lundi 11 octobre 2010

Iris Ukiyoé by Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermès: A Blossom Sweet and Wet





Jean-Claude Ellena is fond of calling his compositions haikus. He’s also confessed he’d love to capture the smell of water in a fragrance. And it turns out he’s a great admirer of Japanese woodprints, and especially of the 19th century masters of the Ukiyo-e movement, Hiroshige and Hokusai (you’ve seen at least one picture by Hokusai: the one with the wave…). That Ukiyo-e means “images of the floating world” (sometimes translated as “ephemeral”) neatly dovetails into Mr. Ellena’s attraction to watery notes; that these images are often those of landscapes and flowers ties in perfectly with perfume themes, especially since their delicate, poetic stylisation echoes Mr. Ellena’s own style, particularly in the Hermessence. Thus it was only a matter of time before a Japanese scent showed up in the collection, and now it has, with Iris Ukiyoé, the 9th Hermessence.* (see below.)

Jean-Claude Ellena has already featured iris in Bois d’Iris, Paprika Brasil and in what I see as an essay in aqueous floral accords though it was conceived as a leather, Kelly Calèche. But Iris Ukiyoé doesn’t focus on the orris root: it is, rather, a work on the flower, whose different varieties give off a surprising palette of fragrances. Floral: rose, orange blossom, lily-of-the-valley, lilac and even tiaré. Fruity: peach, plum, mandarin, lemon. Foody: vanilla, chocolate, anise… Jean-Claude Ellena says he’s tried to conjure their common denominator: “The almost cold effects of the rose, the delicate voluptuousness of the orange blossom, the vegetal humidity of the petals punctuated by a zest of mandarin…”
The citrus top notes – there’s bergamot in there too – open Iris Ukiyoé on shimmering, peppery effects that feel as though Jean-Claude Ellena had lifted a thin veil off the great Roudnitska chypres like Le Parfum de Thérèse, or from his own Angéliques sous la Pluie. Similar effects were used in Kelly Calèche, especially the eau de parfum version where the grapefruit note is the most perceptible: their crisp needle-like fizz conjures the impression of raindrops hitting the surface of a pond.
Iris Ukiyoé truly does give off the cold, water-gorged texture of iris petals – not the prissy type of iris you buy at florist shops, but the big heraldic ones both turgid and limp that grow near ponds; the ones whose copper, apricot or violet flesh fairly bursts with moistness under their crystal-dusted skin. This aqueous effect is rendered through a muguet-type material – lily of the valley was, much before “aquatic” notes, a way of conveying cool vegetal moistness – which veers into the fresh, green facets of some types of lilies, a sensation reinforced by a similarly fresh, green vanilla reminiscent of Vanille Galante. But here, Jean-Claude Ellena has tilted that vanilla axis from the tropical to the rose-muguet area of the scent map. I sometimes perceive a green note not un-similar to the smell you get from peeling a cucumber; at times, a ghostly trace of something that feels like the milky effect of Eau Claire des Merveilles seems to be at play. I even get the trace of chocolate that some irises give off.
The cool delicate floral notes are sweet and deceptively diffusive: you think you’ve sprayed on a lightweight little thing but the scent, bolstered by a light woody base, keeps on expanding and shows more than decent tenacity on skin – it hangs on for days on fabric.
Iris Ukiyoé plays on its subject in more ways than one, shape-shifting through the various watercolour tints of the scent of irises in a way that conjures the very notion of iridescence. Is it orange blossom, rose, vanilla, lily, muguet? Or a chimera?


* Added on Oct. 12th: I managed to forget Rose Ikebana, which of course introduced the Japanese motif in the Hermessence, and was inspired by the art of floral arrangement. I should therefore amend the phrase to "It was only a matter of time before another Japanese scent, this time inspired by Ukiyo-é..."


Illustration: Cy Twombly, Nicola's Iris (1990), because it was a little too easy to go Japanese on this one...


28 commentaires:

  1. May I just say I'm so ready to try this? Thank you for the marvelous review. I'm not sure I can imagine this scent but once I try it, I'll be sure to "compare notes."

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  2. I'm very ready to try this too. Thanks for the review, Denyse.

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  3. eleven european mystics11 octobre 2010 06:42

    Wearing the yokata I use as a robe de chambre, what can be better than this post to accompany my first ccffee?
    I enjoy your writing so that it is more than bearable to wait until I try this one. The promise in 'this one' is huge: JC Ellena, iris, levity and tenacity all at once. But how wet is the wet?

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  4. Jarvis, ditto: you'll find something of the manner of Vanille Galante in this.

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  5. EEM, we are not talking aquatic notes here, but a certain quality of coolness, something aqueous that conveys petals... Aqueous is not a pretty word for a title though, is it?

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  6. Sounds like a perfume to wear while sipping my spring sencha! I love JCE's "watercolor" florals, own several, and I was wondering, does he use any natural absolutes or EOs to create them, or are they, at this point, entirely synthetic? Which perfumers/houses are still using a high proportion of naturals? I know it's become more and more difficult to do, for myriad reasons.
    -Marla

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  7. Marla, I'm not enough of an expert to suss out immediately what's natural and what's not: JCE would probably say it's a moot point. You use what you need to create the effect you seek out, period.

    The difficulty in using natural raw mats is still more a question of price (the crops are part of the commodities market and subject to speculation) than regulation, as far as I've understood.

    Add to this that you can now tailor-make natural raw mats by using only a combination of fractions in the absolutes/essential oils: what's natural at that point?

    As far as I know JCE can pick what he wants to put into the Hermessence. He'd probably choose to use lower concentrations rather than eliminate the material he wants.
    As for other houses, I don't think it's necessarily a policy to use more or less naturals, at least the houses that *do* have an aesthetic line: it's a matter of what the perfumer needs for his composition, within a certain budget. Typically, a good niche house, or exclusive line (Hermessence, Lutens, L'Artisan, Malle, Cartier Heures...) will put in more expensive materials.

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  8. I was thinking that another complication of naturals is inconsistency- they really are "vintages" and different years, even from the same source, can smell and behave differently. The new fractions sound fascinating, and yup, they do blur the line, don't they? I know the natural perfumers have been debating their usage. JCE is a real master at putting together vivid, lifelike accords of both real and imagined flowers, so whatever he's using, seems like the right stuff!
    -Marla

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  9. A blossom sweet and wet is lovely, and acqueous wouldn't have been, indeed. The name chosen by Hermes is so beautiful in itself that the team that decided for it should be congratulated.Perhaps JC Ellena himself was involved in choosing the name?

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  10. Marla, one way round the differences between crops is to blend "communelles", to achieve the same olfactory profiles with a mix. It's up to the perfumer to evaluate whether the variation is acceptable between successive batches.

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  11. EEM, I should imagine that JCE has quite a lot of say in the choice of the names of the Hermessence, especially in this case, when his inspiration was drawn from his own Japanese art collection.

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  12. You see, Denyse, this is why I regularly comment on your blog-- I love to learn! Thanks!
    -Marla

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  13. Thanks for the review, Denyse. This is one of the new releases that I'm looking forward to trying (being both a JCE and Hermès fan) so it's good to finally learn more details about it.

    I own both Hermès Hiris and TDC Bois d'Iris but it sounds like Iris Ukiyoé might bring something new to the iris table.

    SOTD is L'Eau d'Hiver.

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  14. Marla, they're all bits and pieces I pick up that never seem to make it in a piece of their own, so there you go...

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  15. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par l'auteur.

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  16. Abyss, bear in mind that this cannot be classified as an iris scent: there are no orris notes, it's all about the flower!

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  17. Oh. OH. OH OH OH!!!

    Iris *blossom* (faints).

    Must get my nostrils on this.

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  18. Do you know if this is out in the US boutiques, D? I'll be in NYC for about five minutes later this week--must strategize...

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  19. Muse, Alyssa, patience! As far as I know this
    comes out in November but in Paris the tester is under the counter. Maybe in NY too?

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  20. An absolutely gorgeous review, D.! Thank you. I'll get in line to test this one.

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  21. I'm extremely curious to try this, as I love the scent of iris flowers yet they're rarely depicted in fragrance ( perhaps because they're mostly not loud, or because only some kinds are scented ). The ones I've smelled have been rich, jammy things - the closest I can think of in fragrance is Mugler's Alien.

    However, Ellenas in general and watery florals in particular are very hit-and-miss with me. I adore En Passant, but the watery muguet in Laura Tonatto's Oltre, while beautifully done, wears out my patience with its linear persitence ( my jacket smelled of it for weeks! )

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  22. Rappleyea, thanks! The launch is for November, so the wait won't be too long.

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  23. Sugandaraja, watery doesn't necessarily mean the use of cucumber/melon type materials: I don't know the Laura Tonatto, but it's that type of note that makes En Passant (which I find beautiful) difficult to wear for me. It doesn't seem to appear in Iris Ukiyoé. But the scent *is*, as I write, quite surprisingly tenacious for such a delicate little thing.

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  24. Thanks for the review Denyse... but I feel like such a twit constantly leaving comments that are basically variations on 'This sounds really intriguing, I must try it soon.'

    Maybe one day, if I do ever get to try M Ellena's latest, I'll come back and leave another comment...

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  25. Persolaise, I know full well that by reviewing something that's not out yet, I can't foster any sort of discussion, and it's frustrating. On the other hand, I can't pretend I don't enjoy being the one of the first to get a shot at reviewing something new. I've been checking my Blogger template and can't seem to find a way for recent comments to appear in a sidebar, which might incite more people to leave comments on older posts. I'm not enough of a geekette to switch templates though...
    But I always answer later comments, and people looking up the fragrances will find them.

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  26. Hi Denyse,

    I absolutely wouldn't want you to stop being at the 'reviewing forefront'; I just get a bit frustrated myself when the only way I can show my appreciation of your efforts is to resort to the same old platitudes in the Comments section. But yes, perhaps I'll have to revisit certain posts when I've got round to smelling the scents to which they refer.

    Speaking of which, there is most definitely a way to include recent comments in your side bar and you wouldn't even have to change your template. You'd just have to add a widget through the 'Design' section of blogger... it's really easy to do... hang on, let me see if I can email you some simple instructions...

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  27. Persolaise, I'd be most grateful for the tech help!

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