“I am free” says Perfumer Christine Nagel as she sits comfortably in the handsomely furnished apartment above Hermès’ New Bond Street store in London. Nagel is here to talk us through the five new fragrances she has created as in-house Perfumer at Hermès. The five are her first additions to the Hermessence collection, a series of olfactory haikus created by her predecessor Jean-Claude Ellena. Nagel’s style is somewhat different from Ellena’s – his domain was of watercolours and minerals, wrapped in cerebral, thought-provoking compositions that birthed the Hermès olfactory signature. If Ellena created this signature, then Nagel’s has opened it up to a new-found richness with her more immediate, grander and more voluptuous style. Despite their stylistic differences, the creations by both Ellena and Nagel are undeniably ‘Hermès’ in every way.
Anyway, back to freedom. Christine Nagel has full creative freedom at Hermès and with it she has chosen to create a collection of five oriental fragrances to add to Hermès iconic Hermessence collection. Nagel wanted to return to “the origins of perfumery” to create three Eau de Toilettes and two oil-based Perfume Essences. According to Nagel, when she proposed this to the CEO his answer was simply ‘yes’. So off to the origins of perfumery Nagel travelled, focusing on the noble and historic notes of myrrh, musk, agar wood and cedar, with which she has created five distinct fragrances that celebrate the styles of the orient in a way that is truly and faithfully ‘Hermès’.
Agar Ébène Eau de Toilette
How Does it Smell?
To the scent of agar wood, which carries a warm and mysterious vibration at its heart, I wanted to bring another wood, fir balsam, with its balmy and enveloping notes.
Agar wood is not a note one would usually associate with Hermès. First and foremost they are not a brand to follow trends and have up to this point, resisted the oud bandwagon, but more than this, Hermèss fragrances have historically had a transparency that is incompatible with the richness of oud. What Nagel has created with Agar Ébène is the ideal compromise – an oud that is perfectly Hermès and actually rather unusual. This fragrance is so soft it feels as if it has been made out of fur rather than wood. It’s incredibly tactile with a supple, chocolate-like richness. To me it smells like dry bark with a soft, creamy centre – a wood soufflé with a crisp shell begging to be cracked.
Cédre Sambac Eau de Toilette
How Does it Smell?
Upon this age-old tree, strong and graceful, I wanted to grown an embracing jasmine that coils around it.
I’ll say right now that Cédre Sambac is the most immediately intriguing of these five new fragrances. It exists as a symbiotic pairing of cedar wood and jasmine sambac, where it is impossible to perceive where one material starts and the other finishes. It’s as if the two materials are stitched together with perfect precision. The sharpness of cedar is softened by the creamy petals of jasmine – together they share a milkiness that gives Cédre Sambac a silky feeling. It all feels very luxurious and without smelling like leather or suede, it somehow manages to be evocative of luxury leather goods made from the finest of materials. Cédre Sambac is utterly blissful.
Myrhhe Églantine Eau de Toilette
How Does it Smell?
This legendary material evokes the world of desert caravans and the former perfume routes. A myrrh, then more precious than gold, reinvented and reworked around rosehip, a wild, fresh and tangy rose that never surrenders.
Myrhhe Églantine has the most character out of Nagel’s first additions to the Hermessence collection and it also feels as if it is the most complex. It starts with a vibrant rose note that is punchy and fruity, but also fresh and minty too. It’s tart and luminous, throwing a few small hints at Nagel’s Galop d’Hermès from 2016. After a while the myrrh comes through and takes things in a sweeter, deeper and more oriental direction. It’s gauzy and transparent with a fizzy warmth in the base, making for a present take on myrrh that is never overwhelming or overtly sticky. Myrhhe Églantine is a bit of a live wire and it celebrates that very French quirkiness that has always elevated Hermès above its contemporaries.
Cardamusc & Musc Pallida Perfume Essence
How do They Smell?
A true olfactory manifesto. A proposition shaped around cardamom, a cool and cascading spice that transforms and reveals all its sensuality through contact with the warm and enveloping notes of musks
Cardamusc does exactly what it says on the tin – it provides a rich and sensual blend of musk and cardamom, but in reality it is so much more complex than that may sound. Both of these materials are incredibly bold and multi-faceted so when paired, the result is a masterful mosaic of nuance. Cardamusc is filled to the brim with hot, dry spice, red roses, a cool menthol facet, and the supple warmth of musk. It’s linear but it’s gorgeous and it brings to mind the idea of hot desert sands glistening under the sun.
A promise of sensuality. The desire to forge a liquid gold that recalls the richness of yesteryear. A gentle alchemy of iris and musks.
Like Cardamusc, Musc Pallida plays with the crossover of two materials however, where Cardamusc provides contrast and nuance, Musc Pallida showcases harmony. In this glorious Perfume Essence, the sweet violet tones of iris melt softly into a backdrop of a slightly earthy and mushroomy musk. There is a distinct yet luxurious soapiness to it and a decadent floral character that puts it up there with the Hermès classics such as 24 Rue Faubourg, giving the feel of a composition that is more timeless than contemporary. In short, Musc Pallida is a ‘slather it on and feel like a million bucks’ kind-of-a-scent and personally, I’m always here for that.
A collection of oriental fragrances including an oud is very out of character for Hermès but none of these fragrances smell out of place in the Hermès lineup, nor do they go against the ethos of the idiosyncratic Hermessence collection. What Nagel has done here is actually really masterful – she has created five fragrances that embody the spirit of Hermès (that transparent luxurious quality) but also very much have her vibrant stamp on them. So yes, Hermès can do orientals and ouds, and they can do them in the Hermessence collection, and you know what? They’re rather spectacular and thinking about these fragrances, as well as Nagel’s other works for Hermès (Eau de Rhubarbe Ecarlate, Galop, Eau des Merveilles Bleu and Twilly) really gets me excited for the future. Hermès and Nagel are moving forward together in an intriguing direction and I for one, will be following with great interest.
Agar Ébène, Cédre Sambac and Myrrhe Églantine are available in 100ml (£180) and 200ml Eau de Toilette (£277). A leather option is available, which includes a 100ml Eau de Toilette and a Forreau leather sleeve for £400. Also, exclusively for this collection a lizard skin case is available with the 100ml Eau de Toilette for £1,300.
Cardamusc and Musc Pallida are available in 20ml Perfume Essence for £275.
Samples, notes and quotes via Hermès. Images are my own.