Help me understand fragrance: Hermes edition.
December 24, 2013 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Do you use Hermes perfumes? Do you like them? Can you explain them to me? I'm not a typical perfume wearer. I recently tried the Hermes fragrance Un Jardin Sur Le Toit at a friend's house and I really liked it. Then I started googling and found myself in a world of top notes, drydowns, accords, and other things where I don't even know what the words mean, much less how to understand them. Can you help me?

So, I understand via google that Hermes has a perfumer named Jean-Claude Ellena, who is well regarded. I understand that Hermes has a lot of different perfumes and eau de toilettes (which I only sort of understand the difference between).

What I want is a breakdown (if it exists, or if it is possible to describe) of the different fragrances in the Hermes library and how they compare and how one chooses one over another.

Also, I am curious about what Jean-Claude Ellena does that makes him well-regarded. How does a perfumer become a good perfumer?

Please assume that I have no prior knowledge of perfume except for watching this French romantic comedy.
posted by aaanastasia to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Bois de Jasmin is my favorite perfume blogger. Ellena has written a couple of books, as well. I also really enjoyed Luca Turin's work.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:02 PM on December 24, 2013

For a quick start, Now Smell This has a good range of introductory articles on perfumery and a glossary of terms. This includes short write ups of the established houses/brands.

Understanding how perfumes are crafted and the logic of their assembly in general should then help you understand the range that exists in a brand.

Ultimately, fragrance is a personal choice and the process of choosing can only depend so much on descriptions and reviews. But now that you found one that you like, I reckon finding out what class of perfume, the accords and notes used etc would inform your next choices. Have fun!
posted by cendawanita at 4:19 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This previously, from a few days ago, has some links that might be of interest to you.

You might also enjoy Chandler Burr's New Yorker article, "The Scent of the Nile," which begins: "On a sunny afternoon last June, the French perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena arrived at the offices of Hermès, the luxury-goods maker, in Pantin, just north of Paris, to present his first essais—or olfactory sketches—for the company’s next perfume." (Single page version.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:04 PM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Chandler Burr also wrote a book about Ellena's process in creating Un Jardin Sur Le Nil for Hermes and about Sarah Jessica Parker's fragrance Lovely.

Ellena's daughter now creates some gorgeous fragrances for the company her father created, The Different Company.
posted by payoto at 6:09 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He's famous for creating perfumes that are "transparent" or "watery". Some would call him minimalist. He made a big splash in the early 90s with Bvlgari's Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, which was basically the antithesis of the loud, ornate perfumes of the 80s.

He's quite unique in that he has a really strong signature style-- once you're familiar with a few of his fragrances, you'll be able to immediately identify his other work. He loves working with tea and vegetables.

It's great that you loved Sur Le Toit, although, to be honest, it's not one of his more popular or successful perfumes. I'm not tremendously familiar with his department store Hermes offerings since my taste is more quirky, aside from the Jardins, but *most* Hermes perfumes you'll see at Nordstrom/Sephora are by Ellena. Don't forget to check out the mens counter-- Terre d'Hermes and Cartier Declaration-- there's 10+ years between the two but Declaration is the clear father of Terre.

He also does stunning work on the "Hermessences" line, which can only be found in Hermes boutiques. But if you write to Hermes through their website, they'll send you really lovely samples, and you can also purchase tiny samples/decants from websites like Surrender to Chance.

My favorite Ellenas are not actually from Hermes, they're from Frederic Malle and The Different Company, which are smaller perfume houses. Angeliques Sous la Plue, L'eau d'Hiver, and Osmanthus are my jam. If you can make it to a Barneys, you should be able to sample most of his non-Hermes work. Just tell the sales associate that you are interested in Ellena and you want lots of samples!

How to choose one over the other... test, test, test! Don't buy a perfume unless you've worn it for at least half a day and ideally more. Perfume is like a really, really long piece of music-- it develops on your skin throughout the day, and what you love in the first ten minutes might turn into something you want to scrub off after an hour. Plus, when you're dealing with perfume that is best described as "watery", you may encounter issues with perfume not lasting long enough, which you don't want. Other than that, buy what you love.
posted by acidic at 6:47 PM on December 24, 2013 [22 favorites]

The answers to this post are so interesting and informative that I've finally given in and signed up for a mefi account, something I've been thinking about for the last 10 years (give or take, it could be 11).
posted by clockworkwasp at 4:48 AM on December 25, 2013 [11 favorites]

I wear Pamplemousse rose, which is pink grapefruit (no flower rose notes involved), and I would definitely describe it as acidic does, transparent and watery. It's bright and sparkling, perfect if you like clear, unmuddied, sparkling citrus. I'm a grapefruit fanatic though, my other favorite is Guerlain's aqua allegoria pamplelune, so probably everyone won't be as thrilled with Pamplemousse rose.
posted by CheeseLouise at 7:23 AM on December 25, 2013

You've gotten a lot of technically precise answers here to the latter part of your question. Let me tell you how I ended up with the Hermes perfume I love, Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, which I believe is the most popular of the line. I was staying in a fancy schmancy hotel and they actually had the bath products with this scent, which I loved, but wanted to see what else was in the line. I went to Sephora, which carries many of these perfumes, and smelled several. I ended up with Le Nil because I liked it the best.

Honestly, if you like Le Toit there's nothing wrong with just buying some. Or go to Sephora or a fancy department store, and try it again, to make sure you really like it before investing. I find a small bottle lasts me about a year of maybe every other day use. I think many of the scents in this series (definitely Le Nil) are considered to be more "summery" but I don't care about that and wear it year-round. It's a very light perfume which is nice if you want a kick of scent early in the day but don't want to feel like you've got a smell clinging to you all the time. I don't think most people choose perfume based on the complex stuff that perfume bloggers talk about. Instead, they choose it because they like the smell and like the way it smells on them. Just note that the smell in the bottle and the smell on you can be two different things, so the most important part of choosing a perfume is actually wearing it on yourself for a few hours!
posted by ch1x0r at 8:05 AM on December 25, 2013

I wear Terre sometimes even though it is technically for men. I am not a perfume expert at all but I love it. It smells like the ground, but in a spicy sophisticated way. It's a bit musky but not really. Kind of herbal. It actually layers well with other perfumes too.
posted by mai at 8:26 AM on December 25, 2013

I discovered the "Hermessences" series this past year and fell in love (Ambre Narguile is my all time favorite).

However, to get to your question about finding out more on Jean-Claude Ellena specifically I'd suggest getting a sample pack of his scents. Try checking out this set of 9. This website is amazing for buying small quantities of very expensive perfumes to test out. I have found you can do a lot of reading about perfume, but unless you have some to smell while reading it is hard to know what is being described.
posted by KMoney at 11:30 AM on December 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all such great answers! Thank you all so much! I find Sephora/department stores a bit overwhelming so I've ordered some samples on eBay...will report back!
posted by aaanastasia at 6:57 AM on December 26, 2013

If you want to learn more about perfumes, spend a couple of days reading through the archives of Luca Turin, it's fascinating stuff. For a participatory forum and specific perfume reviews/discussions, try

I wear Terre d'Hermes but I'm not a girl so that's probably of limited value to you ;)
posted by polyglot at 2:43 AM on December 28, 2013

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