I like the dawn Jean-Claude Ellena has painted in Jour d’Hermès (2013). I admire his ability to create magical, shape-shifting illusions, and he does right by that promise in Jour d’Hermès. It is lovely—in the first try in any case. The more I wear it, however, the more I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy.
On the face of it, the promise of dawn in Jour d’Hermès is delightful. It comes as an abstract sunny bouquet, coloured by the various shades of blooms. The green crunch of hyacinth paves the way for solar ylang ylang and lemony rose. As it develops, the floral mélange turns more indolic white-floral in character, most recognisable as sweet orange blossoms. I feel as though I were looking at these flowers through a kaleidoscope, as one blossom morphs into another.
I can almost begin to paint a sunny morning, with opening flower buds and green leaves, if not for the penetrating floral note that detracts me from that fantasy. I begin to notice this aspect some ten minutes into the development, and it becomes more recognisable during each subsequent wear. This particular quality is redolent of La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreen. My fantasy of dawn suddenly turns into a stifling hot afternoon at a crowded beach with hundreds of sun bathers and the scents of sunscreen permeating the air, bombarding my nostrils.
Then, there is also the dense musky dry down that clings to skin. This is a departure from the transparency that marks many of his creations and I relish. Even if it confers good lasting power, I find it opaque and humdrum.
It would be lovely and enjoyable for me, if not for the impression of a sticky sunscreen and the monotonous dry down that does little to steer me away from that notion. But then again, this is personal. Perhaps, I may be at fault for having been using the sunscreen too much in the summer that the association is difficult to shake.
This is the first part in the series of ‘The bitter orange tree: bigarade, petitgrain, orange leaf, neroli, and orange blossom’.
Seville, Spain, is famous for its abundance of bitter orange trees (Citrus aurantium subspecies amara) that line the streets. Their prolific blossoms perfume the air in spring. They were brought in the ninth century by the Moors that ruled the south of Spain. The local bitter orange fruits are not directly consumed due to its intense sourness and bitterness, but are prized for their high pectin content — perfect for making marmalade.
The peel is, however, valued for its fragrant essential oils extracted by cold pressing. Bigarade oil is sourced from various places, but especially from Argentina and Ivory Coast. Despite being strongly citrusy, it is remarkably different from sweet orange oil (Citrus sinensis). Bigarade oil is less aldehydic, and possesses a fresh floral and bergamot-like character. Its pronounced bitterness is due to the presence of non-volatile, polar components that also set it apart from sweet orange oil. Certain molecularly distilled quality of bigarade oil provides a more intense fruity, zesty orange note with a balance between aldehydic character and fruity sweetness. Some main constituents are aliphatic aldehydes, oxygen-containing mono- and sesquiterpenes. Aldehyde C-8 to C-14, linalool, linalyl acetate, nootkatone, and α-selinenone could contribute to its odour character.
In perfumes, bigarade oil imparts distinct freshness to the composition, and for instance, is featured in Cologne Bigarade (Frédéric Malle, 2001) with as much as 50% bitter orange oil.
Part 2: Petitgrain oil and orange leaf absolute.
Sources: andalucia.com, Scent and Chemistry, The Molecular World of Odors, parfumo.de
- Ling Zhengkui, Hua Yingfang, and Gu Yuhong, The Chemical Constituents Of the Essential Oil from the Flowers, Leaves and Peels of Citrus Aurantium; in: Proc of the Intl Conf on Ess Oils, Flavours, Fragrances and Cosmetics, 380-381, Beijing, China, 9-13 October (1988).
- Mans H Boelens, Critical Review on the Chemical Composition of Citrus Oils, Perf & Flav, 16(2), 17-34 (1991).
- Mans H Boelens and Rafael Jimenez Sindreu, Essential Oils from Seville Sitter Orange (Citrus aurantium L. ssp. amara L.), BM Lawrence, BD Mookherjee and BJ Wllis (Editors), Flavors and Fragrances: A World Perspective. Proc of the 10th Intl Congr of Ess CMs, Fragrances and Flavors, Washington, DC, Elsevier Sci Publ BV, Amsterdam (1988).
- Mans H Boelens and Rafael Jimenez, The Chemical Composition of the Peel Oils from Unripe and Ripe Fruits of Bitter Orange, Citrus aurantium L ssp amara Engl, Flavour Fragr J, 4, 139-142 (1989).
The way I see it, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena is a master illusionist. He knows full well how to weave two ingredients together and seemingly conjure a third. For example, he would weave orange oil and the zesty, fruity, green Rhubofix to create the illusion of a grapefruit; or, he would combine the exotic fruits of Fructone and the caramel of ethyl maltol to create a strawberry. That way, he could render the theme of interest in a manner that seems to morph and change constantly much like the Impressionistic works of Pierre-Auguste Renoir or Claude Monet.
Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Such signature applies to Un Jardin sur le Toit (Hermès, 2011). Here, Ellena paints the rooftop garden of Hermès. Beginning with the aromatic and almost minty green of basil, it gives the impression that one has just stepped outside into the garden and caught a whiff of the aromatic bushes. The fruity, caramelic suggestion woven into the green note conjures, then, apples or pears that provide much of the canopy. Soon, there is also the floral touch done in light shades of magnolias and tea roses.
The depiction of its changing qualities is rendered by means of morphing accents of green herbs to fruits and light flowers. Yet, the essence of the garden, the large fruit trees of green apples and pears, remains. It lasts around four hours on me, which is reasonably long enough for its wispy nature. And it sits quietly.
For sure, Un Jardin sur le Toit is a well-executed composition. It is composed, and its aromatic accent tames the sweetness — that is a nice change. But if you are easily jaded by apples and pears, you might want to look in other pastures for something more daring. Otherwise, it is an easily likeable composition with understated and jovial quality. I see nothing wrong with its lovely apples and pears. After all, in the words of Renoir, ‘Why should art not be pretty? There are enough unpleasant things in the world’.
Sources: hermes.com, walcoo.net
Épice Marine (Hermès, 2013) was conceived as a result of the dialogue between perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena and chef Olivier Roellinger. They first met in 2011 in Cancale, the hometown of the Breton chef, and collaborated for eight months. Ellena took inspirations from the spices that arrived in Cancale, and he was also particularly enamoured of the roasted cumin. Meanwhile, Roellinger insisted on l’odeur du brouillard — odour of the mist — in the composition. These would come to shape the character of Èpice Marine.
The fresh misty ocean comes through in the form of bergamot, bitter orange, and a marine accord. Then, the spices arrive with the punch of sweaty cumin, the sweet accent of cinnamon, and the characteristic cardamom. That the cumin is roasted is conveyed by a touch of sesame. There is also a hint of aged whiskey, as if to suggest the long sea-bound journey. The theme of mild spices and marine notes form the character of Épice Marine, and it remains until the dry down, which is accented with a touch of vetiver.
The juxtaposition of aquatic notes and spices is executed with polish, but the idea itself feels a little too familiar. It is not that far from his earlier brainchilds like Déclaration (Cartier, 1998) or Un Jardin après la Mousson (Hermès, 2003). And, however much I enjoy Épice Marine, I cannot help but think that I could simply layer Déclaration, Un Jardin après la Mousson, and perhaps Cologne Bigarade (Frédéric Malle, 2001) for the same effect, or rather better with more projection and tenacity.
Therefore, one should not expect to find the unexpected in Épice Marine. But if one is in search of a well-executed composition with curious accents, this will not disappoint. It is a nicely done variation on the theme of soft spices.
Cuir d’Ange (Hermès, 2014) is named after the words in the novel Jean le Bleu. In the novel, author Jean Giono describes his shoemaker father working in his Provençal cobbler. Similarly, the composition is inspired by the leather of Hermès. According to perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena who explored the leather pieces kept in the firm’s vault, the magnificent skins, which are naturally tanned, ‘smell of flowers’. This interpretation indeed comes through in the composition. The delicate floral notes bring out an interesting facet as they morph seamlessly into the rich overtones of soft leather.
Cuir d’Ange opens with a sharp snap of hawthorn. Its crispness is as fresh as the cool spring air. This crisp introduction soon glides over to a floral mélange: violet, heady narcissus, and a touch of almond-like heliotrope. Its violet overtone gives Cuir d’Ange the impression of sweet leather handbags that exude a floral note. Its delicate theme seems to oscillate between floral and leather notes.
Towards the dry down, the bitter tang of its dry leather is noticeable, but the floral and leather notes are still seamlessly conjoined by musk. It is an interesting synergy. Those familiar with Ellena’s ethereal and wispy accord will find much to delight in this interesting leather etude. It may seem soft and bland in comparison to the dramatic leather chypres of Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944) or Cabochard (Grès, 1959), but its clarity of its uncluttered floral-leather accord is a charm to behold.
Lily of the valley or muguet is a classic example of flowers that refuse to yield a feasible quality or quantity of essence. Perfumers make it their eternal quest to capture its delicate scent. They initially constructed muguet based on combinations of essential oils, but later painted their ideas of the flower with the help of new aroma chemicals such as hydroxycitronellal, Lyral, and Lilial. But these were later found to be able to induce allergic reactions and are therefore restricted or even banned. Given such limitations, it is a creative challenge for perfumers to compose and interpret the scent of these white bells.
Enter Muguet Porcelaine (Hermès, 2016), a testament to the mastery of perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. The lily of the valley is vividly captured here with notes of fresh rose, spicy clove, jasmine, and green sap. A surprising melon accent makes the accord full-bodied with its fruity voluptuous touch. Its vivid beginning is as bright as the start of a fine spring day.
But as the clove-like freshness of its floral evaporates, the dewy greenery becomes more apparent. The interplay between peppery floral and watery green note keeps the muguet accord fresh. The sum is spot-lit, radiant lilies of the valley amidst their lush foliage. It also leaves a crisp green dry down that lingers for as long as six hours on me, and it has a green trail.
I adore it with just as much enthusiasm as I do Diorissimo (Dior, 1956). Whereas the latter is an impressionistic take that paints a mélange of muguets and damp woodlands, Muguet Porcelaine is a close study of muguet. Here, the white porcelain bells are clearly delineated with floral, spicy, and green nuances, and then nestled amidst their dewy leafy stalks. Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska gave a fantasy of vernal woodlands for Diorissimo, but Jean-Claude Ellena draws our attention also to its evergreen foliage — it provides just as beautiful a lush ground cover in summer and through to autumn. With Muguet Porcelaine, he met the creative challenge successfully and in his own way.
Jean-Claude Ellena observed a landscape during his trip to Ireland. Across from where he stayed, he saw the land, its meadow, and its wood sticks. ‘Someone must have been there and taken possession of it,’ he thought to himself, ‘that is why the landscape has been changed’. Armed with the concept of ‘terre’ that Hermès had issued earlier that year, he reflected on the astute observation and set about telling the story of earth and humanity. Eight months of industry and with thirty ingredients, a frank interplay between orange and dry woods was conceived as Terre d’Hermès (2006).
At first, it sparkles with citrusy effervescence of orange. Its brightness is complemented by those of aromatic green herbs and pink pepper. The bright mix of sweet orange and peppery herbs find perfect harmony classically with woods.
Therefore, these would dominate the dry down of Terre d’Hermès along with the citrus tang. They are marked by a cedary warmth, a vetiver note, and a sliver of woody-mossy resin. The combination is marked by unusual transparency and has a mineral dryness reminiscent of chalk dusts and flints. I find this part most intriguing as it allows the orange to shine even until the dry down.
Overall, it is fresh and earthy. Its simple character reflects the thought of life on a piece of land. It has a clear-cut, strong character coupled with great longevity and a gorgeous sillage of dry orange and mossy woods. It has all the qualities of a very good composition.