Thursday, May 22, 2008

Un Jardin Apres la Mousson by Hermes: fragrance review

Visiting the Hermès boutique, at which an appointment was made for olfactory appreciation purposes, is a reward in itself. The new summer collection has arrived, in maroquinerie and silk accessories as well as clothes, all in vivid, shocking pinks of India, warm apricots and light greens with themes of elephants and mangoes. And among those the newest fragrance, Un Jardin Après La Mousson (a garden after the monsoon).

This is the latest to join the Jardin trio in the house's more approachable series, which finds itself one regular step behind the grand feminines and masculines and a full rumba step behind the Hermessences. After Un Jardin en Mediteranée, inspired by the Mediterranean and focusing on bittersweet figs and Un Jardin sur le Nil, which focused on green mango (and coming off as grapefruit on a bed of wood shaves), Un Jardin Après La Mousson takes the surprising fruity note of cantaloupe as the thesis for a little summery dance around it, with a sideways wink to Le Parfum de Thérèse in the F.Malle lineup.

Calone, the uber-marine synthetic, is often anathema for myriads of perfume lovers who have declared war on it. Ellena wanted to create a water accord, farther from the usual marine note: I admit I am among the legion who hate Calone and am wondering why it seems like it sneaked its way into a composition that is proclaiming itself a vegetal-spicy. Regarding the latter part, pepper is the protagonist among the spices with its short-wave of coolness, reminiscent of the accord created for Poivre Samarkand. Vetiver in turn disrobes of its earthy, pungent character in a molecular reconstruction by Ellena which sheds the layers of dirty to leave behind a proper and "clean" note that is more like a fabric softener or a good after-shave cream than the viscous essential oil. There is the vegetal theme explored in Kelly Calèche and the mineral aspect of Terre d'Hermès, which combined might appear as laziness, but I suspect is Ellena's way of showing conviction and homogeneity in what he does for the brand.

In the article titled Liquid Assets by Phoebe Eaton for The New York Times, choke full of beautiful pictures, the journey of Jean Claude Ellena to Kerala, India (the cornerstone in the spice market) in a quest for inspiration is recounted for our benefit. Staying at the Kumarakom Lake Resort on the shores of Vembanad Lake in February, Ellena profited from a sojourn in the tropics. And it would be wicked to suggest he goes for such ideas for the chance to do so.

Observation: Jean Claude, despite his identity card and citizenship, doesn't look French. He doesn't dress French. More importantly he doesn't compose perfumes in the French tradition. Instead, he looks Italian (which he is in part) or Greek (which I'd like to think he is judging by his name) and his whole outlook on life and art seems focused in the sparsity and translucence of style that is embedded in the classical tradition of those two cultures. He accepts ornamentation when it serves functionality or innovation, but not otherwise. Like an architect who shuns Caryatids when they don't actually support something or a couturier who abhors brooches which don't hold a dress in place.

He also seems to compose for the particular micro-climate of those two countries, as the rising temperatures of late spring and summer are especially simpatico to the cooling feel of his Jardins, but also Hermessences series. Those scents act as portable air-conditioning around a person, giving an effect of dry cool without the fizzy banalité of sodas perpetuated by the pink fruity florals on the market. I predict his latest offering will sell well in warmer countries which are however removed from the tradition of opulence.

To judge his latest offering we should question ourselves:
Is he loyal to his vision? He assuredly is. He is honing his style, stretching it to its maximum extremities, trying to ascertain that upon sniffing people will exclaim "Mais, c'est un Ellena!" the way they would do it for a Picasso or a Pollock. And incidentally always subtracting, just as they did. He goes for abstraction, not realism.
Is he faithful to Kerala, India? Not particularly, and maybe the fact that the fragrance got promoted in that way leaves something to be desired in the perfume-lover's stakes, much like the leather tag did for Kelly Caleche. It's usually unthinkable to do India without copious amounts of spice and orientalised compositions, although Patou with his Sira des Indes went for the novel approach succesfully with his banana-laced fruity a while ago.
Is he loyal to the Hermès style? This is the trickiest question of the three. Hermès has gone through a dramatic shift in image by hiring Ellena. The older fragrances exuded a luxurious feel of an upscale, very expensive boutique for the elite with the inclusion of precious materials and the honeyed scents of perceived affluence. That image was luxe but also a tad stuffy, prim, too bon chic bon genre and thus ultimately a cliché. The new direction of luxury demands airier scents, ingredients that look humble but perform on a higher level than their constituents (a reconstructed "clean" vetiver for Mousson, a mineral accord for brilliant Terre d'Hermès, a floral-smelling suede note for Kelly Calèche) which, like the recent trend in gastronomy that put back humble rocket on our tables after what seemed like decades, dubs you as not trying too hard. And proper chic, the chic that Hermès is obviously aiming at, is never trying too hard.

In those terms, Un Jardin Après la Mousson is succesful for what it set out to do. Whether it would be my first choice for personal fragrance is seriously debatable. Un Jardin sur le Nil proved to be so lovable and so suited to my summer sensibilities that I am not considering to replace it with the new one. I don't see a void in my collection, to be honest. But I wouldn't resort to aphorisms either!

The fragrance is completely unisex and marketed as such. It performs much better on skin than on the mouillette (blotter) where it loses much of its piquancy. It is rather fleeting however, in comparison to the other Jardins who hold their own well, and might stay put longer if you spray fabric, on which it also performs well.
The complimentary body products (body mist without alcohol: 42euros for 100ml, body lotion: 39euros for 200ml, shower gel: 33euros for 200ml ~and the two limited edition products dry oil: 40euros for 100ml and body mist without alcohol: 42euros for 100ml) are luxurious, though less scented than the Eau de toilette. The latter is presented in a gorgeous bottle which has a degradé of shades from the cap down, from light green to vivid blue and the box illustrations are simply adorable.

Notes: cardamom, coriander, pepper, ginger, Kahili ginger flower (not related to ginger root), vetiver.

Available at the Hermès Boutique US and France, the physical Hermès boutiques, at Saks and soon in department stores worldwide.
Eau de toilette: 83 euros for 100ml

And if you have a few minutes to spare in fun, click here.

Pic via Hermes, boxes courtesy of the


  1. What beautiful accurate observations you make, Helg. Especially about Ellena working more in the meditera (darn... can't spell it anymore!) mediterannean.. meditteranean? tradition, as opposed to the french style.

  2. Thanks, Bradamante: you know, I had been churning this in my mind for quite a while, I wasn't sure if I should have said it at all.
    The whole demeanour of this man is saying something other than his perfect, suave French. He is very interesting to listen to.

  3. Perhaps Ellena wants to avoid the "signature accord" strategy of Guerlinade, mousse de saxe, Chanel's aldehydes, SL's syrup, etc., and attempt an innovation in brand consistency through style rather than substance. In that respect, he is very true to Hermès aesthetic: each piece is the result of painstaking craftsmanship by a skilled artisan over weeks, but the end result is so simple, almost boring.

    I actually got the leather in Kelley Calèche, not a ton, but it didn't disappear on me as it did for so many others. I like your description of Un Jardin Sur La Nil as "wounded grapefruit", though.

  4. I particularly appreciate your 'breakdown' of JCE-Hermes' goals/ directives .

    Tactfully put- this scent works only on an intellectual plane for me.
    Translates: not for me.

    It feels more synthetic than any he's done thus far-
    And I really don't enjoy being that concious of the aromachemicals used when I wear a composition.
    [It's very distracting, and not the reason I wear scent]

    It will sell, probably to the elite wealthy young, I suspect.
    Or business folk who are PC and don't want sillage.

    This came out awfully !
    I admire the man, and wish him well...
    But my soul was not moved.

  5. Anonymous14:20

    I have been reading recently but only today been able to comment and what an interesting post to read and comment on! So much more than a review of the scent (which I have enjoyed on other blogs I must hasten to add!)I expect different people will pick up on different aspects of the scent/your review. What stuck out for me was the dreaded melon note reference. Melon ruins Parfum de Therese (for me)and I thank God (and E Roudnitska) for Diorella. There seems to me to be a parallel in their creative careers in so far as they both composed some serious french fragrances to begin with containing all sorts in terms of ingredients and then there came a shift towards much more streamlined creations. I am looking forward to trying this on paper but think my pennies will be spent elsewhere ;-) Thanks E! Nicola

  6. Quite simply I have never been able to worship work of Jean Claude Ellena, I admit I admire the ideas, but his pieces most often left me cold. Just too simplistic for me, maybe I will be seen as over the top in my likes for scents a little more baroque. I have tried quite a few of his works lately from Bvlgari The Vert to Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan to Kelly Caleche (I did get some leather from this) and while I can admire them, they are not what I choose to call loved scents. I think it is ironic that I like the bombastic works of Sophia Grojsman more, considering my character in some ways would seem to go better with minamilism of JCE.

  7. Ooo, Nicola, I think you're onto something. I was thinking the other day when testing out vintage Diorissimo that there's an accord like overripe apples that reminds me of Ambre Narguile, and of course if there is a connection it'd be the other way round. Didn't JCE study with Roudnitska briefly?

  8. Dain,

    we share the same point of view in this: I think he is setting out to do a new signature for Hermes and to distance himself from all the examples you renumerate.

    Thanks for liking the "wounded grapefruit" phrase: for a moment it sounded too wistful to me, but then I like it like that and I don't find the fragrance too cheerful either. More like the serenity of accepting things.

  9. Dear I,

    I am hapring on the intellectual myself, as you can see!
    Because I try to see fragrance as small objets d'art, I always try to get into the mindframe of the artist when possible. Ellena has the gift, but also the curse to be able to talk a lot about his fragrances: this both opens up the secrets, but also demystifies them in some part.
    Would I have been able to assess this differently had I not know about the Kerala sojourn? We will never know.....

    I think he is also rather proud of the aromachemicals he is using producing such surprising results: his "conjuring" tricks are well documented. I don't know for sure how we perfume wearers though can really appreciate this on the physical level.

  10. Nicola,

    you honour me, thank you for your kindness.
    It's great that we have the opportunity to read/hear the opinions of many people and people who are interested in fragrance at that on the newest scents: indeed, everyone brings their own angle to the table.
    Glad you liked mine :-)

    Melon sort of ruined LPdT for me as well... :-(

  11. Jen,

    funny you should say that,
    i never pegged you for a Grojsman type! But then she has been very productive, I gather there is something for every woman.
    Did I get this right?

    I think you would like Ambre Narguile; have you tried that one of the Hermessences?

  12. Anonymous15:06

    Hello Dain - and thanks for your comment! I seem to remember, from Chandler Burr's recent book, that JCE met ER but I can't remember if he studied under him. I also remember JCE saying that he very much admired Eau d'Hermes (which I think comes out in his Declaration for Cartier) so there is a link to my mind even if not consciously. Nicola

  13. Ladies,

    what a fascinating discussion! I do believe that Jean Claude sees an intellectual mentor in Roudnitska: his desire to pare down, pare down, is reminiscent of Roudnitska's desire as well: from Femme to Diorella, that's a long way. And from First to -say- Osmanth Yunnan as well ;-)

    Great catch the connection between Ambre Narguile and Diorissimo (must try them side by side!) and between Eau d'Hermes and Declaration (with which I agree).

  14. I wouldn't exactly call myself a Grojsman type, but I enjoy both her Paris and Bvlgari pour femme. I've tried the Osmanthe Yunnan from the Hermessence collection, but never the Ambre Narquile (I admit I live in fear of liking it :-P)

  15. Those two Grojsman frags are quite likeable I agree! (although on BpF she did collaborate with Nathalie Lorson, from what I understand).

    You really should try the Ambre Narguile, you know, but I see disctinct changes of you liking it. Most people (and discerning people, mind you) do!

  16. Anonymous19:31

    I never thought about this perfumer in those terms, what a novel approach. Is he really Italian? What do you mean "in part"?


  17. I agree with Chaya on this one. It smelled artificial on me too, quite synthetic. I had higher hopes until I read some of what others had written. I still tried it though.

    I also like and wear Nil.

  18. Aline,

    thanks. From what I recall, his grandparents were Italian immigrating to Grasse.

  19. Karin,

    it does smell artificial, no argument here. Abstraction can get too far it seems.

    Sur le Nil is one I was enjoying last summer quite a bit! It's well-made :-)

  20. I have the same feeling about this Jardins series, and you perfectly nailed it: portable air-conditioning! I do find them lovely, even if that latest Mousson is not my favorite.

    I also feel the same way about, well, pretty much everything else you said. Ellena's signature style is unmistakable, Mousson bottles India about as well as Nil encapsulated Egypt (i.e., not quite), and that latest Jardin is perfectly in line with that nouveau-Hermès style, which has frankly little to do with pre-Ellena Hermès perfumes (think Calèche...)

    All in all, I really like it, but I'll rather stick with Nil for my Summer refreshment needs, thank you! ;)

  21. Dear S,

    thank you for commenting and for your kind words.
    Yes, the Jardins series is a form of chic refreshment in concept I believe. There is really nothing more hiding beneath: they're not going for making a statement through them, in my opinion. They reserve those for the main line or the Hermessences, although those two are taking the nouvelle parfumerie approach.
    The pre-Ellena style is what I was thinking too, in relation to aldehydic and more orientalised formulae etc.

    And frankly, I'm perfectly happy with Sur le Nil myself as well, as you perfectly put it! :-)

  22. Anonymous07:00

    Thanks Helg!


  23. I hated it when it was released and just bought it last week, I really love its cool spicy floral drydown.

    PS: perfumeshrine, I don 't think there 's such a thing of looking french anymore, maye it was still like that in the '80s but today France is the most diverse european country ethnically, maybe not as much as Brazil or the US but right after them. Also 25% of the french population is mediterranean. Looking italian, spanish or greek in France is nothing unusual. Where do you live perfumeshrine? (England?)

  24. Degeneration,

    thanks for stopping by! It creeps up on you, doesn't it? Enjoy!
    I admit I was ready to hate it upon first spritz last spring, then appreciated just how awfully cunning and intelligent its perfumer is (and how skillful) and I realized how completely moronic it is to think that just because something is reminiscent of some previous trend it would be seen as passé; in fact the man is mapping out the new trend: the return of melon through non-Calone use!
    I haven't bought a bottle myself, still enjoy Nil, but who knows? I might capitulate in the end.

    Valid point on France, you're absolutely right! Je m'excuse for the generalisation. (after all that's why they're having all those banlieu problems, no?). Lots of people from all over the place ~and from the former colonies of course.

    In reply to your question: Let's just say that, although much time is spent all over the map, the steadier place is the one that JCE looks like he's coming from ;-)

  25. Oh so you 're mediterranean!

    I didn 't dissect the fragrance in the first place, just took it as it is, on the blotter a semi ripe spicy watermelon, just didn 't think too much of it last spring, I should have tested it on the skin, silly me!
    I just read all those reviews on UJALM 's Calone-like effect and thought I 'm glad I don 't know much about these molecules. I love the use of cool spices, without it the fragrance wouldn 't be as interesting, no doubt. It creates a strangeness that has no match among the other trendy fragrances at Sephora.

  26. Degeneration,

    on the first part, I thought it was plainly obvious! ;-)

    Actually it doesn't use Calone, although to the average perfumephile it gives the impression that it does (cunning little rascal that Jean Claude, isn't he?). I think it's nothing like the other trendy fragrances at Sephora!

    Would I wear it instead of intellectually appreciate it? It's like asking me if I would want to listen to Schönberg on the way to work: on some days, perhaps. Not when I'm especially jumpy!



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