Jean-Claude Ellena on Gourmand Fragrances

Jean-Claude Ellena, the exclusive perfumer for Hermès and author of “Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent,” admires [Thierry Mugler] Angel for its structure. “It has a strong shape,” he said. “People can recognize you in the street as somebody who wears Angel.” But he refuses to use sugary notes in his own perfumes. “When you use the sugary gourmand product, I know by experience that you please easily,” Mr. Ellena said. “And when you please easily, people are pleased for the moment, but after they forget. I prefer a perfume that is more difficult to understand.”

From New York Times’s article A Little Confection Behind the Ear. Thanks to Tom for a link!



  • karin: As much as I love gourmand fragrances, I love this statement!!! That’s what makes a great perfumer – one who challenges himself, seeks mystery, and doesn’t follow obvious trends and paths. December 6, 2011 at 10:42am Reply

  • Andy: I completely agree with Mr. Ellena on sugary notes—except for the fact that, when someone walks by me smelling of cotton candy, I am not pleased for even a second! Though perhaps it might seem artistically limiting to exclude any note from one’s palatte, I am sure that Ellena would use a sugary note in one of his creations if it seemed right. A true artist (which I believe him to be) sacrifices their proclivities in order to make their work the best it can be. December 6, 2011 at 3:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like gourmand fragrances too, but I completely agree with you–it is great to see a perfumer follow his own aesthetic ideas, rather than the trends. Of course, he has that luxury, being more or less independent. December 6, 2011 at 10:46am Reply

  • Le critique de parfum ❀: That’s a very disappointing statement from Monsieur Ellena. Dismissing notes he doesn’t like is sad. There are indeed many complex and difficult to understand gourmands (Lutens comes to mind). Fragrances that people don’t forget and cherish. Fragrances that have to be respect. December 6, 2011 at 2:10pm Reply

  • julie: Very interesting point. I always wonder why people try and re-try and re-try “difficult” fragrances that they don’t “get” or even like, but feel they should. I say, just wear what you like – there’s so much stuff out there, why not wear the things you like immediately (and I am a gourmands fan, so that makes sense!). BUT I do agree with his point in other arts like music, movies, books, even food where instantly easy to like things are often fluff (although fun) and diffult things are often (but not always) more satisfying. So perhaps I need to challenge myself more with perfume. December 6, 2011 at 7:16pm Reply

  • Victoria: Perhaps, I am mistaken, but I read his statement as referring to the cotton candy notes and its type that are used today in trendy, crowd pleasing perfumes today. I do agree with you that there are some gourmand fragrances that are distinctive and memorable, but they are usually much more than just Angel copy cats. December 6, 2011 at 3:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: I appreciate Ellena doing something different. I cannot say that his fragrances always move me, but they have a very distinctive, memorable character. That’s something one finds so rarely today. December 6, 2011 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Le critique de parfum ❀: I’m not sure about the US Victoria, but in France blockbusters are not that sweet really. From Infusion d’Iris to Chloé, from Insolence to Essence I think we passed that phase.

    Now it’s all about weird notes of disinfectant and house cleaning products. Definitely more off-putting than vanilla custard.

    Ellena statement is actually equivalent to “sex sells”. Which is true to a certain extent, but hardly the recipe for a sure-fire hit.

    It’s not THAT easy, and as a perfume composer he should know better. December 6, 2011 at 9:43pm Reply

  • Persolaise: It’s an interesting comment from him, but it’s patently untrue. I wouldn’t say that Angel pleases “easily”. In fact, ‘easy’ is the last word I’d use to describe its effect. And I also don’t agree with “after they forget”. Angel is nothing if not memorable.

    I think I can understand what he’s trying to say, but surely there are ‘challenging’, memorable gourmands and there are simplistic gourmands, in the same way that there are challenging wood scents and simplistic wood scents. December 7, 2011 at 1:42am Reply

  • karin: Yeah, and there’s always the pressure to make $, which often prevents perfumers (or any artist, for that matter) from doing what they want. December 7, 2011 at 8:23am Reply

  • Nikki: Interesting, someone sprayed Angel in a room and I had to leave…regarding blockbusters, as far as I recall Angel was the Number One seller in France as well and it was a “blockbuster” (in reply to Critique).

    Now off to smelling Candy by Prada… December 7, 2011 at 10:54am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree with you, but from experience, I know that adding sweet, cotton candy notes to a formula usually improves its market appeal score by a big margin. In France, especially. December 7, 2011 at 7:04am Reply

  • Victoria: You point it out nicely. Yes, I do the same thing with books, movies, food, perfume. Otherwise, I gravitate towards the same thing. December 7, 2011 at 7:09am Reply

  • Victoria: That's so true! December 7, 2011 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: Candy is not particularly sugary. I like it very much–it is like an iris caramel. December 7, 2011 at 3:43pm Reply

  • Nikki F.: I imagine the context of what the reporter actually asked Mr. Ellena is as important as the quote, and sadly that is missing. The section on Mr. Ellena’s views feels like an add-on at the end of the article. Perhaps he was asked on the topic while promoting his book for another article?

    I respect Ellena but honestly many of his scents come across as simple and easy to please, the sour-floral Jardin sur le Nil and watery-sweet Iris Ukiyoe among these. Perhaps it depends on both your definition of sweet and your definition of easy pleasure. Santal Massoia is both elegant and easy, sweet fig and coconut wood definite crowd pleasers. December 8, 2011 at 7:33pm Reply

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