Friday, 18 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day V: Bel Ami

A simple pencil sketch by Gustav Klimt was used to accompany the press launch and advertising of the 1986 Hermès masculine Bel Ami... an erotic depiction of one of Klimt's wives, mistresses or whores seen lying spent, with legs splayed. Promoted with the evocative headline "Bel Ami est un grand seducteur" (Bel Ami is a great seducer), one could predict - long before a scented mouillette was lifted to your nose - that Bel Ami was going to be bold, commanding and unapologetic.

Likely inspired by the 1885 Guy de Maupassant novel Bel Ami; the story tells of Georges Duroy, a young man who rose to power by manipulating and bedding a string of powerful and influential mistresses. This fictitious scoundrel perhaps served as the muse behind the Bel Ami man... a self-assured, daring lover who leaves a string of women swooning in his wake. Originally presented in a faceted amber glass flacon in the form of a cocktail shaker, Bel Ami is resolutely suave, masculine and unrepentant.

Classified as a Woody Chypre, Bel Ami was composed by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac in an era of gratuitous excess... it embodies all the brawn and overt masculine energy common to many men's perfumes released in the 80's, but with the expected Hermès DNA of luxury and finesse.

Straight out of the bottle Bel Ami bowls you over with an infusion of woods and citrus. A fresh lemon / petitgrain / mandarin flight is rendered ombré with toasty, warm nuances of fragrant cedar. Notes of herbaceous sage and dusty, peppery carnation emerge that blanket the scent laterally like a fragrant mantle of  husky grey-green. As the fabric of this fragrance unfolds, a rich, earthy patchouli reaches up from below, partnered with a sensuous ribbon of comforting vanilla bourbon...  the entire composition feels thick and leather-like, like a man's body, slick with sweat. Dry mosses and resinous styrax lend an enduring fieriness and a generous dose of castoreum, an overtly sexual, animalic undertone. Not surprisingly, Bel Ami feels unafraid, extroverted, and openly sexual. A scent that epitomises gruff masculine vigor, and still observes the traditional conventions of the house of Hermès.

Bel Ami in recent years has been relaunched in a tidy rectangular flacon (above). Whilst I have not smelled the more modern release, I suspect it might have had the Jean Claude Ellena treatment, which is to say, I imagine it may be slightly more transparent. It is important to acknowledge that many perfume producers have a legal obligation to discontinue the use of restricted ingredients such as castoreum (a product once harvested from beavers) which is now re-created synthetically for ethical reasons. Whatever the case may be, Bel Ami remains to this day, one of the house's most loved and most venerated masculines.

Bel Ami is available in 100ml size at Hermès boutiques and online at .

Thursday, 17 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day IV: Eau de Mandarine Ambrée

If there is one thing Hermès nose/perfumer Jean Claude Ellena does with exceptional flair, it's a good eau de cologne. His clever studies in the Cologne Hermès series are proof positive of his proficiency. In a 2009 interview with L', when asked to give three adjectives to describe a good cologne, Ellena commented:
 " and especially generous. We do not count with cologne, we can put a good shot in the palm of your hand to rub on. I love the gesture of splash that accompanies it - like no other perfume".

Indeed, Ellena has an incredible ability to exploit transparency and a certain 'olfactory temperature' in his creations. A cool, refreshing tonic applied in the summertime does much to lift the spirits and rouse the senses. In 2013, Hermès added 2 new Eau de Colognes to their treasury, Eau de Narcisse Bleu and Eau de Mandarine Ambrée; the former a study of daffodil and soft woods, and the latter, an examination of summer fruits and amber.

Eau de Mandarine Ambrée is a lip-smacking scent that excites from the outset. Zesty mandarin instantly meets the nose, and one can easily recognise the aroma of both the fragrant oil-carrying peel, and the fluffy white pith. I suspect a bittersweet measure of grapefruit has been introduced here also. Whilst it does feel instantaneously citrusy, the saliva-inducing sharpness is somehow diminished by a sweeter, pulpier facet pressing up from below... a syrupy, sun-yellow note of passionfruit brings with it a sense of tropical warmth. Here is where Eau de Mandarine Ambrée makes a departure away from traditional citrus scents, and introduces a balmier, more temperate feel. A honey-like seam of amber snakes its way up from the base and gives the cologne an almost caramel-like quality. There is a slight vanilla texture there that feels silken and luxurious, like an ice-cream dessert or sorbet composed of fruits from the tropics.

It is testament to Ellena's efforts that the whole composition feels both diaphanous and 'cool'. I wonder if the formula includes a cooling agent, like the cheeky crinkle of mint found in Eau d'Orange Verte - a little something hidden that keeps it brisk and energising. Whatever the case, Eau de Mandarine Ambrée plays a spectacular game of chase across boundaries that are both sweet and acidic, tropical and arctic.
One to be applied with mad abandon, just as Ellena intended.

Eau de Mandarine Ambrée is available in larger department stores and at Hermès boutiques in both 100ml and 200ml sizes.

Tomorrow's post: Bel Ami

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day III: Hiris

Irises have something of a sentimental significance to my family. They were my maternal grandmother's favourite flower, and in turn, one of my mother's. As a child I grew up around bushels of indigo blossoms arranged in vases and growing in our garden, but up until just a few years ago, had you asked me what they smelled like, I sincerely doubt I could have told you. The perfume of a single iris is not the same as that of a single rose, nor of a single gardenia blossom... one cannot get a true sense of iris from one or two stems alone. You must smell them in profusion.

Last September, my wife and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, and to memorialise the day I presented her with 40 irises all on stems of almost a meter long. In the days following, their tight paintbrush-like buds unraveled into spectacular triangular florets of abundant blue. Visitors to our house gasped at the cornucopia of colour as they entered our living room, and many commented on the perfume... one which - as far as they were concerned - they had never truly experienced before.
Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti's spectacular study Hiris for Hermès (launched in 1999) is perhaps the most faithful rendering of irises I've come across to this day.

In 1999, I distinctly recall the Hiris launch at a local department store. A multitude of purple flowers arranged against bright orange Hermès packaging made for a memorable spectacle, but at the time, I found the scent itself a little too mature for my liking. I was perhaps looking at things in a very literal sense: "...this doesn't smell like any iris that I know of!" whereas now - upon reflection - I perhaps should have admired the artistry. You see, Giacobetti's creation is more of an impressionistic oil painting of irises - full of vivid hues and broad strokes... a 'sketch' of sorts. One of those renderings where one must put some distance between themselves and the canvas (as I have, over time), to make the overall picture become clearer or sharper.

Hiris now in 2013 somehow feels more relevant than it did in 1999. Today, in a world full of countless perfume launches, complicated press releases and serpentine explanations, Hiris is now something of a standout. Once the frequently-overlooked orphan amongst its older and younger siblings, it actually represents the first and most enduring soliflore in the history of Hermès, proving that often, simplicity is key, particularly when handled in a luxurious and carefully-considered manner. If Hermès and Giacobetti deemed the iris worthy of their examination and reflection, then so should we!

Hiris is classified as a floral green fragrance, and to my nose, it's bang on the money. Many scents using iris as a starring note tend to focus on or exaggerate the dry, powdery qualities of the root... bringing out a lipstick / face powder facet that does not always sit well with everyone (Dior Homme, I'm looking at you)! With this Hermès creation, Giacobetti has recognised the husky nature of iris, but has given it a real sense of the environment from which it has grown. Iris, carnation, coriander and cedar give a sense of both an earthy springtime dampness: whilst amber, neroli, honey, rose and vanilla; a sunny springtime warmth. The feeling of coldness and austerity common to numerous iris scents is completely absent here... Giacobetti's interpretation incorporates green leafy fronds, speckled sunlight, and morning dew evaporating in the air. As a soliflore, there is nominal evolution from top to bottom, but this, I feel, is to its merit. Hiris is worn close to the skin, just as one might, an exquisite indigo-coloured Hermès carré. I sometimes wonder what other treasures might have emerged if Hermès and Giacobetti had continued to follow this intelligent and enchanting soliflore trajectory.

Few scents have the wherewithal to feel both earthy and grounded and yet infinitely luxurious in equal measures. Hiris dances delightfully between artistry and convention... it feels somehow both introverted and energized.
Re-discover her and you will more than likely succumb to her cultivated charms and whimsy.

Hiris is still available in Hermès boutiques and online at

Tomorrow's post: Eau de Mandarine Ambrée

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

Monday, 14 October 2013

5 Hermès' in 5 Days - Day I: Eau d'Hermès

In the same vein as my earlier popular posts on Guerlain, and to coincide with the launch of the new Hermès Hermessence Epice Marine (which will be reviewed here soon), each day this working week Sorcery of Scent will be casting light one Hermès fragrance a day. Today I begin with the house's signature scent, and personal favourite of mine, Eau d'Hermès.

Eau d'Hermès, was the first commercial perfume that the house launched in 1951 - a collaboration between master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska and Émile-Maurice Hermès. In a time during his management of the brand, Émile-Maurice summarized the fundamental Hermès philosophy as "Leather, sport, and a tradition of refined elegance".
In the 1920's, Émile had been responsible for first introducing accessories and handbags to the Hermès universe, and when presented with the challenge of creating the perfume that would soon carry the house's name, Roudnitska turned to them as his inspiration. In creating this scent, he recalled
"...the fragrance wafting from the interior of a Hermès bag... a note of delicate leather coated with the fresh scent of citrus fruits and flavoured with spices".
This became the palette from which Roudnitska began authoring a perfumed page in the history of this house. At the time, this exceptional 'eau' was offered exclusively in Hermès boutiques in crystal flacons - a service still available today, more than 60 years later.

Perhaps because of its exclusivity, for many decades Eau d'Hermès seemed to have slipped beneath the radar. I find this astonishing, as I feel it represents some of Roudnitska's best work. Born just a few short years after the exceptional Femme de Rochas, one can recognise Roudnitska's DNA in this Hermès creation... his use of leather and spices run parallel in both and give rise to a heart that is both earthy and animalic. It opens with a brisk shot of bergamot and lavender, followed by a huff of cinnamon and a sweaty, wanton infusion of cardamom and peppery spices which are slightly bitter to the nose. These notes work in unison with the incredible leather accord and smell resolutely sexual. Positioned as an "eau" which traditionally is to be worn with abandon and applied generously, it feels decidedly thicker, richer, and feistier - more of an EDT or EDP, perhaps. Interestingly, for all of its erotic innuendo, Eau d'Hermès' sense of luminosity and transparency are not compromised in the least. Roudnitska masterfully married the overtly carnal characteristics to those that feel bright and diaphanous. Light blooms of jasmine and geranium furnish the fragrance with a shimmering summer warmth... it is this very sense of transparency that I recognise as a tradition still being observed in the creations of Hermès in-house nose, Jean Claude Ellena today.

To my mind, Eau d'Hermès is the Jicky of the Hermès universe.... it is a pivotal scent upon which a house's name and its reputation (as far as perfumery is concerned) has been built. It rivals the best "house scents" of many other esteemed and time-honoured brands, and unreservedly embodies the Hermès spirit.

Eau d'Hermès is available in Hermès boutiques the world over, and online here in Australia at

Tomorrow's post: Eau de Cologne Hermès

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

New from GOTI ESSENZE: Smoke

To date, Riccardo Goti is a name largely absent from the mind of many a perfumisto. After studying design at the State Institute of Art in Firenze, Goti first stepped into the limelight with his unique fashions and use of unorthodox materials; mixing fabric with cut leather and metal hardware. With a more recent shift in focus towards jewellery design, Goti found his fame in the accessories market... his universe still utilizing raw leathers, tarnished metals, semi-polished stones and pliable materials like tin. In 2008, motivated by a desire to create unique, multi-faceted, multi-layered perfumes to accompany his accessories Goti recruited one of the oldest cosmetics manufacturers / pharmacies in the world - Santa Maria Novella. Together, they produced three GOTI ESSENZE fragrances composed of wholly natural ingredients: Black, White and Earth. Their very select distribution rendered them virtually invisible on the radars of devout perfumisti, but they created a distinct 'blip' on the screen of the fashionisti that had followed Goti's journey from the very beginning.

In 2013, Riccardo Goti has recently added two new scents to his portfolio: Gray and Smoke. But before I go on, I feel it is worth noting that the previously-launched trio have been completely reformulated to coincide with the 2013 new product launch and re-packaging of the brand. (There is no indication given as to why the previous scents are now largely unrecognisable today, but I have discovered that Santa Maria Novella are no longer producing the Goti Essences. That assignment has now been turned over to Laboratorio Therapeutico M.R., a Florentine pharmaceutical / neutroceutical firm founded in 1930, which - since the early 80's - has diversified its business by creating cosmetics and food supplements). Whilst this might have had something of an impact on the first three fragrances, we can gladly approach Gray and Smoke as Goti Essenze newcomers and take them at face value. In this blog piece I will be turning my attention to Smoke, which in my eyes, is the more interesting of the pair.

Smoke – contrary to that which its name might suggest – is not a run-of-the-mill olfactory study of charred woods and ashen embers that we perfume lovers have seen time and again. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Smoke – at least by the hand of Goti - feels more fluid, colourful, and transparent. Absent are the dark plumes of oud, birch tar and black tea that one might expect of such a scent, and in their place, a fascinating arrangement of notes that lend a curious translucency. A jewel-coloured opening of pomegranate startles with its bittersweet piquancy. This purple-red fire dances on a soft bed of cedar... a scattering of fragrant woodchips that provide a sense of combustable warmth. Moments into it's flight, there is a slightly bewildering camphorous quality that hints at the presence of blue eucalyptus or green menthol, but no such elements exist. I grasp for answers, only to realise I've discovered a penetrating yellow note of zesty ginger pooling below the surface. This ginger imbues the scent from top to bottom with an almost petroleum-like quality... it is sharp, aqueous and feels somewhat volatile and incendiary.

The foundation upon which Smoke was built includes ebony, incense and resins. The citric-orange presence of frankincense is very clear in this composition and partners well with the ginger, only amplifying it's abundance. It adds colour and dimension and lingers long into the drydown.

Riccardo Goti's interpretation of Smoke makes for an imaginative change of tact as far as smoke-themed perfumes are concerned. It feels infinitely more modern and avant garde than the majority of those that have gone before it. This genderless scent will captivate and mystify many with it's vivid colour and unique composition.

The new Goti Essences now appear in stunning, lightweight 50ml and 100ml polished metal flacons. The smaller of the two is perfect for travel, and the luxurious 100ml comes with a detachable leather bulb atomiser. A small screw cap and metal cover for the flacon are included with the larger size. Both are packaged in exquisite sturdy black boxes with tooled leather buckles. Very 'Goti' indeed.

Limited global distribution renders Goti Essenze somewhat tricky to source. 
In Australia, the complete line is available through Dilettante in Perth city and in Claremont, Western Australia.

Visit: for details.