Tuesday, 15 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day II: Eau de Cologne Hermès (includes Eau d'Orange Verte disambiguation)

I've had a satisfying relationship with Hermès' Eau d'Orange Verte for the past 22 years. Since I was introduced to it in my second year at university, I've simply never been without a bottle.
Because many people have since come to associate this scent with me, I am often questioned when a bottle emerges that bears a different label, or if someone is trying to date it. I'll be the first to admit that the Eau d'Orange Verte timeline is somewhat confusing, so today I hope to untangle it's labyrinthine history to the best of my ability.

The biggest hurdle in exploring this timeline, is the glut of conflicting information available on the internet. Many online resources cite 1979 as the year the very first iteration of Eau d'Orange Verte was brought to market - namely, a scent then referred to as "Eau de Cologne Hermès". But for those faithful to the brand, we have recognised that earlier examples bearing the same name existed right at the dawn of Hermès' foray into fine fragrance. So let me start by going back to the beginning... right back to when Émile-Maurice and Edmond Roudnitska launched Eau d'Hermès - the subject of yesterday's blog.

A thorough search of the world wide web uncovers some interesting artefacts... ones that place the earliest version of Eau de Cologne Hermès back to the same period in which Eau d'Hermès was sold. A charming duo offered at auction in May 2013, dated from the 1960's: a set of flacons with Ex-Libris paper labels; one reads Eau d'Hermès, and the other Eau de Cologne Hermès. This example pre-dates the supposed "invention" of Hermès' mystifying eau de cologne by a whopping 15-20 years. Whilst this attractive perfume presentation puts a distinct bookmark in the 1960's, it does little to uncover the precise origins of Eau de Cologne Hermès.

Perhaps the most startling example, and one which provides a definitive date, is a rare Baccarat flacon offered at auction in 2008, that was given exclusively to guests attending the very first "April in Paris Ball", held in 1951 at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. This inaugural high-society event was attended by none other than Grace Kelly (whom had already lent her name to the iconic Hermès 'Kelly' Bag) and whom was asked to model that night. Could one make the assumption that this very special Eau de Cologne Hermès presentation might have made it's debut on the world stage at the Waldorf-Astoria that evening? Whatever the case, we can now categorically trace Eau de Cologne Hermès back to 1951 - the very same year Eau d'Hermès was created by Edmond Roudnitska. Therefore a few questions remain unanswered. First, "who was the author of this scent"? Might it be an unattributed 'lost' Roudnitska creation?
And second, "did it smell anything like the 1979 Eau de Cologne Hermès, which later became Eau d'Orange Verte"?

Well, I may not have the answers to the first question, but the second, I do.
Now I've successfully managed to work my way backwards along this timeline, in order to exmine the scents and flacons in this family with reasonable accuracy, it is time to move forward again.

So, we've demonstrated that Eau de Cologne Hermès was around the very same year the house's signature scent Eau d'Hermès first graced the shelves at 24 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré. Therefore, somewhere, between the "April in Paris" Ball of 1951 and the early 1960s, Eau de Cologne Hermès was put into general production. The green glass flacons with Ex-Libris paper labels pictured at the top of this article are also from the 1960's... perhaps amongst the earliest examples of the iconic blue-green glass being introduced to house the eau de cologne. The scent itself bears little resemblance to later iterations of Eau de Cologne Hermès or Eau d'Orange Verte. It is decidedly more traditional, and very much an olfactory snapshot of its time. It opens with a sparkle of citrus (lemon / bergamot?), with a deeply aromatic undercurrent. It's herbaceous heart lies over a rich, warm, oakmossy base which give the sensation of wide open spaces, dry hay, and the sun hanging low in the sky. It feels resolutely Hermès - like riding through a sweeping grassy expanse on horseback. A prickle of dirt in the composition brings to mind the sweat on your brow and the warmth of the beast beneath you.
If I were pushed to reference other scents of the same ilk, Chanel's "Pour Monsieur", Nina Ricci's "Signoricci" and Dior's "Eau Sauvage" come to mind. All of these scents share a commonality - a red thread that ties them together. Perhaps even Roudnitska's creation for Rochas "Moustache" might possibly hint at him as the author of Eau de Cologne Hermès.
I strongly suspect that the Ex-Libris paper labels of the 50's and 60's were later replaced with a white printed logo (below) around 1979, to coincide with the scent's first major reformulation.

Eau de Cologne Hermès advertising in the early 80's through to the early 90s illustrated a distinct shift back towards the traditional Hermès philosophy of sport and the outdoors. The 1979 reformulation of the eau de cologne was performed by perfumer Francoise Caron, and the scent itself took on a brighter, fresher quality as a result. The topnotes had been altered to incorporate a sweeter, fruitier blend of lime, mandarin and blackcurrant buds. This brought with it a certain clean, crispness that was lacking from the original. The heart notes were augmented to focus on waxy orange leaf, neroli and a crinkle of leafy mint, but the basenotes were almost as warm as it's older sibling. It marked a step in the direction of a modern bracing, refreshing tonic for men and women who enjoyed an active lifestyle.

In 1997 the marketing department at rue du 24 Faubourg rechristened Eau de Cologne Hermès as Eau d'Orange Verte - a name more literal and perhaps rather fitting. The change of name, I suspect, came at a time where certain materials were becoming restricted for use in cosmetics and perfumery. The flacon (with hard green plastic topper) was rebranded with the new name applied under the iconic horse-and-carriage logo, and the scent - largely unchanged - managed to retain the basic backbone of Francoise's original composition. The top-notes felt slightly sweeter and more citric, and perhaps subsequent curtailment of the use of oakmoss in the years following saw the base lose some of its mossy warmth.

There has been some incremental evolution of the Eau d'Orange Verte flacon and the formula since the late 90's. First, the hard green plastic cover to the bottle was removed in favour of the original curved green glass design, and in the early 2000's, the horse and carriage logo was dropped to make way for a minimal typographical branding solution. The formula has begun to feel slightly more transparent since then, more fleeting and a little colder (an attribute necessary when creating a good cologne, according to both Ellena and Caron). The most recent flacon in the timeline remains a green glass design with the words COLOGNE HERMES moulded in relief into the side of the bottle. The same flacon now houses their growing series of 5 eaux to date; each presented in a glass flacon of a different colour.

Jean-Claude Ellena now stands as chief custodian for Eau d'Orange Verte since taking on the role of house perfumer in 2004. From it's mysterious origins right up until today, it has a vast and proud history as one of the house's most successful perfume mainstays. Not only has it inspired several Hermès flankers, it has an exceptional pedigree, having been worked by the hand (and nose) of some of the world's finest perfumers, and in spite of it's cursory persistence on skin, still remains one of the world's most-loved citrus scents of our time.

Tomorrow's post: Hermès Hiris


ThePerfumedGuillotine said...

Now this provided me with some clarification i needed! :D

Loved the pictures you have included, especially the green orange down the bottom! WOW

Blog Author said...

Hello, Im delighted you stopped by and thank you for your comment. Im pleased you found the article helpful... it is one of my most beloved colognes.

Richard said...

I bought a 4oz. of "the green glass flacons with Ex-Libris paper label" Eau de Cologne Hermes pictured at the top of your article a t Houston consignment Store. The box had been opened but the bottle had the inner stopper still in. I noticed it smelled stronger and better (richer) than reguar. Research led me to your site as I tried to figure out the paper label so I assume it i from the 1960's. I could not find any for sale though.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Blog Author said...

Hello Richard, thank you for your comment and readership!
You've found yourself a lovely version - effectively the 'DNA' of Hermes and precursor to the current Eau d'Orange Verte - however, I'm sure you recognise there is quite a vast difference between the two.
Enjoy it in good health!

Alicia Guerra-Salazar said...

I have blue-green bottle, whit ex-libris paper label, eau de cologne. 4 fl oz, I try to find histroy about this cologne, but nothing, do you now something about my perfume Hermes.

Blog Author said...

Alicia, has my article not addressed your questions? Its the most comprehensive account of the blue/green bottle with ex-libris paper labels that appears on the internet. What else would you like to know?