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Quite recently Hermès announced that nose Christine Nagel would be joining Jean-Claude Ellena as new nose to create new fragrances together for this legendary luxury brand. It was interesting news for many reasons. One is that Jean-Claude Ellena has been alone in his role for a long time (a decade) and it is hard to distinguish what is Hermès and what is master Ellena in an Hermès fragrance. Each fragrance is permeated by his artistry and endless choices down to the most detailed detail. Some were surprised by the choice. I am not familiar enough with Christine Nagels character as a nose to say anything about it other than that it is obvious that taking in a new nose to work with Ellena at Hermès must be a very particular process since everything about this brand is an homage to detail and perfection. So I am curious to discover what this new phase will bring and what Christine Nagel will bring to it. She is the nose behind many Jo Malone fragrances and Narcisco Rodriguez For Her so not at all a typical French haute parfumerie artist but more contemporary in her style.

Photo of Ellena and Nagel in The Cut.

Photo of Ellena and Nagel in The Cut.

The Cut recently did an interview with the new nose team that includes some really interesting statements. Direct and art-focused, just like the fragrances that monsieur Ellena makes.

I do recommend you to read the interview but let me share some highlights. The description of their collaboration is something many creative professionals can relate to and be inspired by. It’s great to hear a master such as Ellena describe their differences as an asset and then their generous way of working as a strength of their team work. They describe progressing together and surprising each other.

The discussion on luxury is also very interesting, this is really a core question in today’s market and zeitgeist I believe. We are becoming more globalized and more ethical consumers which leads to a decreasing interest in show-off luxury items in informed markets. Consumers want something else than a shortcut that mainly signals affluence, the “specialness” in luxury has changed. Jean-Claude Ellena says: “There is no scent that is luxurious. It’s what we do with it that makes it luxurious. Otherwise, how will we know when something is luxurious? The supreme luxury is to take time, and we have time at Hermès” and adds, “the thing that is important at Hermès is that it is the perfumer who decides whether the perfume will go on the market”. He concludes, “this is really the luxury, the freedom”. There is another perfume house characterized by this rule, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. A much anticipated launch can be delayed because the perfume is not ready. If this is considered luxurious working conditions for the perfumer, than how luxurious is it not for the person who wears the perfume to know that this is the level of dedication and ambition behind it? Does this mean that these perfumes are better? If I look to myself, definitely these two perfume houses take up more space in my perfume collection than other ones and I made many of those selections before knowing these facts behind them. Not surprising of course that Malle’s fragrance range includes two creations by Jean-Claude Ellena.

Jean-Claude Ellena's photo from his lab. Photo used in The Cut.

Jean-Claude Ellena’s photo from his lab. Photo used in The Cut.

For Hermès fans it should be interesting to read the description of Hermès as a day and afternoon brand. To be honest I had actually never thought of this aspect. When I think about it though I realize that in fact I never wear Ellena perfumes in the evening or night, it never felt right. Voyage, Bigarade give me fresh air and energy as I embark on a new day. Ambre Narguilé comfort for an afternoon that closes circles. There is one exception though, Poivre Samarcande, this one I love for a dinner with conversations about life and travel!

I will not reveal more, read the interview. It’s great. And then you will also find out what smelled of vanilla and mold.

For more Ellena I suggest this interview at Perfume Shrine and this one or even better, reading monsieur Ellena’s own books.

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This weekend we had an opportunity to enjoy the treasures of Grasse more than during the weekdays since we are in school at Grasse Institute of Perfumery from morning to around 5 pm.

After a week of smelling you would think we would be tired of olfactory sensations but that is just not the case. So when our initial plan of going to the coast got cancelled because no buses were driving due to a procession celebrating the liberation of Grasse we quickly adjusted a plan to local adventures.

One week of smelling in paper strips. The luxury!

Our first stop was the perfumerie Beauty Success. Maybe you can imagine that in Grasse a perfumery with top-sellers is actually quite unusual. It is much easier to find essential oils and local perfumers and their perfumes. From the outside and at first glance Beauty Success looks like just another perfumery really but when you enter you see that they offer an impressive range considering the store is not that big. And – most importantly you can also find some true treasures. I found three.

The first I noticed on my first visit a few days ago, Coriandre by Jean Couturier from 1973. Two gift boxes. The reason they attracted my attention is that I have a friend in Stockholm whose mother wore it when she was a child. This is not a bottle you will se very often in stores, I have not seen it ever (!) so obviously I had to buy it to bring home with me for my friend so that she and her mother could do some sensory time-travelling. 
1973.

The second treasure was the epic Pour un Homme by Caron, originally launched in 1934. It has a very minimalistic composition with just lavender, vanilla and musk. A treasure and a kind of male fragrance that we just don’t find anymore. If it were launched today I am quite sure it would be unisex.
My third purchase was a less rare one, but a favorite of mine – Voyage for Hermès by Jean-Claude Ellena. I wear this fragrance a lot and have given it to several persons dear to me. I have the eau de toilette and deodorant but at Beauty Success they had a really nice gently scented “baume hydratant” which I have never either seen or noticed. Perfect. 

One of the best things about Beauty Success is the lady who owns it. After I paid for my purchase she asked me if I wanted her “to perfume me”. I was not quite sure what exactly she meant and I have actually never received this question like that before, so I got curious and asked her. My reward for my curiosity was the most brilliant explanation about how a person that sells perfume should – on a very concrete level – perfume the customer (if the customer says yes). Most things sounded very obvious when she said them but I am painfully aware that many many many individuals who work in retail do not think about these things. Short version with the main ones: 

  • Do not spray the front and especially never the décolletage but rather sides and back 
  • Be careful with glasses (that means do not spray on them)
  • Be careful with jewelry (that means do not spray on it)
  • Do not spray on the clothes of a customer wearing delicate fabrics such as silk
  • Spray lightly 

I know – it sounds self-explanatory. But tell me you have never seen or experienced mistakes with these details?

Something about Grasse… My guess is that if you are a reader of a perfume blog the name sounds familiar. Grasse is known as the world’s capital of perfume but the local perfume industry started with leather tanning in the Middle Ages. Galimard, a tanner in Grasse started to scent leather gloves which smelled badly and after he offered a pair to Catherina de Medici the city’s olfactory destiny was sealed. The perfume industry soon became the main activity as the local leather industry decreased while the demand for scents made from local flowers such as lavender, rose, jasmine and mimosa increased rapidly. 
Jasmine.
Grasse is a town in Provence, the part of Provence called Alpes-Maritimes and just about 53,000 persons live here. Many of the world’s noses come from this region or have been trained here and most of France’s natural aromas come from fields around Grasse. An example is jasmine, a key ingredient in fine perfumery. The roses used in the extract version of Chanel no 5 also come from Grasse. The main perfume destinations for visitors to Grasse are:

• Galimard Perfumery, established in 1747 by Jean de Galimard who provided the royal court with perfumes.

• Molinard, established in 1849 and famous for perfume bottles made of Baccarat crystal and Lalique glass.

• The Fragonard Perfumery, established in 1926 in one of the oldest factories in the city.

• Musée International de la Parfumerie – International Perfume Museum. The museum has exhibitions that show the evolution of techniques during the 5,000 year history of perfumery.

And just outside the city centre, you will also find Grasse Institute of Perfumery where I spend my happy days right now smelling paper strip after paper strip of marvel and experimenting in the lab with own creations.
Sometimes it feels like we are in a movie.

Insects have the most acute sense of smell in all nature and used it for all sorts of physical courtship. A queen bee attracts drone males with an indisputably welcoming scent from a gland in her mouth. In an experiment scientists harvested this scent and put it on a flying balloon. Drones clung to the balloon in layers desperate to mate. No wonder the queen bees are not exactly humble… The same gland produces another pheromone that worker bees take from the queen and distribute to female workers bees. The effect it has on these is that their reproduction ability is killed. This means that there will never be another queen bee competing for the spotlight until the first one has died and stopped distributing her pheromones.

pinterest.com/pin/62980094758592720/

There are more than twenty thousand species of bees but only a couple of them can make honey. They make it by using nectar from flowers. Honey is actually partially digested food that bees store in the hive during winter when no nectar is available. It takes about ten worker honey bees to make one tea spoon of honey and each bee’s contribution to that tea spoon corresponds to the amount of honey it will produce during its lifetime. In 2006, honey bees suddenly started to disappear in the US. When this was discovered a more careful monitoring of the honeybees was conducted and soon it was clear that this was a global phenomenon. This phenomenon was named Colony Collapsed Disorder. It affected the honey supply of course, but also all crops globally that are pollinated by bees. It is still not entirely clear how this started but research indicates that is has to do with pesticides severely affecting the nervous and immune systems of the bees.

Cave paintings in Valencia, Spain, seem to reveal that humans have been harvesting honey for at least 15,000 years. Bees have been producing honey for about 150 million years.

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Mesolithic rock painting of a honey hunter harvesting honey and wax
from a bees nest in a tree. At Cuevas de la
Araña en Bicorp
.


Honey almost sounds too obviously “nice” to be perceived as something interesting enough to analyze and be seduced by. It is enormously attractive visually of course, like liquid jewellery. But still, it is also something we associate with tea and honey and home made facial masks, right? Honey does play an interesting role in perfume though and can be found in an impressively wide range of fragrances. And the history of honey is mesmerizing and impressive. Yet we tend to not really speak about it that much in perfume contexts. Why is that? Honey seems to be like the pretty smiling well-composed sister that gets forgotten at the family dinner because the little magnates, monsters, delinquents, clowns, professors and divas demand all the attention. But we should not forget about honey. Honey is sweetness with attitude and patina.

pinterest.com/pin/271693789991704744/

Honey is versatile and interesting. In daily life it is a wonderful sweetener but also has health benefits. Honey builds up our immune system, soothes sore throats, fights with bacteria, viruses and fungi and helps with hangovers. Phytonutrients found in honey seem to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties, and may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.

When used in perfume the honey note is sweet in a soft and balsamic way, soothing. The scent can vary from woodsy to floral, herbal or tobacco-scented. It is often used as a prelude to the gourmand character of a fragrance. The honey used in perfumery is typically created from beeswax and molecular ingredients found in organic honey.

Melting beeswax. pinterest.com/pin/1407443603097640/
You’ll find honey in an epic olfactory diva like Dior’s Poison but also in Jo Malone’s youthful Nectarine Blossom & Honey and in Chanel’s Beige. And in a very unfrightening cosy Honey I washed the kids. In Acqua di Cuba by Santa Maria Novella honey is combined with herbs, tobacco and citrus. It is a warm fragrance, slightly spicy with a vanilla base. If you are into Serge Lutens look for Miel de Bois and A La Nuit. There’s an interesting discussion on Miel de Bois here. One of my personal favorites, Ambre Narguilé by Jean-Claude Ellena, also has a honey in a sultry olfactory performance that is nothing for a shy day. Another gourmand honey fragrance is Thierry Mugler’s Angel, brilliantly exposed by The Perfumed Dandy. To get to know TPD’s world – and honey analysis – better, just click anywhere on the eloquent area below. (And for a female Dandy, do check out the review from Olfactoria’s Travel of La Dandy).

Other honey fragrances and thoughts of them can be found here: Hedonist by Viktoria Minya, Perfum de Luxe from enchanting DSH reviewed by the lovely Sigrun and the exquisite dark unusual M/Mink from Byredo. 
Honey can be kept for thousands of years without losing its qualities. An extra-ordinary example of this is the honey found in Tutankhamen’s tomb which was still edible after more than 2,000 years. Honey is mentioned as a symbol of good things in many sacred writings. In Hinduism it is considered as one of the five elixirs of immortality in Hinduism. The Promised Land, Canaan, is “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The word “honey” itself reveals a powerful, sacral significance. This word originates from the ancient Hebrew word for “enchant.” Honey is considered kosher, even though it is produced by non-kosher beings. The explanation for this can be found in the fact that bees during Biblical times were wild bees who carried nectar from flowers to hives for storage in the shape of sweet liquid gold. Beekeeping was developed long after this. And honey, the liquid sacred sweet gold, will be around long after this…

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’.

As you know by now Jean-Claude Ellena is a very significant person in my life. 🙂 This man embodies so much of what fascinates me about perfume and my favorites among his creations are olfactory milestones in my life. A couple of weeks ago Chandler Burr talked about Jean-Claude Ellena at this year’s Pitti Fragranze. How much I wish I had been there. I now wait impatiently to hear Clayton’s reflections on What Men Should Smell Like. He was there.

JCE for president.

September has been a hectic month. I have great adventures going on. Some writing, a couple of little perfume development projects, an extremely inspiring signature scent consultation process going on and traveling. And then actually for most of the time – my day job at a PR company. 🙂 With all this adventurama the scents that accompany me become quite significant. So I have been wearing Neroli Portofino and Bigarade Concentrée at work to keep my mind alert, and Vaniglia del Madagascar from Farmacia SS Annunziata in weekends to relax. But now I need some new stimulation. So I have decided to spend a week with Hermès Hermessence line, one perfume per day. This kind of scent odyssey is an interesting way to discover a nose, in this case, Jean-Claude Ellena. The way the perfumes are composed, the clarity of the scent and the immaculate Ellenesque way of making strong notes feel light and undemanding.

I inaugurated this journey today with Poivre Samarcande, a perfume that is an excellent example precisely of Jean-Claude Ellena’s sensitive ability to play with the volume of notes if you permit the music reference. It starts out strong, not heavy, but strong with a direct presence that makes you very aware of the perfume you just applied. On me this last about an hour, not more. Then it just exhales, and lies down on your skin and the incense-like sharp woodiness becomes a soft spice veil. I imagine that lying in a big room a few blocks away from a spice market…a few hundred years ago…this is the scent that the transparent floating flowing curtains would reveal as the wind carried the air over the market to my house. But with only the nicest spices… I love this fragrance. It is so elegant and so clean. Slightly severe. No sweetness, no trying to please. Intellectual. And warm skin that smells of travel to places far away.

Samarkand, or Samarqand, is a city in Uzbekistan. It is on the Silk Road between China and the West. In 2001 it was added to UNESCO:s Wold Heritage List. Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

The Registan in Samarqand.

Tomorrow is Rose Ikebana day.

PS: You can order your own Hermessence or other Jean-Claude Ellena creations for Hermès directly from Hermès via their beautiful web.

I must admit, even a base note woman like myself can find pleasure in a perky summery fragrance. Not many, but a few. But I do look forward to boots, blankets and fuller blends. A launch that makes me curious is L’Ambre des Merveilles, a new interpretation of Hermès’ Eau des Merveilles from 2004 that will be in stores in August. Eau des Merveilles was created by Ralf Schwieger and Nathalie Feisthauer but the new interpretation is created by Jean-Claude Ellena (as were L’Elixir des Merveilles and Eau Claire des Merveilles). Ellena often speaks of how a perfume’s identity and character can be given different olfactive expressions. It is always interesting to study his creations, just take the EdT and the EdP of Voyage, and compare them for example.

Lovely detail with the two bases on the bottle of L’Ambre des Merveilles that can be used to create movement of the sparkly stars.