Described by Hermes as ‘A collection of olfactory poems which freely explore new facets of emotion. A journey to the very heart of the raw materials”. Hermes perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena discusses his collection saying, “smells are like words, like colours: building materials. Materials I build myself. It is in this spirit that I have created the Hermessence Collection, odes to perfume, to offer the wearer new avenues of emotion.” Previous to Ellena’s signing in 2004 the luxury house known for its leathergoods and heritage in equestrian saddlery had already worked with a number of revered perfumers such as Edmond Roudnitska, Guy Robert and Maurice Roucel. Signing Ellena enabled them to create a signature perfume style to match their signature style of leather savoir-faire. The memory is etched in my mind of trips I made to Asia last year following the launch of Voyage D’Hermes. Hong Kong’s supermalls and Singapore’s infamous Orchard Road smelt of it. You always knew you were in the vicinity of a Hermes boutique when Voyage D’Hermes came in contact with your nostrils as you strolled the pavement. While scents like Voyage D’Hermes and Terre D’Hermes were most likely created to appeal to a wider audience, and certainly their distribution is wider, the Hermessence collection on the other hand is much more specific. Found only in selected Hermes boutiques the range speaks to those who seek to discover the true essence of some of perfumery’s beautiful ingredients. Removed are the special effects, multiple layers of notes and harmonies. For Hermessence, Ellena focuses on 1 or 2 key ingredients, supported quietly by a small amount of other ingredients. If Hermes describes Hermessence as a series of poems, fragrances like Terre are certainly novels. Each has its appropriate place and if you like poems, Hermessence may be for you. Vetiver is my favourite perfumer’s raw material and Jean-Claude Ellena is my favourite perfumer. So it is no wonder I rate Vetiver Tonka as one of my all time favourite vetiver perfumes.
In an interview, Jean-Claude Ellena talks of the process of extracting oils from natural perfume ingredients. In that process, often involving heating the plant matter to high temperatures, the chemical composition can change. Reactions occur subtracting or creating odiferous molecules that are not present in the flower or plant, as you would smell it in nature. For the perfumer this is often their main challenge. To recreate the scent of rose is not as simple as purchasing a rose essential oil or absolute from a local supplier. The role of the perfumer is to add other ingredients into the formula to create the image of the rose they desire. It could be a rose opening in the morning of a fresh spring day, the sweet seductive scent of Turkish rose or the greener almost blackcurrant noted Bulgarian rose. For Hermessence, Jean-Claude Ellena looks to recreate these simple visions: the scent of Yunnan tea, paprika, or in this case, vetiver and tonka bean. For Vetiver Tonka, Elena’s simple composition is ironically the reason for the scent’s complexity. Free from distraction, vetiver is allowed to consume one’s headspace with all its complexities. Many reviewers of this fragrance will talk of its gourmand qualities. While I can appreciate this, for me, Vetiver Tonka is much more about the green aspect of vetiver grass. This is underlined by the green floral accord, which is said to be neroli but contains other abstract white floral notes. After the florals and bergamot subside a mentholic vetiver begins to emerge. I remember reading a couple of years ago that Jean-Claude Ellena had been working with a particular raw material supplier for vetiver oil produced using a different distillation technique. A more expensive production method meant perfumes that contained the oil would not be widely distributed and the cost would be high. I am wondering if this oil was used for Vetiver Tonka, whose vetiver notes are similar to those found in his daughter’s creation, Sel De Vetiver for The Different Company. The tonka extract comes from Niger adding the vanilla scent associated with the bean as well an herbaceous odour one would associate with lavender. It’s at this point in the fragrance’s life the smell of burnt sugar begins to emerge giving it a slightly caramelised quality. The scent doesn’t evolve further and leaves you with an all-day sophisticated freshness.
Perfect for daywear, the fragrance smells of a beautiful new suit: that silk lining and superfine wool smell the garment omits before you have broken it in. Wear Vetiver Tonka to your next job interview. It says you are refined and quietly confident. Confident enough to not feel you need to make yourself the center of attention. Your own personality will draw attention to you regardless. Great for all ages and cultures. This is the perfect all rounder for work and also play.
Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena
Bottle designer: Annie Beaumel adpated by Hermes studio
Release date: 2004
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Woods