Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hermes Voyage d'Hermes: fragrance review

Hermès has gained the sense of olfactive consistency that Guerlain once had back in the day thanks to its head perfumer, Jean Claude Ellena. Their latest unisex, Voyage d'Hermès , is a recapitulation, a déjà vu and a voyage not only through the body of work of Jean Claude himself, but of the house of Hermès as an entity! It's as if Voyage is a passport into the world of Hermès: Small little snippets of numerous fragrances hide beneath a hazy cloud of a formula that must have been laborious to construct without falling apart. Yet what has Jean Claude succeeded in doing, at this point in his career, is creating his own syntax and his own vocabulary for communicating which translates as perfectly leggible and intermixable, even in snippets of conversation that all mingle together harmoniously.

In order to appreciate Voyage d'Hermès on whether it succeeds to convey the vision behind it, we need to access the perfumer's technique in rapport with the values dictated by a mass-marketed but still prestigious Hermès fragrance such as Voyage.

Starting by the latter, we're "stumbling" on the mega-success of Terre d'Hermès, a masculine which is -according to the month in question- the first or second best-selling fragrance in France and terribly popular throughout the world as well. Its mineral & airy interpretation of the Mediterranean coast-line, full of fresh breeze, the whisper of citrus groves from afar and vegetal waste rotting on the hard rock, is the transfiguration of an lived-in impression into a scent (aided by a generous helping of IsoE Super, a synthetic which turns the intriguing aromata into a legible abstraction). A new mainstream release would not want to disrupt the commercial success of Terre, but at the same time, it should bring in women too (sharing thus the desirable facets of Terre) and consolidate the past and future of the house into the consience of everyone. In many ways, it feels to me that Hermès was simplifying its historical codes into an Esperanto of signs for everyone. To that degree they have certainly succeeded.

Ellena himself communicated his aim in composing Voyage d'Hermès, not as the desire to create a figurative or programmatic ~to borrow a term from music~ fragrance "but to create abstract art. A play on paradoxes. Complementary elements. No, this perfume would not smell of a kind of wood, a flower, a particular raw material, but of the unknown in all its glory. To express its nuances and unexpected pairings. Familiar, surprising. Energy, comfort. Masculine, feminine. An infectious mixing of genres. A woody fresh, musky fragrance." Ellena's style (and so is Olivia Giacobetti's in a similar vein) is the quiet, yet subtly intricate music for a quartet, rather than the bustle of a Wagnerian symphony with brass horns and full percussion joining. This is an aesthetic choice, not the result of simplistic or unchallenging incompetence. Comparing ~say~ a traditional Guerlain or 1930s Patou to a modern Hermès composed by Ellena would therefore be a futile exercise in omphaloskepsis. One either likes one style or not, but that doesn't mean that the two are poised on the same plane of existence; they're actually poles apart.
In that regard, Ellena in Voyage d'Hermès is reffarming his signature touch and on top of that creates something that cannot be pinpointed into anything familiar in nature; because there are plenty of familiar accents in the formula itself, as we'll see.

Voyage d'Hermès feels like a composition created on two tiers: The first movement is a flute, oboe and glockenspiel trio, namely the grapefruit-citrus chord he excells at (see Rose Ikebana, Un Jardin sur le Nil, Terre d'Hermès, even Cologne Bigarrade) with a touch of icy artemisia (see Angeliques sous la Pluie with their perfect gin & tonic bitterness) alongside the spicy suaveness of cardamom (diaphanous as in Un Jardin apres la Mousson, yet also a little sweaty as in Déclaration). To that musical line respond clarinets of other spices: some pepper, some ginger. On skin the spices are much more pronounced on the whole, with a small sub-facet (pungent, even a bit leathery) that personally reminds me of Eau d'Hermès.
The second movement is constructed on a basso continuo (the Iso E Super, perceived by many as cedar, alongside an incredibly lasting cluster of musks) with a lightly underlining phrase by a viola, the floral note of hedione (or an analogous material) giving a nod to Dior's Eau Sauvage and an elegant amber-ambergris base recalling Eau de Merveilles. This second movement is most alike Poivre Samarkande from the Hermessences, with its overdose of Iso-E Super. Seeing as Poivre Samarkande is the uncontesatble best-seller in the Hermès boutique in Athens, Greece, ever since the line's introduction, it makes sense that Hermès wanted for a Voyage composition a formula that has already been OK-ed by a warm Mediterranean country: After all, the very term Voyage makes us unconsiously dream of vacations, doesn't it? The two Roudnitska homages (Eau d'Hermès and Eau Sauvage), on the other hand, are unifying two houses and two perfumers into one style uniquely its own.

This clarion call of style, ensured, affirmed, self-reliant, is the fragrance's moot point: It means that if you like previous Jean Claude Ellena fragrances, you will like Voyage d'Hermes. If you don't, there are very little chances that it will change your mind. It also means that if you have all the segmentated make-up-pieces in your perfume collection, you might not be tempted to sort out the Visa and buy the new fragrance. But seeing as this is a mainstream release meant for everyone, not just maniacal collectors, those people will be few and far between.

The bottle design is spectacular: pure Hermès, both classic, inspired by la petite maroquinairie ~and specifically the Evelyne coin purse~ but also subtly modern high-tech too, reminiscent of USB sticks to put in one's computer (formerly known as "travel sticks, because you took them along while travelling, is it any coincidence?) or of a shiny silvery iPod, blasting a daydreaming Debussy tune. The promotional video shows a bird flying towards a horse running in the sea, showing ice, desert and water: an analogy of the segments that the fragrance goes through as well.

Notes for Voyage d'Hermès: citron, bergamot, coriander, ginger, artemisia, cardamom, black pepper, tea, birch, white musk, amber and cedar.

Available in 35ml, 100ml & 150ml bottles, available at major department stores carrying Hermès.
For those registered on the mailing list of Hermès, please use
this link to see the promotional video.

Music: "Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet" by Malcolm Arnold with Meera Gudipati, flute; Steven Robles, oboe; and James Calix, clarinet.
Print by Nhyen Phan Chanh (1932). Hermes official Voyage d'Hermes ad.


  1. Anonymous22:02

    I particularly enjoy your music references!
    But the breakdown of the perfume is none the less impressive. Hope I get the same things on my skin when I try it out.


  2. Thank you for such a detailed review, it seems like you've covered everything!

    It's especially interesting to read the behind-the-scenes thinking of the company on how to go about a new unisex fragrance, what you say must be true.
    It seems that Voyage will be a temptation that proves hard to resist. Not having all the referencing "quotes" in my collection, it might fill a void that needs to be filled: I want to explore more on JCE and Hermes. (BTW, which older Hermes do you propose I give my best shot?)

    Oh and before I forget: I haven't seen Voyage in the flesh, is it out yet everywhere?

  3. cheiroso23:39

    Thanks for the review; this is very exciting for me! My first venture into fragrances of any kind was a purchase of Déclaration. When I read it was inspired by Roudnitska's Eau d'Hermès I got a bottle of that. Eventually got Terre d'Hermès and only later discovered Jean Claude Ellena designed that. (I also had no idea until today that it contains a "generous helping" of Iso-E Super, but can't say I'm surprised.) I've been wanted to try Ellena's new vetiver fragrance since I heard it existed, but no luck finding it yet. Also very anxious to try the legendary Eau Sauvage, since it's so often referenced in reviews.

    So yeah, I think it's fair to say I'll probably like Voyage d'Hermès. The ginger and black tea notes are particularly promising.

  4. I'm in full agreement w/ your observation re:JCE's 'unification' of the Hermes line.

    Voyage will do really well, I believe, for many reasons-

    Its tenaciously transparent fraicheur, the signature spareness; it's consistent w/ his overall body of work.

    The packaging is a brilliant coup in itself !
    Glorious to hold.

    Vernal hugs to you ;-)

  5. Anonymous03:21

    what jean claude has succeeded in doing at this point in his career is boring me. again.

    loved your review, but this one left me yawning. though the bottle's designer deserves some props. it's cool.

    did he do elixir des merveilles? i love eau des merveilles on other folks (it fades like water on my skin), but elixir is the only "modern" hermes i truly love.
    my other hermes loves veer toward the "classics" as 24 faubourg, eau d'hermes, rouge, and amazone.

    what i found interesting was that the 20-something fragrance dept. manager at saks felt the same way - she doesn't at all like this "new" direction the house has taken, though she does like the elixir. she was surprised when i told the same guy had done VC&A first!


  6. I'm a bit scared of white musk but otherwise it sounds great.I really enjoy the work of JCE and will definitely try this.

  7. what a lovely review- as ever- I tried it the other day- I agree about the bottle by the way- and the juice is excellent, very much in the language of Hermes and Ellena. For me at the moment I think I prefer Terre but that might just be time- it's certainly a worthy addition to the family.

  8. You know I loves me some musical equivalences. :)

    Hmmm, I think you might be the fondest of this one yet. Interesting to see it garner a range of reviews...but not surprising, I think, in light of similar across-the-boards to other Ellena perfumes that echo the kind of orchestration you describe. Which you already said.

    Me, I like Rose Ikebana...but I wouldn't have known that when I first met it. Seemed...watery? But then, for some reason was giving it another go on the right day, and Whammo!, there were all the notes. Which means I think I'll need to give Voyage a listen. I mean, a proper sniff. :)

  9. Thanks T! And welcome.

  10. Sue,

    this is my own theory. I surpassed the observation that it's a recapitualtion of the body of work of Ellena already discussed online, into proposing it's a deliberate "passport" into the "signs" topography of Hermes en masse.

    Re: older Hermes. My favourites are Eau d'Hermes and Bel Ami. Of course Caleche and 24 Faubourg are also beautiful, although I find Caleche quite changed in recent years.

    I think Voyage is out worldwide. Will update if I find out differently.

  11. Cheiroso,

    ah...someone after my own heart. Don't I LOVE Declaration, a firm favourite in our house since its launch.
    You mean Vetiver Tonka? It's a Hermessence, ie. boutique exclusive, but the big bottles are now available online at Hermes USA too.
    If you like the rest of the Ellena frags, I bet you'll like Voyage too.

    Eau Sauvage is such a classic, and so influenced masculine fragrances since, that subconsiously you have already got "hints" through the environment on it. It's easy to find on any Dior counter.

  12. Ida,

    hello darling! How are you?

    Yup, there is consistency. Somehow this is a mark of success. And I think they're capitalising on this.

    Hugs to you too!!! (I'm thinking of you)

  13. Minette,

    hello there!!

    LOL, yes, if someone doesn't like that style Voyage won't shake them up and down and make them change their minds.
    I admit I can't justify the purchase of a bottle: I have all the referenced quotes (OK, apart from Mousson) already! Ha!

    Elixir is by JCE all right. I very much like it, because even though it initially gives the impression that it's completely different (the different notes etc), in the end it has a deep kinship with the Eau de Merveilles. It's pretty amazing if you think about it.

    As to the Saks SA: I recall reading someplace that Hermes is doing a pauvre luxury these days. And it rang true. Certainly JC is using good materials (some of his naturals are very costly) but they don't advertise it (It's like nouvelle cuisine in a way against an old-style French patisserie for the Bourbons> all right, I'm probably carrying this too far, but it's for illustration purposes)

  14. Ines,

    TOTALLY not the white musk variety that is being used in popular drugstore and "wholesome" image stores. I don't even know why they call it that, as it has such specific connotations.

  15. K,

    thank you darling! How are things? I'm so busy I can't really devote time in reading these days. :(

    I don't know if I prefer Terre or this. Now there's a question: What if someone sprayed Terre over Poivre and let it settle? Would a sparser Voyage emerge?

  16. S,

    thanks for saying so, sometimes I fear the musical equivalences bore the hell out of readers! ;)

    Hmm, I don't think I'm the fondest. I certainly recognise that it's technically masterful. But I already own the quotes. So would I buy a bottle? It depends. I'm usually not swayed by packaging although I admit this one is great.

    Rose Ikebana is very good: Try contrasting it with YSL In Love Again, Un Jardin sur le Nil and Kelly Caleche: You can traverse the development of JCE's grapefruit accord in those scents.

  17. Ah! Interesting project. I shall...and appreciate the opportunity to knock on Un Jardin sur le Nil's door. For some reason, I've been avoiding it. Not actively, but certainly not looking, either.

    And Phew! on your clarification; makes the music analogy even better. I was going to say, but those combos are kind of reedy ultimately (especially the opening, lol), and lack a certain depth. Even basso continuo can just be a voice chugging along without sympathetic harmony or much purpose other than to say "Listen to me! I am different!" :)

    Not that that was what you meant; just saying.

  18. Anonymous21:13

    Soon after spraying Voyage d'Hermes someone walked into the room and exclaimed "Phew! Someone has put on too much bug spray!" That comment made me realize that it smelled exactly like insect repellent to me too. If anosmia is causing it to smell like bug spray to us, which components might we be anosmic to?

  19. Anon,

    I think it should be some musk anosmia. Most people can't discern some type of musk or other. This is quite musky, so perhaps you're blocking out some of the ingredients and retaining the other part? Could be.
    I can't be 100% sure though. It also depends on your definition of "bug spray smell".

  20. Anon,

    I think it should be some musk anosmia. Most people can't discern some type of musk or other. This is quite musky, so perhaps you're blocking out some of the ingredients and retaining the other part? Could be.
    I can't be 100% sure though. It also depends on your definition of "bug spray smell".

  21. Anonymous23:16

    Bug repellant smell as in the product named "Off" just as sharp or sharper.

    Voyage is supposed to smell quite musky? Wow, I don't remember it having any musk at all. Definitely could be anosmia to one of the musks. I suspect I am anosmic to Habanolide and I wonder if I am anosmic to more than one of the musk chemicals in use. By that I mean that perfumers know of musk anosmia and tend to use more than one musk.

  22. Anon,

    there you go: cultural chasm at play. We don't have OFF here. The US insect repellant I recall is from my days on the Everglades and that was industrial strength, I believe!! (LOL)
    Most bug sprays use citronella, eucalyptus and other camphorous smells (bugs hate those!) , geranium or cedar.

    Of those I believe it is the cedar you're perceiving in Voyage (in the form of Iso E Super, please consult appropriate article on that on these pages if you haven't for more details)
    However not all bug sprays are equal: Green Baygon for cockroaches smells like Poison by Dior. Others take on nuances of popular perfumes as well (usually older chypres which is one of the reasons those are frowned upon as "smelling like bug spray"; reverse conditioning).

    Obviously perfumers use many musks to render something musky for those who have a specific musk anosmia, but the catch is not all musks are created equal: Habanolide has a fruity aspect for instance, same with ethyl bras, whereas the ambrette and ambretolide that JCE uses have a profile all their own. It all depends!

    Still, I think it's the Iso you're objecting and perceiving as "sharp". It's so widespread, it's bound to surface on functional perfumery as well, therein creating the "other" association.

  23. Anonymous18:33

    The smell is a horrible overwhelming insecticide smell. I mean exactly like OFF. Looking at their website the ingredients of OFF are DEET, propellants and some fragrance, so probably the DEET smell is the main thing.

    Camphorous smells like geranium and eucalyptus are some things that I love and try to look for in a scent.

    I think I like Iso E Super. I wear Eternity by Calvin Klein sometimes. Paris by YSL and Tresor smell powdery to me, Light Blue smells like Lemon Pledge; I don't wear them but they have Iso E Super and are not offensive. Those are the only female fragrances with Iso E Super I can think of. I think Iso E Super smells like a quiet warm cedar scent that appears and disappears which I can smell in the dry-down. In contrast, Voyage d'Hermes smells offensive like the OFF insecticide. Possibly I am anosmic to Ambretolide? Is Ambretolide in other perfumes?

  24. Anon,

    hmmm…I am starting to believe that you got a bad sample or turned tester or something.
    Voyage isn't supposed to smell like that. And yes, it looks like you're not objecting to the Iso E either. But neither are musks (of any kind) sharp and "insecticide-smelling". I am wracking my brain to think what objectionable thing would be in Voyage that would remind me of bug spray but can't find anything.
    Maybe the artemisia? But surely, it's not that potent or dominant in this…

    I suggest trying anew with a different container, ensured to be OK. And if you don't like that either, well, lots of other scents around for you to try out.

  25. Anonymous16:42

    The sample came from a Sephora salesperson who sprayed from the tester bottle into a sample vial and I sprayed it on me next day, so it did not have time to go bad.

    Does Voyage have the musk Ambrettolide in it? Because I can test for anosmia to Ambrettolide by smelling another scent with Ambrettolide in it. I think about 50% of the population are anosmic to macrocyclic musks like Ambrettolide.

    If I am anosmic to a musk molecule in Voyage d'Hermes, then it makes sense that it does not smell as it was meant to, doesn't it? The total scent minus the musk is what smells like OFF (insect repellant) according to that theory. If it is supposed to smell quite musky then you would have to imagine what it smells like without all that musk.

    There are many people who are anosmic to certain musk molecules and if others report that Voyage d'Hermes smells like OFF (insect repellant) plus no musk smell at all, then that will prove the theory of a musk anosmia. If other people don't report the same thing, it is probably not a musk anosmia.

    Note that someone else walked into the room and said "Phew! Someone has put on too much bug spray!" (that person really thought I had just sprayed on insect repellant, not perfume) and that is the point at which I was able to recognize that it smelled exactly like OFF (insect repellant). 2 people saying it smells like OFF (insect repellant) is more scientific data to go on that 1 person. Since musk anosmias are so common, 2 people thinking it smells like insect repellant supports the musk anosmia theory since it is very possible for 2 people to be in the same room who are unable to smell a musk in a perfume.

  26. Anon,

    thanks for the follow up.

    1.I can't be 100% sure on whether it contains a specific material or not unless I see the actual formula. I do smell musks, so it's possible but not conclusive.

    2.Theories have to be tested on many more than 3 people to gain scientific credence. It might be that the 2 people who commented are vocabulary-challenged and can't think of something other than "bug spray" to describe an unpleasant feeling (it happens!). It could be that they are musk anosmic to specific musks, Ambretolide or other (that happens too, though the statistic you quote comes from.…?) It could be that they're picking up a common thread between OFF/DEET and Voyage which I am personally missing, not being really familiar with OFF itself. (which is something I addressed in the first reply to you)

    At any rate, if we're coming back to musk anosmia we're back at my first theory/suggestion, so we're in a cycle pattern.

    Maybe it's time to test something else. This most probably isn't for you and your entourage. C'est la vie.

  27. Anonymous17:26

    I think you have misunderstood. If you re-read, I was surprised when you said Voyage d'Hermes was "quite musky" and agreed that a musk anosmia is the likely explanation and I never stopped believing that musk anosmia is the likely explanation.

    You think I am "coming back" to your first suggestion of musk anosmia and in a "cycle pattern," but that is a misunderstanding on your part.

    I test new perfumes frequently and the other person who thought I had put on OFF (insect repellent) is another person who tests new perfumes frequently; we often discuss perfumes we are testing and smell them on each other. We appreciate, test, and buy new perfumes on a regular basis. Neither of us use the term "bug spray" regarding perfume. When she exclaimed "Phew! Someone has put on too much bug spray!" she truly believed I had sprayed on OFF (insect repellent). She was shocked when I told her I was testing a new perfume and not wearing OFF (insect repellant).

    I'm aware that you don't know how OFF (insect repellent) smells which has DEET in it which has a harsh chemical smell; however, this is the closest and most accurate descriptive term that I can use. People in countries with DEET insect repellent or OFF insect repellant will know the smell.

    If half of the population is anosmic to macrocyclic musks, then it seems to me the topic of musk anosmia should be of great interest to readers.

    The statistic comes from you.

  28. Anon,

    I may have been dismissive of the importance you placed on the musk anosmia creating this phenomenon for you. I apologize.

    To revert to the question at hand: Musk anosmia is widespread (and I believe this is what the statistic quoted refers to en masse: but it pertains to some form of musk, certainly not all, which is why perfumers use many, as you yourself cited above. It can't be that half of the population has an anosmia to ambretolide, though I can't provide you with an exact statistic to this specific molecule).
    To me Voyage smells musky. Musky in the way other JCE scents smell musky (Gentiane Blanche, Apres la Mousson etc), not how Jovan's musk or other usual "musk" colognes smell (which are really a mix of things, not just musk). I believe it has ambrette and artemisia, which bring on the herbal aspects of muskiness rather than the powdery.
    Now if that is missing from the equation for you (and your -it transpires- experienced sniffing partner) that is another subject. It very well could. But in that context it wouldn't subtract greatly from the OFF smell you get. If anything it would rather reinforce it, since it's supposed to be "herbal" and "chemical".

    Beyond that nevertheless I'm afraid I can't be much help. I am psyched to get some OFF however and use instead of my trusty Baygon (for home) and Autan (for person) to see what I'm missing. Like I said, the time I used American made insect repellants was when I spent some time at the Everglades (and in greater Florida) and I think the spray cans came with a nuclear warning symbol or something! :-D


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