Friday, November 14, 2014

Persolaise Review: Cuir D'Ange from Hermès (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2014)


In David Almond's book, Skellig, a young boy encounters a strange man in the ramshackle shed at his new house. He's filthy, his clothes are in tatters and he reeks of neglect. He's a complete mess. However, as the story progresses, he thrives under the boy's care and he eventually reveals his true form: a fantastical, angel-like being, capable of filling people's lives with little miracles of hope. His embodiment of the sacred and the profane was one of the first things that came to my mind when I wore Jean-Claude Ellena's twelfth Hermessence creation, Cuir D'Ange.

Sure, I was prompted to make the connection with Skellig by the perfume's name, but once the initial link was formed, it resulted in several telling resonances. Chief amongst them was the image of the grimy angel. The mysterious, slovenly figure in the book turns out to possess a soul which is purity itself, and that very same idea runs through this wondrous new fragrance. Its central leather note makes no attempt to shy away from the realities of a tannery; it isn't an evocation of a safe, cuddly suede. On the contrary, it is bitter, sharp and touched with the presence of death. But it's also lulled into peacefulness with a heart-breaking tracery of florals - mainly lilac, to my nose - drawing a filigreed elegance along the contours of this celestial creature's paper-thin wings. It's almost as though Olivia Giacobetti's En Passant and Calice Becker's Cuir De Lancôme have combined to produce a heavenly expression of all their finest attributes. To echo Oscar Wilde, this is a scent with its feet in the gutter and its heart floating amongst the stars.

Ellena’s work is often seen as the perfumery equivalent of minimalism, but here, he’s given us something quite different. With its startling portrayal of a ghostly, other-worldly presence – not to mention its fascination with extremes – it slips into the surreal, into the territory of pure imagination. What’s even more remarkable is that, by doing so, it pays tribute to decidedly earth-bound beings: the expert craftsmen, builders and artisans whose skills Ellena has publicly lauded since he took up his post at Hermès. Their inventiveness and well-worn fingers tap out a quiet rhythm through every moment of Cuir D’Ange.

Books. Imagination. Hard graft. It all clicks into place. In a letter enclosed with the scent’s press release, Ellena writes that he was inspired to compose it by the following passage from - what else? - one of his favourite pieces of literature, Jean Giono’s Jean Le Bleu: “I remember my father’s workshop. I cannot walk past a cobbler’s shop without thinking my father is still alive, somewhere beyond this world, sitting with his blue apron, his awl, his stretching pliers and his burnisher, busy making shoes in angel leather for some god with a thousand feet...”

Ellena writes that the final phrase is the ultimate description of Hermès. Perhaps I wouldn't go quite so far, but it’s certainly a gorgeous description of Cuir D’Ange, a haunting piece of work in which physical vitality comes face to face with a whispered intimation of the afterlife.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Hermès in 2014.]

Persolaise

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