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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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Today I am wearing Sepia. And I am listening to this (if you don’t have Spotify try this), ‘How to Organize a Lynch Mob’ by Diablo Swing Orchestra. Let me tell you why.
About ten years ago I embarked on a plane to Florence. I had been studying Art History for a year and was profoundly disappointed with courses, teachers and exams that had almost entirely killed my passion for art. I got on that plane with a promise to myself, or two actually: to come home and speak Italian and to restore my love for striking angles, composition and color perfection. After a week or so I found myself on a train from Florence to Venice (ok, first I accidentally got on a train to Napoli but that’s another story) with the mission to see a painting that I had seen on posters on my way to school in Piazza Santo Spirito. Actually, it was not the painting per se that I wanted to see, it was the red color of the scarf that a woman in the painting was wearing. Most of that day was spent going to and then from Florence. I was in Venice just for a couple of hours but I did see the red color and it was one of the best and most important moments of my life. 
But my most mind-altering art experience in those months was not this painting. It was seeing Michelangelos unfinished giants. This experience will always be what really made art part of me and I have no idea if I will ever feel as many intense feelings in relation to art ever again. I hope I will, but I am not sure. Experiencing art is very personal, the places it shakes in our minds, the references it awakens. The exact details of why I was affected aren’t really that relevant to anyone else. But I will share one aspect of it with you and you will understand why I am writing about this here. It is sometimes said that there are two types of sculpturers, those that mold an object into an idea that they have, and those that carve out something that is – or not – in the stone. Michelangelo was one of those that perceived the stone as having its own predefined potential for some shape and he was just the person who brought it out. The giant unfinished statues are an example of this process. The stone did not allow him to do more. Watching them for the first time I was struck by how it was hard to tell the exact place where statue became stone and vice versa. I sensed beauty as well as frustration, strength and pain. I also felt a sort of dynamic that I have rarely perceived. As if the process was ongoing. 

A week or so ago, I received a collection of samples from Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier. I read Mandy’s book of course. Not read, read in the present tense as this is the only way that feels right. I read it slowly, as if I am having a slow conversation with it. I underline, go back, return… I have been curious about Mandy’s perfumes for some time now but in a way that I cannot quite explain, I have been waiting for the right moment to experience them. And I knew that I would know when it came. Because this is something entirely different than most olfactory experiences, and definitely different from most perfume experience.

It will take me some time to try all the samples because I want to get to know them thoroughly. Contemplate, go through different thoughts and pay attention to every detail. I am not sure what I expected. But I will tell you my first impression because it was undeniable and very concrete. I sense the care that has been invested in these perfumes. The thought, the poetry, the hands that have blended them. And then this: they feel alive. Not in some mumbo-jumbo metaphysical strange way. They just feel alive. Like those sculptures. They are not being blended anymore, they have been put in tiny adorable little containers and shipped to Sweden and nothing intervenes with them… but when I put them on my skin I have absolutely no idea what will happen. Or if the same thing will happen the next time I wear one of them. They seem to play with my skin and change constantly and I am not sure if I am choosing the perfume or if it is choosing me. If I am discovering it or if it is discovering me. Of course, I am playing with words here… What I am trying to convey is that feeling of an ongoing process.

A few years ago I worked with a theatre director on his communication and brand platform. He taught me something that has been very valuable and essential to me ever since. Apart from his work with the theatre he held courses and workshops with corporate clients from all sectors using the methods that the theatre uses to create teams. One of his key messages was that an ensemble is not about separate stars, it is about being an ensemble – and that – is created not through the excellence of one person or the other but in the space between the individuals. I think about this often. The importance of space. In communication, in relationships, in creativity. The process is not what is delivered from one point to another, the process is what happens in between. And that process is free, and unpredictable and redefines itself every second. Something happens when I wear Aftelier perfumes, and it just keeps happening for hours.

The piercingly beautiful string arrangement in ‘How To Organize a Lynch Mob’ with Diablo Swing Orchestra’s cello master Johannes Bergion gives me that same feeling. As if it is played live every time I hear it, and I need to listen carefully because next time it might not sound the same. If you ever get to see this band live, cancel all your other plans and go. This ensemble sums up everything I have written tonight with their music.

The art of making something that has been captured… feel constantly unexpected. Space?