One day I might stop raving about the vision and artistry of Jean Claude Ellena, but not today. His new creations for the house of Hermès depart from the classical Eau de Cologne structure into drier and more mineral arpeggios, the melodies of his two new compositions humming on my skin like Pan-pipes made of an outer-space-born hybrid.
Eau de Gentiane Blanche and Eau de Pamplemousse Rose join longstanding bestseller Eau d’Orange Verte (composed by Françoise Caron, its 30th anniversary this spring) for the new collection of unisex Eaux de cologne from Hermès, expected to be joined by more in the coming seasons. In a long discussion with Jean Claude he confided his and the House's desire to focus on a renovation of the Cologne genre which "needs a lot of love", as both a hark back to traditional perfumery and a modern choice of indulgent refreshment in the classic Mediterranean style.
The new compositions are both wonderfully pleasurable, but it's one of them which has literally swept me off my feet and regular readers of Perfume Shrine will not be hard-pressed to tell which one!
Eau de Pamplemousse Rose (translated as 'grapefuit & rose' and not 'pink grapefruit', as insistited upon by Ellena himself in his interview to us) is the more neoclassical of the two, denoting a citrusy facet at the beginning which echoes his other grapefuit compositions; namely In Love Again for Yves Saint Laurent and Rose Ikebana for Hermessences. However the new formula is different than the previous tries: If I were to imagine this as a ladder to absraction, I'd say that from the hologram of bitter-sweet grapefruit of the former and the delicate jewelled sparkle of the latter, the new composition is seen through the beam of a laser-jet printer which merges pixels in high resolution on a high-weight paper that seems powdered out of the package.
Compared with the other emblematic grapefuit, that of Guerlain's Pamplelune, one is stunned by the different approach of the two styles: Pamplelune is executed in a magnificently proficient style that manages to orientalise the sulphurous note in the arms of patchouli which warms and fans out the naturally sweet-smelling tonalities of the fruit. In Eau de Pamplemousse Rose the foot is firmly set on the West and the approach is leaner, tangier and less love-or-hate. A molecule patented by the house of Firmenich, called Rhubofix, possessing fresh "green rhubarb", woody-spicy, and floral facets combines with the rose scent, merging in a slightly ~and very pleasantly~ bitter composition which transcends the cologne genre. It would be a disillusionment to approach this if you're in search for rose, however, as it is only a mere whisper and neither is vetiver immediately apparent. Already being the proud owner of both In Love Again and Rose Ikebana, as well as Kelly Calèche which sports a little wink of this element too, as part of my fragrance collection, I am not certain whether I will sprint to get a bottle of the latest; but it's really well done and worth investing for the summer months if you have a dent in the fresh compartment in your fragrance wardrobe.
Eau de Pamplemousse Rose includes the following notes: lemon, grapefruit, rose, Rhubofix, vetiver.
Eau de Gentiane Blanche, on the other hand, is an adorable bone-dry masterpiece of novelty which eschews the traditional structure of Eau de Cologne much like Ellena's Vanille Galante took over the vanilla bandwagon; and thus I am earnestly putting a big bottle of it on my wishlist. Currently Eaux seem to be everywhere from Dior's Escale de Pondichéry, Miss Dior Cherie L'Eau and J'adore L'Eau Cologne Florale (review coming up) to Cristalle Eau Verte (ditto) and the instigator of it all Eau de Cologne by Chanel. Still Hermès and Ellena, much like Sinatra (or Sid Vicious, take your pick) "did it their (own) way" and the magnificently androgynous and distinct result is highly wearable as well.
Contrary to Robin of NST I do not peg Eau de Gentiane Blanche as a too clean scent, although it's undoubtedly fresh; perhaps an allusion to Alpine snowscapes where gentian grows abundantly. Yet, smell this take on freshness and you know you've been under azure skies in the early hours of morning in Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, all mineral landscape around, no plants, no water, nothing but dry white dust and rock as far as the eye can see. The huge rock houses of Cappadocia, underground as well as upperground, present the apotheosis of past meets future: one cannot distinguish whether they're in one of the prehistoric shots of "2001 A Space Odyssey" or in one of the first episode of "Star Wars". The cool feeling imparted by Eau de Gentiane Blanche reminded me of that experience along with the caves at the famous nude beach of Matala on the island of Crete: cool solace from the scorching sun.
Upon testing Eau de Gentiane Blanche on my skin, I was struck by one sledgehammering impression: This is how I wanted Chanel Les Exclusifs No.18 to smell like on me!! The touch of ambrette seed in the Chanel is here magnified, the sophisticated bitter character bringing it full circle along with the vegetal, earthy-powdery halo or iris instead of the rose of No.18 and I seem to detect some of his signature Iso-E Super.
Jean Claude Ellena also extolled the innovation of using gentian absolute, here featured for the first time in a fragrance. This, apart from the stylistical difference, might explain the striking difference with Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria Gentiana, another fragrance pegged on the gentian plant. In the latter nevertheless the pear aroma-chemical along with the sweeter nuances of lime, limette and vanilla conspire to give a fresh, yet slightly sweet composition (not quite in the patiserrie Guerlain later style, thankfully) whereas in Eau de Gentiane Blanche the dryness is the undoubted seal of sophistication.
Eau de Gentiane Blanche includes notes of white musk, gentian, iris and incense.
Both compositions had an average tenacity on my skin, longer on the blotter (and I would surmiss on clothes) but they perform better on skin and thus the latter method is highly recommended when testing. Remarkable they do not dry down diametrically opposite, which lends a uniformity of style in the line. Philippe Mouquet's design of the trio of flacons for the Colognes Hermes vibrates in three nuances of green: vivid bottle-green, grey-green and dark forest green. The Hermes colognes are available as splash at major department stores and Hermes boutiques in 100ml (3.4oz)/$125 and 200ml (6.8oz)/$165 while Eau d'Orange Verte specifically is also available in the Tesla-size of 400ml (13.6oz)!
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Interview with Jean Claude Ellena, Hermès fragrances, Eau de Cologne history & scents
Pics of fashion shoot at Goreme, Turkey via Corbis