If you asked me to create a "mood board" for a dream fragrance, it would probably include images of red roses, burning palo santo and beautiful, mysterious screen sirens. I'd annoyingly mention "old Hollywood glamour" and "sexy intensity" (not sure what kind of image that would conjure, but I digress).
What I likely wouldn't mention is the over-the-top bit of prose Etat Libre D'Orange uses in the description of what is currently my favourite scent, their Tom Of Finland Eau De Parfum.
The water slips over him as if sliding down a marble rock, sinking into the grooves of his muscles, vanishing into his pores. This is fresh, pure water, with top notes of aldehydes and lemon, a water that washes away the sins of the night and leaves the skin luminous. Tom of Finland feels clean, like a shaving from a cake of soap. It is an ode to the beauty of the male body and to the radiance of the natural self. For this man, clothing becomes a jewel-case that serves to reveal the true erotic power of the flesh. Tom of Finland is a breath of fresh air, offering unrestricted access to the immense outdoors, the depths of the forest, with notes of birch leaves, cypress, galbanum and pine at its heart. Straight, gay… These words are irrelevant here. Tom of Finland is beyond sexuality — he is sex, in all its fullness and magnitude, open and erect. Fantasy clings to him like his leather jacket, with suede, musk, and ambergray in the base notes. His belt is fastened with an accord of pepper and spicy-fresh saffron, tangled with a blond suede sensuality on a vanilla bed of tonka bean and iris. This is a man who wants to play, to love, to die and be reborn, again and again. Tom of Finland is a tribute to tomorrow’s glorious possibilities.
Well, OK. Wow.
So, let's get right to it: Tom of Finland was created by Etat in collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation (vaguely NSFW link, by the way), which carries on the legacy of Touko Laaksonen, a late Finnish artist who more famously went by his pseudonym which was, you guessed it, "Tom of Finland." Touko (or rather, Tom) is best known for his super-stylized and sometimes surrealistic homoerotic fetish art. His work frequently depicts uber-masculine men in various states of undress looking muscular, sweaty and turned on.
While this might not initially leap into one's mind as being fragrance inspiring, it's important to keep in mind that Etat Libre D'Orange have always had a flair for the subversive.
Over the year's they've toed the line between cheeky and offensive and absurd, with fragrance names like Putain Des Palaces (loosely translated: "hotel whore" — though it smells amazing and is another absolute favourite of mine) and Delicious Closet Queen and a perfume inspired by (sure, why not) bodily fluids, so it's no surprise they would attempt to create a scent inspired by mildly pornographic gay illustrations, packaged complete with a fold-out erotic poster and a warning on the box not to sell to anyone under 21.
I think the biggest surprise though is how well this scent works with my body's chemistry. Initially, when we started carrying the fragrance at the boutique where I work, I wrote it off as a men's scent — a spritz for and only for capital-D Dudes. I'd read the description online and was put off by the mentions of pine and vetiver (a note I'm finding myself disliking more and more as time goes on). I regularly misted myself with the other girlier scents in the line — Jasmin et Cigarette, and the aforementioned Putain — and ignored poor Tom altogether, simply because the combination of the name, the notes, and the history of the Tom of Finland brand all screamed to me "manly!" and "masculine!" And those are things I don't usually go for in my day-t0-day beauty routine.
But one day, while updating the shop's online store and adding the Etat line to our stock, I found myself entering the Tom of Finland EdP notes into its description. Yes, there's the pine, the vetiver, the outdoorsy aldehydes; but what caught my eye was the mention of tonka bean and vanilla, of iris and suede, musk and ambergris.
Wait, I thought to myself, that sounds amazing.
I grabbed the bottle and spritzed myself and immediately fell in love. Holy hell, my brain screamed, I SMELL SO GOOD.
The vanilla and tonka bean offer up something sweet and warmly flirtatious while the lemon and iris cut through to keep it from being cloying; and the vetiver, aldehyde and pine offer a freshness that feels like deeply inhaling on a dreamy seaside hike in my home province of Nova Scotia. And that delicious musky, suede-y, leathery dry-down? Oh, don't get me started.
Once I took that whiff, I got it. I got Tom of Finland. It occurred to me that this fragrance wasn't about over-the-top masculinity at all, but rather about pure unadulterated human sexuality itself. It's about confidence, and fun, and being your unique, babely self. It's about meeting someone for the first time and leaning in and inhaling their scent, and about wanting someone to do the same and tell you just how incredible you smell. It's about falling in love and sharing your perfume collection with your partner, whoever they may be.
As Etat's description of the perfume says, "Straight, gay… These words are irrelevant here." And it's true: labels are just as irrelevant in beauty as they are in life. If you wanna wear a dude's scent, go for it. If you wanna wear a heavy winter frag on a sweaty summer night, more power to you.
I'm happy to have Tom on my vanity, and it's time we all take a cue from Etat Libre D'Orange and mix things up, be cheeky, and make ourselves smell and look as sexy as humanly possible, dammit.
- Are there any beauty labels or rules you refuse to obey?
- Which "men's" fragrances can you not tear yourself away from?