Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hermes Jour d'Hermes: fragrance review & insights into fragrance creation

Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.
photo by AlberCAN (copyright 2012) for use on PerfumeShrine

By guest writer AlbertCAN

Simple elegance is often the hardest to grasp. The emphasis here, of course, lies in its sophistication: the fusion of ideas being so purposely concised and delicately tailored that the communication becomes deceptively simple. Ideas just float on their own merits, process gone and vanished. For years now, for instance, many have quipped that the great Anna Pavlova probably danced her famous “The Dying Swan” program as party entertainment, but judging by the technical brilliance, intricate grace and athletic poise displayed by prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina below I wouldn’t classify it as a simple dance: to even stand on pointe for nearly four minutes while delivering all the nuanced emotions? Not ever for the faint hearted.

I was pondering all these intricacies almost three weeks ago when I was introduced to Jour d'Hermès (2012), the latest feminine fragrance by master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, and when I was informed of the project scope I was very surprised by its seemingly effortless premise: a modern soft floral, radiance from dawn to dusk. No emphasis on particular notes. No PR blitz upon the initial launch. Boutique only until Spring 2013. All against the grain.

The name is also deceptively simple, another subtle risk. Jour d'Hermès (pronounced roughly as ‘joor dair-mess’), though perfectly fitting with the brand’s chosen theme for 2012—Gift Of Time, or Le temps devant soi—isn’t the most accessible name for non-francophones and does require a reasonable grasp of the language. The name does, on the other hand, complement the core theme* of Hermès perfectly: the land and the sky. Case in point? The two best-selling scarves: “Brides de Gala” (on the left) on saddlery and “Astrologie” (below right) on the zodiac constellations—of the land and the sky. Olfaction wise, since we already have the masculine Terre d'Hermès (2006) representing the earth, and since Ciel d'Hermès would have been too obvious, here we have Jour d'Hermès representing the other half of the universe—though I should point out that the above-mentioned names are slightly subversive, with la terre being a feminine word in place of a masculine fragrance and le jour being a masculine word in French. One might think little of the seemingly archaic French noun gender categorization, but I should point out that the name “Calèche” was originally chosen in part because it is a feminine word in French—la calèche. Still, I’m ahead of myself: more on that front later.

The fragrance is yet another intricacy in disguise: Jour d'Hermès opens with quite a tart grapefruit element (quelle surprise) followed immediately by a soft verdancy—all against a floral murmur. Long-time readers of Ellena’s olfactive works would also notice a fruity syntax to the mix, though purposely kept non-specific with a soft sensual mango bias as the fragrance wears on. (The master perfumer has mentioned his partiality to the scent of mango in his book “Journal d'un parfumeur”.) Then in comes the radiance and the scent deftly draws out a delicate array of flowers: sweet pea and gardenia most prominently, although I have also observed a quote of the translucence lifted from Vanille Galante (2009), the lilting orange blossom in Iris Ukiyoe (2010). Further, if one can excuse my impertinence: with the help of the IFRA-sanctioned ingredient label—and my humble training in perfumery—I can also deduce the following floral elements: lily of the valley, modern hybrid rose, tuberose, ylang ylang, jasmine—although these elements are utilized in such a quasi-deconstructed manner that Ellena the magician here only shows an whiff of the ideas. It’s a dawn-kissed, dewy garland—not a Floriade by any stretch of the imagination. The overall structure of the fragrance is kept clean and tailored; the diffusion pattern is built with a purpose; sillage modern, sensual and very long-lasting.

The contradiction of this maximizing minimalism is worth pondering here. This is a luminous floral built under and only under the aegis of our time: three decades ago this idea of floral barraging would have been a Maupassant Realism, as testified in “First” (1976) by Van Cleef & Apels, another Ellena creation; a mere decade ago J’Adore (1999) by Christian Dior with its coquettish charm fronted by the saccharine champaca and violet. Jour d'Hermès is unapologetically floral at heart but decidedly anti-FlowerBomb.

Which begs the question: how does Jean-Claude Ellena manage such sustained flurry of floralcy in flight without all the burdensome cliché of heft often associated with the genre? Without the help of gas chromatography (out of the respect of the master perfumer, really) I would offer a possible hypothesis after a careful examination of his interviews and writings.

I have already mentioned the use of sweet pea, which Ellena has devoted a spirited entry in his “Journal d'un parfumeur” (2011). My English translation of the passage in question offers a glimpse to his art.

                                                                                                       Cabris, Wednesday April 14, 2010
Sweet peas, when in bouquet, remind me of ruffled flamenco dresses. The flower has graceful petals and has the appearance of organdie. They do not have a determined smell, but a scent that hesitates between rose, orange blossom and Sweet William, with its touch of vanilla. I threw in seven components that seem necessary to sketch the smell. One, two, three attempts to balance the proportions, to which I added a carnation note to the fourth test to correct myself again. The fifth test seems appropriate. I have a sketch of smell with which I can start a perfume.

phenylethyl alcohol               200
Paradisone ®                      180
hydroxycitronellal                 50
Rhodinal                           30
acetyl isoeugenol                  15
orange blossom (abs colorless)     15
cis-3 hexenol                       5
phenylacetic aldehyde 50%           5

Diluted at 5% in perfumery alcohol at 85°.

While it’s not certain whether Ellena adopted the exact sweet pea accord above for his latest feminine fragrance the olfactory essay is of interest. The accord is emblematic due to its hologramatic nature: the nuance of the gentle flora is evident, yet within there’s also a radiant magnolia (Paradisone), a splash of lily of the valley (hydroxycitronellal), a boutonnière of carnation (acetyl isoeugenol), a blade of fresh luminous verdancy (cis-3 hexenol) and a whiff of tartness (Rhodinal) for good measure—not to mention the orange blossom absolute and the frilly rosy touch from phenylethyl alcohol. As an avid gardener who has harvested his share of sweet peas I must say Ellena is shockingly spot-on with so few ingredients.

Within the same book Ellena’s thoughts on gardenia is even more sparse. Again my English translation:

aldehyde C-18 prunolide
styrallyl acetate
methyl anthranilate
For the scent of gardenia I prefer that of Chanel because it does not smell like the flower but happiness. The odour of gardenia is a drama between jasmine and tuberose.

Compared to the natural scent the gardenia accord above does not have the notorious mushroom lilt simply because of the absence of the tiglates. (The stryrallyl acetate, itself smelling like tart rhubarb, may have also given Jour d'Hermès the verdant tinge.) Yet what does the master perfumer meant when referring to “a drama between jasmine and tuberose”? Let’s break down the individual accords from the master perfumer:

benzyl acetate
clove bud oil
methyl anthranilate

aldehyde C-18 prunolide
methyl anthranilate
phenylethyl alcohol
benzyl salicylate

Thus elements from both are appearing in the gardenia accord, although our Elena Vosnaki has also made the following observation: "Methyl anthranilate (orange flower and ylang-ylang in low concentration, grape in high concentration) also produces very popular Schiff's Bases for a variety of floral effects, when added to aldehydes. No surprise in its being featured so much!"

Based on the info above I can deduce that Jour d'Hermès doesn't have the notes listed in part because the ‘notes’ are all connected together: sweet pea into magnolia, magnolia helping the orange blossom, orange blossom into tuberose, tuberose into gardenia. And certainly the Paradisone is known to create a radiant effect, as per both perfumer Arcadi Boix Camps and master perfumer Alberto Morillas. Under this manner Ellena, though clasping onto his aesthetics firmly, is to me also taking a page out of the notebook from old master perfumers of the 20th century such as Francis Fabron, despite obviously going after vastly different olfactory effects: very short but self-contained formulas with each 'note' sharing a set of chemicals so the elements are tightly woven as possible.

After all, what’s the point of naming all the notes in Jour d'Hermès when all the ingredients are synced to perform as one, in calibrated harmony?

I have mentioned that Jour d'Hermès is quite long-lasting, and much to my intrigue it works very well as a unisex fragrance. The use of the pricey muscone, itself a creamy modern musk, does help coaxing flowers to a more prolonged bloom...

(Hidden in the drydown I do very much suspect the use of honey absolute in conjunction with the musk, since the diffusion is such positively radiant. Oakmoss extract is also used, not at the forefront of the story by any stretch of the imagination but enough for me to see maybe classified by others as a modern chypre floral.)

...To test my hypothesis I ended up wearing Jour d'Hermès for two days straight, and on my skin it’s becomes a soft unisex fragrance. And given that Terre d'Hermès can work on the right woman perhaps the gender confusion among the two French nouns (le jour, la terre) isn’t so random after all: Ellena does believe the freedom in fragrance categorization among genders—perhaps the names are a reflection of that belief as well, that fragrance shouldn’t be gender assigned but completely up to the taste of the individual. And given the marketing scope of the latest offering I have good reasons to believe that the ray of light is being granted in the name of personal freedom, freedom in the name of simple elegance.

Hermès Jour d’Hermès is available in 50 and 85 ml Eau de Parfum, and in a 125 ml refill. It’s available now exclusively in Hermès boutiques and will go into wider distribution early next year.

*Editor (Elena's) NoteJour d’Hermès was presented to the world in late November 2012 in Delphi, Greece (as seen here), the default spot of LIGHT worship. The god of the oracle, Apollo, has  no doubt shed a ray of sunshine on the perfumer and his works. It remains to be seen whether -to borrow a Nietzsche reference- the next fragrance, tackling the Dionysian this time, will be Nuit d’Hermès and presented in Arcadia. I'm throwing this to the mix as an idea to the Hellenophile people at  Hermès!

Photo, from top: Jour d'Hermès and “Journal d'un parfumeur”, photo taken/copyright by AlbertCAN; Uliana Lopatkina in “The Dying Swan”, photo via Tumblr; “Brides de Gala” scarf by Hermès; “Astrologie” scarf by Hermès; cover of “Journal d'un parfumeur” by Jean-Claude Ellena; Jour d'Hermès illustration via Hermes.com


  1. Anonymous19:39

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Bravo, Albert. Very interesting review with lots to think about.

  3. Stephan08:01

    What a pleasure to read your bouquet of thoughts, blooming with the knowledge of culture, art, logic, science and more. Thank you very much.

  4. Anonymous17:11

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I hope this comes my way -- you have me interested!!!

  6. J,

    Albert brings on a terrific array of thoughts into his reviews. Long but so worth it!

  7. Stephan,

    thanks for complimenting Albert's work, I'm sure he's flattered (and he deserves the accolades too)

  8. M,

    I am positive it will. It's a mainstream release from February 15th although it's kept under boutique-exclusivity for now. I think you appreciate these sunny compositions.

  9. Miss Heliotrope00:55

    O dear - now I have spent half the day playing with Hermes scarves online - perfume as well?

  10. C,

    I think this is why luxury companies are so well receiving of the blogosphere; at the very least it means more eyes looking at their precious things online!


  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Katherine,

    you're welcome to comment if you wish with relevant observations, but no spamming is allowed.

  13. I just bought this - it is already available in Toronto at Holt Renfrew - the review is truly spot on - lovely. I am not a fan of floral-in-your-face scents (i.e., Flower Bomb, Stella McCartney), etc. But I *do* like certain floral scents like Portrait of a Lady (FM), for eg. I would put this in the latter category. There are so many layers to this scent, which is what makes me love it. So multi-dimensional and a gorgeous, warm, golden dry down. I like the fact that it is not too strong - I have a baby now and have to be a tad bit careful of not wearing very strong scents around him. I am a huge fan of Ellena (First is still one of my favourite scents) and he has truly lived up to his own standards w the creation of this scent.

    How do you like it, Elena?

    x s

  14. S,

    thanks for your most insightful commentary! (And should I say congrats for the little one? May your baby become as you dream of him/her!)

    I agree with everything you say. The refined complexity is Ellena's signature: there is something to discover in his scents each time you wear them. They're like wormholes into another dimension sometimes.

  15. Hi S.,
    funnierwise I received this scent for review after my baby had arrived, just a few weeks later. I love perfume, I love Jean-Claudes work that much I neraly named my son Jean-Claude (I am not joking!) but this one disappointed me personally a little bit. I do not like honey, and I get a big honey note throughout the head/base/heart.

    I do not use perfume anymore, but now my son is elder and I start to re.discover scents again. My smell (?!) has refined even more, and I still use Un Jardin sur le Mediteranee (a very light spritz only) but cannot think of any other right now.

    I have and love Rose Ikebana, but even this gives me a hard time right now.

    I am really curious what kind of scent will follow next year. I guess something with... pear? Though the house Hermès is said NOT to follow the market, they have used the "common" notes for the last perfumes like apple in the Jardin sur le toit or Honey on Jour d'Hermès.

    The concept of the scent, the bottle, the advertising, I want to love this one but I do not.

  16. Andrea,

    thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.

    I know having a baby can wreck havoc on your perception of smell (though nothing to personally report on that front oddly enough), so you're not alone. People say it gets some time to get back into the hang of things, so give it a while.

    That being said, you're not supposed to necessarily like Jour d'Hermes. I think it's good stuff (all of JCE's is in one way or another), but it's not my first choice for myself. Perhaps I haven't given it too much skin time to accurately judge and I might be too quick. I don't know. Just thought I'd share in case you're feeling left out, as I too am a huge JCE fan.


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