Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hermes Equipage: fragrance review

If Calèche encapsulates perfumer Guy Robert's idea of a great taste feminine perfume, then Équipage is his idea of the perfect masculine; sober, handsome, restrained, graceful. These two Hermès fragrances embody both the house's easy, effortless elegance aesthetic (you can imagine them as "old money" contrasted with nouveau rich) and Guy Robert's idea that only a "lived-in" ambience about a scent makes it truly romantic; if you need more proof you can just test out Madame Rochas and his other marvels (Amouage Gold, Dioressence etc).

Scent Description 
Aromatic, spicy and woody, the brief for Équipage was based on the success of Monsieur Rochas, composed by the same perfumer (Guy Robert) just one year prior, demanding the scent of a "cold pipe".  Word has it that Jean Louis Sieuzac also worked on this one. The smokiness is there all right (I'm hypothesizing birch tar to give a smoked leather note, reminiscent of the Cuir de Russie type of scents), but there's pungent dryness instead of the usual rum casket fantasies of honeyed milky tobacco; such as the ones evoking languorous Turkish escapades that Lutens brings to his Fumerie Turque, to cite but one example.  Liatris is an interesting note: it possesses both a herbaceous facet on one end and a hay & tobacco facet with only a subtly vanillic undercurrent on the other end, so it balances off nicely the bitter, pungent top notes of Équipage, reinforcing the concept of a smoking pipe.

Équipage is resolutely old-school and conservative smelling ~therefore probably anathema to anyone under 40, unless they have a perfume obsession~ and like an experienced acrobat balances between strength and finery, between the rustic herbs, the bitterness of the clary sage opening and the bite of cloves, on a base of smooth wood notes and a little sweet floral touch, a combination as dependable as a gentleman of the old guard. The florals cited in official notes description give only half the truth: the lily of the valley gives but crispness, the rosewood a profusion of linalool (that ingredient familiar from classic lavender), the carnation adds a clovey tint, as carnation composing was done by utilizing clove essence.
The true character of the fragrance evolves from the evolution of the aromatic, rustic and bitter herbal essences into rich woody, earthy notes in the drydown with a tinge of leather notes. In this it is in the same league as the equally magnificent Derby by Guerlain, which epitomizes the smooky woody fragrance genre; perhaps the Guerlain is a bit more balsamic and greener than the Hermès.

Who is it for?
I can vividly picture Équipage on a tweed-clad man out in the woods, lithe, supply riding his horse with his gun between horse bridles and saddle, leather lapels & patches on the jacket, having a good time only to return home when the sun is beginning to set. Perhaps it's so old-school that such a picture doesn't really seem ridiculous or overblown. Hermès at any rate likes to emphasize its "team player" name, showing the bottle over the photo of a rowing team. Cool, I get it. That's got to be some posh British college we're talking about, where the idea of a team spells dedication and loyalty and doesn't mess with anyone's individuality. Équipage smells perfectly individual nowadays, sticking like a diamond ring among graphite pencils, so perhaps my modern take is skewed. I suppose more men smelled in some variation of this liquid nectar back then....and oh boy, weren't those the times.

Équipage seems perfectly at ease on a smoker too, a heavy one at that, fusing with the remnants of the ashtray scent on the clothes into producing something delightful rather than repelling. No wonder in this age of cigarette demonisation Équipage looks like an outcast. Most interestingly this masculine eau de toilette works well in both the hot and cold season and lasts equally impressively, as it seems to morph to suit the weather. Winter brings out its crispness of sweet earth and woods. Summer heat highlights its cooling herbal, almost mentholated effect and its spicy kick.

I am a bit at a loss on how it would be possible to recommend it be worn by women, evocative as it is of virile-looking men like Sean Connery, however I have to share that I indulge myself in my vintage bottle more often than I'd care to admit. Perhaps there's something to be said about women embracing the idea of wearing a virile scent from time to time...

Vintage vs Modern Équipage 
The vintage versions of Équipage bear a light brown cap with a screw top design; the modern is sparse, black, architectural. The modernised version, available at  Hermès boutiques and department stores with a big selection of Hermès fragrances where you will have to ask for it by name, has attenuated some of the pungency and projection of this fragrance, without messing too much with its bouquet garni of herbs. If anything it's more citrusy and terpenic now than leathery, but not by much.

Notes for Hermès Équipage: 
Top: bergamot, rosewood, lily of the valley, clary sage, tarragon, marjoram
Middle: jasmine, carnation, pine, hyssop, liatris (a herbaceous perennial)
Base: Vetiver, patchouli, tonka bea, amber


  1. noetic owl10:58

    How can it be that I have never heard of this one? Perhaps because it was billed as a "masculine" scent? Your description of it sounds divine- great review! I agree, men nowadays don't smell nearly as fantastic as they did thirty to forty years ago
    (tobacco, leather, woods, etc) ! And by the way, I have secretly worn mens fragrances myself- Do you remember Grey Flannel? I had my own bottle of it and wore it to work everyday until a salesman I worked with recognized it and ratted me out :) !

  2. Noetic,

    probably! I don't think women are encouraged to try out masculine scents, even on the counter. I don't know why! They might be testing to buy for someone else by all means; how are we supposed to buy a gift for a man without actually trying the darn thing? The looks the SAs give are alarming, to say the least (like one might grow a penis if we wore masculine scents? I don't know...)
    I wish I could be bold enough to carry well Givenchy Gentleman (the vintage, full on version) and the extremely mossy-piney Santos by Cartier; but those two are a bit butch. I'm very feminine looking (all curves, long hair, soft skin) and yet apprehensive sometimes on how it gets a message across. Might be that I haven't yet found the proper method of applying without them being so very powerful. :/

    Grey Flannel is gorgeous!! I love that it's got all that violet under the familiar ferny stuff. It's unique and a great choice. What a bad thing to be ratted out on by your co-worker. Do bring out your bottle and wear it again, I say!

  3. bradamante14:51

    I wear Equipage and do so gladly, in spite of my gender. However, I am inclined to combine it with a smidgeon of Bellodgia. As if there has been a meeting between the lord and the lady of the manor.

  4. B,

    oooh, you're giving me ideas! This might actually be a good combo. (off to try! I need to make some Bellodgia body cream)

  5. I happily wear Equipage, along with M7, Monsieur Balmain, Habit Rouge, Egoiste, Heritage, Chanel Pour Monsieur, and Bulgari Black. Drives the SAs crazy.

  6. Driving the SAs crazy is rather fun in a naughty, semi-cruel way. I remember this when I was a teenager with testing Guerlain Vetiver on the counter right beside Shalimar and L'Heure Bleue Parfum de Toilette.

    What an excellent selection you've got there, woodgirl!! :-)
    I also love wearing Habit Rouge (and Black and Heritage; should give Pour Monsieur a whirl too)

  7. Cheryl15:32

    It's so much fun slipping Yatagan,
    Grey Flannel and Heritage into an altogether different rotation.
    Équipage sounds wonderful for that kind of pleasure.

    Many thanks for a great review that will lead to experiencing another

  8. Anonymous00:48

    my first men's perfume love! fell for it when i was a teen visiting france. love it to this day.

    wish more men would wear classy fumes like this instead of all the insipid citrus-musk-detergent scents they seem to favor. or axe.

    glad you are giving it some love!
    equipage forever!


  9. Cheryl,

    it certainly is!
    It's even more fun when you discover that the women sniffing and wondering are admiring the effect and cannot place it. Men do too, which is also fun.

    Do explore some Equipage, it's gorgeous!

  10. J,

    it is as you say. Equipage is a classic for a reason and you do well to give it love to this day. I fear that if we don't continue to buy and wear our beloved masterpieces, companies will decide to axe them. Hermes has been pretty good in keeping stuff so far (well, apart from Doblis, that was a serious bummer and I hold on to my bottle like a harpy) so I'm optimistic.

    Regarding men's favored scents these's my theory everything really went awry the minute some guy publicized the chic magnet appeal he witnessed with Cool Water/Aqua di Gio and how he "scored" (don't have concrete evidence on that actually happening from there on, but have seen numerous times CW -as well as Aqua di Gio- refered to in those terms!!).
    Everyone got to wear those two, numerous copies were made and from then on it was all downhill into insipid, laundered, washed out things with a bass close to mute that could nevertheless be heard from a thousand miles away (know what I mean?).

    Like the mega-success of the original Star Wars, in a way (tombstone to the mainstream American cinema IMHO ~no movies with characters/plot/serious thought were favored by the studios any longer), it just takes an ill-timed success to ruin everything.

  11. Anonymous13:04

    Hi Elena,
    Thanks for this review!
    Equipage has been my first scent (ok I admit, just after Azzaro pour homme!)when I was 15!
    I am now 42 and I still love it and even if I am unfaithful, I consider it forever as MY own scent!

  12. bradamante13:16

    O, how nice Elena that I gave you an idea! Have you had the chance yet to combine Equipage and Bellodgia - and if so, what was your impression?

    (And, like woodgirl, I also wear Heritage, Habit Rouge, Bulgari Black, Chanel pour Monsieur, M7. And Midnight in Paris, Yatagan, Pour un Homme, Bel Ami, and... and.. sigh. The list is endless AND still growing...)

  13. Anonymous00:56

    elena, yes, i know exactly what you mean! those men's scents are insipid and hammerlike at the same time! here in america, it is impossible to tell laundry detergents and dryer sheets from a men's cologne! can't tell you how often i think i am following in a man's sillage when it turns out to be the warm air coming from someone's dryer vent! so annoying.
    both are dull.

    although, there is one detergent here that costco sells that smells like revlon ciara! trippy!


  14. Bradamante,

    in fact I did and I'm impressed!! It actually smells to me like Tabac Blond (which is great, seeing how TB is undulating). You gave me a wonderful idea and I'm grateful to you. :-)

  15. J,

    sounds boring indeed.
    But the Costco thingie sounds like a ton of fun! (I always got a kick out of the musky air of Elnett classic hairspray. Simply love that smell).

  16. theblacknarcissus17:19

    I think this is genius.

  17. TBN,

    Can't disagree with you!!

  18. My girlfriend of 25 years (and wife of 24, and mother of my four children) has worn Equipage ever since her teens. I must say it suits her as nothing else.

    Someone has wondered how can such a virile essence fit a woman: simply put, my beloved wife is the life-perfect incarnation of the tomboy. Think of Peppermint Patty: there she is, in a nutshell. Including the freckles.

    Of course she is my loving, tender, cute, funny girl, and I couldn't love anyone more. But Equipage is just part of her, and I couldn't think of her with another scent on.

    So this leads to the point. We have been thrown in deep desperation by the news that apparently Hermès has DISCONTINUED!!!!! Equipage.

    Does anyone know anything more?

  19. Gatto,

    very charming story, thank you so much for sharing! It must be a lovely association and a true signature.

    To the best of my knowledge this isn't true. Maybe limited distribution? Lemme check and get back to you if I find news of a true irrevocable discontinuation.

  20. Gatto,

    very charming story, thank you so much for sharing! It must be a lovely association and a true signature.

    To the best of my knowledge this isn't true. Maybe limited distribution? Lemme check and get back to you if I find news of a true irrevocable discontinuation.


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