Etat Libre d’Orange Secretions Magnifique

Posted: Nov 21 2015

Let’s talk about art.

There is some art that is made to be beautiful, to inspire tears and rapture and joy in those who encounter it. Great works like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Mona Lisa, Mount Rushmore. There is also art meant to convey the sadness perceived by the artist. Or art created to capture reflection or pain or anger or revolution.

There is also art intended to shock, to disgust. Secretions Magnifique is this kind of art.

It smells of blood and semen and musk and all manner of bizarre things. And coconut milk. It smells like coconut milk. Most importantly, it is a perfume composed to disturb and unsettle and repulse, a task at which it is spectacularly successful. It makes heavy use of a forgotten, bizarre material created by what was then the British chemical manufacturer Quest International (and is now the Swiss firm Symrise) called Marenil, which smells oily, metallic, and utterly and completely unnatural. Marenil is one of those freakish accidents of chemistry for which it took perfumers 25 years to find a use.

If one can remove the association with bodily fluids from actually smelling the stuff, you’ll find that, in some respects, it resembles the so-called “fresh florals” that have arisen in recent years. It opens with woody, almost silvery notes with undertones of coconut and a character very similar to the lost nitro-musks of old (now banned due to their carcinogenic properties). It develops a peculiarly milky, lactonic quality undercut with the strange, metallic cast imparted by the Marenil, then dries down into seaweed and sandalwood.

Luca Turin, when discussing Secretions Magnifique, refers to a “stupendous bilge note.” He claims that this is the result of the inclusion of one of the materials known to perfumers and chemists as “nitriles:” freakish, horrible things that smell of rot and decay and burning chemicals. The entire composition is unforgivingly bizarre and, for most, completely unwearable. Sadly, I belong to this group and cannot wear the perfume without it becoming patently vile and putrid. I keep a vial of it anyway as a testament to the remarkable artistry behind it. Weird though it is, there is genius and one hell of a lot of bravura in building something so certain to to disgust most of the people who smell it. For this reason alone, I consider it a masterpiece.

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