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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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I often help someone find a signature scent or create a perfume wardrobe for example by finding additions to their work fragrance that smells to safe for romance, or their romantic fragrance that doesn’t feel right for work. Or an upgrade, for example when someone has been wearing the same favorite perfume for 5-10 yrs (not at all unsusal) and feel that they still like it… but have outgrown it. Then we look for something similar, for example the same heart notes, but something more complex or mature or dark added. As we walk through life our inner child often stays the same, but we go through experiences, challenges, times – that add shades to our personalities. Shades, depth, complexity. When you wear a perfume that is right for you, it will reflect many parts of who you are. Then you get that feeling of you just smelling like you because someone created a beautiful formula that defines some of your characteristics with fragrance notes. This is a very different feeling from “wearing a nice perfume” that lies on top of your skin like a pretty fabric. There is nothing arbitrary about what feels right. Not in life, not in perfumery.

Finding those perfumes that really match is not easy. The market offers an abundance that is over-whelming even to the most passionate and curious perfumista. But it is worth it, and once you learn how to navigate and recognize the patterns in your preferences it is not as complicated as it looks. For myself, I choose to ask for guidance so that I can find perfumes that I have not discovered where notes that I like have been used. I ask for stories about them and I ask for help to discover new brands. I don’t look for someone to help me choose my perfume as I have trained myself now to translate thoughts and aspects of my character to notes and types of perfumes. If you feel unsure about such things, talk to someone who is skilled and really takes the time to help you find a perfume for the creative you or the you that wants something comforting or uplifting or mischievous or escapist. For a true perfume expert these are not strange questions. Choose the right advisor.

I am sure you have been in the situation where you just love a perfume that someone is wearing, you go buy it… and… anticlimax. It doesn’t feel like you thought it would, it is not as amazing on you. You wonder if your mind and memory played tricks on you. This is not unusual. But it is a great reminder of two things – perfume is like a relationship – it is not about you and not about the other – it is about happens in between, in the space that is the together.

Perfume sensations are created in the meeting between a formula and a person’s skin. And every person’s skin is different. There is nothing objective about perfume. The other thing is – do not make hasty decisions. It does not matter how skilled you are, you just do not know what a perfume that is composed with top, heart and base will smell like in an hour of five on you. No one knows. The super-charming person who sells it to you doesn’t know even if she or he is an expert and amazing. Take your time. Get a sample if you can. Get ten samples of ten perfumes with sandalwood if that is what you are looking for. Take your time. Apply the perfume, take a coffee and come back in an hour. And don’t be disappointed if your friend’s magic potion smells boring on you. Or different. Be curious. You’ll find your magic potion, maybe there is just some little detail that needs to be different for you. Try to detect what the difference is – does it smell sweeter in him/her? Does it smell more flowery on you? Try to remember the difference and ask an expert.

Skin, painted by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

I will give you an example. I have been wearing Ambre Narguilé for some years. Or to be honest, I bought it a few years back and wore it a lot during two years with mixed feelings. I adore this perfume. It is a masterpiece to me. But, I found myself often thinking that it was too overwhelming and not appropriate in many situations. And later on I felt that it lacked something for me to feel really comfortable with it, it was too sweet. It lacked integrity or a mature nuance. So in the last two or so years I have not been wearing it at all but I smell the bottle sometimes to use as reference when searching for similar compositions. Among perfumistas this fragrance is well-known. Still I have not met anyone that wears it a lot. Then comes a man. He says he really likes the perfume, I think “Really?” and feel how in my eyes he becomes slightly more like a baklava than Omar Sharif.

He introduces me to Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan, and I am amazed because this – is the darker version of Ambre Narguilé that I have been wishing for. In my mind this man is starting to be associated with an olfactory world that I find rather attractive. His voice, his choice of words, his aesthetic preferences, his unbelievably immature sense of humor are joined by his scents. The latter exposing a darker side of him than the blond bangs.

Tillya Kori Madrash, Samarkand

Then he brings out another of his favorites, a completely harmless airy Gatsby cocktail party apple lemonade lunchtime careful kiss on the cheek sorbet and dancing on a meadow in a perfectly cut flowery organza skirt kind of story. Bois 1920, Sushi Imperiale. It feels like someone just gave me my first kiss on a summer day in 1939. And then gave me raspberries on a straw before we go look at the horses and the sunset. Someone wears an immaculate linen vest and smiles like a young Sinatra though. It’s Rat Pack meets Anna Karenina of Green Gables. I fall like a rock sliding down a rainbow of course and get instantly addicted. (To the extent where he has to order me to let go of the bottle because the heat from my palms will ruin the perfume). A couple of weeks later I order it from MiN. It is on its way as we speak. I can’t wait. I will wear it like nothing else matters more than raspberries on a straw and immaculate linen vests and Green Gables are the perfect place to be flown to the moon and then share an apple stolen from the strange neighbour’s tree.

   

And then he appears again. Wearing the darkest most intriguing strange thing thats smells like a love affair on the way to Samarcand and words that cannot be spoken. “What are you wearing??”, I say. He answers, “you have it, Ambre Narguilé”. It is a mystery to me where the carnal alluring notes disappear when I wear it. Same perfume. Completely different experiences. On me it is Christmas dessert and the Nutcracker, on him a secret night in Venice, a 19th century emerald shining from a décolletage at the opera. Forbidden. “Warn me?

I have more examples, oh so many more. Of perfumes that surprise and confuse and alter as they evolve on one person’s skin or another’s. Of the infinite mysteries that create a love affair between the nose and the mind. This is one of the many reasons why perfumes fascinate me.

Come, let’s dance!