Eau de Mandarine Ambrée

mandarin by kierobau
mandarin, a photo by kierobau on Flickr.
For a cologne with the the adjectif amber in the title, Eau de mandarine ambrée is surprisingly green. And cool.

True to the eau de cologne genre, eau de mandarine ambrée begins with a rush of bitter orange zest, whose juicy tartness is only intensified by undertones of passionfruit*. The mandarin itself is rather tart as well, rather than the characteristic sweetness of Citrus reticulata. Amber plays an interesting role, giving a cool presence rather than sweet-confectionary. Rather than embodying the honeyed and perhaps floral nuances of mandarin, it recalls crushed leaves and cool greenery in the shade of an abstract glass orchard.

For an eau de cologne, this has an astonishing longvity, although true to Ellena's style, it remains quiet and vague throughout. The amber lingers on and on - it's a clear, cool and transparent amber, not nearly as sweet as those with rich vanilla absolute and labdanum resin. Instead, it relies on distilled resins and balsams (Peru and copaiba balsams, as well as less-sweet labdanum isolates), and synthetic molecules which I know nothing about**.

The concept of amber within the refreshing, light composition of citrus and herbs is not new: Spanish-style eaux de colognes are long-known for incorporating cistus, the plant bearing labdanum resin, and an essential component of ambers. Cistus has a coniferous, herbaceous facet in addition to its resinous-amber aspect. Ellena plays with a similar concept, while conjuring modern ambery elements that carry the illusion of crushed chilled leaves and mandarin pulp to control the sweetness of amber. 

* Thus continuing the theme of fruit in the refurbished eau de cologne series: Eau d'Orange Verte had the addition of mango; and Pamplemousse Rose had rhubarb ( not botanically a fruit, but considered as such by North American cooks...). The Jardin series features fruit more consistently: Fig in Mediteranee, green mango in Sur Le Nil, cantaloupe in Apres la Mousson, and pear in Le Toit.

** Except that I can recognize this as the amber same I've smelled years ago in DiorAddict, Kingdom and Nu.

Eau d'Orange Verte

white shirt and tree by JuliaGardner
white shirt and tree, a photo by JuliaGardner on Flickr.

Eau d'Orange Verte was recently re-introduced and heavily reformulated by Hermes. I was fortunate to snatch a bottle from a retailer that still had the former version, just as the new trio of Eaux de Colognes were introduced to Hermes counters world-wide.
This review is for the former version (perhaps not the original 1979 version (designed by Francoise Caron), but rather the 1997 re-orchestration (if you know who was the perfumer behind that, please comment), which still has a healthy dose of good ol' oakmoss lurking underneath, and before the inclusion of mango notes (2009's remake by Jean-Claude Elena, which is a completely different fragrance altogether).

Eau d'Orange Verte was a scent I first "met" on a long haul flight to Israel via Heathrow many years ago. There were a few hours to kill, and thankfully an Hermes boutique to be my accomplice in time-murder. I rarely reach for an eau de cologne type scent, but flights are an exception: the tired recycled air full of free radicals and foreign viruses makes me want to escape to the simple, hygenic and familiar eau de cologne genre. Also, it's a very safe travel scent as it is light and can endure any anxiety or physical uneasiness that is the side effect of long trans-Atlantic journeys.

To this day, it is one of the very few scents that strongly resonates with a very relaxed, fantasy Mediterranean lifestyle of a vacation where all you need is sandals and thin white cotton clothing. Rather than a mood or a story, it simply is that: vacation in a bottle, which sums up to two colours: white and turquoise.

Eau d'Orange Verte is bitter orange at its best: brisk, juicy, effervescent and with that bitterness that is reminiscent of grapefruit zest, juice and pith (the white parts of the peel). It is slightly aromatic, but not as masculine as some eaux de colonge can often time invoke.

Bitter [sweet] by Ravi Vora
Bitter [sweet], a photo by Ravi Vora on Flickr.

This brilliant composition is charming in how it takes the freshness of bitter orange to the extreme, and makes it feel interesting and lingering, yet without the common mistake - at the expense of interest or originality. It has the initial "mouthfeel" and nasal impression of a sparkling white wine: light citrusy and fruit-ester notes, which give it a very bright, sprightly texture. The bitter orange is the main theme, but rather than the common sweet orange, bitter orange's elegant, slightly dry and rather floral complexity is what gives the scent its edge. There is a very slight touch of herbs (peppermint and tiny bit of basil, to be exact) that reinforces the aromatic, non-perfumey quality of this "eau"; and only a hint of flowers (jasmine and orange blossom), which if anything contribute to the fruity aspect (which is something that magically happen when you pair jasminey notes with herbaceous ones) and the final drydown is the beloved oakmoss (which I doubt ever made it to the new formulations of the "eaux de cologne" mini series created by Jean Claude Elena in 2009). Oakmoss accentuates the "verte" part of the perfume, as when it's in a very light concentration, it feels more green and leafy rather that musky and mossy. It's a tad masculine, but not nearly as much as others in this category - i.e.: Eau Sauvage, O de Lancome, so if you're a lady you won't need to wear any extra something to prove your gender. You can just be yourself, enjoy the scenery and relax.

Top notes: Bitter Orange, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mandarin, Mint

Heart notes: Jasmine, Orange Blossom

Base notes: Oakmoss, Cedar

For more information about this eau de cologne formula and packaging changes through the years, check out this discussion on Basenotes.

Eau de Gentiane Blanche

gentiana pneumonanthe, originally uploaded by Michiel Thomas.

gentiana pneumonanthe, originally uploaded by Michiel Thomas.

Too warm for a flurry, but too white to be a blue flower – Eau de Gentiane Blanche is redolent of pepper and paper, white tea and white musk with iris as the centre piece. I don’t perceive it as being overly clean nor musky. It’s very much an iris and pepper scent, with accents of freshly sliced pepper and dusty floral notes (Grasse being the closest I’ve ever been to the Alps - I’ve never smelled Gentiane before so I’m at loss comparing to the real flower).

It feels like a conference call between Paprika Brasil and Osmanthe Yunnan, Olivia Giacobettis Hiris and Jacques Cavallier’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Blanc (I believe it was co-created with Jean-Claude Elena?).

Of all the three new eaux from Hermes, this one intrigued me the most initially, which is why I’ve worn it a few days. But I don’t find it as disturbingly solanic as the green bell pepper of Paprika Brasil, nor as fleeting as Osmanthe Yunnan. Despite its relative simplicity, it seems like 5 perfumes in one, and while a few were on my maybe-list for a while (Hiris, Osmanthe Yunnan and Eau The Blanc) – Eau de Gentiane Blanche might just be the one. I’m yet to try the other two (Eau d’Orange Vert being a re-release of the classic one from way back – and I hope it wasn’t reformulated but I doubt that’s the case).

Easter Picnic

Madonna Lily, originally uploaded by sugarflower.

Madonna Lily, originally uploaded by sugarflower.

Easter came early to Hermès this year with the heady Madonna Lilies that bloom from a bottle titled “Vanille Galante”.

Unlike most of the other Hermessences, which quite clearly answer to their title (except, perhaps, Osmanthe Yunnan) - the vanilla here will not fulfill the craving of the vanillophiles who patiently awaited their dessert after clearing their plate from fresh peppers and a side of lavender.

Vanille Galante burst into the air like a flower rushing to display its colours from fear of loosing the attention of butterflies. Heady ylang ylang only but supports the main theme here - the infamous Madonna Lily, a symbol of purity and the Virgin Mary. Sliced cantaloupe sprinkled with salt brings to mind a giant Easter egg decorated by calone. Whether or not there is calone in Vanille Galante I cannot tell, but I’d like to think that this molecule found its way to the perfume to complete the picture of an Easter picnic under the sky. It’s the same cantaloupe from Un Jardin Apres la Mousson, just in a lesser dosage.
And when the vanilla finally makes an appearance it is more woody than dessert like, and perhaps will bring to mind a flavoured liquor rather than vanilla-dotted crème brûlée.
There is vanilla absolute in the base alright, but overall I would not describe Vanille Galante as a vanilla scent, but as a floral or a floriental at best. The dry down reminds me of Chanel’s Allured - a contrast of computer generated florals against a backdrop of woody vanilla. But Vanille Galante does not feel as artificial, and as with most Jean-Claude Ellena’s scents, this gown has such lightness and airiness about it that it’s easy to wear if it is not exactly your style or preferred colour.

Of Silage, Space and Earth

If Kelly Caleche is the more available counterpoint of Rose Ikebana, Terre d'Hermès mirrors Hermessence’s Vetiver Tonka – albeit far less nutty and sweet. This of course could be a good thing if you dislike the gourmand references of Vetiver Tonka (roasted hazelnuts, dried fruit and cereal notes) I have to say it’s interesting to see the increased usage of this note in perfumery, both niche and mass-marketed. Surely there are some economical factors involved: vetiver is a cheap and renewable resource, providing a precious wood aroma that is dirt-cheap in comparison to notes from the same category. Yet to me it seems like a trend that reflects in part the movement towards healing of the earth as well as its earth dwellers, vetiver being a scent that evokes tranquility and a sense of well-being. Vetiver also helps the environment – not only by protecting lands from erosion (especially in areas prone to floods); the plant has a way of sucking toxins from the earth and purifying or filtering them, resulting in a cleaner environment.

That being said, the name of the fragrance at hand is quite appropriate: it has enough vetiver in it to deep it earthy. Terre d'Hermès has the very Elena-esque way of excuding sophistication by way of having a lot of space within it. Almost as if fearing that adding too much décor to the space will result in a lesser impression of how expensive that mansion was. Better leave it empty and maintain the wow factor… It’s hard to “read” any of Jean-Claude Elena’s recent scents without noticing the element of status flying off their “pages”. Aside from the great breath of air that each provides, status is perhaps the most dominant “note” in the composition. It’s a quality that is hard to put the finger on its exact source but you just feel is there.

Terre d'Hermès opens both citrusy and peppery; peppery perhaps in a similar way to Poivre Samarkand. The enormous amount of space between the notes makes it difficult to discern and at certain point even notice. Although it does morph slightly, it does not change its mood from one phase to the others and doesn’t really hold big surprises in the end. Vetiver emerges pretty early, once the citrus and pepper calm down a bit. It starts cool and only would warm up very little by the end there is even a glimpse of moss. But more importantly than any particular note, it can be described as being at once dry, fresh, cool and salty, which is what gives it its edge and ultimate appeal.

It feels invisible or sheer when smelled close to the skin, barely detectable. Yet the fragrance certainly creates a noticeable silage that can be detected from afar (by others, not the wearers); which is something I find strange. Perhaps I’m prejudiced, but there is something about it that, just like other scents by Elena, leaves me cold. Perhaps I am too stuck on the classical perfume structures, where the intertwining notes lead us from one chapter to the next (intriguing opening and than gradual unraveling of the components, revealing the core and than the base). While this does happen in Elena’s scents, it happens at a different pace than that which I’m familiar or feel at home in. The changes are subtle and vastly spaced, a phenomenon that I have first observed and was able to appreciate in non other than Roudnistaks’ Le Parfum de Therese

As a perfumer I may not feel at ease with Elena’s cerebral approach; and from the personal-taste aspect I may feel foreign to his uber-elegant, minimalist, abstract style (Vetiver Tonka is perhaps the only fragrance he created that I wear). However, I have to say to his credit that he does make one think. Maybe perfumes don’t need to conjure any strong emotions. Maybe they don’t need to always be directly connected to exotic locales. Maybe a perfume can just be a perfume and be nearly entirely foreign and detached from the collective consciousness, thus creating something new and enter it from a different angle.

Top notes: Grapefruit, Orange, Pepper, Pink Pepper
Heart notes: Flint, Mineral notes, Cedarwood
Base notes: Vetiver, Patchouli, Benzoin, Oakmoss

You may be interested to read other reviews of Terre d’Hermès, which were of course written when the scent was new and fresh, when I was busy ignoring it and the hype around it. I found it interesting to read the reviews now in comparison to my impressions and see how each reviewer had at least one thing in common and one thing different to say about this fragrance:
Bois de Jasmin
Now Smell This

Image credits: Both are screenshots that I took from Hermes' commercial video for Terre d'Hermes. It's one of those rare instances where the commercial actually does fit the feel of the fragrance.
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