Designer scents can be inevitably much of a muchness, as is often the case when perfumes are predominantly presided over by marketing committees. Happily, this isn’t the case with Hermès who allow their perfumers complete creative freedom, resulting in modern classics that stand head and shoulders above today’s typical fashion house fragrance. (E.g. you can normally detect the famous Eau de Merveilles on anyone wearing it.) What's more, the type of scents we wear are changing, less ‘pretty perfumes’ with more animalic concoctions coming to the fore, and in-house perfumer Christine Nagel’s five new creations are case in point. These are gutsy affairs for the seasoned fragrance fan - three eaux de toilette (£180 for 100ml) and two oil-based perfume essences (£275 for 20ml) - showcasing historic notes like musks, agarwood, cedar and myrrh.
For those whose knowledge of the iconic French label doesn’t extend beyond Samantha’s quest for one of their coveted Birkin bags in an episode of Sex and the City, Hermès was founded in 1837, initially as a harness shop, with fashion and fragrance coming in later on. They are famous for putting quality of their products before being ‘on trend’ which has bagged them many a celebrity customer, such as Queen Elizabeth II who is known to sport their printed silk scarves; while Jackie O was a fan of their Constance sack. And two of their world-famous bags are respectively named after starlets Grace Kelly and Jane Birkin.
For me, getting a box with a Hermès logo makes up for all those depressing teenage years being stuck in a frumpy school uniform – navy blue jumper and box-pleat skirt at a 'flattering' mid-calf length - wondering when life was ever going to get more glamorous. And if you don’t have £150k spare to spend on their aforementioned Birkin bag, you might be able to invest in one of these new ‘grown up’ scents, especially if you’ve graduated from pretty floral fragrances and are looking to switch things up a gear.
So first, there's the eau de toilette trio. In terms of grown up – Cèdre Sambac delivers a hefty dose of jasmine (one of the sexiest perfume ingredients known to humankind) together with rich cedar, the result of which leaves you cloaked in a luxurious leathery warmth. It’s seductive, but not in a ‘pretty-pretty’ way, more the effect a splash of olive brine adds to a dirty Martini, surprising and somewhat indecent but highly addictive all the same.
Agar Ébène is just as exquisite, but tones down the animalic heat just a touch, leaving resinous, woods with a whiff of oud that doesn’t knock you for six the way some conventional oud scents might. Softly timeless, it gives you that sense of wandering through creaky old English buildings on a balmy summer evening.
Myrrhe Églantine is probably the most commercial of the three, but is none the poorer for it. In terms of notes, the star of the show is the eglantine rose, with a bright, apple-like and slightly minty accord that smells like a sweet spring morning. But before you go thinking this is ditzy, department store fare, the addition of myrrh and spices strike just the right balance - giving it added backbone without being too overbearing. It’s blowsy and feminine but with added chutzpah in the manner of 50s comedienne Lucille Ball.
In addition to the above three is a duet of oil-based ‘perfume essences’: Cardamusc and Musc Pallida. The former – as the name suggests - combines the sophisticated notes of cardamom and musk with a heavenly base of rose and spices – for a rich and complex concoction without being too ‘shouty’. While Musc Pallida is slightly more ‘old school glamour’, with powdery iris notes which mimic that wonderful scent of your gran’s old make-up compacts, while earthy musks bring it back down to earth. If you ever wanted to teleport back to the twinkling department stores of 80s Paris, this is the scent to do it with.
The other fragrances that make up the Hermessence brood are worth sniffing out too. You can find them, together with these five new additions in Hermès boutiques – the most central one is at 155 New Bond St, Mayfair, London W1S 2UA