Two Colognes in the Register of Sunny: Hermès Néroli Doré & Rhubarb Ecarlate
And yet something that stood the test of time for that long surely meets a demand that goes layers deep into the reptilian brain; a hunger for a need we do not register that goes limbidinal and thorny.Re-arranging the classic cologne formula is a bit of a holy grail for contemporary perfumers; how do you render a recipe that is three centuries old new again? The need for clarity and easy decisions. The need for refreshing solace from the heat that addresses the reptilian body and renders it human again.
Hermès Colognes at a glance
The emerging in-house perfumer, Christine Nagel, is credited with Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate, the flamboyant heroine in tones of oriental, fiery red like a flag waving the war on corny and done. For the exercise in 2016 the venerable French house left its two star perfumers to their own devices: Jean Claude Ellena, slowly melting into the sunset like a hero in a Far West film directed by a Japanese auteur, is credited with Eau de Neroli Dore; a fitting tribute since the management of sour notes has been warming the cockles of the master’s heart for decades now.
Rhubarb is an unusual note in perfumery, raw and fresh and somewhat tart though not quite. Burberry Brit Red is among the very few fragrances featuring it that I feel does a good job of highlighting its peculiar character. White musk is the natural contender for a “clean” feel in modern colognes thanks to its preponderance in functional perfumery; the scent of your laundry detergent or your fabric softener. Ellena had paved the way with the gorgeous and avant-garde “mineral” accord in Eau de Gentiane Blanche back in 2009 producing a stunning example of a very “dry” scent for Hermès that seems to be made of shredded chalk and is actually based on white musk.
Nagel however takes white musk into a sweeter and ultimately tamer trajectory, though still clean and starched for the expected “fresh” feeling that an eau de cologne should produce but with superior tenacity and projection than most in the genre.
The series of Colognes by Hermès aims for a simple clarity. A pure pleasure that feels like a cold tall glass of juice drank when thirsty. Less poetry and more straightforward pleasure. The Eau de Rhubarb Écarlate (scarlet rhubarb) feels indeed much more red than green as the feeling of tartness recalls grapefruit (with a nod to the master’s seminal “In Love Again” that started his grapefruit adventures) and red berries. A fruit juice that is not producing the kind of startle a green vegetable broth would induce as seen through the clarity of glass. It’s impossible to dislike.
It is this element nevertheless which prevents me from embracing it as a true rhubarb scent (which would therefore be rare among hundreds) and which makes me hesitate to fork down the money asked. Although not exactly predictable Eau de Rhubarb Écarlate lacks the innovative element that would truly elevate it to the podium of Gentiane Blanche which made me instantly acquire a bottle for my collection. But it’s early days yet for Nagel in the saddler house and she will get a feel for combining her mystical and sensual touches she has exhibited in her illustrious career so far (who can forget Theorema?) with the sparse luxuriousness that dominates the line.
Therefore of the two new colognes, the one vanguarding on the rejuvenation of the traditional via the rethinking of the most traditional of notes for an “eau de Cologne” , neroli, remains Eau de Néroli Doré as thought out by Jean Claude Ellena. The tart beginning is reminiscent of the older recipes, bitterish and sour at the same time, meant to give a little jolt since Cologne started as a pick-me-up product. But it also has the herbal overtone that is only vaguely hinting at the herbaceous tonality of the refreshing and beneficial well-being feeling that the recipe used to give to its wearers.
Although it might seem like Eau de Néroli Doré is more masculine leaning and could be interpreted by the casual “sniffeur” as maudlin its crunchy texture is indicative of great dexterity in the treatment of ingredients and concepts. It feels at once golden and soapy and with a leather undertone like a handsome person who just put on the world’s fluffiest T-shirt and trousers in Egyptian cotton and the softest leather slip-ons in existence just to enjoy a morning view of the orchard by the sea. I’m sold.