I’ve always loved eau de cologne. There’s nothing like the exhilarating zing of citrus to start your day, especially in sultry weather. The classic cologne such as 4711 Kölnisch Wasser, with its mix of citrus fruits, lavender, rosemary and neroli oil, is a well-nigh perfect (if all-too-evanescent) formulation, but over the years many perfumers have tried their hand at adding their own individual twist, with greater or lesser success.
At Guerlain, for example, each generation of perfumers has created their own cologne, and the brand’s range of Les Eaux includes some wonderful reinterpretations such as Jacques Guerlain’s Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat from 1920, or current perfumer Thierry Wasser’s delicious Cologne de Parfumeur from 2010, which adds modern musks and a touch of cedar to the formula.
Hermès launched its first eau de cologne in 1979, with Françoise Caron’s superb Eau de Cologne d’Hermès, which was renamed Eau d’Orange Verte in 1997. For me it’s up there with Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Guerlain’s Vetiver as one of the greatest men’s perfumes around, and I’d expect that it remains their best-selling cologne. In 2009, though, Jean-Claude Ellena started expanding the range, with Eau de Gentiane Blanche and Eau de Pamplemousse Rose, followed in 2013 by Eau de Narcisse Bleue and Eau de Mandarine Ambrée.
Hermès released two more colognes in 2016, marking the handover between Jean-Claude Ellena and his successor as in-house perfumer, Christine Nagel. Ellena’s Eau de Neroli Dorée is a superb celebration of the scent of orange blossom, while Nagel’s Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate is fruity and great fun.
Her latest addition to the range is Eau de Citron Noir, which takes lime rather than lemon as its starting point. And not just any lime: the black lime of its name refers to the charcoal-black sun-dried limes you can buy in Oman, where they’re ground up and used as a spice. Nagel credits my fellow perfume blogger Persolaise for introducing her to this ingredient, which shows how important good blogs have become for the industry itself. Black limes give an earthy, rather sour taste to food, and lack the sweetness of fresh limes – but they also have a touch of smokiness, which Nagel has tried to recapture in her cologne.
As a fan of colognes in general and lime in particular, Citron Noir should be right up my street. And it is – at least to start with. As with most colognes, its initial, zesty burst of citrus quickly fades away, to be followed by Nagel’s recreation of the unusual fresh-but-smoky scent of black lime, which still (to me at least) has a bit of fruitiness about it. Unfortunately that’s where I get off, if I can put it that way: on my skin the fruitiness seems to turn slightly sour after a while, and that’s not what I’m looking for in a cologne. On the other hand it makes a fantastically invigorating shower gel, since its initial lime freshness has no time to disappear.