Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena : “I prefer salty and bitter”


Jean-Claude Ellena, the current Hermès nose, is a creator of an amazing range of fragrances, from elegant Van Cleef & Arpels First and vivid Balenciaga Rumba to ethereal The Different Company Divine Bergamote. Here is an excerpt from one his interviews, in which he discusses the materials he loves.

“I admit that there are some materials I dislike, with which I feel uncomfortable, vanillin, heliotropin, all that is sweetened in general. I prefer salty and bitter. Anyway, I always made sure not to confuse cuisine with perfumery. Among my favorite ingredients are hedione, of course, helional, and those which I like to call “trace” materials, because they are so expressive: violet leaf, lovage, and everlasting flowers.”



  • MC: Very interesting interview – though I’ve found some of his recent perfumes to be sweet and (almost) edible. Vetiver Tonka, for example, which to me smells like a thin seam of Guerlain’s Vetiver sandwiched between a topping of creme brûlée and a base of muesli. No bad thing. September 28, 2005 at 4:23am Reply

  • parislondres: Interesting comparison to works of Pierre Soulages whom I have admired for many years.
    Thanks V! September 28, 2005 at 3:18am Reply

  • Liz: I wish I enjoyed his fragrances. So far, they all seem oddly bloodless to me. Feel free to chase me with torches! I know they are concise and “brainy” compositions, and I like brainy, but the last time I checked my brain needs blood to function. September 28, 2005 at 11:12am Reply

  • Liz: An animalic base you say? My nose just started twitching… September 28, 2005 at 11:19am Reply

  • mreenymo: Salty and bitter? Huh? Which of his fragrances is he talking about, V? :):) Maybe he means that he prefers popcorn to candy when he goes to the movies. LOL!

    I still love him and his creations. I can’t wait until Osmanthe Yunnan debuts. I might purchase it unsniffed!

    Hugs! September 28, 2005 at 11:26am Reply

  • Liz: And here I thought it meant I’m going to be scanning ebay for decants… September 28, 2005 at 11:27am Reply

  • Robin: Love that interview (and all the interviews on Scented Pages). Would love to see the update where he explains his newer, more gourmand fragrances in light of his earlier distaste. Did he just change his mind, or is it a nod to the prevailing market trends? September 28, 2005 at 12:10pm Reply

  • linda: I tried Divine Bergamot and thought that it was too fleeting. Ambre Narguille might be more to my taste. I like rich and sweet. September 28, 2005 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Liz: Even Ambre Narguile seemed vaguely watery to me. I totally agree with Tania that it lacks a certain creaminess. Though I like the Big Red opening. September 28, 2005 at 1:07pm Reply

  • Liz: I would say the cinnamon opening was easily my favorite aspect of the fragrance. The drydown reminded me of Escada Collection, minus the richness (it did not smell terribly ambery to me either). Since I already have Collection, and since the cinnamon, though pleasant, was fairly fleeting, I wasn’t too tempted by AN. September 28, 2005 at 1:15pm Reply

  • Tania: Ah, now I love him even more than I did before. “Calm, open, and competitive” — the ideal! 😉

    I didn’t even know he did Bulgari’s green tea fragrance. That was one of the only “fresh, clean” fragrances I would wear before getting really into fragrance. And he admires L’Heure Bleue and FdB. So this means that now I have to go back and try First, which I never really gave a chance. September 28, 2005 at 10:12am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, you are welcome! It is an interesting remark. I certainly love his work, and learning about him makes me appreciate it even more. September 28, 2005 at 10:56am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Mike, after you mentioned Vetiver Tonka as an abstract gourmand fragrance (in the context of my article Abstract Desserts), I decided to go back and try it. You are definitely right that it has a burned sugar and muesli element, both of which I liked. I also find other fragrances in Hermessences to be abstractly gourmand–Poivre Samarcande is steak au poivre (as Tania mentioned once), Ambre Narguile is a Middle Eastern dessert and Rose Ikebana is a rose and rhubarb sorbet. I do not mind at all! September 28, 2005 at 11:00am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, you really need to try Rumba, which is very interesting. First is an embodiment of elegance, aldehydes over a beautiful floral bouquet.

    Glad that you liked the interview! September 28, 2005 at 11:03am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, chase you with torches? Never! I can see what you mean if talking about TDC and FM fragrances, even though I like them neverthless. On the other hand, have you tried Rumba? It seems like something you might like–very unusual and vibrant. Caramelized plum over an animalic base. September 28, 2005 at 11:17am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: LOL! Yes, it is animalic and rather rich.
    If your nose twitches, then you are going to be drinking tonight (according to a Russian folk belief). 🙂 September 28, 2005 at 11:25am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, lol! I think that Divine Bergamote and Cologne Bigarrade could be termed as salty. Lately, many of his creations have a definite sweet edge.

    I also cannot wait for Osmanthe Yunnan! It sounds like it might turn out to be wonderful. We shall see… September 28, 2005 at 11:30am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, we are establishing our own patterns of superstitions and signs! Nose twitching=new perfume quest. September 28, 2005 at 11:32am Reply

  • Tania: I’ve noticed that his sweeter fragrances have a remarkable lack of *creaminess*—they’re fat-free, I guess you could say. They hover, they float. I can see why Liz might find them bloodless, and some of his scents (Eau de Cartier?) definitely contributed to the Eau d’Issey style of minimalist “clean” scents that predominated for a while. But I think some fragrances smell like body, and some smell like breath, if that makes any sense. J-C E does breath awfully well. (Did I mention that I recently smoked a hookah that tasted *exactly* like Ambre Narguile?) September 28, 2005 at 12:13pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I love Scented Pages. It is such a great resource, and that interview has been one of my favourites (among others done with JCE). I also would love to hear his take on the sweet notes in his recent fragrances. September 28, 2005 at 12:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, interesting observation. Ambre Narguile has an element as a part of its composition that I envision as a cloud of vapour rising above a plate of freshly baked baklava. It is such a beautifully done fragrance (although Vetiver Tonka is something I reach for more often).

    I have smoked hookah only once, but I do not remember the taste, other than something sweet. What type of tobacco was it? September 28, 2005 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Tania: I’ve only smoked a hookah once, too! It just so happened that this one tasted just like AN. I wish I could tell you what kind of tobacco was in it, but it was in this club called Kush Lounge in NYC on the Lower East Side. The waitress simply set the hookah down in front of us and walked off. Every table got one. We just started puffing without knowing what it was. I know, I move in scandalous circles. 😉 September 28, 2005 at 12:26pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ah, the dark side of Tania comes out! 🙂 I smoked hookah at my stepbrother’s house. He just stuffed it with some sort of mixture, which was sweet and maybe a little bit redolent of a ripe apple. It was not bad, but I would like to try some nice tobacco next. September 28, 2005 at 12:30pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, Divine Bergamote is light, but I recommend spraying, rather than dabbing. I disliked nearly all of TDC fragrances until I obtained little atomizers. That being said, if you like richer compositions, Ambre Narguile and other Hermessence fragrances will suit you better. September 28, 2005 at 1:07pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, if I were not wearing FT already, I would retest Ambre Narguile. Your comment about Big Red opening made me curious, particularly because I love cinnamon. There are few fragrances that do the note well, without making the composition resemble potpourri. September 28, 2005 at 1:11pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Makes perfect sense! I did not get too much amber out of AN either. It was mostly a cloud of tobacco smoke and baked dessert vapours. I have a small 15ml bottle, which is enough for now. September 28, 2005 at 1:20pm Reply

  • Katie: Baked dessert vapors sounds infinitely good to me 🙂 “Salty” wasn’t a note I thought I’d ever cotton to until recently. I’m not sure how I’d feel about “salty” AND “bitter” though. (But then, I don’t mind some measured sweetness either.) September 28, 2005 at 3:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, if you have not had a chance to try Hermessence series, I would highly recommend them. None of his fragrances strike me as bitter, although a hint of saltiness is present even in AN, balancing out the sweetness. September 28, 2005 at 7:38pm Reply

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