Introduction: by Peter Marshall
Welcome to 2023 and to our first blog of the year. And it’s very different. I had the pleasure of meeting with Etienne in Paris late last year. A self-styled trouble maker and perfumer, he is quite an extraordinary character. Philosopher, poet, business radical, his unconventional approach to the business of perfume is very different from every other player and that has clearly helped generate the success of the brand. It’s a great interview.
Peter Marshall (PM): Etienne, I believe you like to consider yourself something of a revolutionary when it comes to the perfume business. Can we start by you telling us a bit about yourself and how you entered the business?
Etienne de Swardt (EDS): Well, I was born in South Africa, where it all began. Then, more childhood, friendships and the sea on an island paradise – New Caledonia. After that, a new world to conquer – Paris.
After studying at one of the most prestigious business schools, Institut ESSEC, I went on to pay my dues at LVMH, Givenchy more precisely.
A few years later, I took my first independent steps and made some noise with Oh My Dog! and Oh My Cat!, luxury fragrances for pets. Having established myself with animals, it was just a hop, skip, jump and a massive leap of faith to an act of sedition: the creation of Etat Libre d’Orange. It takes a dangerous man to make a dangerous perfume.
Then, I was joined by my two partners, first Olivier Mariotti as the General Manager in 2011, who will answer some of your operational questions, and Eric Cardenoso as Chief Operation Officer in 2014.
PM: So what are the origins of the name: Etat Libre D’Orange? What exactly makes your brand philosophy and approach so radical?
EDS: In South Africa, Etat Libre d’Orange, the Orange Free State, was an autonomous sovereign republic which declared independence from British rule in 1854. The name was derived from the royal family of the Netherlands, the homeland of the region’s pioneers. It was a land of staggeringly rough beauty and colour and unforgettable smells, a nation of contrasts, strong feelings, and mixed emotions. The rainbow mosaic of people and cultures gave it an unpredictable, sometimes savage nature. And it was independent — unrestrained, unrestricted.
Unity, beauty, conflict — and freedom, the hallmarks of our company.
The Orange Free State ended in 1902. But its attitude still lives on at Etat Libre d’Orange. As a company, we like to be on the borders, being at the crossroad, a perfume house with imagination.
PM: OK, please walk us through your portfolio. How do you differentiate your products from others in the marketplace? Other than the somewhat radical naming which help makes the brand so unique.
EDS: Etat Libre d’Orange is a different kind of perfumery — intelligent, with a point of view. I would say we are different from the others thanks to our philosophy, our olfactive signature but also thanks to our packaging signature.
We often use irony to hone the names of our scents. We are a spirited perfumery that shakes up prejudices and stirs up ambiguities. A perfumery that plays with ideas and reinvents the pleasures to be found in the sense of smell, through sublime, delicately composed juices. These are juices composed from first-rate, living matter that fuse with the skin so they can only belong to the person who wears them. Our fragrances are designed without constraint or compromise, but to disturb, to touch, to tempt, to thrill. To seduce.