Un Jardin sur le Toît, the fourth installment in the Les Jardins series at Hermès, a technopaegnia sample more than a simple fragrance, follows the success of Un Jardin sur la Mediterranée, Un Jardin sur le Nil and Un Jardin Après La Mousson. But whereas the narrative in the latter sprung naturally from the motifs of the house (Un Jardin sur Nil was based on a previous design of river greenery captured in porcelain) or the perfumer's own travel associations (Un Jardin sur la Mediterranée was inspired by the moment when someone brought a plate of cut figs at the garden of an Hermes's executive house in Tunisia, while Après la Mousson was purposely composed chasing the monsoon in Kerala, India), this latest entry feels a bit constrained.
Constrained for associations: Hermès tend to a rooftop garden (i.e.jardin sur le toît, you see) at Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré above their Parisian headquarters, but come on; how spontaneous would it be to search for inspiration so close to home now, I ask you? Constrained for accomplishments, too: The fragrance feels a sort of déjà vu, despite its poetic arc and delicacy of execution, traits typically Ellena. Finally, constrained for marketing: Hermès went out on a limb ~amidst braving the hostile take-over attempts from LVMH~ and invited journalists to a cooking class, a horticulturist's part-time occupation and a press presentation no less, all three rolled into one! So the question is, does the fragrance succeed in what it set out to do? It depends on the angle from which you're watching it unfold.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, Un Jardin sur le Toît is ~as always for latter part of the house's fragrance portfolio~ an ethereal, beautiful, elegant composition. I wouldn't expect anything else from perfumer Jean Claude Ellena who eschews easy, run-of-the-mill recipes in order to cut out his own path. Un Jardin sur le Toît is typical Ellena; fans will be on the verge of orgasming, detractors will complain about his vegetal, unusual -for standard luxury- accords once again. But therein lies the danger of repeating himself as well: The problem with Un Jardin sur le Toît is exactly what should be its strong suit: It's so reflective of its creator it's hard to differentiate it from his other opus. The top section is eerily reminiscent of Kelly Calèche, the drydown dangerously close to the woody-green parts of Un Jardin sur le Nil. Much as one might love both fragrances (and I do), they might wonder at the necessity of launching a separate third fragrance which sounds very much like conceptual looping: the accords sound like a talented DJ's sample scratches, looped into infinity. Inside info wants Jean Claude Ellena to have deemed the Jardin series complete at number three (that's Mousson) and being actively coaxed into producing a fourth one. Pas mal, considering.
Un Jardin sur le Toît from Hermès takes the scent of wet soil, foliage and wild flowers (really, a vegetable patch) as the stepping stone into an herbal epanalepsis of its creator's favourite soundbites. The top stage is effervescent with the tomato leaf (vert de tomate), slightly bitter green, pungent accord that he favours so much (even as far back as Sisley's Eau de Campagne). Whereas in the past this was a bracing breath of fresh air, totally unpolluted, this time Ellena fuses a slightly sweaty element; a bit tarrish, a bit like wet dogs, a bit like compost, in a good way, which merges in a refined way with the more flowery (rose) and fruity (pear, apple) elements. The rose is transparent, more like the greenery in L'Ombre dans L'Eau by Ditpyque or its tratment in Kelly Calèche than anything overtly feminine; peppered and citrusy, a whiff of magnolia in there. Officially classified as a floral fruity, this Rooftop Garden fragrance is as wildly removed from the standard surupy floral fruity as À la Claire Fontaine is from a mass supermarket jingle. Jean Claude Ellena describes it ‘the scent of sunlight and pleasure… a fruity botanical floral’ and that's totally on mark.
Fairly linear and totally unisex, Un Jardin sur le Toî, sustains that repetitive vegetal chord over an indeterminate woody-mossy bass which gives the background that makes the fragrance last and last. The inclusion of oakmoss (evernia prunastri) is what is so sorely missing from many modern time chypres: Who knew the elation of getting one's hands in good, honest earth was only a rooftop away?
The new Hermès fragrance comes in the standard bottles of Les Jardins series, this time in light green bottom, available in 50ml (£55) and 100ml sizes at the eponymous boutiques, major department stores and online.
music A La Claire Fontaine by Shang Wen Jie