Jean Claude Ellena is a man who knows how to play with the public’s expectations. He must have realized that most people who think of Hermes were going to associate any limited availability perfume line of theirs with insane levels of luxury. Maintaining this luxury is a pretty difficult assignment since Hermes is a global brand that, at least in theory, should sell as well in Beijing as in Paris, and the expectations of consumers in those parts of the world differ.
Hermes must have brought Ellena on because his work is subtle and minimalist, but not really as lifeless as those two adjectives might lead you to expect. I had not smelled most of the Hermessences and some of them, such as Paprika Brazil, I can barely smell at all. Others, though, have a robust presence that makes you sit up and take notice.
Of the series I’ve enjoyed Ambre Narguile precisely because of its zesty flirtation with bad taste. I think you might smell this little number in L.A. where the hippie traditions of Laurel Canyon live on, unhampered by the world’s transition to the twenty first century. Here is an amber that is really a whole lot of tobacco wafting inside, with all the fruity honeyed notes associated with that weed You could easily bake it into a brownie!
Narguile has a pleasantly counter-cultural aspect to it that I really enjoy, and find surprising in a Hermes. But wait, wasn’t this the brand that made a handbag for Jane Birkin because before she ran around with a basket instead of a purse? Well, she didn’t bother with a lot of accessories, bar Serge Gainsbourg, but I think we can safely assume that haute hippies are OK with Hermes.
Vetiver Tonka was another favorite of mine from this line, partially because it too had staying power on skin and a good olfactory story to tell, in a darker vein. This forest green vetiver is a pleasure to wear, even though it may seem a bit too dry and dark for some women. I liked it anyway, and thought it would easily fit into a vetiver centric wardrobe by being the winter vetiver, something that is often hard to find outside of Serge Luten’s Vetiver Oriental.
Vanille Galante was the lily floral of the lot, and had little to do with vanilla. Galante has a soft green tint. This is another perfume that is pale celadon in color, like some of the most beautiful Chinese ceramics. Of all the florals in the Hermessence series, this might be the most feminine one and is a portrait of a lily in bloom. Rose Ikebana is a little too robustly fruity for me. The finish is some material that I have smelled before in too many places. Fruity roses have been in vogue for some time now, and Rose Ikebana definitely belongs to that pink fingered tribe.
The really remarkable part of the Hermessences is how wearable they are. They are even easier to wear than some of the mainstream releases. Jean Claude may be dividing his duties with Christine Nagel these days, but he does not seem to have lost the common touch, and that touch has a lingering aura of headbands and VW vans.