Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Hermessence Vanille Galante: fragrance news & musings

Hot on the heels of the news on a new Chanel in Les Exclusifs line, named Beige and mysteriously kept under wraps at Saks which however will carry it, as reported on Perfume Shrine first, here come the news on a new Hermessence.

AlbertCan had the scoop just yesterday:

"Hermès is in the midst of launching another Hermessence fragrance. Vanille Galante will be available at Hermès boutiques in around January 2009. The scent shall be issued in the usual Hermessence editions: the prices will be the same as the others as well".
Perfume Shrine got excited and decided to flesh this out, so here we are.
In-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena, responsible for the house's latest, the sleeper classic Kelly Calèche and the controversial Un Jardin après la Mousson, is now focusing on vanilla.
Generally vanilla is one of the most popular themes in perfumery, due to its almost universal appeal. It harks back to the glorious days of Jicky (1889) and if the latter is any indication it's not an easy feat to accomplish. Even legendary Chanel perfumer Ernest Beaux complained that "when he was trying for vanilla he got crème anglaise, while Guerlain came up with Jicky!" The secret to that, apart from coumarin, was that the then newly discovered chemical path to synthetic vanillin by JC.W Tieman left traces of phenol, which smelled tarry-smokey. Today the effect in Jicky is reproduced via adding a little rectified birch tar. Still, this story proves that a good vanilla needs to be a little molested in order to give out its best.

But in the new Hermès Vanille Galante, the sweet material is embedded in a composition that attaches the moniker of "galante" to it. The French adjective galant (or galante for feminine nouns) has an intriguing background: in the romans de cour/courtly literature, that is the medieval novels of nobility (example Le Roman de la Rose from 1420-30), "galant" signifies the quality of courteous, gentlemanly and often amorous. The phrase "en galante companie" thus signified the company of a representative of the opposite sex.
Ellena being an intellectual man, might we expect in Vanille Galante a vanilla that is accompanied by a note which is its opposite, in order to highlight the true character all the more pronouncedly? Would it mean that vanilla essence, in itself a multi-complex natural material, should get a treatment like lavender had in Brin de Reglisse, the previous Hermessence from 2007? In that one, Ellena focused on the higher octaves of lavender absolute, which veer into caramel and licorice tonalities. Or the vetiver treatment he reserved for Un Jardin sur le Nil and Terre d'Hermes, in which he had molecules subtracted from the essence in order to arrive at a sparser, clearer, almost mineral vetiver message?
On the other hand, in musical terms, galant refers to the European style of classical simplicity after the complexity of the late Baroque era in the third quarter of the 18th century with pre-eminent representatives the rhythmical composers François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi . Their cyclical forma ties in with the theme of la Reverdie (return) in literary roman: that of eternal return of spring, a theme of pagan connotations .
The common trait would be the lyrical approach of solidly thematic subjects, which could sneak into the treatment of vanilla in Vanille Galante, or what I will from now on affectionaly call "péripéties de vanilla".

Vanilla is exactly the cliché note that begs for Jean Claude Ellena's modus operandi: chastiting it by food deprivation would be beneficial pedagogically, I feel. Vanillin (a natural developping aldehyde in vanilla pods and the most widely produced aromatic in the world) has its place in the arsenal of Ellena's carousel, as does ethyl maltol (the cotton-candy aromachemical first used in L'artisan's Vanilia, while maltol is also present in licorice, evident in Brin de Reglisse as discussed above). Nevertheless he has professed in an earlier interview that he is bored by "easy" notes such as vanillin and heliotropin. Yet he has produced his share of gourmand exempla, such as Bois Farine (2003), Elixir des Merveilles (2006) and Sublime Vanille (2001) for Lily Prune!
Vanilline however can be produced via gaïacol, eugenol or even lignine from cardboard manufacture. It's used in order to produce the scents of vanilla (of course), chocolate and banana. I am wondering whether those references might give Ellena some ideas on how to extend this note. Banana-peel is one of the nuances that some white florals, notably jasmine sambac and ylang-ylang, emit. However white florals have long been allied to vanilla and it strikes me as an unimaginative and too "talkative" coupling for an Ellena creation. Perhaps he will surprise us with a zen approach.

Additionally, Hermès wants to keep up with the competition in the niche stakes with other mega-houses: in this regard, Guerlain and its dark, rich Spiritueuse Double Vanille ~it proved to be such a good seller, that it was elevated from the status of limited, ephemeral edition into the permanent collection at Boutiques Guerlain and expanded to select doors(or was that the reverse marketing masterplan all along?, this scepticist is wondering).
Hermès can't break up the exclusivity factor of the Hermessences if Vanille Galante proves to be a bestseller without ruining the whole concept and shooting itself at the foot. What they could do however is keep the skeleton of the composition as the basis of their following feminine -most probably- fragrance. (two pieces of speculation at once, don't you love it here?)

The above constitute hypotheses on my part. We will update when more information becomes available from our sources. One thing seems for sure: We will be able to exclaim "Mais, c'est un Ellena!" (but it's an Ellena creation).

EDIT TO ADD: Six from Ambre Gris brought to my attention that it might be a simple allusion to Marie Galante, the island of the Caribbean located in the Guadeloupean archipelago. Constitutionally part of France, as Guadeloupe is an overseas région and département, MG is famous for its sugar cane but also cultures of tobacco, indigo, coffee and cotton.

Hermessences are available exclusively at select Hermès boutiques around the world. The bottles come at 100ml priced at 150 euros and there is also the option of a travel set of 4 aromisers of 15ml each (0.5oz) in either the same scent or 4 different ones in pre-arranged sets.

Read my full-on review of Vanille Galante following this link!

"Yvain secourant la damoiselle" from the Lancelot du Lac by Chretien de Trois manuscript. Vanilla pod and extract pic by Miri Rotkovitz(


  1. What a glorious picture !
    I'd put that on my wal...

    Well, it will be fascinating to see what JC has up his sleeve ; I admit to loving vanilla- and it would be wonderful to find a new love.

    Let us know if you sample it- what your take is !

  2. I shall be waiting for this one to reach me here Helg.

  3. Tay-rrific news!

    I'm so excited I can hardly wait. Adored Ambre Narguilé, so you can imagine how I feel about an Ellena vanilla (now why does this sound like an oxymoron? ;))

  4. Glad you liked it, I!

    It is indeed something that is quite exciting (especially since JCE will do a trick on the thing I bet): what with this, the new L'artisan Eau de Liane and the new Chanel, I am on the edge of my seat!

  5. M,

    I believe all the Hermes boutiques around the world will get it at the same time, so it pays to make a phone call at the one nearest you ;-)

  6. S,

    isn't it the least expected note of them all for JC?
    Yet I have a good feeling: the references I made are hopefully evoking a classical, architectural, but not devoid of sentiment treatment. And I think this is not antithetical to how JCE views his metiér.
    Ambre Narguilé was a magnificent and clever twist on tired amber concepts, so I am on tenterhooks.

  7. Anonymous14:11

    Molested Vanilla. Anyone else picturing a blonde heroine with a swarthy pirate like man on a bodice ripper? Love the idea... Definately sounds like a title for one of your wonderful series, Madame Helg.

    JCE and I are not often friends, but I have to give this one a try!

  8. PQ,

    that's it, you're giving me ideas for another series ;-)

    It does sound like something out of the usual pace of the watery themes! I am looking forward to what perfumephiles will have to say when it does come out. *rubs palms*

  9. I wouldn't apologize for skepticism on the marketing front. I have my own suspicions about the "secrecy" of Chanel Beige and whether or not attention is being paid to the chat traffic on that one...


    Appreciate the thorough, beautifully presented preview.

  10. E,

    You know, while I think of it... to a French ear, "Vanille Galante" recalls (and rhymes with) "Marie-Galante", an island from the French Antilles. It's the first thing I thought of when I read that name, with all the connotations that go with it (exoticism, the cane sugar they're famed for, and the soft, relaxed Antilles way of life).

    I can't know for sure, of course, but I'd venture many a French consumer will have Marie-Galante at the back of their minds when they hear that name, too.

  11. OK, I did a quick asking around in my (very, very non-perfumista) family, and based on this highly representative panel of four (4) people, "Vanille Galante" does evoke "islands" and "Antilles" to 100% of polled French speakers ;))

    Marie-Galante is also present in the French "collective unconscious" due to this song that was very popular in the 80s: (youtube link).

    And now, I stop spamming you ;)

  12. Scentscelf,

    you do comprehend ;-)
    Thanks for the compliment, appreciate it!

  13. Dear S,

    thank you so much! I was aware of the song, but my mind didn't go to the Antilles (shame on me!).
    It took a Turin-esque turn and went to the car (by Mitsubishi of all things!), but I doubt Hermes is trying to advertise based on that.
    Perhaps I went too far with my hypotheses, when the simple answer is lying under a....French nose ;-)

  14. PS. will be replying to your mail shortly, forgive the delay :-)

  15. Anonymous17:11

    To comment on your earlier post about Chanel's Beige: "beige" has really become a synonym for "boring" to many Americans. "What a beige personality"; "the sort of person who would decorate her house entirely in beige". That's why "Beige" seems a poor choice for a perfume name nowadays. It's not an unattractive sound, just the associations are so unwelcome!
    -- Gretchen

  16. A ha! Gretchen, thank you. (Mr.Armani should have a serious problem then as he favours beige so much in his colour schemes for collections).
    This sheds some light on a review I was reading in a book which described something "for women who wear beige lipstick" and I was inwardly wondering what's wrong with that (I thought it was fashionable?)

  17. Heh, it's just what came to my mind first, you know? Plus, it is probably a clever play on both the assonance and the meaning, I think... Either way, it does sound engaging!

  18. Anonymous22:01

    Dear Helg,

    Thanks for elaborating on the info! My Hermes SA confirmed the news yesterday so that's why I was confidant enough to write about it.

    (Thanks for pointint out the right spelling for 'Galante' French is less than perfect!)

    Hope all is well!


  19. Anonymous22:20

    Helg...another Hermes SA said that she would give me more info on Vanilla Galante when the headquarters releases more details...maybe we can then figure out the true inspiration(s) behind the name? We'll see.

    Six...thanks for the video! Two years ago I heard the Lara Fabian / Isabelle Boulay duet version so I'm glad to hear the original!

  20. As long as we are discussing the colloquial connotations of the word "beige" -- and, btw, I need quite a few hands to count how many people I have heard 'dissed using that term--I am going to offer the irony of the other term that connotes many of the same ideas in recent decades: "Vanilla."

    As in, you can have "vanilla" taste in clothes, music, home decor--bland, safe, mainstream, nothing interesting.

    Such disparagement using vanilla would drive my mother CRAZY, and she would rant about how there was a difference between good vanilla and mediocre, and a good vanilla was sublime....

    Beige...Vanilla...Who knew?? :)

  21. Hello, E -- Another great blog posting, perfectly addressing what has been on my mind since seeing AlbertCAN's piece on Vanille Galante on his blog.

    I think you may be on to something with the reference to style galante in 18th century French music, which emphasized sparer, melody-driven textures, contrast to the more contrapuntal textures of the Baroque period. That would seem very much to be in line with JCE's minimalist aesthetic, and, as you say, the possibility of stripping down vanilla and highlighting a selected part of its olfactory profile. I think you offered some nice possibilities of what specific vanilla notes might receive this treatment.

    I was also wondering about the vanilla-esque profile of tonka beans, and how coumarin might make its appearance. Tonka already appeared in the Hermessence line in Vétiver Tonka, but I wonder if the vanilla-coumarin connection might get exploited in this composition?

    Just idle speculation on my end, of course.

  22. Six,

    indeed the connotations are easy to make if we take that into account. Thanks!

  23. A,

    of course I have you to thank for the solid info. The rest are just musings on my part.
    And you've been quite good on what I've seen :-)

  24. A,

    I will be looking forward to what happens on that front and appreciate your input: this is something that will be fun to see how it evolves!

  25. S,

    yeah, I already knew about vanilla, of course, but beige I admit eluded me in its monotone nuance.

    Got to give it to you: "beige" and "vanilla" sound indeed like something that we wouldn't expect from mega-luxurious yet "niche" launches!
    I live in hope they will surprise us though. Les Exclusifs have a uniform chic touch (if not as revolutionary as one would expect) and the Hermessences put a spin on preconeived ideas about certain "notes", so...let's see.

  26. J,

    thanks for your speculation and your compliment :-)
    Indeed le style galant was the first thing that popped into my mind when thinking about JCE's style: it would fit well as a concept. Think Tambourins!

    Then again the island reference of Marie Galante gives me ideas about the pairings: the tobacco is of course the loveliest choice (along with coffee too), but it has been done before, many times over.
    So I am really hoping he will pick up something else: cotton! Imagine a cotton-y vanilla; not like cotton-candy, but cotton like in Extrait de Songe. And it does come from coumarin there, so perhaps he is saving a new use for tonka (because it wouldn't make sense to just do a repeat on the treatment in Vetiver Tonka)
    Or indigo! What amazing possibilities that might entail! I find inky notes/nuances are an emerging trend (SL Sarassins, Encre Noire by Lalique etc.)

  27. Anonymous11:02

    Love your post on perfumes, it's nice.

  28. The latest releases from Hermes have been a little bit on the disappointing side for me, and vanilla is not my favorite category, but it will be interesting anyway to see what Ellena can come up with this time.

  29. Nallely,

    you will have to do better than that in stroking my ego, if you want to be featured as an advertiser ;-)

  30. L,

    I didn't buy Brin de Reglisse because it is such a big bottle of something so lavender-rich(which is not my favourite note), but he did do *very* exciting things with it: it was interesting smelling it and testing it for days on end, even if I wouldn't buy a bottle!
    Paprika Brasil I admit I wasn't crazy about, nor did I see the innovation of.

    I think that the way JCE is going, this vanilla will have no relation whatsoever with his previous takes on the note (even Ambre Narguile's sweetish and ultra-popular tendencies), which should be interesting to watch. I am not one for too much vanilla either, I find it rather unexciting as a material. Rather "beige", LOL!!

  31. I didn't like Brin de Reglisse at all, I guess it's because I can generally not stand the licorice smell, let it be candy or perfume, and lavender did not make it better.

  32. Anonymous23:02

    Word of a new Hermessence is always reason to celebrate! As always, thanks Helg!


  33. Oh, L, didn't know you were so antithetical to licorice. Guess Lolita Lempicka must be your nemesis? (lol)
    Personally I like anisic smells (obviously, since I devoted a series to them), but lavender is somehow harder. I do have some lavenders which I find pleasant though (for me). Not Brin necessarily ;-)

  34. Mike,

    thank you for stopping by and for your bow :-)) Aww, you're too kind.
    Hope you got my mail.


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