Etat Libre d’Orange Dangerous Complicity ~ fragrance review

Dior Lanvin Balmain

Poor Etat Libre d’Orange Dangerous Complicity has had a bit of a bum rap. It was launched at the same time as the fabulous The Afternoon of a Faun, which probably stole a bit of its thunder. Plus, Dangerous Complicity’s PR pap didn’t do it much of a favor by leaning heavily on unisex sensuality, inscrutable references to the Garden of Eden, a billing as a skin scent. As a result, the fragrance seems to have sunk into a hole.

To me, Dangerous Complicity is none of that. Instead, it’s an ultra-girly, elegant fragrance that broadcasts champagne, silk charmeuse and wrist corsages. But, when it wears down, it throws off all its retro associations for a comforting — or boring, depending on where you’re coming from — dry down of amber, cashmeran and wood.

Dangerous Complicity was released in 2012 and was developed by perfumer Violaine Collas. Its notes include rum, ginger, bay essence, coconut, calamus, osmanthus, jasmine, ylang ylang, lorenox, patchouli, leather accord, sandalwood and cashmere woods.

This afternoon I had the happy concurrence of wearing Dangerous Complicity while reading The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947–57, a catalog published to accompany a 2007 fashion exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Flipping through its pages, my sample tube of Dangerous Complicity’s heady mix of osmanthus and jasmine perfectly complemented the catalog’s dreamy photographs of dresses comprised of yards of frothy fabric, shaped to exaggerate the feminine figure. The models look remote and point their Roman noses in the air. The dresses, though, blend curvaceous luxury with pure pulchritude. (The Dior Bar suit, shown above left, supposedly packed eight pounds in its skirt alone!)

Those days, women didn’t have immense wardrobes. Dresses were carefully chosen to last at least a few years. A 1947 Home Economics textbook, Clothes for You,1 carefully documents the average “Junior Miss, Western Style” wardrobe. It was sparse and meant to wear like iron. The “best dress” entry says, “Cost, $3.95. Jumper of bright red luana cloth. Blue braid trim. Can be dressed up with best blouse or down with striped blouse. All season, all occasion.” I imagine it accompanied by a dabbing of Coty Muguet des Bois. But think of a post-war Colorado housewife contemplating the I. Magnin copy of a Dior gown. Wow! A perfume radiant and complex would need to accompany it. Dangerous Complicity might stand in — at least for an hour or so.

Dangerous Complicity starts with a shimmer of jasmine and osmanthus that weakens the knees. For those not familiar with osmanthus, it mimics jasmine’s high-pitched buzz, but adds a smear of apricot jam and suede, taking it down the octave a few notes. In Dangerous Complicity, underlying this dreamy tingle are amber and sandalwood, but not much more that stands out. It's uniform, seductive fragrance meant to be dabbed between breasts. 

But as Dangerous Complicity ages, it flattens to a ho-hum blend of the “cashmere woods” and amber that puff from a dozen supermarket air fresheners. Too bad. Where at first I was ready to buy a bottle, now I suspect a Bath & Body Works lotion might fill in. Unless, that is, I were willing to spray Dangerous Complicity over and over to smell its magical beginning. (If it were in my budget, I just might.)

Dangerous Complicity  reminds me that a truly beautiful fragrance balances beauty and complexity and a grain of ugliness that keep the nose engaged. Instead, Dangerous Complicity is like a pretty wallpaper that captures your attention initially for its melodious composition, but ends up becoming just that — wallpaper. It could have picked up a lesson from Christian Dior in the days of the V&A catalog I perused early today, the days when it launched Miss Dior. Dazzle, but never pander. You might not astonish the crowds, but those who love you will love you for generations.

Etat Libre d'Orange Dangerous Complicity

Etat Libre d’Orange Dangerous Complicity Eau de Parfum is $149 for 100 ml. For information on where to buy it, see Etat Libre d’Orange under Perfume Houses.

1. Mildred Graves Ryan and Velma Phillips, Clothes for You, pps. 308-39 (Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. New York, New York, 1947).

Note: top image shows fashion by Dior, Lanvin and Balmain, all via Pinterest.

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  1. teri says:

    I had much the same reaction you did. At first, my reaction was “Wow, this is sexy”, but an hour later I’d forgotten I had it on. What a shame, really, because that opening is just stunning.

    • Angela says:

      Agreed. If only there were some way to segue the fragrance’s first half into something interesting that “talked” to the beginning.

  2. Dilana says:

    I saw the Charles James exhibit at the Met. James claims that Dior copied the new look from James’ ultra-shaped ball gowns.
    The Met contained a room of famous fabulous ball gowns, mostly from the post-war era. My first impression was, gosh they were beautiful. Then I watched the video’s of the underlying structure, including in one case a set of mechanical ribs, borrowed from collapsing umbrella technology to achieve that wasp-wasted, wide skirt look. At that point I thought, who’d want to wear them, and how do you manage in those things? Presumably a mother or husband plus a maid helped get the darned things on since they looked physically impossible to put on oneself, but how does one go the bathroom. (I was actually more impressed by the separate collection of James’ “everyday” clothes).

    So to my mind, there is a bit of a dangerous complicity in that couture look. Yes, the exaggerated “feminine” look is gorgeous, but there’s a dangerous cost in terms of lost mobility and self-sufficiency.

    Aerin, as a sponsor of the exhibit, got to sell one of its fragrances in the gift shop, but it did not look very interesting. Perhaps Dangerous Complicity would have been a more appropriate choice in style for the ball gown room (but not museum marketing and finance, which seems to be the whole point of the fashion exhibits).
    And of course L’Apres Ondee would be a must have for any woman who had an umbrella tucked within the folds of her skirt.

    • annemarie says:

      That’s fascinating. I read a review of that exhibition and James sounds really interesting. The ‘new look’, whoever was responsible for it, needed some serious corsetry and it was a throw back to fashion of the pre-First World War era that Coco Chanel had helped bring to an end. No wonder she was so cross about it! Still, fashion is about dreams more than reality, and how can you blame women for swooning over those glamorous dresses after all the hard years of war?

      • Angela says:

        I’m so jealous Dilana saw the Charles James exhibit!

        I completely understand why luxury and over-the-top fashions were embraced–and even seen as morally reprehensible by some–after the war.

    • Angela says:

      I love how you linked the idea of “dangerous complicity” with the gowns! I can’t even imagine wearing such severe underpinnings, as gorgeous as the dresses are. In reality, probably few people wore more than the standard girdle, etc., anyway, since so few of the couture dresses were sold–or, at least, that’s my understanding. I have a Dior book (also from the V&A) that lists all the Dior Bar suits (for example) sold from 1947, and only 21 were sold–14 to private clients, and 7 to professional buyers (who would reproduce them for the mass audience).

  3. scentfromabove says:

    I loved the fashion back then. Women back then seemed so elegant and refined. It even seems like the fragrances were very refined back then.

    • annemarie says:

      And yet the perfume and clothes we are talking about were accessible only to fairly well off women. And however elegant they may seem, they lived with greater restrictions than us. I would not swap the university education my parents were able to give me for any dress Dior ever produced! I guess the great thing about perfume is that it allows us to borrow a bit of glamour while still living in our own times. :)

      • Angela says:

        Yes yes yes on the perfume!

    • Angela says:

      I loved it, too. I could look at photos all day. To be able to examine one of the dresses, inside and out, in the flesh would be a dream.

  4. annemarie says:

    Sounds like I can avoid Dangerous Complicity then. Thinking of the 1950s, Baghari has the most beautiful opening, AND does follow through with a dreamy creamy base. But much as I love it, I often feel that the companion accessory for Baghari ought to be a fur stole. It takes some fashion confidence to wear Baghari with jeans! Lately I’ve discovered Piguet’s Calypso, and find it just as lovely, and just intriguing in a retro sense, but more wearable.

    • Angela says:

      Baghari is a great example of beauty and elegance that pays off all the way through.

  5. AnnieA says:

    Dear Etat Libre d’Orange,

    Please don’t hire teenage boys for your marketing team anymore.


    A Grown-up Perfume Buyer

    • Angela says:

      I was thinking the PR stuff was written by some kind of random hype-generating machine! It doesn’t have much to do with the fragrance, at least.

  6. nozknoz says:

    Fascinating review and comments! It’s great the V&A keeps all that information yet – really need to devote some time to their website.

    Off to spray on some of the real thing: Miss Dior. ;-)

    • Angela says:

      The little bit of time I’ve spent digging around on their website makes me long to visit the museum. For now, I’ll have to be satisfied with their books!

      I’ll join you in a spritz of Miss Dior…

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