I was just beginning to discover all that was going on behind my favorite perfumes in 2005 when I remember picking up the March issue of The New Yorker. Inside was an article by Chandler Burr on the creation of Hermes Un Jardin sur Le Nil by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. It was one of the most complete descriptions of the creation of a perfume I had ever seen. (If you’ve never read it here is the link) It was the second in the “Un Jardin” series of perfumes for Hermes and it is one of my favorites of the entire line. I have just received the fifth, and supposedly, final “Un Jardin” perfume by M. Ellena; it is called Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.
I am sure this is me projecting my own emotions at the idea of M. Ellena retiring and leaving Hermes in the hands of Christine Nagel but I found Le Jardin de Monsieur Li to have one of the most fragile architectures of any of M. Ellena’s creations in his time at Hermes. For this one he spent time in China in a tranquility garden. This fragrance has an incredible calming effect on my spirits when I wear it. I think it means M. Ellena really was finding that place of calm within while designing Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.
M.Ellena chooses kumquat as the place to begin his final Jardin stroll. For a Chinese garden walk this is particularly apt. Many who smell this fragrance will think this is lemon. Kumquat essential oil is made up mostly of limonene and if you let it glide by without notice that is what you will experience. The special quality of M. Ellena’s perfumes is the care with which each of a very few ingredients are chosen. This kumquat is a great example. If you take the time to zero in on it you will dive beneath the lemon and find a very subtle spiciness under the tart. A pinch of Szechuan hot pepper is added by M. Ellena to make sure this does not go by unnoticed. All of this is placed on a watery bamboo matrix. The bamboo adds a transparent woody green character. All three of these top notes seem so insubstantial that my mere notice seems enough to send them scattering. They manage to stand up, barely, to my scrutiny. The heart is jasmine and rose but these are meditative focal points and not blowsy distractions. The jasmine seems as fragile as fine porcelain. Finally Le Jardin de Monsieur Li ends by a pool of water where it splashes against the slate lining the pond. An aquatic stony accord that also exudes wet wood is the final movement.
Le Jardin de Monsieur Li has 6-8 hours longevity and average sillage.
I think Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is not going to be widely loved. The delicacy to its construction is going to be seen as a significant drawback by some. For me I am so often presented with perfumes as solid as Fort Knox this was a pleasure to experience. I really found myself drawn into the meditative vibe of this perfume. To really enjoy this I think it is almost a necessity to be in this frame of mind. If this is where M. Ellena really does end his Jardin series it is an appropriately wistful farewell, spoken in whispers.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.