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Hermés

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.

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.

It sounds almost to obviously ”nice” to be interesting, but honey really does play its role well in a high-quality perfume. If you make a note-search on Fragrantica for example you will see that honey is a very very popular ingredient that is part of an impressively wide range of fragrances. Yet we tend to not really speak about it so much. Why is that? It seems to be like the pretty smiling well-composed sister that gets forgotten at the family dinner because the little magnates, animals, delinquents, clowns, professors  and divas demand all the attention. But lets not forget honey… It takes all kinds to make a world. And sweet like honey is so much more interesting than sweet like sugar. Honey has attitude.


Honey is versatile and interesting. You can add it to a light breezy citrus caressy fragrance and to an extravagant oriental. (You will often find it in gourmands of course). It works in pour homme, pour femme and pour both. You’ll find it in a diva like Dior’s Poison but also in Jo Malone’s youthful Nectarine Blossom & Honey and Chanel’s Beige.
Another example, an interesting one, is Acqua du Cuba by Santa Maria Novella which is a unisex fragrance where 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, also has a honey in the composition that must be described as quite bold and nothing for a shy day. Honey is sweetness with integrity.

Vetiver in a perfume signals a woody note, although it is not a wood type at all but grass. Vetiver grows in India, Thailand, China, Java, Haiti and the island of Réunion (a small island outside of Madagascar – the main things I remember from a trip there 15 years ago was that there was a lot vanilla everywhere, an active vulcano and amazing fruit). The oil is brown and thick and the odor is sweet, amberesque and balsamic but also woody, smoky and earthy. The oil distilled in Haiti and Réunion has a more floral quality and is considered of higher quality. Haitian vetiver is appreciated but after the earthquakes in 2010 supply has changed drastically (affecting prices). If you look at the information about the notes in a perfume with vetiver you should be able to see where the vetiver in it comes from. For example Creed’s vetiver is haitian.

Vetiver can smell in different ways, more or less sweet, earthy, smoky etc. From sweet moss to dry hay. This depends on where the grass grew but also on how the oil is processed. (The oil often goes through several chemical processes before parts of it are used in perfumes, among other things to soften the scent). You will often hear vetiver-fans discussing their particular favorite vetiver-kind. Which means – that if you are curious about vetiver and want to discover if it could be your thing – then try several ones. Try fragrances with a couple of different kinds of vetiver rather than finding one and letting it decide whether you ”like vetiver” or not. Vetiver is more common as a prominent note in perfumes for men, and often considered a classic male note. But readers of this blog know how I feel about these things… If you want to go on a vetiver-safari here are some suggestions for destinations.
And then of course monsieur Ford.


Also, I have to recommend this article by Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like about the Guerlain Vetiver Pour Elle because it is so very beautifully written.
Good night, sleep well.

Jean-Claude Ellena är Hermés husnäsa sen många år. Han har skapat de mest berömda Hermésdofterna bl a unisexserien Hermessence och skrivit ett antal böcker. Såklart är han född i en familj av parfymmänniskor och från Grasse. Så klart ser han ut så här…

Här finns en väldigt fin och intressant intervju med monsieur Ellena.

Hans böcker finns att beställa på Amazon.

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Jean-Claude Ellena is the nose of Hermés since many years. He has created the most famous Hermés fragrances including the unisex collection Hermessence and has published several books on perfumery. Of course, he is born into a family of perfumers in Grasse. Of course he looks like this…

Here is a very nice and interesting interview with Monsieur Ellena.

His books can be ordered on Amazon, here.