Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hermes Hermessence Epice Marine: new fragrance preview

The sea accord is sweet. The smell coming from the bed of the ocean and the misty fog in Brittany is not. To evoke therefore the changing scenery of Mont Saint Michel which recalls seascapes by Turner and pirate adventures full of spices, wooden floors and smoked woods, in house Hermès perfumer Jean Claude Ellena pairs an algae & smoky whisky accord with spices to render a "spicy marine" fragrance, namely Epice Marine (which translates exactly like that). Marine fragrances are the anathema of many a hard-core perfume aficionado, mainly due to the prevailing of this genre during the 1990s, a landmark for perfumery which created with its deeply artificial nuance as many foes as it did acolytes. But if there is one illusionist able to shutter biases and make perfumephiles see things anew, it is without doubt Ellena. And that's what he does in his latest Hermessence; beyond the sea, but not far from it all the same.

Epice Marine, the 11th Hermessence fragrance, is inspired on the one hand by the Saint-Malo milieu, full of celtic traditions and the marine songs of the changing scenery of Mont Saint Michel, that is so familiar to Olivier Roellinger (3 stars Michelin chef & owner of Maisons de Bricourt in Cancale) and on the other hand by the Provencal countryside of Cabris where Hermès perfumer Jean Claude Ellena spends his days immersed in the serene Mediterranean blue. The conversation between these two opposing, and yet converging worlds, took the course of a passionate and prolonged epistolary exchange of views between the two men during the course of many months, starting with Roellinger's invitation to Ellena in october 2011 to come over at Cancale at La Maison du Voyager (the voyager's mansion) where the chef grew up and keeps his spice & savory archives for his restaurants.

pic provided to PerfumeShrine via Hermes

An idea begins to take shape in Ellena's mind as he listens to his friend recount the seafaring adventures required to amass and distribute green cardamom and Sichuan pepper on the Spice Route during the 16th century and the trafficking conducted by pirates. Contrary to bourgeois perfumery, which uses several accords and complicated combinations "to render an effect", Ellena likes to zero-in on the essentials, rendered in an artistic way which allows to highlight unexpected facets.

Toasted cumin grains, sent from Cancale to Cabri, seal the deal for the new concept: Epice Marine will focus on this polarizing note which is central to the adventures of seafaring. But contrary to the usual cumin essence which has a tendency to recall human sweat to some people, this toasted cumin variety renders an aromatic oil which is human-smelling all the same, carnal and skin-like, as Ellena divulges, but in a very sensual tonality. Ellena has this spice distilled to render an essential oil which encompasses notes of toasted bread, hazelnut, sesame; these nuances are deeply exciting to Ellena, who proceeds to write to Roellinger to relay his appreciation and to inform him that he is continuing, with a bigger order for the toasted spice, allied with cinnamon and cardamom.


Epice Marine by Hermès also uses a generous helping of bergamot to give a vibrant start. To that he has added a synthetic molecule which recalls algae, a more oceanic feel than the sea accord. This is done intentionally as the "sea" note is sweeter than the ocean at Brittany (la Bretagne), which is drier, saltier, more savory. The coupling of the algae note with the spice manages to evoke that. But one thing is missing... The scent of the marine mist, that deep humid scent that comes out of the seabed. This is the definitive accent, provided by a smoky, peaty note of whisky constructed anew by Ellena himself, specifically inspired by the Bruichladdich whisky (a gorgeous single malt from the Hebrides with elegant floral notes). It evokes the boiled buckwheat and the North-East winds of the foggy Brittany.

After 24 mods, the perfumer is still not satisfied with the development of the composition. The smokiness and the oceanic notes seem a little flat to him. He reworks the oakmoss essence variety used in the base, deducts the vetiver variety used previously, and works on a source water "note" to lessen the salty aspect of the fragrance. It is now March 2012. In two months the finished fragrance will be ready but it will take a while to see the light of day: in September 2013 Epice Marine will hit the boutiques. The adventure begins...

 certain notes thanks to Sybille Grandchamp of Vanity Fair France, translated by the author.


  1. This sounds like heaven to me. After reading about Anya's Garden Fairchild on Perfume Shrine, I am waiting expectantly after ordering for it to arrive in the mail, but any sea/ocean fragrance takes me away to wonderful places.

  2. Wonderful evocative writing, E! Perfume descriptives like whiskey, smoky, peaty - yes, please.

  3. I am indeed one of those who find marine anathema. I have so far failed to be wooed by the allure of decomposing sea life. Moreover, the addition of pepper to a marine base generated horrors of mephistophelic proportions like Ambrarem.

    But then, if there is a note that could benefit from Ellena's watery, pale style, this could be it. So, as usual, we should smell.


  4. Miss Heliotrope01:30

    Am not a beachy person, & find it too often done in collections of sea shells & model lighthouses - & the scent equivalent.

    But there is a difference between "the beach" & the ocean - even if it takes a rare art to clarify & highlight this. Am curious...

  5. Anonymous03:43

    I can't wait! Beautiful writing.

  6. Dearest Shrine
    What a sparkling account of the intriguing inspiration and genesis of this scent.
    As so often with Ellena'a creations, the creative process adds to the sense of expectation and the desire to try.
    Oh and the fact that St Jean de Mont holds such happy memories.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  7. annemariec09:44

    This sounds utterly intriguing, many thanks for the review. I am one of the many who dislike the 90s concept of 'marine', really because it never reminded me of beaches or bodies of water of any sort. It was just an artificial evocation of the idea of that environment but bore no real relation to it. Or to anything other than maybe a new bathroom where the cement under the tiles is still yet to set.

    In the past I've steered clear of the Hermessences because they are expensive and I fear falling in love. This might just be the one to tempt me to put a toe in the water, so to speak. You only live once.

  8. This one sounds very interesting!

  9. Anonymous14:09

    If I wasn't already excited, I was, now I am thrumming with anticipation. I quite like sea/salt/water notes and am not afraid of their 90s-ish-ness.
    Portia x

  10. Anonymous16:07

    Thank you for providing us with such beautiful prose - not especially a fan of this fragrance genre but I do love Ellena and if anyone can create a masterpiece it will be him. Anxiously awaiting....

  11. Anonymous17:55

    i am a robot,ciao

  12. Fascinating, Helg! You (and JCE) had me at "toasted cumin grains." I'm that oddball who loves cumin in perfume to begin with, but your description of the facets of the toasted version sounds even more magical (and very much in keeping with JCE's aesthetic).

  13. I'm really looking forward to Hermès Epice Marine --- I can't wait to see how Jean Claude Ellena inteprets a Brittany fog!

  14. Anonymous11:23

    Enthusiast Brittany freak, avid Hermès wearer and wannabe-mermaid: I am more than excited! When is the exact planned launch date?


  15. I have read all your comments with great joy. It's good to hear that something like this is possible and that there's so much interest from the perfumista-dom!

    Nina, I had heard it would coincide with la rentreé which is September 10/11.


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