“In most of the fragrances I do, I try to put a smile”, Jean-Claude Ellena told me in an interview for the French edition of Elle. While he came up with these three, he must have had one of those irresistible, crinkly-eyed Ellena grins. There’s a sense of playfulness and a sensuality in them.
Bel Ami Vétiver
When Jean-Claude Ellena worked on Bel Ami Vétiver, his idea, he explained, was to interpret the Hermès classic like a jazz musician riffs off a standard. The practice is far from uncommon – perfumers often base their work on older scents they admire, though they can’t go on the record about it since the original is produced by another brand than their client’s. Of course, being at Hermès, Ellena can come straight out and say it. And of course, in choosing Bel Ami, he was starting out with a winner (riffing off Rocabar, which Hermès seems to view as a misfire, would have been a tougher exercise).
Ellena has kept the bearing walls of Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s gorgeous 80s leather, but dusted off the tarrier facets and let in more light, a silky vetiver with slightly charred edges lifted from Vetiver Tonka. While still very recognizably Bel Ami, it’s more orange-y on top; less burnt and bitter at the base. Unlike some of Ellena’s work, the scent is reasonably long-lasting, and for a woman it might be a more comfortable wear than the original.
Terre d’Hermès Eau Très Fraîche
In France, Terre d’Hermès is the default setting for the type of men who’d rather flay their skin off than besmirch themselves with neo-fougères. Happily, there are quite a few of them, since Terre clocks in 4th in the list of top-selling masculines here (top three are One Million, Eau Sauvage and Le Mâle).
Terre d’Hermès Eau Très Fraîche tugs the Super-100 jacket off that chic French gent. A huge, fizzy wave of citrus – orange/mandarin and that lovely bitter grapefruit Ellena does so well – washes over the signature Iso-e/dry woods and flint accord of Terre. This is pretty much an Ellena mash-up, with a splash of Pamplemousse Rose and Épice Marine: the cumin-spiked citrus accord is drizzled with briny sea-spray that is anything but “aquatic”. The effect is arrestingly natural and frankly, irresistibly joyful.
Jour d’Hermès Absolu
Jour poses a conundrum – you’ll see the flower you want to see in it, depending on the way you piece its parts together. The extrait de parfum version solves it by focusing on gardenia. Absolu moves in for a close-up and the flowers go blurry again.
Absolu is a somewhat curvier and warmer version of Jour, though it’s still held up by its rhubarb/apple/grapefruit green, moist-petal effects. In a side-by-side, the original gives off a powdery, icing-sugar sweetness I never detected before. Absolu also has it, but the tone moves closer to amber/vanilla. It’s as though the facets of Jour had become more prominent, though not sharp-edged: Absolu is a little bit more of everything, its fruitiness brought to the fore. A few spritzes of it produce enough volume to walk around in your own virtual garden.