Perfumed Letters

Reading the scent trail of fragrance and words

Divine Essence of Baudelaire: "Une Charogne" by Etat libre l’Orange

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Each Etat Libre d’Orange fragrance comprises a name, a concept, a drawing, a narrative, a scent, and a cultural reference. If the word Charogne [carrion] does not inspire trepidation, then the association with Baudelaire’s poem “Une Charogne” will give most scent samplers pause. In Baudelaire’s 12-stanza memento mori, the poet recalls a warm summer day when he and his lover came upon a creature rotting in the afternoon sun. The poet points out that one day his lover will be just like that carcass, devoured and decomposed by the kisses of vermin; yet her divine essence will live on in the poet’s immortal compositions.

The sample package of Charogne features a rose sketched in black and white with a drop of red blood at the center: perhaps a nod to Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, or to the theme of death, beauty and the printed page.

But on to the fragrance.

Does ELd’O’s Charogne smell like the putrid carcass described in the poem? Not at all. It is, like Baudelaire’s verse, oddly seductive. Bergamot and ylang ylang provide an almost too sweet initial impression, soon tamed by the softest leather. Vanilla and incense emerge over ambrette and undefined “animalc notes.” These are not the heavy doses civet or castoreum I would have expected. There is an undeniable warmth to the base, but it has the strange yet familiar indolic freshness of jasmine. The overall effect is that of layered fragility and earth. Like all of the ELd’O fragrances I’ve sampled, Charogne lasts a long time, without loud sillage.

I leave it to you to enjoy the little narrative in the sample package and on the web site. To me it reads as a metaphor of the scent’s development over time on the wearer. I am nearly convinced by the last line: “How could one do without it?” But the scent in itself, without all of the words and images it evokes, would be pretty. Not striking. That’s right, the “divine essence” that makes this fragrance transcendent depends upon the art of language.

Despite the beauty of the scent, I shudder when I think of the name, and in this way, too, Charogne echos “Une Charogne.”

For a truly delicious and decadent experience, read the poem as you inhale the scent from your skin, or from the skin of another. You will be transported.

March 2009

Photo by Cheryl Quimby

I have fond memories of visiting the shop on rue des Archives, chatting with Etienne de Swardt about Baudelaire and Tom of Finland. Etienne confirmed the Baudelaire connection, and I think he liked my memento mori take on his perfume.

The conversation took place over coffee and over a coffee table loaded with fragrance blends and materials. I was able to sample the newest releases, as well as chunk of recently acquired ambergris, and some breathtakingly gorgeous  benzoin.


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