Hermessence by the SkyTrain
This June, Vancouver has finally joined other self-respected cities that offer their local aristocracy a Hermes boutique, in which the gem of it all is, of course, is the Hermessences – Jean-Claude Ellena’s luxury line exclusive only to those select few Hermes boutiques. Like all self-respected luxury stores, this one opens late and closes early, so it took me a while to get there and make it beyond the enourmous leather bag at the window, - even though it opened about a month ago… Another thing that perhaps kept me away from the store is the strange feeling of being a trespasser into a strange and forbidden close-circle club when entering this store. The salespeople are all frozen in their ironed suits and are very quiet and inapproachable. This is a very strange and foreign feeling in a city with such an easy-going, laid back and casual manners. Luckily, in my second visit I dared asking if they had samples, and left the store with two generous bright-orange paper cases, each filled with two Hermessences. I now have samples of all but Rose Ikebana, which did not leave a good impression on me when sniffed from the blotter card – and so I have decided to try this again later (when and if I have the guts to trespass the luxury domain again LOL).
In a short article published recently in the Georgia Straight, Jean-Claude Ellena’s genius was defined not as his ability to create elusive perfumes, but rather – his so to speak rare ability to recognize and discern hundreds of different single notes. This just shows us how little most people still know about the sense of smell and particularly about perfumery. To say what the Georgia Straight reporter has said is just like saying “Picasso was a great painter not just because he was so innovative and original, but mostly because he knew how to recognize colours and discern blue from red and magenta from yellow” (I think most of us who are blessed with eyesight learned to recognize colors in kindergarten, yet there is only one Picasso); or, say “Mozart was the greatest composer of all times, but forget about his amazing melodies and surprising harmonies; what’s really amazing is that he had a perfect pitch!”. You get the idea. While perfect pitch is a great asset to a musician, it does not necessarily make a person a musician. In fact there are a lot of people who have perfect pitch yet never composed even one bar of music in their life; on the other hand – there are many of great musicians that do not have perfect pitch.
Now, back to the Hermessences line – which looks gorgeous, by the way, standing solidly next to each other looking the same except for the different hues in the crystal bottles, and enrobed with matching coloured leather cases. The line is said to be inspired by the tactile texture of textiles – velvet, silk, wool, cashmere and gauze. Although they all have a unique tactile appearance (both physically and as an olfactory metaphor) – I am not sure I will necessarily associate them with these specific fabrics.
Vetiver Tonka, my most favourite so far, is simple and interesting at once. It is one of the best Vetiver scents I tried, equally revealing the sweetness and freshness of this magnificent root. The opening reveals the green freshness of Vetiver, as it is accentuated by citrus notes – a very common maneuver in Vetiver scents, but one should not dismiss it because of that. As it dries down, it reveals the sweet earthiness of Vetiver as it is accompanied by the rich cigar-flavoured tones of tonka bean. What I love about Vetiver Tonka is its rich simplicity. It does not have that many notes or facets, does not go through any significant transformation (once the initial fresh citrusy opening subsides, it is Vetiver and Tonka all the way), yet it stays interesting all the way. Both Vetiver and tonka are very complex notes, and there is something quite magnificent about two notes so different from each other working together so well. It lasted for a very long time as well, despite the fact that this is just an Eau de Toilette.
Notes: Neroli, Bergamot, Vetiver, Roasted Hazelnuts, Dried Fruit, Cereals, Tonka Bean
Poivre Samarcande, the second most intriguing scent from this line in my opinion, marries spices with wood and musk, and the result is interesting and different – yet very classy and with a subtly bold, masculine presence. Szechuan black pepper and dry chilli pepper are not as pungent as you may expect, and lead quite naturally to the more conforming notes of cedar and musk. It all dries down to a subtle skin scent, just barely peppery, woody, slightly mossy - and musky enough to be smelled only by those who are not anosmiac to musk…
Notes: Black pepper, Chilli pepper, Oak, Cedar, Musk, Chinese Moss
Ambre Narguile is I believe one of the most popular of the line, which is not surprising. It is sweet and satisfying, yet without being cloying. If I had to pick an amber scent from all the rich, oriental ambers out there – this would be one of the candidates for sure. Amber is such a round, sweet and almost fatty note that it can be almost tiresome to be around it on its own. I remember when I was in an amber phase about five years ago, and I couldn’t get enough of amber. Well, it seems that I did get enough of it after all, it is a note that builds up and can saturate your system... It can affect the mind almost like a sedative or narcotic drug, and makes everything feel sensually slow and romantically mysterious. But as I said – I am out of this ambery phase of mine, and the only amber I really love smelling on a constant basis and don’t tire of is pure labdanum – or any amber that is based on plenty of labdanum and has some dryness to it. Ambre Narguile has some dryness to it which I find very appealing – it has almost leathery undertones, reminiscent of pipe tobacco. But still, I can’t imagine myself wearing it very often as my amber addiction was cured long ago.
Notes: Labdanum, Musk, Benzoin, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Caramel, Roasted Sesame Seeds, Rum, Coumarine, White Orchid
Osmanthe Yunnan is quite citrusy, and being the lightest and freshest of all the Hermessences – it is the most approachable, and probably another one of the most popular scents in this line. I have searched high and low for the osmanthus note in this one, and was happy to finally find it after stripping away the many sheer veils of citrus and tea, and it was subtly floral, with just a hint of apricot and with a barely-there creaminess. It is a subtle, well done scent – but whatever amount of osmanthus there is in Osmanthe Yunnan – it is very under-satisfying.
This is not to say that I dislike Osmanthe Yunnan, however, I do find it disappointing. It’s quite surprising how a floral with such a definite character (osmanthus absolute is one of the richest and most compelling floral absolutes I ever smelled – apricoty, leathery and absolutely divine) can easily be buried in other notes – especially when they are all so fleeting, light and transparent in nature. What I get from Osmanthe Yunnan is a reminiscence of other wonderfully refreshing, citrusy-watery creation by Ellena – namely Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert, and Un Jardin sur le Nil.
Notes: Yunan Tea, Orange, Freesia, Osmanthus, Apricot, Leather.
Rose Ikebana is the only scent that I haven’t tried on my skin yet – I thought it would be too fruity and green on me.
The official notes are: rose tea, infusion of petals, peony, magnolia, pink peppercorn, zest of grapefruit, rhubarb and vanilla honey.