Under the Radar: Hermes Elixir des Merveilles- Holidays with Jean-Claude

I have a whole set of perfumes I wear during the Holiday season of Thanksgiving through the New Year. This is the time of year which seems a natural fit for the gourmands in my collection to make their appearance. As I begin to sort them to the front of my shelves, I am reminded of those that helped define the genre in the early days. This year I looked at the tilted round bottle of Hermes Elixir des Merveilles and thought this might be a Holiday gourmand that flies Under the Radar.

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena spent over ten years as in-house perfumer at Hermes. His earliest creations of the first Hermessences, the first two “Un Jardins” and Terre D’Hermes would set the aesthetic which would be refined throughout his tenure. Tucked in this same time period is Elixir des Merveilles. It never felt like part of that minimalist aesthetic. As a guess it always felt to me as if it was M. Ellena’s response to the bombast of the alpha gourmand; Thierry Mugler Angel. While Elixir des Merveilles doesn’t get quite as transparent as the other perfumes M. Ellena made for Hermes it is more than a few notches less effusive than Angel.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The original Eau des Merveilles was an homage to ambergris. M. Ellena imagined Elixir des Merveilles to take that ambergris and float it on a chocolate ocean. Before we get there, a fabulous spiced orange accord begins things. Then the chocolate rises accompanied by warm balsamic notes, cedar, and ambergris. This is the amazing gourmand heart which engages me time after time. To give it that final Holiday twist M. Ellena creates a sugar cookie accord fresh from the oven.

Elixir des Merveilles has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

As I was thinking about writing this, I realized that while Elixir des Merveilles does not rise to the transparency of the current trend of gourmands it feels like a forerunner. I always facetiously imagine it is what the Holidays at Jean-Claude’s house must smell like. I’m sure I’m wrong but it is what the Holidays in Poodlesville smells like on the days I wear it.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Rose & Cuir- Ellena Evolves

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.

Jean-Claude Ellena

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.

Frederic Malle

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.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Perris Monte Carlo Jasmin de Pays- Fields of Jasmine

In May of 1897 writer Mark Twain was in London he had a hospital stay which lead to reports that he died while there. When contacted by a reporter friend he was said to respond, “the rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I’ve been thinking about this in relation to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. It seems like the reports of him having retired after he left as in-house perfumer at Hermes have also been greatly exaggerated, too. M. Ellena certainly could’ve never made another perfume. Except I think creative director at Perris Monte Carlo, Gian-Luca Perris, offered him an opportunity to come full circle.

Gian-Luca Perris

M. Ellena is one of those perfumers we know a lot about. One of the things we know is he was born in the town of Grasse. He spent his childhood surrounded by the flowers made famous from that town, rose and jasmine. He has remarked how he spent his youth harvesting the flowers. Sig. Perris wanted a collection celebrating the rose and jasmine of Grasse. He also wanted M. Ellena to be the perfumer. The perfumes they produced are Perris Monte Carlo Rose de Mai and Perris Monte Carlo Jasmin de Pays. Both are remarkable but as readers know if given a choice I’m going to chose the jasmine over rose, every time. Which is why Jasmin de Pays gets reviewed first.

Jean-Claude Ellena

As part of the press materials M. Ellena reminisced on his days harvesting the jasmine. He would remark how over the course of the day the scent of the petals would change. From a transparent green while on the vine to a more floral scent in the middle of the day to its animalic essence by nightfall. M. Ellena weaves those three phases though this jasmine soliflore.

M. Ellena uses jasmine absolute as the jewel at the center of Jasmin de Pays. He then uses three ingredients to tease out the inherent scent profile of his jasmine absolute. To get the transparent green he uses tagetes to find that green vein running through the jasmine and isolate it. To capture the more floral aspect he uses clove as a spicy contrast. It has the effect of dampening down the indoles, so the floral quality rises more strongly. As the clove gives way a set of gentle animalic musks find the indoles and invite them to provide the finish.

Jasmin de Pays has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Jasmin de Pays feels more emotional than other perfumes by M. Ellena. There is a feeling of looking back to his youth from his current age to find a scent memory. I’m not sure if he succeeded to his satisfaction but I can imagine the fields of jasmine in Grasse every time I wear it.

Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Perris Monte Carlo.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 2- Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, & Brand of the Year

As I mentioned in Part 1 2016 is the beginning of a generational shift in perfumery. The winners I am going to highlight next are all emblematic of that kind of change.

Perfume of the Year: Masque Milano L’Attesa– One of the emerging initiatives over the course of 2016 has been the confidence owners and creative directors have placed in young perfumers. For a brand, it is safer to round up one of the more established names. It takes a bit of faith to place the success of your business in the hands of an emerging artist. The team behind Masque Milano, Alessandro Brun and Riccardo Tedeschi, have taken on this philosophy wholeheartedly. Particularly over the last four releases since 2013; Tango by Cecile Zarokian, Russian Tea by Julien Rasquinet, and Romanza by Cristiano Canali, began the trend. This year’s release L’Attesa by Luca Maffei took it to a new level.

Riccardo Tedeschi, Luca Maffei, and Alessandro Brun (l. to r.)

I spent time with the creative team when they unveiled L’Attesa at Esxence 2016. I think when you do something creative you have a sense when you have done great work. That day in Milan all three men radiated that kind of confidence; with good reason. Sig. Maffei would combine three sources of iris to provide a strong core of the central note. Early on there is a champagne accord that is not meant to be the bubbly final product but the yeasty fermentation stage. It turns the powdery iris less elegant but more compelling for its difference. Through a white flower heart to a leathery finish L’Attesa is as good as it gets.

Cecile Zarokian with Puredistance Sheiduna

Perfumer of the Year: Cecile Zarokian– Majda Bekkali Mon Nom est Rouge, in 2012, was the first perfume by Cecile Zarokian which made me think she was something special. Over the years since then she has done some spectacular work but 2016 was an exceptional year. Mme Zarokian produced thirteen new releases for seven different brands. I chose her because of the breadth of the work she turned in over the year. I am reasonably certain that this kind of output has rarely been matched. The pinnacle of this group was her re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water. Mme Zarokian accomplished the near impossible by formulating a 2016 version which is as good as the original. She did this because she understood what made the original was its ridiculous concentration of neroli oil. She convinced creative director Rania Naim to spend the money for this now precious material to be replicated in the same concentration. This made Green Water amazingly true to its name.

She would recreate a Persian feast in Parfums MDCI Fetes Persanes. Picking up on some of the same themes she would infuse some of the gourmand elements into a rich oud in Making of Cannes Magie du Desert.  She modernized the oud in Hayari New Oud. In Uer Mi OR+Cashmere she creates a hazelnut rum cocktail. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nerotic goes for a more narcotic effect. Finally working with creative director Jan Ewoud Vos they conspired to reinterpret the Oriental creating a contemporary version in Puredistance Sheiduna.

Every perfume she made this year was worth smelling. As this next generation of perfumers moves into the next phase Mme Zarokian is going to be right there in the front pushing perfumery forward. For this joie de vivre about perfumery Cecile Zarokian is my Perfumer of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Luca Maffei, Quentin Bisch, Christine Nagel, Jerome Epinette, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and Antonio Gardoni.

Creative Director of the Year: Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes- For the ten years plus I’ve been writing about perfume I have chanted a single mantra; embrace difference, don’t play it safe, stake out an artistic vision and stick with it. There are way too few who embrace this. Because it isn’t easy there is a graveyard of some who tried and failed. All of which makes what Victor Wong has been doing with his brand Zoologist Perfumes more admirable. Two years ago, he started Zoologist Perfumes making the transition from enthusiast to owner/creative director. He wanted to work with some of the most talented artisanal perfumers to produce his perfumes. What is so refreshing about this approach is he has been working with many of the most recognizable artisans providing them outside creative direction for one of the few times. What it has elicited from these perfumers is often among the best work they have produced. For the three 2016 releases Bat with Ellen Covey, Macaque with Sarah McCartney, and Nightingale with Tomoo Inaba this has been particularly true. Bat is one of the perfumes which was in the running for my Perfume of the Year. Macaque and Nightingale do not play it safe in any way. This makes for a perfume brand which does not look for the lowest common denominator but asks if there is something more beautiful in unfettered collaboration. For Victor Wong and Zoologist Perfumes 2016 answers this with a resounding yes which is why he is my choice for Creative Director of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Jan Ahlgren (Vilhelm Parfumerie), Ben Gorham (Byredo), Roberto Drago (Laboratorio Olfattivo), and Carlos Huber (Arquiste).

Brand of the Year: Hermes– In 2003 Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would begin his tenure. Over the next thirteen years his overall collection for the brand has defined a modern aesthetic which now has become synonymous with the brand as much as silk scarves and fine leather goods. When it was announced two years ago, Christine Nagel would begin the transition to becoming the new in-house perfumer there was some concern. I was not one of those who had any worries. Mme Nagel felt like a natural evolution from M. Ellena. 2016 proved my surmise to be true as M. Ellena released his presumed final two fragrances for the brand, Eau de Neroli Dore and Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine while Mme Nagel released her first two, Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. The passing of the torch could not have gone smoother. Hermes is in great hands as the next generation takes over. That this was accomplished so beautifully effortless is why Hermes is my Brand of the Year.

Runner-Ups: Byredo, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Tauer Perfumes/Tauerville, and Zoologist Perfumes.

Part 1 was my broad overview of the year yesterday.

Part 3 tomorrow will be my Top 25 new perfumes of 2016.

Mark Behnke

Colognoisseur 2016 Year-End Review Part 1- Overview

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2016 will probably go down as a pivotal year in the perfume business. As an observer of much of the field this year I have seen change in almost every place I can see. Which leads me to believe it is also taking place behind the scenes where I am not able to know the entire story. Change like this can be unsettling which has made for some worrying trends but overall I think it has contributed to another excellent year. I smelled a little less this year than last year; 680 new perfumes versus 2015’s 686. Surprisingly the amount of new releases has also plateaued with 1566 new releases in 2016 versus 1676 last year. Maybe we have defined the amount of new perfume the market can bear. Over the next three days I will share my thoughts on the year coming to an end.

We are told in Ecclesiastes, or by The Byrds if you prefer; “To every thing there is a season” and so it is in perfume as the season of the Baby Boomers has ended and the Millennials have taken over. This younger generation is now larger, has more discretionary income, and is spending more on perfume than the Boomers are per multiple sources. While the public at large was made aware of it this year the industry could see the change coming a year, or more, prior. What that meant for 2016 as far as fragrance went was every corporate perfume entity was on a fishing expedition to see if they could be the one who lured this group of consumers towards them. The drive for this is huge because lifelong brand loyalties can be formed right now within this group. Certainly, the enduring trends of the next few years in fragrance will be determined by where they spend their money. All of that has made 2016 fascinating because at the end of the year that answer is no clearer than it was at the beginning. The prevailing themes, based on what was provided to them, is they want lighter in sillage and aesthetic, gourmand, and different. That last category is the ephemeral key I think. The brand which can find them in the place where they Periscope, Snapchat, and Instagram is going to have an advantage.

Christine Nagel (l.) and Olivier Polge

There was also generational change taking place at two of the most prestigious perfume brands, Hermes and Chanel. The new in-house perfumers for both took full control in 2016. Christine Nagel released Hermes Eau du Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Galop D’Hermes. Olivier Polge released Chanel Boy and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. This shows both talented artists know how to take an existing brand aesthetic and make it their own.

Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, Luca Maffei (l. to r.)

The next generation of perfumers exemplified by Cecile Zarokian, Quentin Bisch, and Luca Maffei loomed large this year. Mme Zarokian did thirteen new releases in 2016 all of them distinctively delightful from the re-formulation of Faths Essentials Green Water to the contemporary Oriental Puredistance Sheiduna. M. Bisch brilliantly reinvented one of the masterpieces of perfume in Thierry Mugler Angel Muse. Sig. Maffei released ten new fragrances with Masque Milano L’Attesa, Laboratorio Olfattivo MyLO, and Jul et Mad Secrets du Paradis Rouge showcasing his range. 

There were also fascinating collaborations this year. Antonio Gardoni and Bruno Fazzolari contributed Cadavre Exquis an off-beat gourmand. Josh Meyer and Sam Rader conspired to create a Northern California Holiday bonfire in Dasein Winter Nights. Victor Wong the owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes was able to get the most out of independent perfumers like Ellen Covey in Bat and Sarah McCartney in Macaque.

Some of the independent perfumers I look to surprisingly released perfumes which did not please me. Thankfully there were new ones who stepped up to fill in the gap. Lesli Wood Peterson of La Curie, Ludmila and Antoine Bitar of Ideo Parfumeurs, and Eugene & Emrys Au of Auphorie did that. Chritsti Meshell of House of Matriarch made an ambitious economic move into Nordstrom while producing two of my favorites from her in Albatross and Kazimi.

The mainstream sector had another strong year as the mall continues to have diamonds hidden amongst the dross. In 2016 that meant Elizabeth & James Nirvana Bourbon, Alford & Hoff No. 3, SJP Stash, Prada Infusion de Mimosa, Thierry Mugler Angel Muse, and Chanel No. 5 L’Eau were there to be found.

If the beginning of the year was all about rose the overall year was a renaissance for neroli perfumes. Jean-Claude Ellena’s swan song for Hermes; Eau de Neroli Dore. The afore mentioned Green Water along with Jo Malone Basil & Neroli and Hiram Green Dilettante showed the versatility of the note.

The acquisition of niche brands continued with Estee Lauder buying By Kilian and L’Oreal doing the same with Atelier Cologne. The acquisitions of Frederic Malle and Le Labo, two years ago, seem to have been positive steps for both brands. Especially seeing Le Labo in my local mall getting such a positive reception made me believe that if the good niche brands can become more available the consumer will appreciate the difference.

Tomorrow I will name my Perfume, Perfumer, Creative Director, and Brand of the Year

The next day I will reveal my Top 25 New Releases of 2016.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine- Muguet Under Glass

It is a difficult endeavor to try and emulate a mentor. Even the greatest perfumers can get too caught up in trying to tread the fine line between homage and imitation. If you can get it right a little bit of both can add up to something memorable. Tilt too far to either side of the line and you compare unfavorably to what you are trying to use for inspiration. Even the most precise technicians can fail to find the right balance. It is how I feel about the new Hermes Hermessence Muguet Porcelaine.

As in-house perfumer for Hermes Jean-Claude Ellena begins to wind down his career I imagine there are some things he wants to check off his to-do list. As an artist inspired by Edmond Roudnitska; especially the muguet gold standard Diorissimo it was only a matter of time until M. Ellena tried his own version.

ellena

Jean-Claude Ellena

As soon as I heard about this I know I expected sheer because that is what M. Ellena does. Except this time the transparency has the effect of keeping me at arm’s length. On the days I wore Muguet Porcelaine I was reminded of the first verse of the Emerson, Lake, & Palmer song Karn Evil 9:

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend

Come Inside! Come Inside!

There behind the glass is a real blade of grass

Be careful as you pass

Move Along! Move Along!

If you substitute muguet for blade of grass this is how I felt about Muguet Porcelaine; similar to a museum exhibit well-executed but sterile.

Muguet Porcelaine opens on another variation of the green watery effect which M. Ellena has been employing quite liberally in his latest creations. I generally like it but in this case it was distracting as if it formed the first pane of glass. The muguet pushes its way through the green mist but what comes out the other side is so cleaned up it almost feels artificial. This again was the other pane of glass which sealed off the main note.

Hermes Muguet Porcelaine has 6-8 hours longevity and moderate silage.

Diorissimo is striking for its simultaneous effect of floral and animalic. Muguet Porcelaine is missing the animalic. I am sure Muguet Porcelaine is the perfume M. Ellena wanted to make. It just is so standoffish it is going to be easy to ignore. If you ever wanted a very clean muguet perfume Muguet Porcelaine should be just what you’re looking for.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate and Eau de Neroli Dore- Compare and Contrast

One of the more interesting perfume stories is the ongoing changing of the guard in the fragrance business at Hermes. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena has been the in-house perfumer for over 10 years. Last year Christine Nagel was hired to eventually take over the reins when M. Ellena chooses to retire. I have been very interested to see Mme Nagel’s first perfume for Hermes and I’ve been kept waiting for over a year. Finally, at the end of January it was announced that there would be two new releases in the Les Colognes series. What was exciting was each perfumer would be responsible for one. As prime a compare and contrast moment as one could ask for.

This series is among the simplest fragrances from a perfume brand which has made minimalistic perfumes part of their aesthetic. Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate by Mme Nagel and Eau de Neroli Dore by M. Ellena don’t fully answer the question of how different Mme Nagel’s Hermes fragrances will be from M. Ellena’s. Yet I think there are some interesting observations to be found even within something as simple as these two perfumes are.

Christine Nagel 1

Christine Nagel

Mme Nagel composes Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate with two listed notes, rhubarb and white musks. Notice the “s” on that last ingredient. It gives some insight into how this perfume has much more than that note list might portend.

The rhubarb comes out from the very first second mixing that vegetal quality with a citrus-like quality. This is a very tricky note when hung out to be all on its own and it is for about 30-45 minutes. Either you will like it and be drawn in or it will annoy you enough you won’t notice what happens next. Like tendrils of fog Mme Nagel uses a selection of white musks to entwine themselves around the rhubarb. It was M. Ellena in Jour D’Hermes, who showed me how the right mix of multiple white musks could have a softening effect. Mme Nagel also knows this. The result is as the white musks increase in presence the rhubarb’s intensity is softened while being made much more transparent. So much so that when I thought this had worn off one of my co-workers commented on it. It is a perfume which shows the power of white musks to transform even the most obstreperous note. Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

ellena

Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena’s entry Eau de Neroli Dore is equally short in notes; neroli and saffron. According to an article on Wallpaper M. Ellena’s affection for Neroli comes from his early days, “When I started out as a perfumer I learned to distill raw materials, including orange blossom. When you enter the world of stills, you are also immersed in a scent, impregnated with it, you become it. To reproduce this sensation, where normally one uses very little neroli in fragrances, I used it abundantly.” He further claims in the article that Hermes had to buy up half of the annual neroli crop from Morocco and Tunisia. Hyperbole or not this is a very concentrated neroli.

Eau de Neroli Dore opens with that neroli attempting to immerse you within it. Neroli is the only listed ingredient and it is so immersive that I feel like there might be some orange behind it all but I wonder if that is a trick of the concentration. Another aspect of having it in such high concentration is subtle green facets are apparent with nothing else to override them. The modulator for M. Ellena is to use saffron to take this neroli and evolve it. The saffron carries a dusty floralcy as well as a warm spicy glow. It adds a beating heart underneath the neroli. This never reaches the intensity of rhubarb in the Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate. Throughout it is a soft floral pitched at a volume just above a whisper. Eau de Neroli Dore has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Of course, I am going to look for signs of what is to come from these two perfumes. I think Mme Nagel shows that she has grasped the aesthetic M. Ellena has put into place while also showing she has some new ideas to explore. M. Ellena returned to an experience of his beginnings as a perfumer to create one of his final releases. Both perfumes are well worth seeking out and will be very good once summer arrives. I am excited to see what’s next from both of these talented perfumers.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Hermes.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Equipage Geranium- Green Rose in Focus

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When someone tells you they are retiring it usually means a slow winding down prior to their leaving. I guess it must be different in perfumery. Jean-Claude Ellena announced he would be eventually retiring, date unknown, as the in-house perfumer at Hermes in December of 2013. At the same time Christine Nagel was brought in to work with him and eventually take over. M. Ellena has been one of the singular artistic perfumers of the last few years. He would easily be one of the names in the debate over “greatest living perfumer”. As his tenure at Hermes draws to a close it feels like he wanted the opportunity to give a fresh take on some of the original Hermes releases. This starts with Bel Ami Vetiver in 2013 followed by Rose Amazone last year. For 2015 Equipage Geranium is the newest addition.

The original Equipage was released in 1970 by perfumer Guy Robert. It was a leather fragrance to pay homage to the Hermes saddles. In that original version there was birch tar and oakmoss galore creating a real feel of the tack room at a stable with all the leather hung up and oiled. Equipage would be re-formulated in 1992 by Jean-Louis Sieuzac who lacking the ability to use either the oakmoss or birch tar in the quantities M. Robert did, allowed some of the other notes to come to the foreground as the heart notes of carnation and pine follow a citrus opening. As was done for both Bel Ami and Amazone it feels like these recent versions are an attempt to update these classics for the 2010’s. I wonder if M. Ellena wants to make sure these are always relevant. Equipage Geranium is less about the tack room and more about the leather reading chair in the library next to a vase of geraniums.

ellena

Jean-Claude Ellena

Equipage Geranium opens with a citrus flourish which is close in intensity to the 1992 Equipage reformulation. To make sure I don’t go too far down that path M. Ellena adds a sprig of mint to bring the geranium into focus. Geranium is a note I often refer to as “green rose”. For many people they would recognize geranium as just rose; as geranium is what passes for rose in almost every mass commercial product. In Equipage Geranium M. Ellena brings the geranium into hyper focus. When I want to introduce someone to geranium from now on this is the perfume I am going to use. The mint is the framing which first draws my attention to the greener subtleties under the floralcy. Some actual rose is used to deepen that floralcy. Once the focal point is assembled now the very light leather accord forms a platform for the geranium to rest upon. A swirl of gentle spices interacts to keep the geranium slightly spicy as well as fresher. After a while a sturdy sandalwood provides the final addition to Equipage Geranium.

Equipage Geranium has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

On the days I wore Equipage Geranium to work my younger co-workers asked me enthusiastically what I was wearing. I have shared my sample generously with them and I know it is on a couple of wish lists for the upcoming holidays. I brought in some 1970 Equipage and they all said that was too strong. This is the real innovation M. Ellena is achieving, intended or not, as these reworkings are attracting a different generation of perfume lovers. For those older perfume lovers, like me, the update makes it different enough, and good enough, that I want a bottle to stand next to my 1970 and 1992 bottle of Equipage.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Hermes.

Mark Behnke

The Different Company 101- Five To Get You Started

The primary goal of this series is to allow someone new to the fragrance world a starting place with many of the extensive lines out there. A secondary goal is to give some attention to great fragrance collections which might not be as well known, but should be. This month I am going to introduce some of you to The Different Company.

The Different Company was founded in 2000 by Thierry de Baschmakoff and Jean-Claude Ellena. In 2003 M. de Baschmakoff would work with perfumer Celine Ellena for the next year before giving way to current creative director and CEO of the brand, Luc Gabriel in 2004. Mme Ellena would continue the collaboration until 2010.  Since 2011, M. Gabriel has brought in Emilie Coppermann for the cologne collection and Bertrand Duchaufour has contributed to the Collection Excessive. These consistent partnerships between creative director and perfumer has led to a house style which has been in place from the very first perfume released. Here are the five I would suggest to get you started.

Bois D’Iris composed by Jean-Claude Ellena was one of the first releases of The Different Company. The name promises Iris Woods and that is exactly what M. Ellena delivers as orris is surrounded by cedar. With M. Ellena it is always the grace notes which make his perfumes memorable and for Bois D’Iris it is the narcissus, vetiver, and musk which make this one of the best florals ever made by M. Ellena.

TDC_90ml_Sel de Vétiver

Sel de Vetiver composed by Celine Ellena is one of my favorite vetiver perfumes. It might be the perfume I have written the most about over the ten years I’ve been writing about fragrance. The reason for that is Mme Ellena creates an accord of drying salt water on sun-warmed skin which is combined with three different vetiver sources. I have used this perfume as the introduction to vetiver for so many.Those who like it, like me, will never be without it.

De Bachmakov composed by Celine Ellena is a transparent fragrance of winter vistas. It was inspired by the tundra of M. de Baschmakoff’s Russian heritage. Mme Ellena captures the bite of winter air by using the sharply green shiso. Coriander, nutmeg, and cedar come together to form a frozen earth accord. This is one of the best examples of minimalist perfume composition that I own.

Aurore Nomade composed by Bertrand Duchaufour marked a different aesthetic at play. M. Duchaufour in contrast to Mme Ellena is not a minimalist. It could be said he is a maximalist very often as his perfumes can seem overstuffed. Aurore Nomade is one of those perfumes overflowing with ideas. To M. Duchaufour’s credit it holds together to form an accurate evocation of the Spice Islands. With spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg along with a bit of tropical fruit cocktail all with a shot of rum swirling around; M. Duchaufour uses every bit of the potential of ylang-ylang as the central note in Aurore Nomade. It is over the top in a very good way.

Une Nuit Magnetique composed by Christine Nagel is a perfume of magnetic attraction and repulsion. Mme Nagel creates a fragrance which comes together only to be forced apart. In the top ginger and bergamot have their harmony disrupted by blueberry.  In the heart she uses prune to break up a collection of floral extroverts. The way that Une Nuit Magnetique is in constant flux on my skin has always magnetically drawn me in.

If you’re new to the brand these five will give you a good introduction to The Different Company.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Hermes Le Jardin de Monsieur Li- Wistful Whispers

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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.

jce monsieur li

Jean-Claude Ellena

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.

Mark Behnke