Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hermes Eau d'Hermes: fragrance review

The official site introduces Eau d'Hermès as "For me. For you. His and hers" and if an androgynous sensibility is already simpatico to you, the special Eau has the potential to surprise in other ways. Notoriously refered to as "that stinky Hermès" among perfume aficionados, this cologne has had a somewhat dimmed profile for many years, ever since its introduction in 1951 by renowned perfumer Edmond Roudnitska and still to this day enjoys a rather underground cult status.

The ~originally proficient in saddlery and leather goods~ luxury house has some of the most interesting Eaux around anyway, with the latest Eau de Pamplemousse Rose and Eau de Gentiane Blanche having me rave recently for their unassuming spontaneity and unassuming intellectualism, with the ultra-popular Eau de Merveilles with its saline note of ambergris and the mouthwatering Eau d'Orange Verte rounding out the edges. But the original Eau from 1951 is still a small marvel because it manages to recalibrate the Eau formula (a traditional recipe of herbs and hesperidia) into a dazzling kaleidoscope combining frank animal notes, spices, and the illusion of tobacco, a mirage that’s at once textured, elegant and "skanky". In some ways there is a bond with the famous fougère by Guerlain, Jicky: The proper lavender touch, the unabashed sexiness of civet, the contrast of old money and an almost cubist outlook. Only the sequence in Eau d'Hermès is in reverse ~first the objectionable part, then the sumptuous, dignified drydown! There is also kinship with some of the older lovely masculines in the line-up: Équipage and Bel Ami, which I also like very much.

Frankly I don't get much of the "dirty" vibe for which Eau d'Hermès is referenced myself, meaning it doesn't smell either really sweaty (rich though it is in cumin, the usual culprit as per received wisdom) or diaper-like/fecal (copious amounts of civet tend to do that). I get a finely tuned citrus-leather violin and piano duet with some white flowers peeking underneath discreetly. This might have to do with either my skank-eating skin or my seriously wrapped-up perception of what "dirty" really is (Apparently my threshold is rather raised in comparison to the average WASP sensibility, I've been told.) My money is on the second hypothesis, at any rate, and most Roudnitska creations with their improper parts always peeking through the layers seem to perform well. But as usual, try before you buy, because perception is everything when it comes to perfume appreciation and what's fine with me might be unbearable bathroom ambience to you. And cumino-phobiacs*, please beware!

The first bottle of Eau d'Hermès in my life was a gift from an artist friend who has a high brow in art issues and a low brow in matters of everyday commodities; which even now befundles me as to which end of the intellectual and aesthetic spectrum predominated when the choice for this gift was made! Eau d'Hermès is perfectly legible as a composition that doesn't trumpet its credentials in your face (there are luxury ingredients in it, but they never show off the bill, if you know what I mean), it nevertheless has some unusual streak which reminds me of another friend, a writer who hails from an old family tracing roots in the Byzantine Empire, and who likes to wear little hats cocked off-kilter and combine odd socks with her evening outfits. Bottom line, it conjures images of non-prim respectability, like an old, faded aristocrat who has the pissoir jugs displayed alongside the family china.

Notes for Eau d'Hermes: citrus, cumin, birchwood, moss, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla

Please take care not to confuse Eau d'Hermès with the semi-oriental Parfum d'Hermès from 1984 (in the round disk bottle) which is a completely different fragrance. The newest version rerworked by in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena is a bit more refined, a little more brainy and airy than the vintage, but still fantastically marvellous and arresting in the most incospicuous way. It is sold in all Hermes boutiques at an Eau de Toilette concentration, just ask for it.

Three different commemorative limited editions of Eau d'Hermès have circulated over the years, highly collectible and beautiful to look at. One is from 1993, depicted above, showing a rider upon a horse. Another is from 1994 with an etched Pegasus on the bottle depicted on the left, the other depicting the sun-carriage of Phaethon also etched on the crystal from 2001 depicted on the right. They're both available on Ebay right now for ridiculous amounts of money (A lesson for us all to stock up on rare limited editions instead of bonds, I guess).

*Some of the other cumin/sweat-infested fragrances include: Kingdom (McQueen), L'Autre (Diptyque), Santal Blanc , Fleurs d'Oranger, Muscs Kublai Khan (Lutens), Declaration (Cartier), Timbuktu (L'Artisan), Gucci Eau de Parfum, Black Tourmaline (Olivier Dubrano), Rochas Femme (1984 reissue).

Paintings by the Spanish artist Juan Gris with music by Barry Mitchell performed by the Locrian Ensemble


  1. Nice post!

    The first time I tried Eau d’Hermès, I was waiting to board a flight, and sprayed some on in a duty free store. I really hated it, and went about my business. About two hours later, I smelled my arm and just loved it, and ran back to the duty free shop to buy a bottle, but bought a bottle of Eau d'Orange Verte by mistake! I ended up loving that one. It wasn't until recently that I realized the mistake I made.

    Recently, I went to an Hermès store to try it again. The sales assistant kept trying to steer me toward Terre d’Hermès, which, at least in the eau de toilette, doesn't really work for me. I was able to spray Eau d’Hermès on, but I didn't have the same reaction as I originally had. I'll eventually pop for a bottle.

    I also don't get the "dirty" vibe from this. Someone on Basenotes (in a positive review), described it as "Grace Kelly's handbag stuffed with Robert Mitchum's jockstrap," which is certainly evocative! But I don't get that at all!

  2. Fiordiligi22:11

    I think it is a fabulous scent, even though I don't normally like cumin in fragrance. Roja Dove thinks it is a very naughty fragrance and he once gave me a mini bottle, telling me to have my Other Half wear it all at once (without my telling him what it was). He obeyed and we both thought it smelled fantastic!

    Of course, like you, I'm totally inured to skanky perfume. Love it!

  3. Love at at first sniff !

    I've owned several bottles over the years, drained to the dregs;0

    Most recent : last year's b-day gift from DH.
    Bless him.

  4. Anonymous16:10

    Really enjoyed reading this wonderful review. I haven't had the chance to smell Eau d'Hermes yet but your review now has me wanting to run out and try.


  5. Glen,

    what an interesting story and a hilarious descriptive addition!! Thank you!
    Well, there's obviously more of us that have a raised threshold in what is perceived as "dirty" in fragrances.

    BTW, was meaning to let you know that your prize has been crawling its way to you!

  6. D,

    fascinating info on pouring this on with abandon, I wonder if it makes a difference than dabbing carefully like most do. Glad you love it, it's so sexy!

  7. Ida,

    bless him indeed, what a lovely choice! And yes, a little dirtiness works heaps for creating intimacy and allure. One just can't do that with bathroom freshner, can one? :-P ;-)

    Hope you're as peachy as can be!!

  8. Dagney,

    thanks for the very kind words, it's good to know there are people who are interested in exploring these cult favourites. Do try it, I think it's perfectly executed, even if you don't like it in the end.

  9. Good heavens, El, you must be psychic! Although I've been a bit too busy to continue our recent conversation, I have still been pursuing fragrances here and there and just last week I was Googling around for info about just this scent! I found a little bit, but I really needed your take on it, phew!

    Unfortunately none of the other Hermes offerings pull me in at all, something I might chalk up to my curious sensitivity (or lack thereof) to many contemporary synthetics -- I swear I can barely smell Eau de Merveilles at all! But none of the others seem to have the Animalic quality you all speak of here. How do you think what's in the store now measures up to past versions?

  10. I've fallen under Roudnitska's spell lately (I had to get a bottle of Eau Fraiche, thank you so much for introducing me), but they don't seem to carry Eau d'Hermes in the boutiques in Korea (I made a point of seeking it), so it seems to be distributed more selectively in Asia.

  11. Wendy,

    it'd be very fun if I WERE psychic. Alas, that was not meant to be, I think. Maybe in the next life!
    No trouble on not continuing our conversation, I have been lagging myself, but will get to it promise!!

    EdM is a notorious one for not being able to be discerned clearly, I'm not surprised. I perceive it as a gentle salty skin effect. Emphasis on the subtle.

    If you're asking me if the current Hermes fragrances measure up to older ones, I'd say the line is much more coherent now and it projects as something very quality without showing off (apart from that Rouge one). Still, several of them had to be a little re-orchestrated for the well known reasons. It's a fact of life.
    If you're asking how I find Eau d'Hermes vintage vs.modern, I'd say that they're both lovely, the newer perhaps a little airier and possibly a little citrusier. But very well done all the same!

  12. D,

    hello darling, how are you? Hope everything goes swell?

    Glad to be converting you to Eau Fraiche (Isn't it fabulous! The new version holds up very well too, to my surprise and delight)and would love to locate my bottle and send you off a sample of this one too. I think you'd like it! I believe there is some under the counter and they also have it online, so you can definitely order and have it sent to you.

  13. Ashley04:42

    I know this is an old post, but I have discovered that I adore this fragrance, only to realize it is nearly impossible to come by. Do you by chance know if this is discontinued? It is not appearing on the Hermes website. Do you think the boutique would carry it, or is it gone? Thank you!

  14. Ashley,

    odd. Not discontinued as far as I know and I would know it if it were.

    [interval checking]

    Hermes boutiques stock it in the big bottles.

    Hope this helps!


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