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.

Not every one cares about the brand behind the perfume. Or the brain behind the perfume, for that matter. And sure, if I discovered olfactory marvel from a perfume house I did not feel strongly for I would still find the perfume extraordinary and wear it. But I do prefer to feel that there is also a person and intention behind the perfume that I can relate to and like. This could be explained with my day-job in PR and communication. I started out as a copywriter so I am interested in storytelling of course. But more than that, I am interested in the special stories that I believe can be found in anything if you know how to listen and how to search. And that’s why I got into communication in the first place. To search, find and tell. 

For this reason there are some perfume(r)s that appeal more to me than others, there are some brands that I feel more comfortable with and more curious to discover. I appreciate a personal declaration and intention, expressions of curiosity, passion and purpose. I appreciate the generosity of those who share more than their product, for example the way Carlos Huber of Arquiste connects all sorts of life dots in his interviews. Or how Jean Claude Ellena invests so much energy into writing books that give the reader unique insight into the life and mind of a perfumer. I appreciate the world of Mandy Aftel enormously, such passion and endless curiosity for the craft and a generous dedicated ambition to share it. Byredo’s perfumes became so much more special to me when I learnt about the red thread with Ben Gorham’s recreation of memories and places. There are many examples, I realize I leave important ones out by stopping here but it has already taken me too long to get to the point. (Then again, that is not really relevant in perfume reflections, the journey is the point.)

First time I read about Jul et Mad I instantly loved the story. Who wouldn’t? It is enough to know that Jul and Mad in “Jul et Mad” are a couple who met and created perfumes together. Yes, I admit in my world creating a perfume together is the most romantic thing any people in love could do. This kind of story only works though if it comes with perfumes that really deliver, otherwise it becomes a somewhat awkward branding concept.

So who are these two perfume makers and lovers? Julien, comes from a science environment with thorough knowledge in neurosciences and biology. This background is combined with an entrepreneurial spirit that has led him to communication companies specialized in the scientific field. He is also a traveller at heart. Madalina, left her native Romania to go to NYC in order to pursue a future in the beauty industry. The first step was the Cosmetics and Fragrances Marketing program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, followed by work at several luxury brands. So far – two separate stories about two separate ambitious individuals who have not yet met. (I can relate to both for various reasons so what happens then gives me double goose bumps).

This is where the magic starts… One day the both find themselves in Paris and in the same café. I know no details of what happens here more than the result of this encounter – Madalina leaves NYC and moves to Paris for love. These two find each other’s hearts but also a share path, which is the creation of perfumes that tell the story of love. The name seems rather inevitable, Jul et Mad. With the help of Dorothée Piot of Maison Robertet they have so far created three fragrances: Stilettos on Lex, Amour de Palazzo and Terrasse à St-Germain.

Stilettos on Lex is the olfactory story about Madalina’s life as a single woman in Manhattan. It is an interesting one, this super feminine blend of independence and softness. I have worn it to work, cinema, girls’ talk-about-life-dinner and a date. On me, this fragrance is really soft and I appreciate the way in which it is sweet without trying to please. It is very easy to wear and manages to combine a soft romantic feeling with something more urban and mischievous. I don’t know how else to describe it. I really enjoy wearing it, but for me it works better in a private context than at work.

Head : Lemon, Pear, Davana, Plum Liquor

Heart: Lily of the Valley, Violette Leaves, Rose Absolute, Heliotrope, Iris, Carnation

Bottom: Musk, Madagascar Vanilla, Indonesian Patchouli, Atlas Cedarwood

The second fragrance in the story is of course Terasse à St-Germain… The Moment that changes it all. And this is where you can tell there must have been many candid personal conversations between Julien, Madalina and Dorothée Piot because this is a completely different feeling. Just like Stilettos on Lex combined different sides of femininity, Terasse à St Germain sparkles with different energies in a special meeting. Soft, bouncy, sweet, playful. When you know that this is the meeting between two persons you can find that duality blending. And it is so happy, so extrovert.

Head : Grapefruit, Tangerine, Rhubarb

Heart: Freesia, Lotus Flower, Blue Rose

Bottom: Musk, Sandalwood, Indonesian Patchouli

The third fragrance, Amour de Palazzo tells the story of the couple’s trip to Venice… If you feel any of the seduced infatuation that I feel for this city you will recognize much of that feeling in this perfume. It is dark, flirtatious, deeply sensual and seductive. It is the scent of the beauty of no turning back now. This has nothing of the cashmere softness of Stilettos on Lex, nothing of the playful sunny conversation of Terasse à St-Germain. This is just pure seduction.


Head : Four Spice (pepper, cloves, ginger, nutmeg)

Heart: Absolute of Violette, Atlas Cedarwood, Leather, Indonesian Patchouli, Labdanum

Bottom: Musk, Oud, Amber, Papyrus, Animal Castoreum

Three completely different perfumes, which could very well be the base of a perfume wardrobe if you add something more work-oriented. I love how they all emerge out of this love story because they are quite different reflections of the energies that exist between lovers. These perfumes remind me of the variation I have appreciated in my own most memorable romantic relationships. How both persons could be many aspects of their personalities and switch between them. The freedom and playfulness that a relationship that stimulates such variation creates.

I really like the background stories that come with each of the perfumes. In fact, I would almost have preferred to have only those and the notes. It seems to me that there are two different tonalities in the Jul et Mad communication, and personally I prefer the more poetic one which to me carries more of the personal serendipity of this beautiful story. I leave you with the three stories and the wish that all may find that soulmate to create with at least once in life.

She’s back! I can guess her presence behind me by the clacking sound of her high heels on this legendary Lexington Avenue… I turn, and it is her, indeed, with her determined walk, her tall silhouette more real than ever… Pleasure for the eye, trouble for the soul… 
A mysterious aura accompanies this almost immaterial apparition while walking, so beautifully, so elegantly… Who is she? Where is she coming from? A divinity descended from a different world? An animated sculpture carved by the tools of what genius? The perfect image from a silent dream, if it wasn’t for the regular percussion of her stilettos…
As in a spontaneous homage, the crowed steps aside to let her pass… Heads turn… Is she aware of it? Nothing indicates it. She seems ignoring the passers-by, her expression is serene, her regard soft but determined… Was that the shadow of a smile floating on her lips? Royal, superb, her image fades away, vanishes. Nevertheless, she offered me the most attaching gift: her unforgettable perfume. On her magical path she left the trace of a subtle fragrance, yet imposing… an obsessive, rare perfume that floats, nostalgically, like the memory of a Lost Paradise. 
Dream or reality? Enthusiasm or despair? All she did was to pass by… The contouring of her figure and the sound of her high heels marked my spirit… I now invoke my luck, hoping that one day I will cross again her magnificent allure on this same legendary avenue…
Her image disappeared, but during her short passage she offered me the most attaching of memories: her perfume…

Paris. Tender sunlight and bright fresh air of springtime. Saint-Germain. A pleasant noise of the conversations all-around floats over the café terrace. From her table, in perfect quietude, she watches the passers-by… when suddenly she observes this elegant silhouette, virile and relaxed, crossing the boulevard in front of her. They look at each other… They are captivated… It’s intense, magnetic… He approaches… keeps regarding her… A moment of inattention, the sidewalk missed… A false step he transforms rapidly in a gracious reverence, accompanied by this charming smile… a bit embarrassed, a bit amused… Everything lasts no more than one second, the handsome stranger walks away… 
His passage leaves a void behind him, and this emptiness, daydreaming, she already fills it with wild and fascinating perfumes inspired by the picture of the young man… Fusions of subtle yet present scents, atypical but almost recognizable, a soft mix but virile at the same time, of a complete ambiguity and yet of an incredible simplicity: the very essence of a growing passion.
A delicate and refreshing breeze, in perfect accordance with the spring fragrances surrounding the terrace, brings her back to reality… She finally looks away from this sidewalk where the seducing silhouette escaped her insistent gaze… 
Then, suddenly, the perfume of her reverie embalms the air, but rather real this time. The beautiful stranger turned around and approaches, also real. He plunges his regard into hers, he walks straight towards her. 

It is truly her… her, Venice, revealing itself to our first avid regards as the unrestricted décor of a dream theater. High facades come out nude from the dark waters of the Grand Canal, slightly veiled by the mist of dawn, nude, but rapidly ornamented by the marble garlands of their bays. The three annunciating sounds of the ball will soon be heard; the costumed guests will animate the ballroom and the balconies with their multicolor embroideries and silks. 
Will the day put an end to this magical night? In the penumbra, an interlacing of winding narrow streets and canals traversed by bridges. Hand in hand. Drunk with love. Drunk from dancing for so long. We wander through these labyrinths charged with history, trying to recover our spirits after this enchanted night: the long passageways of the magnificent palazzo we just quit, its ballrooms richly decorated, so beautiful under the lights of their gigantic suspended chandeliers. 
The first signs of the dawn envelop the so well-called “Serenissima”. The rich and heavy perfume of precious wood and leather furniture, shone and polished by passing centuries, mix agreeably now with the pleasant and cocooning fragrances coming from the surrounding gardens, the humidity of the old stone and the lagoon that follows and surrounds us… We walk aimlessly… Dream or reality? It doesn’t really matter… Here we are in perfect harmony, we feel free, free to love each other, free to taste as one the same happiness… free to appreciate the instant… Every single gesture, no matter how simple, is now charged with profound significance.

PS: Love this – Jul et Mads pinterest. Fun way to share inspiration and references. 

PS: All images in this post from Jul et Mad.

Somewhat silent lately, I apologize. Have been on olfactory adventures in Paris and working on a series of articles about perfume for My French Life. I look forward to sharing these with you and promise more action here very soon.

In the meantime I leave you with Debussy’s sound of Baudelaire’s words. We should talk more about Baudelaire and scents maybe also… And pheromones, I need to share with you some stuff I have been reading about pheromones.
Oh la la…! 

I get this question these days:

I would like to buy my man/woman/wife/husband/someone perfume for Christmas, do you have any recommendation? Which perfume should I get?

I love the idea. In theory. But my answer is: no, I don’t have a recommendation for a specific perfume for your partner simply because I have no idea how your man’s/woman’s/wife’s/husband’s/someone’s skin smells like, feels like, what temperature it is, if they sweat salty or sweet, where they put on perfume, when… what makes them laugh or blush or swear… and a million other things. So my general recommendation is: buy something else.

There are however 5 exceptions:

  1. You are a perfumer and have created the perfume yourself.
  2. You are not a perfumer but have created the perfume yourself.
  3. The gift is a bespoke perfume. You give the chosen beloved person a session with a perfumer who will create a bespoke fragrance with them for them. Miller Harris and Mandy Aftel for example offer this service.
    Photo: Miller Harris
    A much simpler more popularized lot less expensive version is offered by the Perfume Studio. Mandy Aftel also offers bespoke perfumes, you can read more about how it works at Aftelier here. If you go to Paris you will find this helpful. 
  4. The person who the perfume is intended for has already tried fragrance x and wants it/has had fragrance x before and misses it/for some other reason really wants fragrance x. For example, if you went to Paris and she spent an hour at Guerlain falling in love with Spiritueuse Double Vanille but didn’t get it because you were in a hurry or maybe it was too expensive. Well, then of course it is very romantic if you call them and have it shipped right to her skin for Christmas. 
  5. The fragrance your buying is an icon or comes with a story that makes it an evidently interesting part of a perfume collection regardless of whether the recipient will wear it or not. It is just interesting to have. Examples of perfumes like this for women are Joy, Chanel No 5 and Shalimar. 

But generally, apart from in situations like the ones mentioned above, I do not really believe in giving perfume as a gift. The reason, is that wearing and selecting the ingredients that blend with your skin, its chemical composition and your soul – is a precious and intimate thing. Perfumes, like personalities, are not random, not generic and they are not about what is new or trendy or whose last name is on the bottle. If you think it is, that’s not very strange as this in fact is how the media talks about perfume. There are top ten lists, there are what’s new lists, there are perfume bottles that match the latest Marc Jacobs bag or Dior shoes. But perfume is not just something you put on yourself the way a garment is. A garment comes in a ready size that fits your body and the material is the same regardless who wears it. It wrinkles on you, it wrinkles on her.

Perfume is different – not just seems different – IS different on every person. It exists with you, blends with your temperature and skin.
You can guess, but you cannot predict with precision what happens to a fragrance on someone’s skin. That’s the scientific side of it. The other aspect is more emotional and profound. To discover your fragrance and your body’s own scents is intimate and sublime. Therefore if you want to give someone the fragrance that matches their skin as well as their soul you need to know that person extremely well. Who they are, who they want to be. Is it possible? Yes, I believe that one person can discover another so attentively and humbly and curiously that you can sense how that person’s soul would smell like if it was tangible. But still do not know how a certain perfume would react with their skin.

The point is, when you buy a perfume for someone you define this person. This is something that should be done with great care and tenderness. If you feel that you can do that…beautiful. It is possible that you can. Perhaps you are one of the halves of a couple like the ones that I wrote about a couple of days ago. But if you are someone who goes into a department store and asks for “something that smells nice” for you girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/mistress, and then specify it with a “yes, sexy, romantic, flowery, fresh” at most…then please just buy something else. Or accept that random generic perfumes were created for random generic tastes like yours. And you… have just not gotten at all what perfume is about. Hopefully, some day you will, and that will make your life more exciting.

There are however a number of ways to give someone fragrance without going to a department store to get some random recommendation. For example, if you know that your favorite person has a favorite perfume house but has not found a favorite fragrance – make a gift out of samples. Many perfume houses have a special gift set of samples though it might not be for sale in stores. This is a sweet thoughtful effort with a personal touch.

(And don’t even think about the easy sleazy option: some men seem to adopt the habit of letting their partner go out and getting anything they want and then they take care of the bill. So the gift is – the payment. I find this about as romantic as banana peel. If you are one of these persons please stop reading my blog. A moderated version of the above is “we will go try perfumes and then I will buy you the one you like”. Sorry. No. The only exception to this is if you are going for a weekend trip to a city where you have booked a surprise in the form of a private session with a perfumer at a prestigious perfume house and this person will guide you through their range in the search of an olfactory match.)

If you cannot or do not want to make that type of effort but want to get something that smells nice fragranced spa products like creams and lotions and scrubs work just fine – and then fragranced candles are actually a very nice option. But get one of the good ones with ingredients of high quality. Many renowned perfume houses have a range of fragranced candles. Byredo has a wide range of very VERY nice ones which you can also buy through their webstore. Another safe buy is Laura Mercier. If you’re looking for something more unusual or modern maybe try Le Labo Vinage Candles?