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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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The danger of expectations… But the pleasure when reality is even better.

I have been waiting like an impatient child for the day wonderful paradise COW get their first precious bottles of the Van Noten/Malle amazingness. The joy when it turns out there was a sample enough for me to get some precious perfume on my wrists before the shipment arrives.

So I spent a beautiful spring day contempleting whether my expectations had been met or not. Or not really. After about ten minutes I knew.

Dries van Noten’s olfactory fusion with Malle’s knowledge and ambitions is divine. After an initial meet-cute between what on me smelled like almond cookies with apricot jam in a Meditteranean citrus garden… the most amazing seductive colonial romance took over. Wrapped in incredibly soft well-balanced heart and basenotes. I sound uncritical but I was instantly (for many instants) genuinely seduced by this creation and I am so happy that it has been made. Even the delay (it arrives in store a few months later than planned) feels positive because it is obvious that this is careful dedicated work.

It is one of the most comforting yet elegant perfumes I have ever smelled and seems to have just the perfect amount of everything. It soothes and caresses and feels like a conversation about life where you never have to worry about being misinterpreted.

For something that is defined as an oriental woody fragrance I would say that this is quite soft. In the drydown you have a gentle floral feeling that rests with great poise on the tonka bean, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg. I would say that a general impression of this fragrance is this collected poised feeling. It is centred. And very balanced. A special spotlight should be put on the sandalwood. It has been many years since sandalwood grown in a sustainable way was available for perfumes. The comeback itself is great news. To see it used in this gentle way is lovely.

Apart from the already mentioned notes the perfume features guaiac wood, saffron, jasmine, musk, bergamot, lemon, patchouli, and peru balsam. Reading this, my guess is some of you, like I did, would expect a more heavy or demanding eclectic kind of fragrance so for those who hesitate for such reasons I want to stress that it is really quite gentle. The jasmin is more present for a moment, after a couple of hours on me, and then I sense this almond/apricot thing of unknown origin in the top notes. But the dominating sensation is something I would describe as balsamic, spicy and woody.

The nose behind this fragrance is worth mentioning: Bruno Jovanovic. He has not made that much noise prior to this but my guess is we will hear his name a lot in the future.

I will love this perfume many times. I think it works on almost everyone, except people who are arrogant and mean. If you are one, stay away.

A great video about the collaboration.

So much has been written about the collaboration between designer Dries van Noten and Frederic Malle (for a moment of aesthetic heaven please look at this story on his home) that it feels a bit superfluous to add one more blog post… But I can’t stay away from mentioning it because any new perfume from Malle is an event of significance.

What Frederic Malle does and his vision is admirable and embodies values that add an absolutely necessary element to today’s perfume market. His ambition when creating the brand and company was to “liberate perfumers from the kinds of restraints often imposed by marketers and focus groups”. Malle functions as an editor, working with the noses that are invited to create scents in the same way that an editor works with writers. Every perfume creator is free to create and explore an idea of his own. The result, of course, is that Malle perfumes are the fragrance explorer’s dream. I love to try a new perfume from this collection, and I love how often it surprises me and makes me redefine my own preferences. One of my true favourites, Anqelique sous la pluie, was a perfume that I just did not notice until I had a conversation with one of Malle’s advisors about my preferences and she showed it to me. I love it. (Not to mention it has probably the most beautiful perfume name in the universe). Nice read: the Q&A on Malle’s web.

There are many parallels to draw between the perfume editor role and that of an editor for writers. It is indeed something of an anthology of scents that Frederic Malle has created. The stringent curiosity of Ellena’s Bigarade to the dark carnal Noir Epices from Roudnitska. The tender teardrops in Anqeliques sous la pluie by Ellena (yes, I know, I mention Ellena a lot). The blushed cheeks of Maurice Roucel’s Dans tes bras. All these stories…

And now this new launch that surprised many since there has been no designer collaboration framed by Malle so far. Turns out though that this is the result of a long friendship and creative bond between the editor and the designer. They have taken their time, I am sure the process has been beautiful and filled with very interesting conversations.

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I have been an admirer of Dries van Noten‘s eclectic style for a long time. So interesting, and interested, to me it feels like travellers’ clothes. Like the garments carry journeys from Buenos Aires to Samarcand and back. So I was instantly curious to hear what notes would be chosen to tell an olfactory story of his.   I guessed it would be something oriental, spicy, woody. It’s not too spicy but features sandalwood, guaiac wood, tonka bean, saffron, musk and vanilla. The top note is citron. The sandalwood is particularly interesting as it is the return of Indian sandalwood which has been absent from perfumery for a long time due to sustainability concerns. From what I have heard from friends fortunate to have tried it, it is a very undemanding and wearable perfume. The nose is Bruno Jovanovic, who has also created Notre Dame, Chez Monsieur and Marius et Jeannette for Malle among other perfumes.

This new lovely addition to the perfume world will be available in stores in the next two weeks, exact dates vary slightly from one city to another. I will be sniffing in Stockholm, at COW on February 25.