Friday, February 8, 2013

Persolaise Review: Jour D'Hermès from Hermès (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2012)


Although it's been around only for a couple of months, Jean-Claude Ellena's latest creation for Hermès' 'mainstream' collection has already attracted tremendous amounts of praise. Despite an embargo on media coverage (which ended on 1st February), several online critics have reviewed it in the most complimentary terms and some have gone so far as to place it on their list of the best releases of 2012. As an admirer of Ellena's work, I'm pleased by this reception; goodness knows the man gets more than his fair share of flak from some quarters and it's heart-warming to see him lavished with adulation. However, I confess that, in this case, I'm somewhat perplexed by the plaudits.

It may use enough purple prose to cause Uncle Serge to blush, but the Hermès press release does describe the thinking behind the creation of the scent quite unambiguously: the brand wished to capture the essence of the notion of 'femininity'. Therefore, Ellena decided he'd have to compose a floral. But instead of presenting the wearer with any specific, recognisable floral notes, he attempted to put together an equally abstract notion of 'floral-ness': a perfume that stands for "armfuls, bouquets, sprays" of flowers, without representing any one in particular.

If that was his sole aim, then he has undeniably achieved it, so on the basis of meeting artistic intention, Jour D'Hermès is a success. It displays all the fresh, green, slightly sappy, woody odours that greet one's arrival at a florist's, and yet it never allows its identity to be pinned down. There's a suggestion of rose... or is it a sweet pea, or maybe a hyacinth, or maybe a pale jasmine... you can go round in circles trying to grab this will-o'-the-wisp. And the game becomes even trickier when you spray it on other people! What's more, the scent lasts for a surprising length of time without losing its peaceful, understated freshness, a technical achievement which, for my money, deserves at least as much credit as the artistic accomplishment.

But here's my question: if a perfume smells like all flowers and none, does it attain a symphonic, omni-persona or does it descend into nothingness? In other words, once you remove anything that might pinpoint a distinguishable plant, are you left with a novelty or a nullity? Clearly, most critics have answered with a thumbs up. I'm not so sure I agree with them.

To my nose, the absence of specificity has made room for a curious vegetal facet, almost celery-like. Granted, it isn't strong enough to dominate, but it's certainly distinct enough to disconcert. I also wonder about the scent's thinness. Perhaps it's supposed to be an endearing characteristic (an attempt to appeal to younger buyers in China?) but I'd say it comes across like sitting on the perfumed fence, a consequence of not wishing to make too emphatic a statement. Finally, I doubt Jour would have received as much thought and attention if it hadn't been an Ellena creation. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that; maybe it's right that his status persuades people to study his work. But perhaps, every now and then, it causes some of us to see glittering finery on an emperor who's actually naked.

I don't pretend to have definitive answers to these queries. Smell the stuff for yourselves, make your own judgements, and then join the debate. As for me... well, I concede that as an intellectual exercise, Jour is fascinating, but I doubt I'll be reaching for another spray any time soon.

To finish, a few words on a subject upon which I don't comment very often: bottles. The flacon for this new release is a beauty. Avoid photos: you need to see it in the flesh. The translucency of the glass, the weight of the base, the elegant etching of the scent's name on the rear panel, the suspension of the liquid in the centre...I can't stop looking at it, handling it, holding it up to the light. It's just such a shame that I'm not tempted to smell the contents. But maybe that's just me. There's every possibility that, in years to come, I'll enjoy what the wise man in the Provençal mountains was trying to do. Until that day, I'll file Jour D'Hermès under 'unsatisfying... but not to be dismissed'.

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Hermès in 2013.]

Persolaise.

12 comments:

  1. Hear, hear!

    I completely agree with every aspect of this review. I was lucky enough to win a sample (living far from a Hermes boutique as I do). I was so excited, as a floral lover, to try this perfume. I really don't get what the fuss is about. It feels like a standard issue department store clean-musky-floral to me. Far better than the average such clean-musky-floral, maybe even the ur-clean-musky-floral. But it doesn't move me. I don't even that much floral from it to be honest.

    As far as Ellena's creations, I still prefer Jardin Apres le Mousson and VC&A First.

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    1. Susan, thanks for your comment. No, I didn't find it moving either. But I think I can appreciate what JCE was trying to do with it.

      And as for Mousson... I'm a fan too!

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  2. My reaction to Jour d'Hermes has been similar to yours, Persolaise. Technically impressive on the light 'n' luminous front, but the overall effect reminds me of an mixed bouquet with a distractingly large sprig of green tomato stem in it. I have tried it a few times now, and cannot get past this impression. Oh well...revenons au Jardin sur le Nil.

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    1. Axum, I think I know what you mean by tomato stem. I get more of that sort of effect in Mousson... but yes, the fibrous, 'green wood' vibe is definitely here too.

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  3. My experience was rather different.

    Where you felt it thin I thought refreshingly sparse.

    For vegetal mess read mind tingling floral puzzle.

    A distant cousin twice removed of Arpege, Dioressence and Private Collection.

    Agree this isn't new territory. Ellena's been walking this line since way back when. Remember Sisley's Eau de Campagne - well the tomato's still with him from then.

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    1. Perfumed Dandy, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the perfume. I didn't really see it as a mess at all; it#s too 'clean' for that. I just wonder if it isn't too wan and insignificant.

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  4. Persolaise, I was very perplexed too by the glowing reviews for this one, from bloggers I respect. But the difference from what I smelled and what I imagined it to be, well that was just too big to be ignored.I called this perfume politically correct elegance.It's clean and completely boring, devoid of any intimacy or humanity. This thing doesn't breath. It's dead.It's technically very well done, after all we're talking about JCE,but that's about it for me. It's a pass.

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    1. Ana, thanks for your comment. In the interests of fairness, I should say that I know a few people who do genuinely enjoy wearing it. But they're obviously experiencing it in quite a different way from me.

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  5. Sorry, I'm late to the party here, but I thought I'd throw in a few comments from someone who loves this fragrance. I pretty much agree with your comments about its will-o-th-wisp nature and that curious celery note, I guess the difference is that all the things which make you ambivalent about it, make me love it.

    I suppose it could be described as the dreaded fruity-floral, with its grapefruit/mango opening. But it's so well balanced (not too sweet, not too green, not too gourmand, not too shouty floral) that it just seems to hum peacefully from the skin like a cat smiling in the sunshine. Its non-specific nature doesn't send me frustrated chasing for notes, it just causes me to grin with pure abstract pleasure. The idea of having to 'make a statement' just seems unimportant. Perhaps it's a zen-fruity-floral?

    When I first smelled it, I thought of things like J'adore and maybe beyond paradise, but since comparing them directly, Jour is missing the laundry musk fabric-softnener cheapness of both those (thankyou JCE for using quality musks!), and the slightly pissy harsh opening of Beyond Paradise. What you refer to as thinness I think is more akin to looking into crystal clear mediterranean water - limpid, calm and complex in its simplicity.

    I love the first hour most of all, then as the citrus/fruit recedes, the white rubbery/milky note I associate with tuberose comes through more strongly. And I agree, the bottle is gorgeous - especially the enamelled lid. I think the beautiful hermes jardin bottles are marred by the horrible plastic caps.

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    1. Sebastian, thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed and beautifully-written comment.

      I'm so pleased that JCE's latest has generated this debate. It goes to show that his work hits people on lots of different levels. I'm particularly glad that you mentioned Beyond Paradise, as this was a scent which often popped into my mind whilst I was testing Jour. I kept wondering if the latter is the Hermes version of BP!

      I've put Jour to one side now and I shall return to it in a few months. There have been several occasions when the passage of time has caused me to re-assess my views on a JCE composition. Let's see if the same happens with this one.

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  6. I'm getting a lychee note that kills the fragrance to me. What is that exactly anyway? Jour lacks the magnitude of an Hermès classic.

    Also Hermès was always about contrasts, now they all smell the same from the colognes to the Hermessences. A big thumbs down!

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    1. CdP, I'm sorry it's taken me a while to reply to your comment; for some reasons, it's kept slipping beneath my radar.

      You get lychee; someone else I know gets shoe polish! At the moment, I share your disappointment with Jour, but it often takes me a while to come around to JCE creations, so I'm going to reserve final judgement for just a few more weeks :-)

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