March 24, 2010
Jean-Claude Ellena is one of the most glittering stars in the perfume firmament. He has created a signature style that is almost instantly recognizable. There have been creations by other perfumers which have been complimented by being termed “Ellena-like”. What I mean when I use that kind of terminology is a use of a minimal number of notes and accords to create a maximal effect.
Ever since becoming House perfumer for Hermes in 2004 there has been a real freedom for M. Ellena to explore the aspects of perfumery he has championed. One could arguably say that the output that M. Ellena has produced for Hermes is one of the finest cohesive collections a perfumer has created. From the fragrances of the Un Jardin Series through the single-note studies that exemplify the Hermessences these fragrances that he has created for Hermes have not been boring.
Like all great artists there comes a time that you want a “greatest hits” collection and in the latest release for Hermes, M. Ellena has perhaps done a “greatest hits” collection in olfactory form. For the first time there is no official list of released notes. In the press release for Voyage D’Hermes, M. Ellena describes his creative process thus “I was exhausted, stuck, unsure and lost.” If that is indeed how he was feeling then it makes sense that perhaps he turned back and went on his own journey through his previous creations. When I wear Voyage D’Hermes that is what indelibly jumps out at me is that I recognize phases from previous fragrances created by M. Ellena. What he has done is to revisit the strands that were successful, in the past, and tease them apart and then re-weave them into something that simultaneously feels brand-new and yet familiar.
The top of Voyage D’Hermes is a sparkling sunny citrus led by lemon but with hints of orange and grapefruit lurking. This opening is reminiscent of both of the Un Jardin fragrances, en Mediterranee and sur Le Nil. The same sun-warmed aspect of citrus opens this up. This leads to a spice laden heart where cool cardamom and ginger are given some zing by the addition of cumin. M. Ellena used cumin in this style of fragrance in his 1998 creation for Cartier, Declaration. He would come to experiment with making cumin spicy without being overwhelming. In Voyage D’Hermes that experimentation has led to a perfectly balanced use of it. The cumin is there, and up against the cardamom and ginger, it is kept in check and makes for a light middle aspect that has unexpected complexity.
The base returns to the mineral woody path M. Ellena has traveled so successfully in fragrances like Terre D’Hermes. Here there is a more subtle application of it and it takes a healthy application of Voyage D’Hermes to truly appreciate it. When I tested on a strip and one spray on my wrist it was one of those things I wasn’t sure was there. When I gave it a full wear on arms, chest, and neck the base of Voyage D’Hermes is the smell of sun-baked earth as if delivered by a zephyr.
Voyage D’Hermes has average longevity and average sillage.
One could trivially rename Voyage D’Hermes; Voyage D’Ellena because it is a fragrance that seems to be composed from aspects of M. Ellena’s past. I think that like those “greatest hits” albums I mentioned earlier that instead it is a synthesis of the things that make M. Ellena well-respected as a perfumer and in Voyage D’Hermes he has created something that is much, much greater than the sum of its previous parts.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples obtained from the Hermes Boutique in Boston.
– Mark Behnke, Managing Editor