Friday, 20 March 2015

Persolaise Review: Le Jardin De Monsieur Li from Hermès (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2015)

At the Paris launch of his fifth 'garden' scent for Hermès - which he refused to concede would be his last - Jean-Claude Ellena stated that Le Jardin De Monsieur Li is probably more abstract than the first entry in the series, 2003's Un Jardin En Mediterranée. This tension between the concrete and the imagined is perhaps the best way into a reading of his latest creation. Yes, in olfactory terms, it would appear to be much less rooted in the real world than the fig accord at the centre of the 2003 composition. But, unlike all of the other gardens, its name begins with the definite article: it isn't just a garden, it is the garden. Then again, its owner, the eponymous Monsieur Li is a fictional construct... although his name happens to be the most commonly occurring moniker in China. The abstract is grafted onto the literal, only to produce metaphorical shoots. It's a concern which seems to have preoccupied Ellena in recent years, not least in Jour D'Hermès, whose purpose was to evoke a bouquet of flowers without identifying any specific blooms.

In Monsieur Li, the result of all this flitting in and out of the looking glass is a characteristically quiet, reflective, yet extremely long-lasting Ellena watercolour. It starts with a citrus note, bergamot-like with its pepperiness, but sharper and aligned more closely with yuzu. It's sugary too, albeit in a muted fashion; this isn't the lip-smacking, more-ish opening of Cologne Bigarade or Eau De Mandarine Ambrée, although, in its precise handling of its subject, it proves yet again that no-one does citrus quite like Ellena.

Then comes the floral segment. The marketing machine and, indeed, the perfumer himself, would have us believe that this consists mainly of jasmine. I'm not entirely convinced. For one thing, it isn't the least bit indolic - when I pointed this out to Ellena, he chuckled and said, "That's because there is no indole in it" - and for another, it isn't especially heady. But if it's supposed to symbolise white blossoms wafting down the breeze on a dewy morning, then fine, it does the job well. Like so much about this curious piece of work, the so-called jasmine is illusory rather than tangible.

Finally, Monsieur Li springs a surprise. After his kumquats and his delicate petals, he gives us a restrained, buttery, creamy sandalwood. It's smooth, intimate and more than a little sweet. And yet somehow, although its embrace is familiar, it also carries a sense of 'the other', holding its charms at a slight remove from the wearer.

Is this sugary conclusion meant to be an abstract commentary on some enigmatic aspect of oriental garden-keeping? I'm not sure. But it does remind me that when Ellena was describing the research visits he made to China for this fragrance, he was intrigued and amused to discover that jasmine is sometimes used as an ingredient in confections. Maybe that's what he was getting at with this scent. Yes, the landscape it paints is suffused with a subtle sense of strangeness, but perhaps all of that abstraction comes down to a simple, unashamedly concrete notion: the desire for a little treat. It's a possibility as charming as the perfume itself.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Hermes in 2015.]



  1. Thanks for the review. This one sounds lovely. I am rather new in the game of connecting perfume with the nose behind it, but so far I've come to the conclusion that Jean Claude Ellena is one of the perfumers whose work is very appealing to me in general. I love Un jardin sur le Nil (it's in my top ten list), then there's the lovely Declaration by Cartier (I could drink it), First by Van Cleef&Arpels, Bulgari au the, I'm looking forward to this one. Is it more of a Spring scent or a Fall scent?

    1. Neva, thanks for your comment. Isn't it great when we start learning who actually made the perfumes we love? I remember being pleasantly taken aback when I first began to make the sort of connection you made with Ellena and your personal favourites.

      Is Monsieur Li better for spring or autumn? To be perfectly honest, I don't really think of perfumes in that way, but it's *probably* better suited for when temperatures start getting a bit warmer.


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