New Perfume Review Hermes Bel Ami Vetiver- The DJ JCE Remix

One of the things I like about music is when a talented DJ takes a song and applies their style to it and often makes me see something different in the original song. These remixes when done right will be my preferred version over the original because the DJ will lay down extra rhythms or add in other samples. In the end it is the song I know and like but with added things which make it better. When I received my sample of Hermes Bel Ami Vetiver I had to say I was imagining Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena as the olfactory DJ taking the original 1986 Hermes Bel Ami by perfumer Jean-Louis Sieuzac and producing a hipper modern dance remix. Bel Ami Vetiver definitely has some added beats to it and it feels more like a fragrance I want to wear while doing something active.

The original Bel Ami ranks right up there with the best leather fragrances ever. M. Sieuzac captured a textural leather by using cardamom, orris, civet, and vanilla to create the figurative grain to his leather accord. When I received the press release announcing Bel Ami Vetiver I was extremely curious to see what M. Ellena would do besides add the promised vetiver.

dj jce

DJ JCE aka Jean-Claude Ellena

M. Ellena chooses to begin with a pinpoint of citric light as bigarade opens Bel Ami Vetiver. He has used bigarade in the past as the focal point but here it is more like a lens flare. It is noticeable within the frame but it doesn’t dominate. What does dominate is a panoply of spices; cinnamon, cumin, clove, ginger, and pimento. This is M. Ellena’s particular genius in producing a memorable accord by precisely balancing these ingredients. Together they form a decadent deeply spicy experience and you can pick apart the different voices but it is the harmony of the choir that is really the point. Now the vetiver appears as green support to the spices before the woodier aspects begin to take over. Then the leather accord comes next. I don’t know this to be true but the leather accords for Bel Ami and Bel Ami Vetiver are identical to my nose when wearing them side-by-side I wonder if M. Ellena used M. Sieuzac’s version of a leather accord. What is a very characteristic effect of M. Ellena’s is the mix of tonka and incense which also accompanies the leather.

Bel Ami Vetiver has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Bel Ami Vetiver is another winner for Hermes in their mainstream, ie. Non-Hermessence, line. Over the past year M. Ellena has created some of the best fragrances of his very successful career. Bel Ami Vetiver is among the best of the fragrances he has created for Hermes. Like my music I think DJ JCE has taken a favorite perfume and remixed it into something more modern which has more of a beat and I can dance to it.

Disclosure: This review based on a sample provided by the Hermes Boutique in Vienna, VA.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: Bel Ami Vetiver has been available in Europe since the beginning of the year but it is just ow available at Hermes boutiques and Saks Fifth Avenue in the US.

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle 101- Five To Get You Started

When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.

frederic-malle

Frederic Malle

There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.

Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.

maurice-roucel

Maurice Roucel

Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.

For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.

Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.

As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke  

Perfumer Rewind: Jean-Claude Ellena’s 1988- Maxim’s pour Homme & Balenciaga Rumba

1

Some of our greatest niche perfumers have a fascinating history prior to the aesthetic we know them best for. In Perfumer Rewind I am going to look into some of my favorite current perfumer’s past creations and look for interesting moments of their development. The first perfumer to get this treatment is Jean-Claude Ellena and the year I am rewinding to is 1988 when he was responsible for two launches Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba.

jean-claude ellena

Jean-Claude Ellena

Ask anyone today to describe a Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance and the words minimalist or luminous will likely be the two most common descriptors used. As the in-house nose at Hermes M. Ellena has perfected a style that speaks volumes with few notes. The “Un Jardin” series and the Hermessences are perfect examples of the style he has evolved into. The earliest complete signpost of that style was 1993’s Bvlgari Eau Parfumee au The Vert. What I find completely fascinating was in 1988, after a five year absence of releases, M. Ellena returns with two huge powerhouse fragrances that are as far from what anyone would describe as an Ellena style fragrance.

maxim's pour homme ad

Maxim’s pour Homme was done after Pierre Cardin had bought the rights to the French restaurant Maxim’s, in 1988, with the intention of turning it into a worldwide chain. What was even more interesting was the beginning of building this brand was going to be a men’s fragrance. Pierre Cardin contracted Givaudan to do the fragrance and they assigned M. Ellena. Maxim’s pour Homme begins with classic lavender and clary sage with some bergamot. The heart of Maxim’s pour Homme is where you get the hint of what will become a M. Ellena trademark as he combines geranium, muguet, and rose. Those three notes were often huge sledgehammers of scent in that era but in Maxim’s pour Homme they are so restrained they almost get lost between the top notes and the base notes. As a result the heart only lasts for a few minutes but it is like peering into a crystal ball of what will be as they are perfectly balanced to create an airy beautiful floral character. This character would get refined a lot over the years to become the core of many of M. Ellena’s creations almost twenty years later. The base is leathery musky chypre with patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk, cedar, and vanilla. The base is classic 1980’s masculine perfume trope. M.Ellena probably didn’t want to rock the boat too much at this point in his career so he played it safe at the top and the base but if you pay attention to the heart you will see the indications of where his true aesthetic lies.

balenciaga-perfumes-1990-rumba

Balenciaga Rumba was a co-creation of M. Ellena and Ron Winnegrad. Like Maxim’s pour Homme it is one particular phase that gives us the insight into M. Ellena’s evolving style. Rumba starts with a fusillade of fruit as peach, raspberry, and plum roar out of the atomizer. Fruity florals were just coming into style and so to go with all of that fruit a full set of florals including jasmine, magnolia, tagete, gardenia, and most prominently, tuberose. This opening is so heady and narcotic it is off-putting these days but in 1988 with Chrisitan Dior Poison the fragrance du jour it almost seems restrained. Then as if a light switch is thrown Rumba turns into this fantastic dry incense. Labdanum is the main resinous source with styrax playing a supporting role with its leathery quality. Amber and vanilla add a bit of warm sweetness to the arid resinous aspect. For those who love the Hermessence Ambre Narguile you will recognize the base of Rumba as the Neanderthal version of that fragrance. The drydowns of Rumba and Ambre Narguile are very similar with the tobacco of Ambre Narguile being the major difference as well as sixteen years added experience.

M. Ellena would continue with similar styles to Maxim’s pour Homme and Rumba with Hermes Amazone, Rochas Globe, and Jitrois Paris until that inflection point in 1993 with Bvlgari Eau Parfume au The Vert began the style we most commonly associate with M. Ellena.

Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba are still available through a number of internet resellers and auction sites for pretty reasonable prices.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of Maxim’s pour Homme and Balenciaga Rumba I purchased.  

Mark Behnke