To read the first instalment of this article on Ellena, to be published in September
Minimalism: Molecular Haikus
“To create is to interpret odours by changing them into signs, so that these signs convey a meaning; the smell of green tea becomes the sign of
His aesthetics is that of the shortcut: to produce the maximum effect with the least amount of compounds. His colleagues may be the only ones able to fully appreciate his technical virtuosity (which may be why he likes to exhibit his tricks with synthetics to the media). He uses his deliberately pared-down vocabulary – over the years, his palette has gone from 1000 to 200 ingredients – to compose ever-shortened formulas. Which has the added advantage of simplifying the supply and manufacturing processes.
But Ellena goes farther, in a kind of minimalistic coquetry, in this impoverishment of materials. For Un Brin de Réglisse, the latest in the Hermessence collection, he asked the Monique Rémy laboratory to extract, from the 300 or so molecules of lavender essence, the five or six he’s interested in. On this skeleton, he grafts licorice, one of the facets of lavender, in an associative process reminiscent of poetic writing: “When I crumple geranium leaves between my fingers, I smell geranium, of course, but also black truffle, and truffle reminds me of the taste of olive oil; this, in turn, reminds me of castoreum, which has the smoky smell of birch, etc. The association of birch and geranium is an interesting accord.”
This method is all the more obvious in the Hermessence that they are composed of single accord, spelled out in their name: Rose Ikebana, Poivre Samarcande, Ambre Narguilé. Thus, the customer not only feels smarter, but he can also understand the link between this style of perfumery and certain movements in arts and design. Elitist, but easy to figure out: again, smart move.
Some scents of the line are magnificent: Osmanthe
Traceability: The Reality-show of Inspiration
If Jean-Claude Ellena rejects the abstract accords of classic perfumery, he also denies reproducing nature as it is. Since his first great successes – such as Bulgari L’Eau Parfumée au Thé vert in
Ever since he’s been signed up by Hermès, this genesis in reality is duly documented, which reinforces the readability of his fragrances, while adding a touch of exoticism.
Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent retraces an unwittingly comic episode. Looking for inspiration for Un Jardin sur le Nil, Ellena flies off to Aswan with the Hermès team, a photograph and a film crew hired to immortalize his eureka moment. But though Ellena sniffs anything that passes under his nose, he can’t find… Until he is saved by the smell of a green mango during a cruise on the
Is this quest for in situ inspiration imposed on Ellena in order to create a narrative authenticating the relationship between his composition and the annual aquatic theme picked out by Hermès (the Mediterranean, rivers,
Image: From the Tropico-vegetal exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, June 2006.