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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.

The Fragonard museum(s) offer much insight and value but it is only natural that a town like Grasse should have a really good museum about perfume and perfumery that is not linked specifically to one company. In this case, it is the Musée International de la Parfumerie (just next to Fragonard). It is an impressive must-go-to that takes you through the history of perfume from the Egyptian masters to contemporary niche and mass-market brands including descriptions of work processes, production and noses.

A perfumer’s “desk” with raw materials and scales. 
The path through the museum is designed in a very pedagogic way that starts with some basic scientific facts about our sense of smell, some raw materials and other facts.
Raw materials: encens.
Vanilla.
As you proceed through different rooms you can learn about the masters of religious scents in ancient Egypt and how our use of scents and perfumes can be traced back to their processes and rituals. Scent has been used as a way to connect to higher powers, as medicine and remedy and as seduction throughout the course of history. 
In the museum you also see all the accessories and tools that have been used for scented rituals and habits.

There is an extensive space dedicated to information and installations about the production of raw materials and fragrances, This of course given as this industry has been the spine of the history and development of Grasse. 

Chanel use flowers from Grasse in their perfumes. 
Musée International de la Parfumerie is a destination really worth the time. It covers many aspects of the world of perfume and it is obvious that there is a genuine ambition to cater to the needs of many different kinds of visitors so the exhibitions feature both objects, graphics, interactive elements and informative texts. 
Interactive smell machines.
There is a big space dedicated to perfume packaging with bottles from all eras and styles you can imagine. This part is very inspiring and impressive and rewarding for anyone interested in either perfume or design generally. I leave you with some of my favorites. 
Perfume jewellery, ring and container.
Beautiful work on perfume container.
Elsa Schiaparelli. Sensational!
Poison packaging. The bracelet!!
Amazing muguet glass work.
Why do we never get this anymore?
Epic cologne.

I spent this Tuesday evening in one of my favorite places in the entire world, auction house Bukowskis in Berzelii Park, Stockholm. To my great pleasure and surprise – scents – were one of the main topics this evening.

Fantastic Bukowski furniture expert Björn Extergren explained how the scents in furniture objects not only bring history closer but also help in a very tangible way to define authenticity. He explained this with the help of a Swedish rococo chair, describing how the removal of color layers exposed new textures and scents…and times. Much like an archeological excavation. You can imagine, I was quite captured by this moment. I remember, from my years doing guided tours in the palaces and old parts of Stockholm, this longing to find the alive part of things from our ”before” and making it accessible for others to experience. Because it is always there. In fact, being in the presence of great architecture and art from centuries back, at some point you realize that you are actually the only transient thing.

Björn’s words about the life in what we sometimes perceive as static moved me. Also because it is a beautiful thing to watch someone in action doing what they are most passionate about. As Björn explained how they removed the color layers to find the original green and how the rose fragrance first appeared from the top of the chair, and then as they proceeded the less pleasant smells emerged. This gets to me. That a smell incapsulated under centuries of paint suddenly hits the nose of a young man from another time. It gives me existential goose-bumps in my soul. And makes me wonder, what scent will I leave in my things for my grandchildren?

This topic makes me think of the French perfume company Histoires de Parfums. Their Library of Scents is a sixteen volume collection of fragrances inspired by famous people who influenced their generation and named after their date of birth.

A thing that I appreciate about the web site is the list of fragrances group by olfactory category, and that you can order a selection of samples.

History, or lets rather say time in general, and scent is an intricate fascinating topic. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. For Swedish readers, I also recommend this text by Swedish historian and writer Peter Englund.

Sleep well.