You could do far worse than the contemporary line up of Hermès colognes. From the crisp, citric classicism of Eau d’Orange Verte (green, subdued and angular as it always smelled), the plush, more obvious pink grapefruit of Eau De Pamplemousse Rose; the calm, blue mysticism of Eau de Narcisse Bleu and the more sensual Eau de Mandarine Ambrée (the one I am closest to buying at the moment because it reminds me somewhat of vintage Calvin Klein Obsession and immediately makes me feel happy); and, now, Eau de Néroli Doré and Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate, these clear and relatively reasonably priced fragrances are clean, fresh, but effectively pleasing spring and summer scents that work well as taut, spritzy pick-me-ups.
As with the Hermessences, I like some more than others. Eau de Gentiane Blanche doesn’t really grab me (though I appreciate its pale and watery oddness), and though I enjoyed certain facets of Iris Ukiyoé, Epice Marine, Santal Massoia, and Vanille Galante, ultimately, neither did they. The ‘new’ rhubarb, Rhubarbe Ecarlate (which in fact smells almost embarrassingly familiar), also courts my ambivalence. It is quite nice, and should probably be a commercial success I would imagine with its faint vanilla custard note running through it (white musks), reminding me of particularly nostalgic boiled sweets you can still get from a confectioner’s shop in Hurst St. in Birmingham ( Rhubarb and custard. I have always loved that combination). Over this soft and malleable skin scent base note is layed a fine, fruity, and indeed, truly red rhubarb accord that bursts forth from the flacon, appealingly rendered but a touch unimaginative, coming across rather like Rose Ikebana and Eau De Pamplemousse Rose’s sturdy, but perhaps less intelligent, younger cousin. That this is Christine Nagel’s first work in her new position alongside Jean Claude Ellena comes as something of a surprise, then, as it feels like a copy – albeit more rounded and smooth – of her co-worker’s own oeuvre, as though only just esconced in the Hermès studios she is as yet still afraid to really experiment.
Ellena’s own neroli (for which Tunisia and Morocco apparently had half of their annual neroli crop bough up by Hermès) is more successful in terms of creativity – a raspingly smooth, almost bitter, very natural orange blossom scent that is very neroli-centric and indeed smells clean and golden with an unusual underlay of saffron. I like it better than the recent Eau Des Sens by Diptyque, another orange blossom effusion (is this the latest ingredient du jour?) because it smells less synthetic to me and more refined. Neroli lovers should definitely give this one a spin – it would make a very pleasing travel companion I would imagine, but my partner is a confirmed neroli-hater and I would never personally get away with it ( I sometimes secretly spritz on some Annick Goutal Neroli on sunny days when he is not looking, though, my personal favourite interpretation of these provocative and pungent, smell-me early summer flowers).
Surprisingly, given how awful most reformulations or ‘reimaginations’ of classic, discontinued scents tend to be on the whole, Jean Claude Ellenas’s remixes of the classic Hermès masculines are more successful than I would have imagined. I was happy to reacquaint myself with Bel Ami Vetiver again recently- a beautifully rich and elegant scent that seemed like a real Duncan contender to me when I smelled it the first time, and better than the current formulation of Bel Ami which feels a bit doctored. (The original was great -like a hairy, gay 70’s porn star having a quiet night in at home in his leather dungeon) but I personally find it, now, a bit other era – only someone really working the theme with confidence and with the appropriately hirsute physique could properly carry it off, in my opinion. The vetiver remake – more held together and now – is more up to date, modern and more easily worn.
Another classic by the house, Equipage, by Guy Robert (Calèche, Doblis, Madame Rochas) was already the epitome of male elegance for me – one of the most appealing of the traditional cigar-smoking, properly orchestrated masculines – I have a vintage bottle that I dip into from time to time on an autumnal Sunday, say, in a thick-knit woollen sweater as the golden light of yellow leaves filters through the garden. Complex, citric, aromatic, floral (lily) and delicately spicy, Equipage represents the thorough dignity of the thinking male without the bulging thongs of the chest-thumping 70’s ballbearers. There are few classical male scents this intricate, light, yet simultaneously trustworthy, full and self-assured.
The geranium variant of Equipage seem to me to be Ellena at his more experimental and playful, taking a fresh and powdery, yet still quite manly fougère accord, draining out some of the smudged old-school musky animalics that date this kind of perfume easily, and flushing it with a cool, Hermesian fraîcheur, the geranium flower note hale, uplifting and fresh from the bathroom (in fact the whole very much reminds me, in its overall projection, with its rose and sandalwood and cloves, of Imperial leather soap, a creamy and soothing smell which I have always loved and sometimes ask people to bring me from England when they come to stay). Its appearance in Geranium Equipage makes the perfume very wearable, humorous and life-loving – cool, neo retro at its very best.
All housed in similar bottles, now, as you can see in these pictures, the Hermès full collection of perfumes may represent a certain clean, held-back conservatism, bound very firmly by the Parisian laws of chic, and now, packaged quite homogeneously as well. But there is plenty of poetry and playfulness within these scents too. They basically all smell good, imbued with a luxurious feeling of calm and glassy detachment. In these woefully crass and oversugared times, I have to say that I do admire the dignity that the house seems almost effortlessly to maintain.