They’re both such charmers. Whatever else they’ve got in common, that’s the first thing that springs to mind. When they turn it on, you get a little weak-kneed, no matter your gender of preference. That charm may not have a huge impact on perfume formulas, but passing on the reins of Hermès’ fragrant carriage is not only a matter of compositional style. Jean-Claude Ellena and Christine Nagel will be working together for some time; they will be meeting the press together. Their dynamics will certainly ease both kinds of interaction considerably. It’s a fabulous nomination for Nagel, but it can’t be easy to step into those shoes.
Both are also good communicators, an essential quality for an in-house perfumer, though with contrasting styles. When I think back to my recent discussions with both, I remember Nagel saying: “I can’t quite put it into words, you tell me”, whereas Ellena is more apt to disagree with me and explain why. Nagel loves taking on students – the last time I interviewed her for a magazine, she’d set up a desk next to hers for a fledgling perfumer, who she praised warmly. Ellena doesn’t take on students. His pedagogical approach expresses itself in writing and conversations with journalists: his latest presentation, about Hermès’ “classics” collection, was a master class in perfume history (I’ll get back to it soon). His critical self-awareness is that of an artist; his tenure at Hermès has allowed him to develop his aesthetics, both in writing and perfume composition.
Nagel’s signature style is harder to pin down, since she hasn’t had a decade to express it within the same corpus. From our conversations, I get the impression she truly does enjoy slipping into the different worlds of the brands she’s worked for. She also comes off as much more emotionally expressive as Ellena. To sum up, from the outside, the pairing looks practically like a textbook case of the contrast between masculine and feminine styles…
Hermès has yet to come up with a women’s equivalent to Terre d’Hermès, which has practically become a default setting for men of a certain milieu, at least in France. Nagel, who co-authored (with Francis Kurkdjian) one such feminine fragrance of reference, Narciso Rodriguez for Her, can certainly add some curves to Hermès’ perfume portofolio. Her sexiness can’t help seeping into those bottles.