When I heard perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena was retiring from being in-house perfumer at Hermes I was sad. I felt like one of the most distinctive voices in perfumery was going to enjoy life without the grind of being the face of the fragrance line of an important brand. He had certainly earned it. In his time at Hermes he created an identifiable aesthetic wherein he found beauty from simplicity. If the source of my sadness was that M. Ellena would make perfume no more; this past year has put the end to that line of thought. He has been behind five different releases for four different brands.
If there is something common to these new perfumes it is the focus on floral ingredients. In the past M. Ellena’s perfumes have been likened to scented watercolors. The delicacy was part of the appeal. These latest perfumes step things up a notch or two. I might call these acrylic pastels. Less transparent while still retaining a minimalist ingredient list. The best example of this is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Rose & Cuir.
M. Ellena returns to the groundbreaking brand by M. Malle sixteen years after his last fragrance; L’Eau D’Hiver. A year later he would be at Hermes. When I heard about Rose & Cuir I was excited to see what M. Ellena would produce for his fifth perfume. Even within this collection Rose & Cuir feels like a new step taken.
I have recently been reminded the soul of modern perfumery is not to slavishly replicate nature. Instead it is meant to interpret nature using scent. Rose & Cuir lives up to this as there is no rose and there is no leather. What replaces them is geranium and isobutyl quinoline. M. Ellena uses them to create a bitter green facsimile of the titular notes.
Rose & Cuir opens with a cousin to Szechuan pepper called Timut pepper from Nepal. This rare pepper has a scent profile of citrus and flowers. It is what comes off my skin in the early moments. The green begins to take form as geranium comes forth. This is a lush geranium, at first, which is given a few thorns as the sharpness of blackcurrant bud complements it. Now comes the leather surrogate, isobutyl quinoline. This ingredient was Germaine Cellier’s response to all the birch tar leathers of the day as she overdosed this ingredient in Robert Piguet Bandit. It created a leather of the tannery with bitter facets front and center. M. Ellena does not overdose the isobutyl quinoline. He adds just enough to provide a precise counterweight to the geranium. This allows the acerbic leathery-ness just enough room to provide the same alternative to a birch tar leather as it did in the past. This all finishes with vetiver elongating the green atop cedar.
Rose & Cuir has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have had my sample of Rose & Cuir for about a month. I have spent most of that time dissecting it to find the overlaps. What I found is the evolution of M. Ellena as he looks for a less opaque way to create modern perfume.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.