Épice Marine arrived after much anticipation (it's about 4 months late) to the Hermès boutique on Burrard & Alberni in Vancouver. The name alone, suggesting a study in contrasts, promised intrigue; and ocean being one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me, I was very much looking forward to experience Jean-Claude Ellena's take on it.
The first imagery that the fragrance conjures for me is that of a spice pirate ship with an unusually scrubbed-clean deck. The distinctive character of calone gives a metallic backdrop to warm, diffusive spicy notes of cumin and cinnamon. It's as unexpected as the lime and cloves combination in coke; but unlike the beverage - there is no sugar to mediate between the two edges; and the feeling is of two separate entities - rolling in heaps of warm, powdered spice against the a sharp and cold stainless steel blade. Lemony notes of bergamot combined with Szechuan pepper come to the fore and give temporary relief from the fishy odour of calone, but not for long. Spacious hedione combined with slightly indolic jasmine notes, and accentuated by a distant breeze of seashore at low tide contribute another point of intrigue. But only long enough for me to figure out what it reminds me of...
The piracy goes deeper than that briney scene at the deck: the composition is a mirror image of Edmond Roudnitska’s first perfume for the company (and now sadly discontinued) - Eau d’Hermès. It is no secret that Jean-Claude Ellena is infatuated with this Roudnitska creation, and in Terre d’Hermès it was explicitly stated. Of course influences are fine - especially when the nose in question was the student of the great master. Besides, being an Eau d’Hermès lover, why should I care if there is a similar perfume offered by the same house?
The reason is, that there is something a bit off about this scent. It does not feel balanced, the use of calone make it smell generic and lackluster. And to me this feels almost like a mockery of the original, rather than an homage.
Once the confusing impressions of this perfume's opening lines fade away, I'm left with a very generic marine scent that sort of has a presence just enough to distract me occasionally, but never to delight or intrigue any further. And by the time we get to the dryout, it is very faint already. The notes chosen are not the issue. It's the composition and the harmony - if only there was more room for the seaweed absolute and oakmoss to speak up, the saltiness of the dryout would have been more prominent, evocative and memorable. Seaweed absolute is an extremely difficult note to work with, but I still wish it had more presence. It would have made this truly a piece of art, rather than a conceptual, light and crowd pleasing fragrance.
I realize this is not the style that Ellena is after with the Hermessences, but in this particular case it feels like a missed opportunity. Épice Marine is perhaps the only perfume that's truly intriguing in this collection, telling a story that can be relatable to others besides the creator and with fascinating raw materials to paint that picture. It has all the making of an interesting perfume, except that it doesn’t work.
Top notes: Cinnamon, Cumin, Calone, Bergamot, Szechuan Pepper
Heart notes: Hedione, Jasmine
Base notes: Seaweed Absolute, Oakmoss