Must see: BBC Perfume Documentary Series

Dear Scent Diary,

If you haven’t seen it already, this documentary series is nothing short of fascinating. Of course I binged and watched all three parts in one sitting. I don’t necessarily recommend doing that though – one per evening is plenty (each is roughly an hour long). Just click the links and enjoy.

Part One: Something Old, Something New

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 1.00.05 PMPart One covers the venerable house of Guerlain and follows Thierry Wasser as he takes his first steps as head perfumer at the company. We also see behind the scenes as a new Tommy Hilfiger scent is created – from the fragrance, to the bottle design, to the sales floor – and witness how much involvement Tommy really has in the whole process. We see inside Chandler Burr’s approach to scent as well as inside his apartment.

Part Two: Bottling the Memory

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 1.03.57 PMPart Two takes us to Jean Claude Ellena’s dream office in the woods where he talks about his process for creating fragrances, and are a fly on the wall when he presents some new creations to the General Manager of Hermes Perfumes, Catherine Fulconis. We follow some star students at Givaudan and learn about the scent aesthetic at CB I Hate Perfume.

Part Three: The Smell of the Future

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 1.08.56 PMPart Three lets us in on the process of creating a hit scent for Axe and along the way learn oodles of interesting info about fragrance tastes around the world. Did you know that Brazil is the fastest growing market in the world for fragrance? I didn’t. And Roja Dove gives advice to the couple behind Grossmith, the ancient English perfume house set on remaking the Oriental fragrances that once amused Queen Victoria.


Comparison sniff: Hermes Eau des Merveilles, Eau Claire des Merveilles, Ambre des Merveilles and Elixir des Merveilles

Dear Scent Diary,

images-2Like many of the scents I’ve ended up loving, I wasn’t that impressed with Hermes’ Eau des Merveilles when I first tried it. It’s a salty, transparent orange scent with some woods and amber blended in. Okay…and? I promptly forgot I was wearing it until much, much later when I was a bit taken back by how great and unexpectedly sexy I smelled. “Wow, okay,” I thought, “Maybe I’m starting to get it now.” The next day, when I threw on the jacket I had worn the day before, I was literally distracted by my sudden gorgeous personal aroma. I probably shouldn’t have been driving.

The thing about Eau des Merveilles is, you’re never drawn to how it smells, it’s about how you smell. The salty ambergris seems to meld with the salt of your skin to create the ‘you’, while the orange and woods rise up to create the ‘but better’ part of the equation. I find it to be the perfect scent for when you’re going to be amongst people but aren’t sure if they’re perfume nazis or not. Eau des Merveilles will never offend, and yet is very present, making both my perfume enemies and myself very happy. For me, EdM holds down a very important fort in my perfume wardrobe: it’s my well-cut white t-shirt and high-end jeans scent. Casual, but still stylish and a little sexy.

So. Since I am such a fan, I was very curious to know how Ralf Schwieger and Nathalie Feisthauer‘s little understated masterpiece compared with Jean-Claude Ellena’s three more recent flankers. Here’s my take.
nd.9583Eau Claire des Merveilles – Lighter, more floral, less salty and even more polite (as if that was necessary). While Eau des Merveilles manages to be polite in a very original, present way, Eau Claire does it in a more traditional, quiet, shrinking-from-view kind of way. My least favourite. Wait, now I’m being polite. I hate it.

UnknownAmbre des Merveilles – Opens with a layer of vanilla and boozy amber over the salty ambergris. As it dries down, the vanilla adds a sweet layer over the transparent orange and salt of the original. At times late in the drydown, it smells syrupy and woody and outdoorsy all at the same time. Ambre des Merveilles manages to be something very original in its own right: a fresh amber scent. I like.

nd.3168Elixir des Merveilles – This one comes out of the gates with a bang. The ante is upped and every note is doubled down. The transparent orange of the original makes way for a potent swirl of orange zest, chocolate and spices. I was in love straight away. Which I should know by now, is a bad sign. As Elixir dries down, it keeps much of its potency as the saltiness of the ambergris becomes more prominent. It’s denser, richer and sweeter than the original and after a few hours, I realized that that’s actually a bad thing. What makes the original so brilliant in my books is its ease. It’s like a person with natural style. Elixir is the person wearing designer pieces from head to toe but looks like they’re trying too hard. It’s by no means a bad scent – in fact, I do like it. But in the end, the only one I really want to own is the original. Good thing I already do.

Sniff spree: Les Exclusifs de Chanel, Tom Ford, Hermes, Comme des Garcons

A day killed in Vancouver.

A day killed in Vancouver.

Dear Scent Diary,

I started my smellathon at Holt Renfrew where my mission was to sniff and potentially buy the new Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle. It wasn’t meant to be, however as the damn thing hasn’t arrived in Canada yet. My credit card was forced to wait impatiently in my wallet. I didn’t spend much time at the Malle counter after the bad news, though both Portrait of a Lady (mmm, dark, spicy, complex) and Bigarade Concentree (wow, citrus zest!) were calling my name.

I shuffled a few steps to the Tom Ford counter for a few huffs there. I managed to resist buying Santal Blush on the spot (love at first sniff, but let’s date first) – and I was surprised to like Oud wood as much as I did. There was no inky, medicinal oud note blasting my head off the way I’d become accustomed by the Montales I’ve tried. This is a smooth, friendly oud that I’d like to get to know.

A few more steps and I was at the Promised Land.

holt renfrew chanel perfume counter


I let the SA ‘sell me’ on giving the Les Exclusifs line a try. OH, ALL right. Bois des Illes (hmmm, I love sandalwood but I’m strangely not in love), then 31 Rue Cambon (oooh, sophisticated chypre) then No. 18 (unsettling at first, drying down to gorgeousness), Bel Respiro (ahhh, plush aromatic), and Sycamore (mmm, luxe vetiver and cedar). I was confused by my lukewarm reaction to Bois des Illes (the other scent I thought was my destiny) again leaving my credit card in my wallet unexpectedly.

Chanel samples in tow, I sauntered over to the Hermes counter where I was lured for a sniff of Jour d’Hermes (see my reaction here), Elixir des Merveilles and Ambre des Merveilles. As an Eau des Merveilles fan, a comparison diary entry is, as Brad Pitt says, inevitable.

Roden Grey

Roden Grey

After a little window shopping in Gastown (a cobblestoned historic district with many shops), I wandered into Roden Grey – a men’s boutique that happens to carry the entire line of Comme des Garcons fragrances. By now, my wallet was practically jumping out of my purse and when I spied the CdG Incense series, a purchase, I feared, was imminent. I’ve always admired the CdG Incenses and was excited to take a comparison sniff. Avignon, as everyone will tell you, is pure catholic mass. Jaisalmer is sweet and spicy with lots of cardamom and fresh wood – a contender. Kyoto is dry, cedar-y, meditative, spiritual and something I’d fallen for on a previous trip. It was the winner – and is my newest baby.

It’s been a good day in my books when my feet are killing me and my nose is tired.

Classic Ellena: Jour d’Hermes

Dear Scent Diary,

Went on a bit of a smelling spree today. I’m in Vancouver on business, but lucky for me, the ‘business’ only lasted an hour and I had the rest of the day to wander around all the city’s perfume hot spots. One of the first things I smelled was the new Jour d’Hermes, Jean-Claude Ellena’s proof to himself and the world that he could do a feminine scent – as if any of us had any doubt.

dc56196f2bfd6315c3824a1e1b294e08Jour d’Hermes opens with a burst of juicy florals that hit a citrusy high note right off the top. It’s bright and tart and lovely. There’s no powderiness or typical perfuminess that a floral blend with no one dominant flower can often conjure. To my nose, it becomes obvious within minutes that the same hand that created Un Jardin Sur le Nil had a hand in this as well. The tart refusal to become sweet, the brightness, and the indelible marker style tenaciousness is to my mind, classic Ellena. The sillage is fairly strong and yet the scent is light – another Ellena magic trick.

Did I buy? Well, I’m generally not a ‘buy-on-the-first-sniff’ kinda girl, so no. Will I go back and buy? I’d have to say no. My tastes run unisex and woody and this is firmly in the ‘fresh, crisp, citrusy, floral’ camp. I have no doubt it will be adored by many, but it shall only be admired from afar my me.

Jean-Claude Ellena apparently felt he had to prove he could make a feminine perfume.

Nice office, JCE. Photo from the linked article.

Nice office, JCE.
Photo from the linked article.

Dear Scent Diary,

Here’s another interview with Jean-Claude Ellena (Hermes’ PR department must have him doing the circuit) talking about creating Jour d’Hermes and his creative process. Apparently someone out there has accused him of not being able to compose a feminine scent and he took it to heart (instead of looking at them sideways and wondering who the hell they thought they were). See the article here.