstantial, however, that it really takes vociferous inhalations to detect it for the brief moments that it’s there.

For the next 90 minutes, Fils de Dieu is nothing more than a masculine sort of cologne on my skin. It’s citrus, more citrus, a dash of vetiver, a few drops of jasmine, and that mysteriously vanishing rice note. There is a minute, tiny, faint hum of synthetics at the base — something I’ve noticed in all Ralf Schweiger’s fragrances to varying degrees — but there are no spices, no vanilla, and absolutely no coconut whatsoever. I actually felt a little cheated, given all that I’d heard about Fils de Dieu’s supposed resemblance to Thai Curry. Well, not on me, at least not under chilly temperatures… Over time, the strength of the main notes varies (and, sometimes, the jasmine feels much more dominant), but, ultimately, there is no escaping the citruses and the cologne impression.

Rice stalk via nsf.gov

Rice stalk via nsf.gov

Then, 2.25 hours in, Fils de Dieu changes. Parts of my arm now emit faint traces of really sweet, boiled rice infused with jasmine; another part wafts jasmine with amber and a touch of castoreum; and a third (much smaller) part is simply nothing more than lemongrass vetiver and cool lime. It’s bewildering. Clearly, Fils de Dieu is a beautifully blended, well-crafted fragrance that reflects different notes at different times. But, for the majority of this test, it was “fragrant” in the most aromatic sense of the word, as something that was primarily citrus and jasmine in nature.

Salted Caramel & Nutella Rice Krispie Treats. Source: The Mini Baker. (Click on photo for link to website and the recipe.)

Salted Caramel & Nutella Rice Krispie Treats. Source: The Mini Baker. (Click on photo for link to website and the recipe.)

The slow progression of the scent continues, morphing slowly into its third and final phase. Around the third hour, Fils de Dieu turns into jasmine fragrance with a sweet, dry vanilla that has a lightly perfumed finish and the merest hint of cinnamon. At the four-hour mark, however, the perfume has a complete metamorphosis, turning into an ambery butterfly with an almost boozy edge. It’s plush, nutty, infused with cardamon and cinnamon, and has a distinctly toffee undertone. The rice note pops up again, but this time it’s toasted; it smells a little like Rice Krispies would — if they were covered by toffee, cinnamon and amber.

Source: layoutsparks.com

Source: layoutsparks.com

The amber is beautiful here, with the sort of rich depth that you’d normally find in ambergris — but without the salty, marshy, slightly sweaty characteristics of the element. I chalk the rich depth of the note to the castoreum which definitely accounts for the subtle tinge of sweet musk lurking around Fils de Dieu’s edges. Underneath the amber is the lightest suggestion of leather that feels very smooth, supple, warm, as if it had been burnished by sweet resins. There is no longer any vanilla to distract from all the gold, bronze, umber visuals. As time passes, the perfume continued to soften and the notes turn more abstract.

A little short of 8.25 hours in, Fils de Dieu finally fades away, nothing more than musky, ambered sweetness. Its sillage was moderate at the start, continued to drop after the first hour, and then faded away to a skin scent around the middle of the fifth hour. The truly astonishing thing, though, is the degree of change. Between the spices, the languorous, castoreum-infused resins, the sweetness, and the plush richness of the scent, Fils de Dieu did a complete 180 from its opening as a crisp, citrus cologne. You couldn’t get a more drastic change — which is why I decided I needed to test the perfume under very different conditions.


For my second test, I turned off the air-conditioning, opened the windows, and let the humidity of the muggy swamp outside invade my office. The heat wave has left, so the difference in internal temperature according to the thermostat only seems to be about 16 degrees, but the humidity is easily close to 90%. And what a difference that made to Fils de Dieu! It suddenly turned into the fragrance that it was supposed to be.

Shiso Leaf and Lime. Source: Sweetfineday.com (Link to website embedded within photo.)

Shiso Leaf & Lime. Source: Sweetfineday.com (Website link embedded within photo.)

Once again, Fils de Dieu opens as a citrus scent with the brightest of green notes. There is shiso leaf with its lightly peppered, minty aroma, followed by lemon and bergamot – both as airy, fresh and bright as a blade of grass. A quiet sweetness soon infuses the notes, turning them into something warmer, richer, and less crisp. Hints of vetiver, still with a lemongrass nuance, creep in. So do the lightest hints of vanilla and ginger (something I never detected at all in my first test).

Coconut Lime Rice Custard. Source: medifoods.co.nz -

Coconut Lime Rice Custard. Source: medifoods.co.nz –

But then, it all changes, and far more quickly than it did the first time around. No less than twenty-five minutes into the perfume’s development, Fils de Dieu turns into a scent that is primarily sweet rice boiled in coconut cream and sprinkled by a light veil of jasmine! The bergamot, lime, and light green herbs are still there, but they are mere seasoning to accentuate the main dish.

Double boiled coconut cream dessert via womenworld.org.

Double boiled coconut cream dessert via womenworld.org.

The rice note is strong, sweet and lactonic, infused by coconut that feels, simultaneously, both like the light, delicate milk, and the richer, buttery cream. At the same time, there is a strong flutter of lemon-tinged coriander leaves at the back; the ginger feels slightly sweetened; and the vanilla takes on an eggy, custard richness that’s speckled with lime. Good heavens, what a sharp contrast! Fils de Dieu remains that way for hours and hours, fluctuating only in the degree of some of its notes, but never changing its primary essence. On occasion, cinnamon will make a small appearance, but that’s about the only difference.

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding Brulee via Becks & Posh blogspot. (Click on photo for the recipe and website link.)

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding Brulee via Becks & Posh blogspot. (Click on photo for the recipe and website link.)

Then, around the end of the fourth hour, there are changes. The rice note goes from milky sweet to something that is toasted and, again, strongly calls to mind Rice Krispies. It is covered with a light toffee and with a vanilla note that is still custardy but, now, it also has a powdery aspect to it. All the notes sit atop a base of plush amber that has been enriched by the warm, light, musky, velvety aspects of castoreum, along with cardamom and cinnamon. It’s all very muted, light, soft and very sheer — and quite a contrast to the rich, heavier, deeper base of Fils de Dieu during the cold temperature test.

Clearly, the humidity sucked all the richness out of the amber marrow because the drydown never reached the same depths with the heat. Starting in the sixth hour, the perfume feels more like simple, generic, uninteresting amber with some sweetness and musk. In its final moments during the second test, as in the first, Fils de Dieu was just sweet muskiness, and nothing more. Oddly enough, the heat seemed to extend the lifespan of the scent which lasted 11.25 hours on my skin, instead of 8.25. I can’t quite understand it because it seems like it should be the reverse, unless the heat just makes the musk bloom. As for the sillage, it was even softer than usual with the heat.


The differences in the test show something beyond just the impact of climate. They demonstrate just how well-blended the fragrance can be, throwing off different notes under different conditions. In all cases, however, the perfume didn’t feel wholly and completely gourmand in nature, despite the foodie resemblance to certain Asian dishes. The simple reason is that Fils de Dieu isn’t massively sweet; the citrus elements help ensure it never verges on the cloying and keep an element of freshness about the scent. And it really is a very fragrant one, in the best sense of the word.

Is Fils de Dieu revolutionary, edgy, and funky? Absolutely not! Is it cozy, comforting, incredibly easy to wear? Definitely. I don’t know how often one would normally want to smell like Fils de Dieu’s more rice-centered notes, but I think the perfume’s different personalities give one some options. Its more zesty, aromatic, citrus freshness in cold temperatures makes me think that those who want to avoid a “foodie” scent can use it in cooler weather, while those who enjoy the sweetly lactonic, rice and jasmine aspect can opt for the summer months to let it really bloom. 

There seems to be quite a bit of love for Fils de Dieu in the perfume community, but there are also plenty of people who don’t find it all that interesting. For example, Now Smell This was distinctly unimpressed, with Kevin writing:

Fils de Dieu opens with gingery lime, and “green” coriander and pungent shiso leaf. As the sprightly opening notes begin to disappear (and they disappear fast), the scent of “nutty” coconut makes a brief appearance and then…? Fils de Dieu begins to disappear. Was that IT?

Fils de Dieu is one of those scents that falters and then makes a comeback. After the opening fizzles, the comeback notes are mild jasmine, hazy vetiver, dry, tonka bean-scented rice (to my nose, this is more a toasted rice note, not steamed rice or rice pudding) and…leather (the most “background,” powdery, see-thru leather note you can imagine). Fils de Dieu’s rose note is very mild; it disappeared quickly on my skin, but I could detect it on my shirt for hours. Fils de Dieu’s base notes smell of shamefaced musk (certainly not the bold castoreum I was expecting) mingling with a light amber-y accord. […][¶]

Fils de Dieu is only semi-tropical and, for me, doesn’t conjure a houseboy, a sunny god, or the Philippines (or any Southeast Asian locale).  Fils de Dieu does remind me of old-style, lightly spiced white floral feminine French perfumes from long ago.

I wonder if he tried it with the air-conditioning on? Like him, I smelled nothing tropical in my first test either, though I did have that wonderful drydown with the chilly temperature which seems infinitely better than what he got. Oddly, CaFleureBon‘s experience seems to be a mixture of both of mine together:

The Asian vibe is accentuated right from the top notes of Fils de Dieu as a tart lime and smooth shiso leave no doubt about what part of the world your nose is located in. Ginger and coconut join in to add a tropical facet to the early going. The shiso and the coconut really are the stars in the top notes. M Schwieger chooses only one floral note for Fils de Dieu; jasmine. He surrounds the jasmine with a steamed rice accord and a spicy duo of cardamom and cinnamon. The rice accord is beautifully realized and M Schwieger uses it to add a palpable humidity to the heart of Fils de Dieu. The base notes are animalic but kept exquisitely balanced and well controlled. Leather, musk, and castoreum create a slightly sexual accord over a healthy foundation of vetiver and amber.

Over on Basenotes, the tropics and food also seem to be the main conclusions of the day — but few consider Fils de Dieu to be as nuanced or as good as CaFleureBon did. Most of the commentators talk about Thai food or curries, though one found Fils de Dieu to be primarily citruses and vanilla that turned a little coconut-y at the end to create an average, spicy oriental that, in his opinion, veered sharply from État Libre’s best. Food — and rice, in specific — are also the focus at Fragrantica where, unlike at Basenotes, the posters generally seem to adore Fils de Dieu. One commentator found the fragrance to be primarily jasmine and vanilla, but the majority experienced the full complement of notes, with a number talking about the rich, musky, amber drydown.

I don’t like very foodie scents and I cannot abide anything gourmand, but I would wear Fils de Dieu. Granted, not all that often, but it’s an easy, uncomplicated comfort scent in my opinion, and I enjoyed different parts of each of its split personalities. For me, the sweet, heady jasmine and the zesty, fresh citruses prevent the fragrance from verging too heavily into either problematic category. Once Fils de Dieu loses its purely shiso-lime-bergamot facade, the overall bouquet keeps you coming back for one more sniff. Plus, it’s thankfully not sweet enough to be a true dessert scent. And, it’s very affordable, too! That said, I would not recommend Fils de Dieu to someone who dislikes even minor foodie elements in their perfume, nor to someone looking for a highly complex, sophisticated scent. Also, I think that a man who doesn’t like sweeter floral fragrances may find Fils de Dieu to be a little feminine in nature, despite the citrus top notes. But if you’re looking for a casual, cozy, sunny fragrance, give Fils de Dieu a try. You just may want to turn decrease the air-conditioning when you do so….


Cost & Availability: Fils de Dieu, du Riz et Des Agrumes is an eau de parfum that is most commonly available in a 1.7 ml/50 ml size, but which can also be purchased directly from Etat Libre’s website in a large 3.4 oz/100 ml bottle as well. The prices listed there are in Euros: €69.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, and €119.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle. Samples are also available for €3.00. In the U.S.: Fils de Dieu can be purchased from LuckyScent for $80 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle, with samples for $3, and from MinNY. You can also purchase it from Parfum1 which offers free domestic shipping. (International shipping is available for a fee.) Outside the U.S.: You can purchase Fils de Dieu from Etat Libre’s new London store at 61 Redchurch Street, as well as from its Paris one located at 69, rue des Archives, 75003. Elsewhere in the UK, I found Fils de Dieu on the NkdMan site for £52.50 for the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle and with free UK delivery. It is also sold at London’s Les Senteurs for £59.50, with samples also available for purchase. In Germany, Fils de Dieu is available at First in Fragrance in the small size for €69. The site ships worldwide. In the Netherlands, I found it at ParfuMaria in the large 100 ml size for €119. In Hungary, I found it at Neroli Parfums, while in Italy, it’s available at ScentBar and in Spain, it’s sold at The Cosmeticoh. In Russia, I think it’s sold at iPerfume, but I can’t read Cyrillic to see if it’s available for online purchase. For all other locations or vendors from Canada to the Netherlands and Moscow, you can use the Store Locator listing on the company’s website. Samples: you can order a sample of Fils de Dieu from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.75 for a 1 ml vial.