The House

Icons & experts

Etienne de Swardt

Controversial and groundbreaking in his ideas and execution, South African born Etienne de Swardt, creator of the exceptional and unique niche perfumery brand, Etat Libre d’Orange, gives us an insight into his life and loves.
Spending most of his youth in the idyllic archipelago of New Caledonia in the South Pacific before moving to Paris in the early nineties, a chance encounter with the artistic director at Guerlain set him on the path to perfumery. Ultimately leading to the creation of brand that threw out the perfumery rule book for the better, we’re glad he didn’t become the maths teacher he thought he would.

What led you to establish a career in perfumery? Have you always had an interest in this field?

I love to say that a beginning is very delicate; I was supposed to become "a constant gardener" meaning a neurotic not so good mathematics teacher, but I met one or two guys including Olivier Echaudemaison in the early 90s, Olivier was the artistic director at Guerlain and he gave me the chance of an internship at LVMH Parfums Givenchy. I was initiated into the art of scent by Françoise Donche at Parfums Givenchy. I fell in love with raw ingredients and the words promoting the beauty of a formulation. I discovered myself a nice blend of scent and semiology. Lost in translation made me somehow!

What is your oldest olfactory memory?

Givenchy Gentleman by Givenchy & Jicky by Guerlain are the best of my 1970s. They are not only my "Madeleine de Proust" but they stay forever "la Possibilité d'une ile" as they take me back in time to New Caledonia and its peaceful south Pacific.

"If I didn’t go into perfumery, Math teacher and/or alcoholic poet would have been my fate, but not excluding cruising in a park, dog sitting, soaring pilot...."

How did Etat Libre d’Orange come into being?

Existentialism, sincerity, fun... partially conceived as the last joyful remaining consumerist shield against our lot in life. It's fun anti-dogmatic except on the juice quality where we love cost indecency versus the usual standards of fine fragrance industry.

What is the ethos of your brand, Etat Libre d’Orange?

Never suspected, no bankruptcy, no long term vision and emotion reigns supreme. And a delicate touch of confusion and nonsense...
ELO is famous for its cheeky, sometimes risqué names. What is your creative process when working with your perfumers? Does the idea and name come first or the scent?
Poetry over formulation could quite often be our motto. We prefer John Keats and Lord Byron before tedious chemists or money driven marketers.

What’s your favourite fragrance and why?

The Afternoon of a Faun as it is salty like tears in rain. It's a perfume dedicated to our beloved dead poet society, living legends, rockers before their time... all gone with the wind.

What is your personal favourite fragrance family?

Leather as I take pleasure from the flesh!


If you didn’t go into perfumery, what career would you have gone into instead?

Math teacher and/or alcoholic poet would have been my fate, but not excluding cruising in park, dog sitting, soaring pilot....

What are your top tips for selecting the right perfume for ourselves?

Only love counts!

What’s your favourite dish and drink?

Beer, but just the first one and avocado.

What’s your favourite restaurant or bar and what makes it special?

L'Orangerie du Château at Blois in the Loire Valley. Nice place, nice food, no ego bigger than balls.

What type of music do you like and do you have a favourite artist/band?

Peter Gabriel, Ben Harper.

What type of films or books do you like and do you have a favourite?

Recently, Tree of Life was my best film.

Michel Houellebecq is the best living writer ever on "La Carte et le Territoire".

What’s your favourite shop?

Wine farms near Stellenbosh and Frankshoek

What was your most extravagant purchase?

A soaring glider.

Whose style do you admire the most?

The naked cowboy on Time Square.

Tell us about your favourite places in the world or the best holiday you had?

Gliding above the Loire Valley. No fuel burning, no pollution, just valuable silence and no showtime. Back to humble respectful attitudes and limited spending - very affordable for all since you dedicate just time.

Do you think anything from your childhood or family influence had any bearing on your chosen career?

In French we love to say "tout le monde n'a pas la chance d'être orphelin".
[Not everyone has the good fortune of being orphaned]

If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would have stayed forever in New Caledonia.

How do you like to spend your spare time (if you have any)?


Who do you admire?

My brother is a cardiologist fully involved in a public hospital; not money driven just pure and clean, I love him. I respect those who save people through time dedication and knowledge.

What one thing would you ban from the world if you could?

Death and Coca Cola light.

Are there any rules/motto that you like to live your life by or that make you smile?

"Droit dans le mur and happy".
[Straight into the wall and happy.]