Lately, I’ve been really enjoying Etat Libre d’Orange’s Like This, the scent created by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui in collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton, in 2010. It must still sell well, as it still has its own page on the ELDO website. It isn’t necessarily a fragrance I would have associated with Ms. Swinton, a brilliant actress who is known for playing eccentric, complicated characters and for her striking, almost androgynous looks. ELDO’s website calls it ” cozy, skin-hugging sweetness nestled with soft florals and unique, orange citrus notes.” Here is the longer description from ELDO, which sound as if it was written by Tilda:
I have never been a one for scents in bottles.
The great Sufi poet Rumi wrote:
“If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is, or what “God’s fragrance” means, lean your head toward him or her. Keep your face there close.
This is possibly my favorite poem of all time. It restores me like the smoke/rain/gingerbread/greenhouse my scent sense is fed by. It is a poem about simplicity, about human-scaled miracles. About trust. About home. In my fantasy there is a lost chapter of Alice in Wonderland – after the drink saying Drink Me, after the cake pleading Eat Me – where the adventuring, alien Alice, way down the rabbit hole, far from the familiar and maybe somewhat homesick – comes upon a modest glass with a ginger stem reaching down into a pale golden scent that humbly suggests: Like This…
Smoke/rain/gingerbread/greenhouse. Yes, Like This evokes all of those. The listed notes are ginger, pumpkin, tangerine, immortal flower, Moroccan neroli, rose, spicy notes, vetiver, woody notes, musk, heliotrope. When I first spray it, the opening is pleasantly tangy with ginger and tangerine — lightly spicy and citrusy, not sweet. If this ginger is gingerbread, it is not the sugary kind — it’s more like a ginger snap (one of my favorite cookies). The combination of tangerine notes and neroli reminds me of a very particular kind of greenhouse: an orangery, a glass enclosure where Europeans in cooler climates could grow trees in huge pots, that produced prized citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. At “Now Smell This“, reviewer Angela wrote:
I imagine Bijaoui looking at the Etat Libre brief, trying to come up with some common theme between the redheaded Swinton and Rumi and hitting on Orange. Orange hair, the orange of the sun, saffron monastic robes, fading day. Then, with this visual inspiration she found a way to connect orange scents: pumpkin, neroli, mandarin, immortelle, and ginger. The crazy thing is, it works.
I’ve read elsewhere that Ms. Swinton had just dyed her hair orange for her role in the movie “I Am Love” when the fragrance collaboration began, and may have actually requested the references to orange. How fascinating the creative process is! Like This is warm and beautiful, like the image of Swinton’s character in that movie, Emma, the midlife spouse of a rich Italian aristocrat, who falls in love with a much younger man.
Tilda Swinton in “I Am Love”, 2010.
Given the powerful roles Ms. Swinton has played in the movies about Narnia and the Avengers, coziness, warmth, and home might not come immediately to mind in relation to her, but a cozy scent is what she asked ELDO to create:
My favourite smells are the smells of home, the experience of the reliable recognisable after the exotic adventure: the regular – natural – turn of the seasons, simplicity and softness after the duck and dive of definition in the wide, wide world.
When Mathilde Bijaoui first asked me what my own favourite scent in a bottle might contain, I described a magic potion that I could carry with me wherever I went that would hold for me the fragrance – the spirit – of home. The warm ginger of new baking on a wood table, the immortelle of a fresh spring afternoon, the lazy sunshine of my grandfather’s summer greenhouse, woodsmoke and the whisky peat of the Scottish Highlands after rain.
The floral notes take over from the citrus, but the ginger continues like a glowing thread through the composition, and the floral notes are well-balanced with spices, woody notes, vetiver, all of which keep the fragrance dry and vivid. This would smell lovely on either men or women, it is truly unisex.
Kafkaesque reviewed Like This when it was released and concluded it is “definitely intriguing and it also really grows on you!”, although she didn’t see herself buying a full bottle. Her review includes more details about the creative process behind the fragrance. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” gave it four stars out of five; she found it darker and smokier than I do, calling it “a strange and unconventional blend … a cross between the woody richness of Serge Lutens Douce Amère and the smoldering darkness of Donna Karan Chaos, with plenty of its own surprising elements.”
I agree with Kafkaesque that Like This is intriguing and that it grows on you. I hadn’t really planned to wear it three days in a row this week, but I did, and I enjoyed it every time. It lasts well on my skin, enough that I can spray it on in the evening and still smell its warm base notes on my wrist the next morning. It is the kind of fragrance that other people won’t recognize but most will find very pleasing, especially up close.
Have you been pleasantly surprised by a fragrance that wasn’t what you expected in one way or another?