mardi 11 novembre 2008

Kelly Calèche, The Parfum: Could I Have Some Leather With Those Flowers?

It always pays to look back at an impatiently expected release and the reactions it provoked, after all the hype has died down…

Last year’s Kelly Calèche was a surprisingly divisive offering on the part of the universally respected house of Hermès and its adulated (justifiably so) in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena.

A leather scent seemed like a no-brainer for a company that started out as saddlery. Though, sadly, Hermès has discontinued Guy Robert’s masterful 1955 aldehydic floral leather Doblis, its limited reedition in 2004 meant that many perfume lovers knew it well enough to use it as a touchstone for any other Hermès leather scent (the 1986 Bel Ami being another, rougher reference). Which left Jean-Claude Ellena with a conundrum: how to avoid repeating Doblis, or indeed re-doing leather with the usual classic materials (birch tar, isobutyl-quinolin, styrax, castoreum, etc); bringing to bear his trademark, less-is-more Ellena touch on what is usually a rather pungent genre.

To do so, Ellena decided to dispense entirely with leather per se, and to achieve the effect through a conjuring trick, with flowers traditionally used in the tanning process, two of which (iris and mimosa – though I smell cassie rather than mimosa) already have leathery facets, topped off with the citrusy note that usually crowns leather fragrances. Narcissus, also listed, has a distinctly horsey/tobacco facet, as anyone who’s experienced L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleur de Narcisse 2006 will attest.

The result is – or should be – a soft, vegetal, implicit leather: the soles on the shoes of an angel, to reprise Ellena’s poetic description, inspired by the French writer Jean Giono. Herein lies the rub: most leather fragrance lovers found it wanting, and dismissed it as a pleasant, if somewhat wishy-washy floral; fans of, say, 24 Faubourg seemed to get nothing but saddle and stable.

How I envy the latter! Squint as a may, I can only just barely get leather out of Kelly Calèche, and that’s really because I’ve been told it’s there. Conversely – or is it perversely? You never know with leather lovers – I’m sure I would’ve detected it if the scent hadn’t been described as leather in any shape or form. What I do get, once I get past my initial dismay, is one of Ellena’s many variations on the smell of water. Kelly Calèche is all about rain-drenched blossoms, mimosa, rose and iris floating in puddles after a Spring squall: it could be another “Jardin”. The inner tension between Ellena’s desire as a perfumer (vegetal-water-immateriality) and Hermès’ brief (leather-saddlery heritage) may be what flaws Kelly Calèche, makes it so indecisive, though utterly lovely in its wan way.

Now Hermès seems to have responded to the wishes of the disappointed leather lovers who cried out for a Kelly Calèche Extrême, by releasing a version in parfum concentration, in a flashy padlock-shaped flacon which reproduces, on a larger scale, the padlock of the iconic Kelly Bag. What’s being promoted is the covetable object, and the juice itself seems almost like an afterthought. One can easily (though not happily) envision Jean-Claude Ellena being dragged kicking and screaming back into his lab to reformulate his pale brainchild and make her sturdier. The man cannot possibly enjoy padding out his creations…

The parfum is not notably different from the eau de toilette, but the drizzle has stopped and the flowers have been sponged off, so that the water-gorged effect is less prominent: blossoms in pastel rather than watercolor. There may be jasmine added; certainly, the tuberose seems more prominent with its minty haze. Somehow, this increase in definition decreases its Ellena character: though still entirely recognizable, the Kelly Calèche parfum is more of a traditional floral than the amphibian vegetal-animal mutant it was when it crawled out of the garden after a storm…

But leather, you say? No, I still don’t get any leather….

The new parfum is also sold in 15 ml flacons, in a collection of miniature Calèche-style bottles, along with 24 Faubourg, Calèche and Parfum des Merveilles, for 156 euros. The new padlock flacon contains 7.5 ml and costs 140 euros; 71 euro refills are available.

Image: Cy Twombly, Nicola's Irises

27 commentaires:

  1. Another Kelly....
    I am curious!

  2. !!!! CY TWOMBLY !!!!!


  3. "[...] the amphibian vegetal-animal mutant it was when it crawled out of the garden after a storm" - this, actually the entire post that just smolders with puns, is enough to make me chuckle for a week, at least. Thanks for taking a stab at KC the parfum for us, though it's a pity that it was based on a disappointment.
    Another great visual: "the drizzle has stopped and the flowers have been sponged off" LOL! Brava!

  4. +Q, bem vinda! This is really more of a change of concentration than a new fragrance, though of course I'm sure it was reworked a bit to accomodate this new concentration.

  5. Lunarose... I take it that's a delighted exclamation? I thought Twombly and Ellena were a good fit.

  6. Thanks, Dusan. Although disappointment may be too strong a word: I really like KC and enjoy wearing what's left of my samples -- in fact, if a bottle came my way, I think I'd often reach for it. Its wan charms can really grow on you.
    It's just that I'm one of the unfortunates who can't get the leather effect, though I do get it in say, Une Fleur de Cassie, which isn't sold as a leather scent at all! It's just too discreet (for me).

  7. wow, thank you for this combination of Twombly and Ellena, they indeed fit very nicely together! Twombly's cerebral, pared-down asceticism resonates well with Ellena's. I haven't had the fortune to smell this scent, but can imagine that it was difficult for Ellena to force himself to let anything like the material dense leather to become manifest!

  8. Stella P., I've heard Ellena comparing his approach to Cézanne's watercolours, and claim Jean Giono as an inspiration (both Provençal references), but I've always had the feeling that he was much more modern in his work than in his tastes.

  9. Wow, I would have thought that they would amp up the leather for this one. Sad. I really need to smell doblis (love the name as well). And those vintage squat little bottles? lovely.

  10. Billy, there might be leather in there, but it's all done with mirrors, and maybe I'm not sniffing at the right angle...

  11. Hi, D. Sorry to hear our hopes for more assertive leather dashed. Still, I look forward to trying this, as I rather like Kelly Calèche on its own terms.

    (btw, I'm in Barcelona right now, and will try to get to the perfume museum later in the week).

  12. Jarvis, do try it: KC parfum is a bit more assertive in general, if not on the leather front.
    I envy you Barcelona!

  13. D,

    lovely piece. You know I love Kelly Caleche and find it a sleeper classic. I wonder how the parfum amps the (tiny) leather.

    Part of Ellena's original vision was revealed in this link, on why he didn't do a "leather" scent in the classic sense (apart from his own sensibility of not wanting to repeat but to innovate):
    (go to the central square and then choose the interview by Ellena in French)
    He was very surprised by going through the Hermes leathers rooms that the hides had a very floral, very smooth aroma which he tried to replicate (through cassie, indeed, which as you recall from the Leather Series on Perfume Shrine, is used as a leather note ~so you're right). And yes, Une Fleur de Cassie has that aspect too, I agree 100%.
    Interesting, no?

    I think JCE is all about the dirty actually! I realise that's a novel idea and I intend to blog about it in full. You might disagree though. ;-)

    PS.You might be wondering where is that little packet I promised: it just left off the premises due to lack of time....sorry!
    And apart from the expected you will find two tiny surprises of which we recently talked about ;-)

  14. Agree!
    (I have heard Jean Giono referred to as the French Knut Hamsun; if so there must be much earth, blood and elements in general in his literature. And elements there are in Ellena. But, that as "themes", his metodological priciples (simplification in all dimensions) are very modern!)

    Well, I must try to smell this scent, although I prefer - if talking simplified in the language of the four (five) elements - earth and fire, above water and air (and ether).

  15. (!! If Ellena is all about dirt, I really must do something active to try more of his perfumes!)

  16. E., I remember our agreeing that Kelly Calèche was probably underestimated at the time when you wrote your review. It's a strange creature, both wan and intriguing.
    Now, I'll be curious as to what you say about Ellena's "dirty" side -- I perceive him, through his work of course, to be acutely sensuous and willing to explore borderline unpleasant notes (the "brackish water" side of Un Jardin Après la Mousson", for instance)... So it depends what you mean by "dirt".
    And about the parcel: pas de problème! God knows what a sniffing backlog I have...

  17. Stella, I only read one book by Knut Hamsun, Hunger, and found it deeply disturbing by its starkness. Giono is lusher and more poetic. I think probably the "peasant" element in both authors is what generates the comparison. Ellena is not quite as rustic, or stark as all that!

  18. As you know already, I am very much enjoying the fragrance "revisits," which are often quite instructive in terms of my changing tastes and the passage of time.

    This was a funny surprise. I didn't like Kelly Caleche much (too much rose, I said dismissively.) At Neiman Marcus a week or two ago, looking for a present for a friend, the friendly SA said, have you smelled this? and handed me a strip. I thought it was lovely and asked her what it was. Kelly Caleche! I think for me, free of any sort of expectation of what the fragrance was, I could just appreciate it as a smell -- and on my skin I get a fairly unisex drydown -- more suede gloves than leather, but certainly not floral. I am now finding myself wanting a decant.

  19. March, I agree, a fragrance you smell without any expectation can be appreciated in a totally different way, and the more hyped they are, the truer this seems to be. I'm kind of wondering if KC won't be the duty-free purchase of the Xmas holidays.

  20. So does it seem that the parfum is aimed at making a more conventional feminine out of the original scent?

  21. Cait, that's the feeling I get. According to the Hermès SA I spoke with, there was some demand for a stronger concentration. Somehow I don't think it was JCE's idea...

  22. Hello, D --

    I had a chance to sample KC the parfum at the local Hermès boutique in Barcelona (apparently, it just opened a couple of weeks ago, and it is also two blocks from my hotel). I think I much prefer the EdT -- the parfum loses the watery transparent qualities I actually enjoy in the EdT. It's certainly still a very nice fragrance, but more overtly floral in parfum.

    I completely agree with Helg about Elléna being all about the dirty! He's been quoted as being "obsessed" (I think that was his word) with Roudnitska's Eau D'Hermès (one of the dirtiest dirties I know), and I feel like Elléna's Déclaration and Cologne Bigarade, for example, are directly related to Eau D'Hermès. Also, Divine Bergamot and Rose Poivrée. Even a fragrance like Eau D'Hiver, that we think of as so light and transparent, has something in it to give it a certain skin-like warmth.

  23. Jarvis, that was my perception of the KC in parfum as well.
    As for the "dirty": I know JCE loves Eau d'Hermès (by his master Roudnitska), and that Rose Poivrée is felt by many to be pungent, but one could quote as many counter-examples -- as discussion best saved for Helg's post on the subject ;-)!
    About Eau d'Hermès and JCE, I am saving an anecdote for a future post...
    BTW, did you get a chance to visit the Perfumeria Regia and its little museum?

  24. Hi, D -- I literally stumbled upon Regia and the museum this evening, but unfortunately they were about to close. I will revisit them on Monday (they are literally two blocks away from my hotel, which I did not realize). I can't wait...

  25. I had the same experience when I tried this parfum in Munich airport, I was trying to find the leather but found nothing :(

    Fortunatley the newest Sisley was right beside it, so I could discover it - now that is a beautiful parfum !

  26. Hi Parfum, and welcome. Haven't smelled the new Sisley... Glad I'm not the only one not getting leather in KC, though! (Well, actually, I'd rather be glad I'm getting it...).

  27. Merci for the review, especially for the extrait. I have both the EdT and EdP and really appreciate them, and I was wondering if the extrait is more grapefruit-y. The emphasis of the EdP is more fruity so for the stronger concentrazion you could go fruitier oder "more leather".
    JCE went an unexpected way it seems, now I thnik I might invest in the extrait.