Jean-Claude Ellena: 38 posts

Hermes Muguet Porcelaine : Perfume Review

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Last week I talked about perfumery as “the art of fortunate proportions,” and one of the best examples for this idea is the newest fragrance from Hermès, Muguet Porcelaine. Created by Jean-Claude Ellena just as he prepared to give over the reins of the house to Christine Nagel, it feels like a recap of his work over the past few decades. Ellena is not leaving Hermès, and he will be delighting his fans with other perfumes, and yet, there is something nostalgic in Muguet Porcelaine, a tender lily of the valley.

muguet-porcelaine

Muguet Porcelaine is also a tribute to a legendary perfumer who influenced Ellena, Edmond Roudnitska. Ellena, however, denies it, commenting that it was time to create lily of the valley for Hermès’s portfolio, but it’s hard not to spot the parallels between the two. In my review for the Financial Times’s HTSI column, I follow the clues. Muguet Porcelaine is delicate without being precious and ethereal without being evanescent. It lingers for several hours and creates an illusion of a springtime breeze.

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Hermes Le Jardin de Monsieur Li : Perfume Review

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The connection between eyes and nose can play funny tricks. The first time I smelled Hermès’s Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, the most recent release in its ethereal Le Jardin series, I thought that it was “dewy, refined and intriguingly minimalist.” When a couple of weeks later I revisited it during a blind smelling exercise, I was no longer thrilled. “Well, this thing is somewhat dull,” I thought to myself, and I was a little surprised to discover the name of the perfume I was sniffing. Surely, I couldn’t have come to such different conclusions about the same perfume?

hermes le jardin

Hermès is one of the renowned brands on the market, and its fragrances have quality, style and elegance. Simply holding the heavy glass bottle in my hand, I already expect that it will contain all of the above. Unfortunately, selecting perfume based on such preconceived notions will lead to a wardrobe full of expensive designer brands and little to thrill you. The only criterion that matters for finding the right fragrance is whether it gives you a jolt of pleasure. For all of its appealing traits, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li leaves me indifferent.

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Hermes Cuir d’Ange : Perfume Review

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Cuir d’Ange is the most recent addition to the Hermès Hermessence collection, a line of fragrances sold exclusively at the house’s boutiques. The idea is to capture the nuances of famous Hermès leather, which smells of flowers and musk. The perfumer behind it is Jean-Claude Ellena, a master of the most ethereal and delicate compositions, and as you would expect, Cuir d’Ange, Angel’s Leather, stays true to its name. It’s wispy and sheer, as if the leather that inspired it was polished to remove any traces of animal funk and made to smell like someone’s clean skin.

cuir hermes

Cuir d’Ange is pure comfort. Although I like to think of myself as someone unafraid of the raunchiest animalic scents, my favorite leathers in perfume bottles are soft and cuddly. I’m more in the camp of Bottega Veneta than that of Robert Piguet Bandit on most days. So, here you go. For this reason, the first time I smelled Cuir d’Ange, I felt that I discovered my ideal leather–creamy, suave, and mild. On the other hand, if you want the odor of a beaver in heat and don’t wish to settle for anything less, Cuir d’Ange will strike you as wimpy and bland.

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Hermes Bel Ami and Bel Ami Vetiver : Fragrance Review

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Even for the accomplished perfumer, re-orchestrating a classic is a formidable task. Not only does the new version have to respect the original spirit, it needs to add a new, distinctive twist. In addition, it must also follow current regulatory stipulations on the use of ingredients, be on budget and make sense within the brand’s DNA. No wonder most remakes fall short of such high expectations.

bel-ami-vetiver-hermes

Hermès is a more respectful brand than most others of its heritage, but I was nevertheless skeptical of the proposition to rework their classics, which include such legends as Caléche and modern gems such as Hiris. The consolation was that  the new versions redesigned by in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena would live alongside the originals. The first in the series was Bel Ami Vétiver, which reinterpreted the leather chypre from 1986.

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Hermes Epice Marine : Perfume Review

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When it comes to telling compelling stories, Hermès takes the prize. The house’s perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, is the author of Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent and The Diary of a Nose, and he is a natural storyteller. Perfumes in the Hermessence collection are like pages from his personal journal, some inspired  by his travels, others by his native Provence. Epice Marine, introduced earlier this fall, was likewise inspired by Ellena’s adventures, but this time it’s also marked by a collaboration with another artisan.

epice marine

The fragrance came together as Ellena met and corresponded with chef Olivier Roellinger. Ellena travels the world in search of interesting scents, while Roellinger’s quest is for spices. Back in Brittany, a fog shrouded region along France’s northern shore, he composes spices into complex bouquets. If your idea of a spice blend is a Madras curry mix, then Roellinger’s delicate, harmonious blends will come as a surprise. When I sprinkle his Poudre Sérinissima over a tomato salad, I also want to dust my skin with this ginger and saffron accented powder. Who else could be a better collaborator and muse for a perfumer?

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