Friday, May 29, 2009

Les Colognes Hermes ~Eau de Gentiane Blanche, Eau de Pamplemousse Rose: fragrance reviews

One day I might stop raving about the vision and artistry of Jean Claude Ellena, but not today. His new creations for the house of Hermès depart from the classical Eau de Cologne structure into drier and more mineral arpeggios, the melodies of his two new compositions humming on my skin like Pan-pipes made of an outer-space-born hybrid.

Eau de Gentiane Blanche and Eau de Pamplemousse Rose join longstanding bestseller Eau d’Orange Verte (composed by Françoise Caron, its 30th anniversary this spring) for the new collection of unisex Eaux de cologne from Hermès, expected to be joined by more in the coming seasons. In a long discussion with Jean Claude he confided his and the House's desire to focus on a renovation of the Cologne genre which "needs a lot of love", as both a hark back to traditional perfumery and a modern choice of indulgent refreshment in the classic Mediterranean style.
The new compositions are both wonderfully pleasurable, but it's one of them which has literally swept me off my feet and regular readers of Perfume Shrine will not be hard-pressed to tell which one!

Eau de Pamplemousse Rose (translated as 'grapefuit & rose' and not 'pink grapefruit', as insistited upon by Ellena himself in his interview to us) is the more neoclassical of the two, denoting a citrusy facet at the beginning which echoes his other grapefuit compositions; namely In Love Again for Yves Saint Laurent and Rose Ikebana for Hermessences. However the new formula is different than the previous tries: If I were to imagine this as a ladder to absraction, I'd say that from the hologram of bitter-sweet grapefruit of the former and the delicate jewelled sparkle of the latter, the new composition is seen through the beam of a laser-jet printer which merges pixels in high resolution on a high-weight paper that seems powdered out of the package.
Compared with the other emblematic grapefuit, that of Guerlain's Pamplelune, one is stunned by the different approach of the two styles: Pamplelune is executed in a magnificently proficient style that manages to orientalise the sulphurous note in the arms of patchouli which warms and fans out the naturally sweet-smelling tonalities of the fruit. In Eau de Pamplemousse Rose the foot is firmly set on the West and the approach is leaner, tangier and less love-or-hate. A molecule patented by the house of Firmenich, called Rhubofix, possessing fresh "green rhubarb", woody-spicy, and floral facets combines with the rose scent, merging in a slightly ~and very pleasantly~ bitter composition which transcends the cologne genre. It would be a disillusionment to approach this if you're in search for rose, however, as it is only a mere whisper and neither is vetiver immediately apparent. Already being the proud owner of both In Love Again and Rose Ikebana, as well as Kelly Calèche which sports a little wink of this element too, as part of my fragrance collection, I am not certain whether I will sprint to get a bottle of the latest; but it's really well done and worth investing for the summer months if you have a dent in the fresh compartment in your fragrance wardrobe.

Eau de Pamplemousse Rose includes the following notes: lemon, grapefruit, rose, Rhubofix, vetiver.

Eau de Gentiane Blanche, on the other hand, is an adorable bone-dry masterpiece of novelty which eschews the traditional structure of Eau de Cologne much like Ellena's Vanille Galante took over the vanilla bandwagon; and thus I am earnestly putting a big bottle of it on my wishlist. Currently Eaux seem to be everywhere from Dior's Escale de Pondichéry, Miss Dior Cherie L'Eau and J'adore L'Eau Cologne Florale (review coming up) to Cristalle Eau Verte (ditto) and the instigator of it all Eau de Cologne by Chanel. Still Hermès and Ellena, much like Sinatra (or Sid Vicious, take your pick) "did it their (own) way" and the magnificently androgynous and distinct result is highly wearable as well.

Contrary to Robin of NST I do not peg Eau de Gentiane Blanche as a too clean scent, although it's undoubtedly fresh; perhaps an allusion to Alpine snowscapes where gentian grows abundantly. Yet, smell this take on freshness and you know you've been under azure skies in the early hours of morning in Göreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, all mineral landscape around, no plants, no water, nothing but dry white dust and rock as far as the eye can see. The huge rock houses of Cappadocia, underground as well as upperground, present the apotheosis of past meets future: one cannot distinguish whether they're in one of the prehistoric shots of "2001 A Space Odyssey" or in one of the first episode of "Star Wars". The cool feeling imparted by Eau de Gentiane Blanche reminded me of that experience along with the caves at the famous nude beach of Matala on the island of Crete: cool solace from the scorching sun.

Upon testing Eau de Gentiane Blanche on my skin, I was struck by one sledgehammering impression: This is how I wanted Chanel Les Exclusifs No.18 to smell like on me!! The touch of ambrette seed in the Chanel is here magnified, the sophisticated bitter character bringing it full circle along with the vegetal, earthy-powdery halo or iris instead of the rose of No.18 and I seem to detect some of his signature Iso-E Super.
Jean Claude Ellena also extolled the innovation of using gentian absolute, here featured for the first time in a fragrance. This, apart from the stylistical difference, might explain the striking difference with Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria Gentiana, another fragrance pegged on the gentian plant. In the latter nevertheless the pear aroma-chemical along with the sweeter nuances of lime, limette and vanilla conspire to give a fresh, yet slightly sweet composition (not quite in the patiserrie Guerlain later style, thankfully) whereas in Eau de Gentiane Blanche the dryness is the undoubted seal of sophistication.

Eau de Gentiane Blanche includes notes of white musk, gentian, iris and incense.

Both compositions had an average tenacity on my skin, longer on the blotter (and I would surmiss on clothes) but they perform better on skin and thus the latter method is highly recommended when testing. Remarkable they do not dry down diametrically opposite, which lends a uniformity of style in the line. Philippe Mouquet's design of the trio of flacons for the Colognes Hermes vibrates in three nuances of green: vivid bottle-green, grey-green and dark forest green. The Hermes colognes are available as splash at major department stores and Hermes boutiques in 100ml (3.4oz)/$125 and 200ml (6.8oz)/$165 while Eau d'Orange Verte specifically is also available in the Tesla-size of 400ml (13.6oz)!

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Interview with Jean Claude Ellena, Hermès fragrances, Eau de Cologne history & scents
Pics of fashion shoot at Goreme, Turkey via Corbis


  1. Telegram to self. Stop.
    Must try these new Hermes colognes. Stop.
    Ignore card balance. Stop.
    Run, don't walk. Stop.
    Mantra to self "I am worth it." Stop.
    Blame it on Perfume Shrine. Stop.
    Wish I could stop. Stop.

  2. Scott,

    you're too funny!! I literally laughed out loud reading your last line! :-D

    Do test them for longevity though. Some people report problems with that (the original Ed'OV had the same "problem" too), so I wouldn't want you to feel disappointed in that aspect. But they're terrifically well-made and EdGB is very individual, VERY dry.

  3. I smelled these first in Niece airport on the way back home. Eau Gentian Blanche won me instantly and I am planning on testing all three again in over the next few days.

  4. Hello E

    Thanks for a lovely review and a reminder to test these again. A group of us stopped by a Hermes Boutique after a day of sniffing and predictably, our noses were a bit tired. I did walk out with the travel size Vanille Gallante and Rose Ikebana, two tried and true Hermessences that have predictable lasting power on me. (The former is good, the latter is so-so).

    I was struck by the artistry of both of the Colognes, but I am certain that I would need to re-spritz copiously throughout the day. I need more time with them to decide on the full-bottle-worthiness factor!

  5. I love Eau de Gentiane Blanche, too, E, and it's on my wishlist! I plan to wait for it to get to the discounters, but I may not be able to hold out, lol! It's rooty, peppery and clean, all at the same time. How did J-CE do that? He really is a fragrance wizard! The lasting power is great on me, too.


  6. Ayala,

    oh good, you're back!! You must have had a grand time! :-))

    I'm not surprised you loved EdGB, we share similar tastes; and believe it or not, when I irst smelled it it reminded me of your own treatment of ambrette seed.

  7. M,

    thanks for chimming in honey!
    Yup, definitely retest and let me know.
    I find VG lasts very well too. RI less so, the same with PS. VT lasts very well on me, on the other hand.
    I tested these in the heat we're having and they seem to retain their character for quite a bit, although EdGB is more lasting than EdPR to me.

    PS.I haven't forgotten on the Ferre, I have been avalanched with new releases and stuff. :/

  8. R, sweetie, I was JUST this close to handing the credit card full price as soon as I sampled. (I usually refrain myself though)
    I might break down if budget allows, though.

    Glad you love it as well, isn't it great?

  9. I so want to sample pamplemousse rose; I love rhubarb and for years I have wanted a grapefruit scent.

  10. Oh Joy! thanks so much for the review of these colognes. The Gentiane sounds right up my alley--can't wait to try it. I'm going to TRY to wait until they hit the discounter before buying, though.

  11. J,

    this should be easy as they're in stores now (and luckily regular department stores, not just the boutiques)
    Do let me know your impressions!

  12. A,

    you're most welcome, thanks for stopping by! It's very individual, bone-dry, quite distinctive.

    Now, stop it people about the discounters!! :P I am getting jealous of the US sites! We don't have those here :-((

  13. Hi E,

    Looking forward to sampling these. I was lucky enough to win a generous sample of In Love Again from Pat of Olfactarama and I love it. Interested to experience how the Pamplemousse Rose is different. One thing I enjoy about In Love Again is that, although it's "fresh," it's a "proper perfume", with linear development and a long-lasting drydown (yes! I can smell those musks! Not always a given with me.)

    As for the Gentiane Blanche, it has my curiosity piqued, but I'm not sure how I'll feel about it. Unlike you, I'm crazy about Chanel No. 18--I don't get the celery seed/spice rack gone bad associations you (and others) have with it. My scent impressions are more in line with what Denyse wrote about it in her blog--boozy pear brandy at the start, and then a warm, close to the skin rose-amber. So the ambrette seed-orris pairing--interesting to see how that will play out. Love the mental picture of the futuristic white caves in Turkey, probably a totally inaccurate mental picture, since I have never actually been there!

  14. My dear A! How are you? So happy to see you here again :-)

    In Love Again is fabulous in that it's both realistic and long-lasting and it attracts quite a bit of compliments, which means it's very perceivable. The PR is different in that it's drier, less tangy, more "dusty" a bit; not powdery or rosey though. It lasts less than ILA but it's comparable to Rose Ikebana in that regard.

    Gentiane Blanche is very good, the same degree as No.18 in the innovative stakes (IMO it was the most innovative in the bunch of Les Exclusifs, said that many times, even though I couldn't wear it well). I think it's the lack of rose that helps me along. Rose sometimes goes musty on/to me :(
    So I avoided that problem here. It's skin-like if your skin was made of space-dust (ha!). The predominent impression is one of dryness, bone-dry, very "mineral" so the mental picture is perfect IMO (hope the pics help!) If I do get a bottle eventually, I will send you over some to try it out!!

  15. Ayala, Bioletnoir- I'm with you.
    Both weell done, but the dryness of the Gentiane Blanche- its incredible subtlety yet lasting nature-
    Make it a WANT.

    It feels herbally dry and chic, extremely so.

  16. Dearest I, welcome to the club!!!
    It's very chic indeed, would feel fabulous in high summer.

  17. IMHO Mr. Ellena's Gentiane Blanche is a haiku of a great fragrance, or as he insisits-- cologne in the French tradition

    Unlike any other reviews, on my skin it opens with a slight sweetness, and although gentian, the most bitter of raw materials is used,I pull the rooty earthiness of iris and the sweet sensuality of the musk.

    a haiku, has a rigid structure and ever word is intrinsic to the poetry. Yet its meaning is free flowing and evokes different sensory perception by the reader.

    Brava, on yet again another thoughtful and thorough review

  18. What a beautiful review - the photos - the passion you have for JCE is apparent.

    I'm realizing I must be anosmic to many musks because I literally cannot smell much of anything with several perfumes that I was so looking forward to: Gentian Blanche, AG Musc Nomade and HdP Blanc Violette.

    The Gentiane Blanche in particular is like water on my skin. It's sad. I wish I could experience what you're smelling... :-(

  19. Mike Perez02:12

    Great reviews Helg.

    I love the Pamplemousse Rose, but the Gentiane Blanche is just one HUGE bell pepper note on my skin that really swallows up the iris and other notes. My review, on Dimitri's blog (soon) will explain in detail.

    For now, I'm looking forward to the PR for Summer 2009.

  20. M,

    hello! How are you? Thanks for stopping by! :-)

    That's unusual that you get some sweetness but very interesting, nonetheless. I get a lot of iris as well. It's quite a feat in that everything seems meshed into a very specific vision: this is the natural progression from both Terre d'Hermes and Poivre Samarkande, I feel.

    Have a great weekend!!

  21. Thanks M!

    I think the "bell pepper" note is the ambrette, myself. I can see how you might not like it. The PR however is very good for summer (the only reason I'm not ecstatic is I feel I am already "covered" in the field of JCE grapefruit frags) Will be looking forward to reading your thoughts!

  22. A,

    hi honey! How are you? Thanks for commenting! :-)
    Musk anosmia does feature quite a bit with many people, so it doesn't surprise me. I haven't found a fragrance which I do not perceive the musk (yet!), so I believe if mine runs to scales it must be at the very very outer edge. All those you describe are rather subtle to begin with, however, so it might play a role too. I think the less musky is the VP one.

    Then again, there are so many other fragrances (even in Hermes) which are to your taste, eh? (I'm thinking Ambre Narguile, Osmanthe Yunnan etc)

  23. Alexandra19:16

    Why is 400ml bottle called Tesla-size?

  24. Oh the grapefruit and rose sounds like something I might love... how exciting!

  25. Hi Alexandra!

    Before any misunderstanding arises, let it be known that the Tesla size moniker is my own little joke (perhaps not a very successful one), not their official pronouncement. You know, it's so big, so it's over the more modest names mega-, giga- etc. Therefore Tesla! :-D

  26. J,

    I really think the PR one would be to your taste. I can see it being loved by several people, it's really very fresh and pleasant!

  27. Alexandra13:33

    Aha. I was thinking if word *tesla* exist as a unrelated word for something else or it`s Tesla from Nikola Tesla (he`s like some kind of god here:-))

  28. I've been no doubt sacrilegious. :P


  29. I tried both today and... oops. Pamplemouse Rose would be passable for me although nothing I'd pick but Gentiane, of which I expected a lot, was a sheer disappointment. It felt like an olfactory equivalent of swalloving sand.
    I must say that today's testing spree was largely disappointing as a whole. No traces of Pondichery, the damn Dior woman sprayed me with the new derivate of J'adore that smelled like cat piss with magnolia on my skin (I know that my skin sometimes does the cat piss thingy with bergamot/white flowers blend... but only sometimes) and in general, there was nothing interesting.

  30. Ooops, sorry your spree was disappointing L!

    Sand actually describes GB quite well, if it's cool and glassy-like. I perceive it as raspy, somewhat. I liked the new CF by J'adore (not crazy, but liked it), even though I dislike many of their other versions: a tad sugary, too thick. I like L'absolu though, even if I realise it's double the price of all the rest. *sigh*
    I was disappointed by Cristalle EV. Seriously so....*double sigh*

  31. It happens. I quite like Eau Verte - I use it as a summer splash but I'm quite sure I won't get another bottle and for next summer, I'll pour all over me either No. 22 or something else.
    I'm struggling with a blog post about my sniffing spree, including pics of real gentians, wait an hour or a hundred:D

  32. Prince Barry15:54

    I found it :)

    I appear to be hypoerosmic to white musk in the Gentiane. Immediately on spraying, my hard wired brain said 'launderette' Two hours after spraying, it has faded away.


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