Monday, 4 July 2016

Super Scent - The Very Best Of Hermès

Hermès founder, Thierry Hermès

Guess what: I found this Super Scent list very difficult to compile. But for an unexpected reason. As I explained to Candy Perfume Boy when I had the pleasure of bumping into him recently, what made our Dior and Chanel lists challenging for me wasn't working out which scents ought to occupy the top spot - that was always clear in my head - but what to select for the other positions. In the case of today's subject - the eternally classy Hermès - it was well nigh impossible to place the fragrances in a definitive rank order. The brand has several perfumes which I consider worthy of high praise, but pitting them against each other was agonising.

A few years ago, while writing my book, I made sure to include quite a few Hermès releases in it, selecting those that I considered to be the finest examples of the brand's olfactory output. But what's curious is that not all of the perfumes which made their way into Le Snob have found themselves on the list below.

I guess what all this indicates is that, at their best, Hermès perfumes display a clear, consistent identity. Like all of the brand's other craft works, they are innately of high quality, but they rarely shout for attention. If anything, they're happy to share a podium, which is why separating them from each other is arduous. So, on this occasion, I'm happy for the rankings below to be considered quite fluid. Indeed, I'm tempted to present the list in alphabetical order and leave it at that. But Super Scent rules must be obeyed.

As per usual, I have to spare a few lines for the fragrances which didn't make my Top 5. Some of them are alluded to in within the list below. Others include Olivia Giacobetti's Hiris (1999), an exceptional, dry iris, which somehow manages to smell both of baked bread and gargantuan icebergs. I also admire Eau Des Merveilles (Ralf Schwieger & Nathalie Feisthauer; 2004) with its innovative juxtaposition of the sweet and the saline. Ambre Narguilé (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2004) deserves recognition too, for being a very rare example of a scent which claims to possess a sheesha note and manages to deliver the goods.

Finally, it would be perverse not to mention the genre responsible for much of the brand's current scented success: the cologne. Hermès do effervescent, fleeting compositions like few other perfume houses, and whilst I decided that one of their fresh eaux was superior to anything on my Top 5, it would be shameful not to give a shout out to the likes of Eau D'Orange Verte (Françoise Caron;1979), Eau De Narcisse Bleu (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2013) and Eau De Mandarine Ambrée (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2013). In their own ways, they are all life-affirming delights.

Please do visit Candy Perfume Boy to find out what made it onto his list. And do let me know what your own Hermès favourites are.

Happy reading!

5. Cuir D'Ange (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2014)
For many years, I considered Rose Ikebana (2004) to be my favourite of the Hermessence, Jean-Claude Ellena's haiku-like, 'exclusive' Hermès scents. But then, in 2014, he gave us this gorgeously grubby angel. Delicate and sinful in equal measure, it is indeed a celestial leather, wrapping whisper-thin clouds in layers of supple hide. A wondrous piece of work.

4. Equipage (Guy Robert & Jean-Louis Sieuzac; 1970)
Smoke. Tobacco. Leather. If that isn't enough to get you excited about Equipage, then I don't know what will... except perhaps for the expert manner in which the tanned core is balanced by the citruses at the top and the woody mosses in the base. If someone ever tells you they don't understand how a perfume can be called hairy-chested, let them have a sniff of this stuff.  

3. Eau D'Hermès (Edmond Roudnitska; 1951)
The animalic cologne is not the most ubiquitous of beasts in perfumery's crowded zoo. Perhaps that's because few have believed they could top this 1950s growler. The first scent to be released by Hermès, it remains one of the brand's bravest, combining stewed lemons with bitter woods and a blush-worthy dose of civet. You don't know whether to smile at it or slap it across the face... which is all part of the point.

2. Un Jardin Sur Le Nil (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2005)
In my book, I included Un Jardin Après La Mousson as the most commendable of Ellena's garden series. And whilst I stand by my claim that the scent's juxtaposition of ginger, tomato and herbs sparkles with originality, I can't deny that Nil is the jardin which most frequently makes its way onto my skin. A masterful blend of tart fruit notes with incense and musks, it never fails to remind me that the sun is always present, even if we can't see it through the clouds.

1. Terre D'Hermès (Jean-Claude Ellena; 2006)
Yes, countless legions of the male population wear it, but that doesn't detract from the fact that it is one of the most superb scents of the last 25 years. As though inspired by his own Déclaration for Cartier, Ellena reworked his 'fresh-not-foolish' woody structure with an opening of subtle grapefruit and a spine of straight-out-of-the-shower vetivert. What's more, he produced something that was shot through with the very essence of Hermès: leathery, yet bursting with luminosity; good-humoured, but never cynical or ironic; chic, yet ever so slightly dirty. Terre has spawned countless imitators, but none have toppled it from the head of the table. A modern classic, if ever there was one.

Note: As per our Super Scent rules, the above list was chosen from Hermès' current line-up and current formulations; discontinued scents weren't considered; it was left to each other author to decide about making distinctions between eau de toilette, eau de parfum, extrait etc. Here's the current portfolio, according to our reckoning: 24 Faubourg; Amazone; Ambre Narguilé; Bel Ami; Bel Ami Vétiver; Brin De Réglisse; Calèche; Calèche Soie De Parfum; Cuir D’Ange; Eau D’Hermès; Eau D’Orange Verte; Eau De Gentiane Blanche; Eau De Mandarine Ambrée; Eau De Narcisse Bleu; Eau De Néroli Doré; Eau De Pamplemousse Rose; Eau De Rhubarbe Écarlate; Eau Des Merveilles; Elixir Des Merveilles; Epice Marine; Equipage; Equipage Géranium; Hiris; Iris Ukiyoé; Jour D’Hermès; Jour D’Hermès Absolu; Jour D’Hermès Gardénia; Kelly Calèche; L’Ambre Des Merveilles; Le Jardin De Monsieur Li; Muguet Porcelaine; Osmanthe Yunnan; Paprika Brasil; Poivre Samarcande; Rocabar; Rose Amazone; Rose Ikebana; Rouge Hermès; Santal Massoïa; Terre D’Hermès; Terre D’Hermès Eau Très Fraîche; Un Jardin Après La Mousson; Un Jardin En Méditerranée; Un Jardin Sur Le Nil; Un Jardin Sur Le Toit; Vanille Galante; Vétiver Tonka; Voyage D’Hermès



  1. Interesting! I need to try Eau d'Hermès. How would you say it compares to Acqua di Parma's Colonia, which is pretty funky?

    I'm glad we have one in common, but I think are lists are as different as they could be this time round.

    1. Oh gosh, I'd say Eau D'Hermes is MUCH dirtier than the AdP!

      Yes, our selections are pretty different this time, but in a thought-provoking way, I'd say.

      However, now's the time to get a debate going ;-) I'll head over to your blog to pose a query or two...

  2. I am so excited to see that super scent has done Hermès. I find all of their fragrances so wearable and wel put-together. Although I have finished bottles of several Hermès fragrances, I'm not sure they make my heart quicken. I like something a little dark, oriental or wistful round the edges and I get nothing but gleaming self-confidence from Hermès. Elixir de Merveilles makes me hesitate, though... Any others I might be overlooking? I actually know few from your list so perhaps I should broaden my search.

    1. IndigoEye, yes, I know *exactly* what you mean: I've gone through a few Hermes bottles too, and yet I'm sure I wouldn't place a single Hermes fragrance in a personal, overall Top 10.

      Maybe this means they're beautiful, but also rather functional. They 'do the job' without sticking their neck out on the line too much.

      When you try some of the ones you don't know, do come back and share your thoughts. Do you like L'Ambre Des Merveilles?

    2. Ha ha, yes, l'Ambre des Merveilles is one of the ones I have bought, worn and finished in the past. It does have something soft, wistful and autumnal about it. I shall try some others though... I am constantly caught between wanting my perfumes to have a ta-da impact but also being wearable. I'm not quite sure where to compromise along the continuum! I've sold most of my wardrobe with the resolution to be pared down and only get loves and now find myself paralysed by my own fussy nose! (Which is where your reviews are coming in very handy!)

    3. Wow, you've sold most of your perfumes? I'm impressed. I don't think I could bear to do that.

      And thanks so much for your kind words about my reviews. I'm glad they're helpful.

  3. love this !!! i used to wear eau des merveilles a lot, and sometimes layered it with concentré d'orange verte, both of which i repurchased a number of times. others that i love include kelly calèche, cuir d'ange, santal massoïa, poivre samarcande, jardin en méditerranée, vétiver tonka and voyage d'hermès. i obviously cannot do 5 from cette maison H !

    1. Angeline, you're obviously a fan.

      I'm glad you mentioned Massoia. It doesn't get a lot of love, but its gentle quality is beautiful, isn't it.


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