Friday, February 28, 2014

Spice Pirate

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

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At March 16, 2014 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have perfumelover friends who are praising "l'eau de narcisse bleu", while I find it smelling of generic masculine with a touch of artichoke -what a waste!-.

But I do like "épices marine", I love its opening. I could score a 15ml just for the opening.
I'm the first when it comes to compare Elena style to a severe anorexia. Perfume with appearing bones, verging on dull, obsessed with weightless.
But here, for the first time since forever I felt a jolt of pure joy in one of Elena's perfume.

Yet, I've not tried it enough to check how fast it fades away, and if it left you with a nasty drydown. Elena quite love isoEsuper, woodyamber, and other synthetical ingredient that are very efficient for structuring but are tiresome to the nose.

I like its hermessence line, it's inspiring.
Talking of artichoke, "rose poivée" has the same problem to my nose.
Talking about narcissus, in your other post, I love "bois d'iris" for its trick on iris, cedar, and narcissus.

At May 16, 2015 11:44 PM, Blogger Ayala Moriel said...

Julien -
Your comments are bang-on, especially the "anorexic" comparison. Artichoke is not what I would have thought of for Narcisse Bleu. I thought it was interesting, but very unsatisfying. There is a hint of narcissus absolute coming through, but not enough to justify even wearing it very often. Eau de Gentiane Blanche was also a little more daring. Perhaps I would be more forgiving if it wasn't for the complete bastardization of Eau d'Orange Verte!

Of the Hermessences line, the ones that have some body are quite interesting and fun to wear: Poivre Samarcande, Vetiver Tonka, and Vanilla Galante and the new Cuir d'Ange (I've got a feeling the last two will layer beautifully together). I also have a soft spot for Ambre Narguille (but too sweet to my taste - even though I do like ambery orientals), and the liquorice-lavender for Brin de Reglisse is growing on me. Even Santal Massoia and Osmanthe Yunnan, despite their too cool demeanour and temperature, are actually quite enjoyable when are sprayed (they have very little presence if you dab them from the samples).
I just caved in a bought a quartet of Cuir d'Ange, Poivre Samarkand, Brin de Reglisse, and the intriguing but rather unwearable for me Epice Marine. I'd like to think of it as a collector's item; but I am experiencing a bit of a buyer's remorse...

P.s. Will have to re-visit Bois d'Iris.


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