What is there to say about the career of Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena at the house of Hèrmes as it draws to an end? His work speaks for itself and through the perfumes that constitute Ellena’s body of work at Hèrmes one can detect a distinct DNA that has been carefully crafted and woven through the olfactory outputs by the man, who is arguably one of the greatest perfumers of all time. Jean-Claude Ellena has created a signature that is now undeniably ‘Hermès’. It is a complexly pieced together as a Kelly bag but as ethereal and light as a silk scarf. To put is simply, Ellena really has taken the spirit of the house of Hèrmes and bottled it.
Ellena’s work is so often referred to as fragrant watercolours and his lightness of touch has proven that perfumes need not be loud, confrontational and weird to be beautiful, they can portray light and shade in utter simplicity. This style in itself is divisive because the fragrances can so often seem imperceptibly simple or transparent, but they are, in fact, incredibly complex. It’s a testament to Ellena’s talent that he can say so much with such reserved abstraction. His work is cerebral and intelligent in a way that modern perfumery isn’t nowadays, and he has always been a refreshing voice amongst the cacophony. The man is nothing short of a genius and one of the handful of true master perfumers who have earned the title through a life’s work.
For his final piece at Hèrmes, Jean-Claude Ellena has attempted to capture the elusive lily of the valley, a flower that smells so intense, yet yields no fragrant oil usable within perfumery. The work is a construction of the flower, of course and as Ellena puts it, he wanted to “snatch the fragrance of these flowers from the dawn sky, together with that of the foliage that envelops them”, thus crafting an homage not only to white blooms but also to its accompanying greenery. The result? Well, Hermès describe it perfectly as “a shower of delicate bell-shaped flowers evoking the opalescent white of porcelain – radiant, playful, diaphanous”. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Lily of the Valley and Green Notes
How Does it Smell?
Muguet Porcelaine opens with a pure and peaceful mist of lily of the valley in its full floral form. Immediately it speaks in two colours: white and green, specifically snow white and British racing green. The top notes showcase the hissy citrus notes of muguet, rasping with a delightful, bracing tone that awakens the senses. Initially, Muguet Porcelaine very much feels like a white flower rising up from a snowy ground. It has an icy spirit to it that evokes crisp winter mornings where the sour breath of humans and the indolic breath of flowers turns to vapour in the air.
The muguet note is as true as it can be. Ellena, with his enviable talent, weaves silvery threads of the flower, each one displaying a different pattern of scent, together into a rich tapestry in a multitude of shades of white. The freshness of jasmine, the green ripeness of lily and the cheesy indole of gardenia, all abstract facets, piece together intelligently to design the lily of the valley in three dimensions. This is the art of floral architecture and Muguet Porcelaine is constructed from steely girders of white petals and green stems – the best materials there are.
In the base, Muguet Porcelaine takes on a muskier tone, shedding the weight of the petals to land on a soft bed of freshly cut grass. The greenery that underpins the whole thing comes through vibrantly, dipping and diving in a slow motioned tour of the garden. It is, as always with Jean-Claude Ellena’s creations, a breathy blend of minerals and waters – a delightful soup of nature, if you will, and with utter delicacy it drifts into the skin leaving just a trace of muguet mist. Ahh, it’s gorgeous.
Muguet Porcelaine simply is beautiful. It’s entirely Jean-Claude Ellena in style and therefore, undeniably ‘Hermès’. My favourite thing about this particular Hermessence is just how present it is. The sillage is more prominent than usual and Muguet Porcelaine certainly feels as if it has enough heft to cut through the muggiest of days, making for a sharply refreshing fragrance. As a farewell, Muguet Porcelaine is a beautiful token to remember Ellena’s work by but it is just one of many masterpieces in Hermès’ stable that symbolises an illustrious and fascinating career. Do seek it out.
Muguet Porcelaine is available in 100ml (£171) and 200ml (£260) Eau de Toilette.
Sample, notes and quote via Hermès. Images are my own.