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Monthly Archives: October 2012

When I was very very young my grandmother used to spend the winters with us. Every winter when the first snow fell she would tell me the same thing, “if you rub the first snow of the season onto your cheeks you will be young forever“.

A few nights ago I went out for a moment late in the evening and instantly I knew. Entering the house I exclaimed “It smells like snow!”. Even in such a northern place as Stockholm this is a statement that is not taken seriously in the middle of October.

But then yesterday evening, there it was.

How snow smells? Sweet. Wet. Naked. Young. Secret. Sleek. Light. Transient.

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I find it interesting that of all the Hermessence fragrances it seems quite apparent that Vetiver Tonka is the most popular one. Not so surprised that many would like it because it is really sublime, but rather perhaps that it makes so many different types of personalities feel really comfortable in it. Personally, I find it extra-ordinary so I am definitely one of the fans. I love having this fragrance on me. It is so elegant and so well-balanced in its presence. But not only that, it is also a fragrance with a lot of integrity and definitely has a little playful or mysterious twist. Maybe it is that perfect mix of extremely being comfortable but also unusual that makes it attractive so many of those who try it. It is not very famous though, outside perfumista circles.

Photo of Jean-Claude Ellena from WSJ

Some facts. Vetiver Tonka was created in 2004, and by Jean-Claude Ellena naturally. In an earlier post on vetiver, I mentioned that one of the things that make it so interesting is how different one vetiver is from another. (If you want an example, find a sample of Vetiver Tonka and one of Le Labo’s Vetiver and you will experience the versatility of vetiver). Not only because of what it is combined with and how it is used in the composition of a fragrance, but also depending on its origin. I find it a fascinating note, vetiver is to me full of contradiction and has a strange kind of depth, tension and coarseness that makes me think of traveling and in particular taking the taxi from the airport late at night in an unknown place and then driving through landscapes that smell of a cool sky but a hot ground. I have no idea exactly where this idea comes from, what specific situation or place but that’s how I feel about vetiver.

In Vetiver Tonka, after The Great Zest that introduces it, the vetiver is wrapped in a soft cashmere hue created by the tonka bean. Some describe the tonka as adding an almost gourmand aspect to this perfume but I don’t feel that at all. On my skin it never becomes really sweet. It just lingers playing its textures. And it’s just so very sophisticated. 

“Odor is a word, perfume is literature.” 
Jean-Claude Elena

I love a good challenge so I went from Vetiver Tonka to Rose Ikebana. A contrast, to say the least. (The attentive reader of this blog will note that my last post was not about Vetiver Tonka but about Poivre Samarcande. I am not ready with Vetiver Tonka yet, there is too much to think and say about it… To be continued.)

Hermessence is a shared line, but I do find it hard to imagine Rose Ikebana on a man’s skin. However, I realize that there are certainly male skins and male characters that would bring other aspects out of this fragrance than the ones that appear for me on me. This is a sad thing to confess, but I have yet to find a rose that gets along with me. I can see the sensuality that rose creates on others, both men and women, but on me it just feels awkward. I want the fresh dewy petal but I get soap. I want the soft velvety texture but I just feel Laura Ashley and English cottage. I want the iconic romance but I just get the cliché. But I am not prepared to give up. Rose Ikebana is not for me though. But I would love to meet someone who wears it in a way that makes the fragrance expose all its nuances.

But enough about me and back to the fragrance. Rose Ikebana has notes of rose tea, infusion of petals, peony, magnolia, pink peppercorn, zest of grapefruit, rhubarb and vanilla honey. Ellena described it saying that it “was created to reflect the touch of silk on the skin”. He wanted to capture the contrast of rose petal and crisp rhubarb, a very lovely idea. Ellena looked to the Japanese art of Ikebana, a minimalist way of arranging flowers, for structure and inspiration.

The liaison between the aesthetics of Ikebana and Ellena fragrances is obvious. The focus, the stringent presentation of notes.

Rose Ikebana has a lovely sheer innocence about it. It allows a kiss on the cheek but not more. It also refuses to present itself fully to me, so I am quite curious to hear someone else’s divergent thoughts. Also it makes me feel like reading ‘The Tale of Genji’.