Tagged With ‘Hermès’
11 November, 2016
In spring 2016, after ten years as Hermès’ in-house ‘nose’, Jean-Claude Ellena handed over the (no doubt luxuriously designed) reins to the Swiss-Italian perfumer Christine Nagel. Hermès celebrated the handover with two new additions to its Colognes range, one by Ellena and the other by Nagel – her first perfume for the brand.
Ellena’s Eau de Néroli Doré is a fittingly sumptuous sign-off from this much-lauded perfumer, using high concentrations of neroli oil, extracted from the flowers of the Seville orange tree. It’s as refined and elegant as the man himself, and like most of his fragrances it also contains an ingredient more often associated with food. In this case it’s saffron, which (to my nose at least) seems to give the perfume an added touch of smoothness and sheen.
Christine Nagel’s Eau de Rhubarbe Eclarate, by contrast, is an exercise in sheer vivacity and ebullience, using the smell of freshly-cut rhubarb and extending its longevity with the soft, refined scent of modern synthetic musks. It’s fruity and sweet and instantly appealing, more emotional than intellectual, but certainly great fun. With its ruby-red bottle it’s a real pick-me-up at the start of the day; save the golden Eau de Neroli Doré for later.
29 November, 2015
Equipage is such a classic perfume that it’s tempting to ask why anyone would mess with it, but that’s a bit like wondering why anyone would want to reinterpret the Beatles’ original version of Yesterday.
Created by the perfumer Guy Robert and launched in 1970, Equipage was the first Hermès perfume to be designed specifically for men, and Robert composed a rich, subtly spicy scent which includes – among many other things – bergamot orange, jasmine, lily of the valley and clove-scented carnations.
Forty-five years on, the company’s in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, has revisited three of its classics, in each case pairing them with a new ingredient. First came Bel Ami Vétiver, followed by Rose Amazone, and now we have his updated version of Equipage – Equipage Géranium.
If Ellena’s attempt to give Equipage a modern twist isn’t (to my nose at least) entirely successful, his choice of geranium (or pelargonium, to be botanically correct) as a new ingredient is a typically clever and imaginative one. Though the leaves of different species of pelargonium smell of everything from lemon to cinnamon, most of the so-called geranium oil used in perfumery comes from a single South African species, Pelargonium graveolens. As with all natural ingredients, geranium oil comes in a range of different grades, but they generally share a fresh, slightly sharp smell that’s usually described as both fruity and minty, often with a hint of rose.
I’m guessing that it was the fresh, minty element of geranium oil that appealed to Jean-Claude Ellena, and Equipage Géranium does smell a tiny bit fresher and sharper than the original Equipage – but it’s a subtle twist rather than a radical reinvention. I’m not sure it’s sufficiently different to make it worth choosing over the original, but unlike many of Ellena’s perfumes, which are always refined but sometimes stripped down until they’re slightly colourless, Equipage Géranium retains all the richness and complexity of its inspiration. Given the crude simplicity of so many modern scents, that’s a quality to be celebrated.
Acqua di Parma
14 July, 2015
Before I start, I have to admit that the Acqua di Parma colognes have never really floated my boat, but very kindly the company have sent me some samples to try, and as it’s one of the most popular men’s fragrances I wanted to explore why that might be.
There are lots of things to like about Acqua di Parma Colonia. Its packaging, for starters, is wonderfully elegant: a golden-yellow, linen-textured cardboard tube, which splits exactly in half to reveal the bottle tightly nestled inside.
The bottle itself is a beautifully judged design, in plain glass with gently flared shoulders and a chunky black cap to match. And the typography is lovely: effortlessly stylish, with something of the 1920s about it. The whole package is an object lesson in how to make a product that says ‘classic’ and ‘quality’.
So what about the scent inside? Again, it’s classic and simple – perhaps a little too simple for me. The original Colonia was launched in 1916, and I’m presuming it was always a fresh, citrussy eau-de-cologne, though like pretty much every long-lived fragrance on the market it will almost certainly have been reformulated over the years.
That’s not always a bad thing, and today’s version may well smell more sophisticated than the original; Agua de Colonia by the Spanish brand Alvarez Gomez, for example, may conceivably have been less tinkered with, but by comparison it smells quite crude and harsh.
Not that Colonia has a particularly complex character: it’s intensely lemony when first you spray it on, but as the sharpness of the lemon fades into the background you get the clean, herbal smells of rosemary and lavender. So far so classic eau-de-cologne, but what makes Colonia different is the fact that it’s also blended with rose, which adds an unobtrusively feminine touch – a bit like the artificial jasmine scent at the centre of Eau Sauvage, though not nearly as striking in its effect.
The rose (I think) also makes Colonia smell rather talcum-powderish, which is pleasant enough but comes across as somehow rather old-ladyish – I guess because we associate powdery perfumes with an older generation. It certainly smells clean and fresh, in a soapy kind of way, and perhaps that explains its popularity among men for whom smelling clean and fresh is the main (and often only) purpose of perfume.
Personally I want to smell a bit more interesting than fresh laundry, and my other problem with Colonia is that it doesn’t last: within an hour or two I can hardly smell it on my skin. Again, that may be part of its appeal for men who are a bit nervous about wearing scent of any kind, so horses for courses, I suppose.
After its glory days in the 1920s, the Acqua di Parma company limped along until 1993, when it was bought by three rich Italian businessmen whose money came from Ferrari cars, Tod’s shoes and La Perla underwear. They launched scented candles and the like, but it wasn’t until after the luxury conglomerate LVMH took a stake in 2001 that the Colonia range was extended.
First came Colonia Assoluta in 2003, followed by Intensa in 2007, Essenza in 2010 and Intensa Oud in 2012. I have all of these versions apart from Intensa Oud, and I have to admit that, though I thought I had a fairly sensitive sense of smell, the differences between them are so subtle that I find them almost impossible to tell apart.
Colonia Assoluta was formulated by two of the best-known perfumers around today: Jean-Claude Ellena (creator of Vétiver Tonka, among others) and Bertrand Duchaufour (creator of many unusual fragrances, especially for L’Artisan Parfumeur), which is a bit like getting Debussy and Ravel to compose a duet. The results should be extraordinary, but these two great talents seem to have cancelled each other out: Colonia Assoluta is discreet to the point of invisibility, like a plain grey Hermès jumper.
What Duchaufour and Ellena seem to have done is shuffled a few of the ingredients of the original Colonia about a bit – changing the lavender for jasmine, for example – but it’s all so carefully balanced that the overall effect is almost identical, though you can smell a faint difference after an hour or two. Their work is certainly very subtle and clever, like Gus Van Sant’s frame-by-frame remake of Psycho, but you could argue that it’s equally pointless.
The same conjuring trick, if it’s fair to call it a trick, seems to have been achieved with the Essenza and Intensa versions: in each of them the ingredients are slightly different, but their smell is even less varied than their packaging (Essenza comes in a black tube, but is otherwise, ahem, a carbon copy).
Brilliant or bonkers? Delicious discreet or disappointingly dull? I’ll have to let you compare them for yourself. Maybe my nose isn’t as super-sensitive as it should be, but I’d be interested to hear what other people think. All the same, thank you to Acqua di Parma for letting me give them a try: they certainly look very handsome on my perfume shelf.
9 May, 2015
I wouldn’t normally suggest starting your day with a gin and tonic, but that’s exactly what the ‘pure perfume’ version of Voyage d’Hermès smells like when first you spray it on. It’s not really gin and tonic, of course, but it does share two important ingredients: alcohol (which doesn’t in itself smell of anything) and juniper, which adds its bracing, slightly bitter fragrance to both gin and Voyage d’Hermès parfum.
So why not simply spritz yourself with a glass of Gordon’s? It would certainly be cheaper, but if you smell it again after a few minutes you’ll notice that Voyage d’Hermès parfum has more to it than gin. In fact it develops into a very pleasant, slightly spicy-smelling scent, with hints of coriander and pepper and a warm, comforting woodiness underneath.
Launched in 2012, this is in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s second take on the original Voyage from 2010, which (backed by a serious advertising budget) went on to become a big seller for the brand. While the original version is a relatively insubstantial eau de toilette – that is, the liquid in the bottle contains around 10 per cent actual perfume, diluted in odourless alcohol – this revised version is labelled as ‘parfum’, or ‘pure perfume’.
But is it? In industry jargon, to call something a ‘parfum’ generally indicates a concentration of around 40 per cent, with a punch – and a price-tag – to match. Yet Voyage d’Hermès parfum costs only around £10 more than the earlier eau-de-toilette, which seems odd. (For comparison purposes, a 50ml bottle of Chanel No5 eau-de-toilette costs about £55, while a mere 30ml of the parfum would set you back £220.) Nor does Voyage d’Hermès parfum last as long as you’d hope a ‘true’ perfume would; in fact it doesn’t even last as long as other Hermès eau-de-toilettes such as Equipage or Bel Ami, which can see you through the day.
So what’s going on? Like other online reviewers I suspect that what we have here is actually what’s known as an eau de parfum, with a concentration of between 15 and 20 per cent, which has been inadvertently mislabelled as a parfum. That’s a shame, as the world of perfume is mystifying enough without muddling up its terminology. Maybe Hermès can explain.
That gripe aside, Voyage d’Hermès parfum is an attractive, easy-to-wear fragrance, and like its predecessor it comes in a nifty bottle (in charcoal grey rather than the earlier version’s clear glass) that swivels within a protective metal case. OK, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but it’s been nicely done given the cost constraints of a mass-produced scent, and as a perfume it’s a safe choice for anyone who isn’t, perhaps, too confident about wearing anything too offbeat or eccentric. Or who simply enjoys the occasional G&T.
27 April, 2015
The latest addition to the Hermessences range, created by in-house perfumer Jean-Louis Ellena for Hermès and launched in 2014, Cuir d’Ange is, as its name suggests, a rather ethereal take on the smell of new leather – appropriately enough for a company that started out making riding tackle.
Inspired by a phrase in Jean le Bleu, a 1932 novel by Jean Giono – a kind of French Thomas Hardy – Ellena explains that, for Cuir d’Ange, ‘Using the smells that are my words, I wanted to write a poem to rekindle the love duet between leather and the skin. Its softness and lightness, its tension and its caress. Heliotropes and hawthorn, leather and musk.’
This particular leather smells slightly sweet and rather papery, a bit like skin, which I guess makes sense. I’d like it more if didn’t also include the faintly sweaty smell of hay, which reminds me of another Hermès fragrance, Narcisse Bleu (the hay smell coming from narcissus flowers), but like the other perfumes in the range it’s subtle and sophisticated if, arguably, a little too polite: smart without being particularly sexy. Which, when you come to think of it, makes it a perfect complement to an Hermès suit and tie. But oh for a touch of vulgarity!
4 March, 2015
The latest addition to the ‘Jardin’ range of perfumes from Hermès takes China as its inspiration, though apparently the original intention was to develop a fragrance inspired by English gardens. Sadly it seems that Jean-Claude Ellena, the company’s starry in-house perfumer, found the idea too conventional and boring, responding to the suggestion with words to the effect of ‘who wants to smell another rose garden?’
If that’s true I think it’s a shame, since English gardens are some of the most varied and imaginative in the world, and I’d have loved to get the chance to show Ellena the all-green garden at Rousham, say, or the vast yew terraces of Powis Castle. Then again, perhaps he simply fancied travelling somewhere more exotic than could be reached within the limits of a day-trip on the Eurostar.
Either way, Chinese gardens, with their long and literary history, offer rich material for a creative perfumer, and it can’t hurt that China is a vast and expanding market for luxury brands, as attested by Hermès’ sumptuous new store in Shanghai.
Though the Monsieur Li of the title is imaginary, Ellena’s visits to Chinese gardens were made with the Chinese painter Li Xin, who moved from Beijing to Paris in 2002 and whose work forms a perfect counterpoint to Ellena’s: subtly sophisticated abstract ‘landscapes’ in washes of ink on creased rice-paper, one of which decorates the box for Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.
‘So,’ Hermès tell us, ‘Jean-Claude Ellena travelled to China. He visited gardens. Many gardens. Each one was unique but they all spoke the same language of fluidity and precision. So he created his own garden. An imaginary place inspired by the symbolic power of all the gardens he had seen. An earthly paradise in miniature, on a human scale. A retreat in which to converse with oneself and with others, and to honour one’s ancestors…
‘A vantage point from which to observe the soul and creation, where different kinds of beauty never compete but rather complement and enhance one another. A place that can only be fully experienced if one takes a partial tour of it every day, humbly and eagerly, with an eye that is ever fresh and a heart that is ever pure.’
If you’re feeling slightly queasy by now join the club, though this is par for the course for perfume PR. It probably sounds just fine in French, but high-flown purple prose translates terribly into Anglo-Saxon English, and I do wish they wouldn’t bother.
All the same it’s interesting to read what Ellena says about the smells that inspired him when he started work on Le Jardin de Monsieur Li at his house in Cabris near Grasse. ‘I remembered the scent of the pools, of the jasmine, the wet stones, the plum trees, the kumquats and the giant bamboo. It was all there, even the carp in their pond, taking the time to live to a hundred. The Sichuan pepper bushes were as thorny as roses and the leaves gave off a lemony scent.’
And can you smell this in the perfume itself? The answer is yes and no. I can certainly smell lemon and something like kumquats – a sweet, slightly strawberryish smell, though far less sweet than the delirious strawberry-kumquat scent of Black XS for Men from Paco Rabanne. I get a hint of jasmine, but it’s subtle and restrained enough for Le Jardin de Monsieur Li to be equally intriguing on a woman or a man.
It smells quite green and fresh to me as well, which I guess suggests the giant bamboo; Hermès describe the perfume’s ‘key notes’ as ‘Jean-Claude Ellena’s personal evocation of Vegetal Jasmine, Mint, Kumquat and Sap’.
What I like about this perfume most might drive other people mad, which is that I can’t quite put my finger on what it smells of, but to me that’s intriguing enough to make me want to keep wearing it. And though it’s subtle and restrained, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li has a staying power that some of Ellena’s other perfumes lack – worth noting when a 100ml bottle costs £84. Still, it’s a lovely scent and a beautiful bottle too, in heavy glass suffused by a pale shade of imperial yellow that delicately deepens from top to bottom.
9 December, 2014
Why? Well, it’s all about the difference between what, in the antiques trade, I guess you’d call original and repro. Bel Ami is a bit like a lovely Chippendale chest of drawers that once attracted admirers from all over the world – not just for the beauty of its design but for the skill and complexity of its construction.
The maestro in Bel Ami’s case was Jean-Louis Sieuzac, one of the finest perfumers of his time, who was also behind Fahrenheit for Christian Dior and Opium for Yves Saint Laurent. First launched in 1986, Sieuzac’s Bel Ami packed a powerful punch thanks to a combination of leather and pepper, and it was by all accounts a rich and complex scent.
But apparently it didn’t sell, and when Hermès appointed Jean-Claude Ellena as its in-house perfumer in 2004, one of his first jobs was to reformulate Bel Ami. This new version is still very attractive, with a schoolroom scent of pencil shavings that, after an hour or two, settles down into a pleasing, if not especially unusual fragrance of the kind that’s often described as ‘classically masculine’ – a bit wood-smoky without being bitter, slightly sweet without being at all cloying. It reminds me a lot of one of my other favourite ‘classically masculine’ perfumes, Halston Z-14.
What I wouldn’t describe it as would be particularly complex: it doesn’t change radically over the hours, though it does have good staying-power, and my amateur nose doesn’t detect lots of intriguing added ingredients, though I’m wondering if there’s a touch of clove-scented carnations. It is, in other words, a bit like a very good-quality piece of ‘repro’ antique furniture: looks pretty convincing on the outside, but when you open the drawers you realise they’re made of MDF instead of mahogany. A classy job nonetheless.
10 October, 2014
Pretty much everyone I know loves Hermès’ deliciously fresh and zingy Eau d’Orange Verte, so when Eau de Narcisse Bleu (literally ‘blue narcissus water’) was launched in 2013 it had a tough act to follow. As I’ve never seen a blue narcissus / daffodil, I think it’s safe to say that this perfume has an element of fantasy about it, and as a smell, too, it’s perhaps rather more complex and a little less instantly accessible than its predecessor. But give it a little time and I think it’ll grow on you.
Eau de Narcisse Bleu may not have the euphoric mood-lifting freshness of Eau d’Orange Verte, but it has a gentle softness that, once you’ve smelled it for a while, is extremely appealing in its own right. It does have the faint sweetness of real daffodil flowers (try sticking your nose in one on a sunny day next March and you’ll see what I mean), but what narcissus extract smells of most, rather unexpectedly, is fresh hay. *
Now, I have nothing against smelling of hay, which is a lovely scent in its own right, but what Hermès’ much-mythologised perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, has done is blended the smell of hay with a whole raft of subtly complementary fragrances. Most of them are quite ‘green’ – that is, they smell fresh and natural, like grass and leaves, but not especially sweet or flower-like.
To me it has a slight but definite scent of fig-leaves, which for anyone who loves L’Artisan Parfumeur’s wonderful Premier Figuier as much as I do can only be a good thing. Whether this figginess is (excuse the pun) a figment of my imagination I’m not sure, but among the other ingredients that Ellena lists is galbanum, which is extracted from the root of a wild Iranian plant that looks a bit like fennel or cow-parsley, and indeed is distantly related to them.
Galbanum has a marvellously fresh sappy smell like newly-snapped pea-pods, and is one of the most important components of ‘green’ perfumes, but its greenness, here, is tempered by the hay-like sweetness of narcissus, with a hint of earthy bitterness underneath which manages to stop it from smelling at all girly.
If my description makes it sound a bit complicated, don’t be put off, for it’s such a well-blended perfume that there’s nothing discordant about it. In fact if anything it is, perhaps, a little too gentle for its own good, as it’s a ‘quiet’, thoughtful scent that stays close to your skin and doesn’t, on the whole, grab other people’s attention. It’s discreet and refined, in other words, rather than a ‘look-at-me’ perfume, which is perfect if you want to smell good without drawing attention to yourself. Go try it.
* I say ‘narcissus extract’, but one of the irritating things about perfume marketing is how vague – and frankly clueless – most descriptions of perfume ingredients actually are. For as anyone who actually grows the things themselves knows full well, a bright-yellow daffodil like Narcissus ‘February Gold’ smells very different to Narcissus papyraceus, the so-called paperwhite narcissus; the former has a gentle, hay-like scent, while one of the big selling-points of paperwhites is their powerful, almost jasmine-like perfume, the sweetness of which, en masse, can have a touch of the slightly repellent stagnant-water smell that perfumers refer to as ‘indolic’. If only perfume PRs were taught some basic botany.
Postscript – mystery solved, but only by going to the source: in France last week I visited IFF-LMR, the legendary natural raw perfume materials company near Grasse, and what should we get talking about but their narcissus extract, which is derived from the beautiful Narcissus poeticus, fields of which grow wild in the uplands of the Lozère. Did they use other species of daffodil as well? No, came the answer, and it’s their extract that you’re smelling (among many other things) in Eau de Narcisse Bleu.
18 August, 2014
Like several other major perfume and fashion brands, Hermès has, in recent years, organised its range of perfumes into a number of different groups. I’m guessing that this is partly to help them refine their message for different segments of the market, but I also wonder whether it has something to do with their in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, trying to bring order to a rather disparate collection of scents, in the way that a newly appointed curator might attempt to impose order on a rather muddled art collection.
Whether intentionally or not, the groups have been divided in a way that reflects the gradual shift away from gendered to genderless scents, with most of the pre-Ellena perfumes being assigned, in the old-fashioned way, to either women or men (men getting Bel Ami, Equipage and Terre d’Hermès). By contrast most of the more recent scents are categorised by type, not gender, and described as ‘for sharing’ – currently five in Les Colognes collection, four in Les Jardins and eleven in the much more expensive Hermessences range, leaving Eau d’Hermès and Voyage d’Hermès standing on their own.
I’m guessing that the mass-market scents – Voyage and Terre d’Hermès – bring in most of the cash, but what seems to interest Hermès most (and, by extension, Jean-Claude Ellena) are the Hermessences: there are already more of them than there are in any other range, and they’re the only fragrances for which the company does its own in-house PR. They’re also almost twice the price of other Hermès scents: £161 for a 100ml eau-de-toilette as opposed to £73-£80 for a 100ml eau-de-toilette from any of the other groups.
Given how much they cost, you’d expect the Hermessences to be more unusual and have more staying-power than Hermès’ other perfumes, and at least in the case of Vétiver Tonka, that seems to be true. One often-repeated criticism of Jean-Claude Ellena is that the perfumes he creates tend towards the light and evanescent – delicate compositions that disappear all too quickly on the skin. Some people might regard that as a good thing, but as a value-for-money Yorkshireman I want to get some bang for my buck.
Vétiver Tonka certainly lasts, so that’s a good start. It’s also unusual, which for me is another plus – so many perfumes smell almost identical these days. But unusual doesn’t always mean attractive, or even wearable – just smell the amazing Bulgari Black, which is a brilliant scent, but also almost unwearable, at least outside a nightclub. Vétiver Tonka certainly isn’t in that league, but nor does it fit into an easily recognisable ‘normal’ category of scents.
Vetiver, of course, is a classic ingredient of many perfumes aimed at men: extracted from the roots of a tropical grass, it smells earthy and dry, but also fresh; it has the added advantage of being extremely long-lasting, and it can enhance the longevity of other ingredients too. The vetiver that Jean-Claude Ellena has used here, though, is a smoother, less rough-edged extract, which makes the perfume smell perhaps a little more feminine than I’d normally expect.
Tonka – the perfume ingredient, not the toy company – comes from the beans of the cumaru tree, Dipteryx odorata, which grows in Central America and, like laburnum and wisteria, belongs in the pea family. These beans yield coumarin, a chemical that was often used as a cheaper substitute for vanilla; coumarin also smells a bit like cinnamon, almonds or cloves, all of which I get traces of in Vétiver Tonka.
In many ways this is a perfume that does what it says on the tin, for if you can imagine the earthy smell of vetiver mixed with the foody smell of tonka (which many people find slightly chocolatey, probably because of its association with chocolate), then that’s pretty much how Vétiver Tonka smells. The vetiver helps it last all day, but what I mostly smell is the tonka, doubtless blended with many other things – there’s a gentle nuttiness, a bit like rum or sherry, or even a kitchen in the middle of baking day.
When I asked my mum what she thought of it she said, ‘It’s a very nice smell, but it doesn’t really smell like a perfume,’ and I think that pretty much sums it up. Not something you’d necessarily want to adopt as a signature scent, but a quality perfume to try if you fancy smelling a bit out of the ordinary. It also comes in a very nice Hermès box (with a rather cheap-looking cloth bag inside), and the clear-glass bottle – cleverly suffused with pale green – is satisfyingly chunky, with a stitched-leather cap, though whether all that makes it £161 I’m still not sure.
18 July, 2014
In 1979, Hermès launched a brilliant take on the classic men’s eau-de-cologne. Simply called Eau de Cologne d’Hermès, it was created by Françoise Caron, who you could almost say had perfume in her blood. Born in the one-time capital of French fragrance, the Provençal town of Grasse, into a family that worked in the perfume trade, both she and her brother, Olivier Cresp, became highly regarded professional perfumers in their own right.
Many perfumes are variations on a theme, and the fresh, citrusy scent of eau-de-cologne is probably the best-known theme of all. But some variations are more interesting and successful than others, and Françoise Caron’s master-stroke was to turn up the volume, if you like, on a single ingredient – bitter orange – that plays a subsidiary role in most colognes.
The effect is delicious and bracingly sour-sweet, like a proper old-fashioned lemonade, but because orange is a more powerful, complex citrus scent than lemon it has far more depth and staying power. Françoise Caron also included mint (which adds a minor cooling touch), as well as lime and blackcurrant buds – which, if like me you have blackcurrant bushes in your garden, you’ll know have an intriguing scent, both sweet and slightly foxy.
Eau de Cologne d’Hermès continued in production until 1997, when Hermès changed its name to the slightly more individual Eau d’Orange Verte, though the scent remained the same. One criticism of Caron’s original perfume was that it didn’t last very long, and presumably as a response to this, in 2004 a concentrated version was released, tweaked by in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and helpfully called Concentré d’Orange Verte.
It’s this version I like best, I suppose because it seems to have retained all the character of Françoise Caron’s original yet packs a rather more powerful punch, and on my skin at least it certainly seems to last a good hour or two. It’s a zesty, uplifting and – I’d say – a happy scent, and one that I’d happily wear every day. Perfect for lifting the spirits on a dull grey Monday morning.