Perfume marketers love to talk about notes. (“Oh, it’s got citrus top notes and then it goes into a heart of vanilla and finishes with a base of sandalwood and tonka bean!”) This gives the false impression that the fragrance neatly skips from top note to heart to base note until it finally vanishes — poof! — into thin air. But, as Jean-Claude Ellena, Hermès’ in-house perfumer, says in his book Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent: “Odours are not like words or musical notes, which follow each other in Indian file to form a sentence or a melody and thereby create meaning. The materials of fragrances do not mix like colours to create a new colour. Instead, they coexist and continue to express themselves individually, whilst at the same time forming a new odour, a new meaning. In olfactory terms, 1 1 = 3.”
He’s right, of course. When you inhale a perfume, you smell the whole, but you also smell the parts — or, using Ellena’s mathematics, you smell “3” (the perfume) and “1” (the parts). If you smell the perfume for too long, the equation goes back to “0” — you lose the scent and have to wait patiently for it to reveal itself to you again.
So, if wearing a fragrance is like taking a long, leisurely journey with many interesting detours, think of Ellena as your amiable yet ambitious guide. He wants you to have a good time — but not any kind of predictable good time. His latest composition, appropriately named Voyage d’Hermès, is an eau de toilette inspired by travel. “I was given just the one word [voyage] as my brief,” says Ellena, looking relaxed and debonair in an aquamarine cashmere sweater, a white shirt, wool slacks and forest-green suede shoes — a ray of Provençal sunshine on this frigid day in Paris. “Normally, I go to a certain place to try to catch the ambience. I’ll look for a plant, fruit, root or food that captures the essence of a location for me. For Voyage, I focused on the verb itself: the action of taking a trip. This fragrance is more abstract.”
Find out what inspired Voyage d’Hermès on the next page ...
What's hot this month? ELLE picks the bestIn keeping with the 19th-century tradition of cologne as a health-giving tonic for immediate wellbeing, Voyage d’Hermès is meant to be worn by both women and men. “I take a literary approach to perfumery,” says Ellena. “A poem, a novel...these are not for a specific sex. I believe that perfume is an art, and art is not just for a woman or for a man.”
Not particularly fond of travelling himself, Ellena knows that for even the most enthusiastic travellers there are always mixed emotions on every journey. “First, you need a catalyst to travel,” he says. To spark the need for movement and novelty, the fragrance opens with a bright, sparkling, frozen note that is a call to action. “But, at the same time, there is a need for comfort,” he continues. “You see people travelling, and they like to take their houses with them in a bag. They want new encounters, but at the same time they’re a little bit nervous, so they want security.” The composition of Voyage d’Hermès plays with the contradictory states of action and comfort. “This perfume is like you are in your own cocoon,” says Ellena. “It gives the kind of comfort that wearing a cashmere pullover gives.”
Voyage d’Hermès’ bottle is refillable and housed in a casing reminiscent of a metal stirrup. The casing works double duty: It protects the bottle in transit and stabilizes it on a countertop. The design was conceived by Philippe Mouquet, who also created the bottle for Terre d’Hermès and the lock system for Kelly Calèche, among others. Ellena saw the final bottle before he created the fragrance. “I was very impressed with it,” he says. “Usually a bottle is like a dress that you fit into easily. But this time, the dress was so strong that I thought ‘I’ve got to make my fragrance deserving of this bottle!’”
Try to get Ellena to talk about actual ingredients and he’ll dodge you for as long as he can. For Voyage d’Hermès, a woody, fresh, musky fragrance, he admits to creating the “action” facets with angelique, white musk and juniper berry and the “comfort” emotions with Australian sandalwood and a cedar note.
Ellena is an illusionist. As he writes in Perfume: “Illusion is more true than reality. The plausible is more believable than the true.” With Voyage d’Hermès, you can take a new trip every day.
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