When the assistants are behaving themselves and not acting too disdainfully, it’s always a pleasure to head in to the Hermès boutique in Marounouchi, Tokyo and sample the latest scents on offer. We were totally blossomed out yesterday, having spent the afternoon wandering around the big city and seeing the stunning riverside trees at Midorigafuchi where the brisk winds blew the flowers off the branches like a snowstorm (to the delight of the gathering crowd). It was beautiful, and very atmospheric, but I felt that if I saw even one more pink petal, I might puke.
A quick taxi around the imperial moat to the pristine swish boulevards near Tokyo station and Hermès. I was intrigued to smell Jean Claude Ellena’s new variant on a release from I974 – Rose Amazone, one of the final works of the fêted in-house perfumer (who is soon due to hand the scented baton over to Christine Nagel), and a somewhat bizarre choice of release for Hermès. I am often drawn to blackcurrant bud notes, and Rose Amazone is chock full of cassis, along with raspberry and blackberry undertones flushing the roses with the typical Claude Ellena grapefruit over a faintly chypre-ish backdrop (as a nod to the original): in essence a bolstered Rose Ikebana, with reminiscences of Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’Eau, Hermès Rouge Eau Delicate (and even Yves Saint Laurent’s Baby Doll). I am not quite sure what demographic will be drawn to wearing this, but it is certainly quite a pleasant little number, if puzzlingly inessential.
Cuir D’Ange. I must confess that the idea of another Ellena leather slightly turned my stomach. I detested Kelly Calèche for its thin and unconvincing chemical overelaboration, and although I do wear several fragrances with leather accents, this is not really my favourite family of perfume. The concept of a watery constructed cuir therefore really made me feel somewhat queasy, which is why I was amazed to find, when I actually sprayed on some of Cuir D’Ange, that the perfumer had totally confounded my expectations by creating a soft, full, plush and emotively affecting suede-heliotrope-hawthorn perfume that is very classically orientated, romantic, haunting (if a touch one-note), and very reminiscent of my grandmother’s house, in particular the soap that she always used – Camay: a total flashback to my childhood and the window from the bathroom onto her garden while standing in the middle of Tokyo. This is quite an original perfume, actually: supple, musky, floral, smelling both antiquated and nostalgic, yet also, in sturdy architectural form, quite contemporary, and a scent that I can imagine becoming a cult favourite for those who love their leathers and suedes not too bitter, especially those of the soft, tactile, kid-glove variety.
Le Jardin De Monsieur Li, I’m afraid, is one of those perfumes whose name is far more poetic than its contents, and it would be a shame if this were the last work that Jean Claude Ellena produces for Hermès. This is not a bad scent, by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t particularly interesting either. You have smelled this kind of modern cologne many times: I think of these scents as smelling very ‘white’; that blank, chemical sheen that we have seen in such fragrances as White by Armani, Voyage D’Hermès, or Love In White by Creed; that fresh, oyster shimmer of ambivalently vanillic backdrop touched with some ‘jasmine’, mint, and a pleasing top dose of kumquat that you smell and feel your eyes glaze over. It is the kind of fragrance that will do well in the Asian market, probably, and I am sure that if a beautiful young well dressed woman in Shanghai or Singapore were to walk past you on a Spring day sprayed with Li that it could in fact smell quite nice: clean; feminine; drifty. You wouldn’t, however, imagine that she had very much to say on smelling her perfume up close, and possibly find yourself sniffing at your own wrists in secret each time her head were turned, constantly worried that you might run out of conversation.