Friday, January 6, 2012

Eau d'Hermes, an iconic fragrance by Edmond Roudnitska 1951

Created by : Edmond Roudnitska
Created : 1951
Genre : "Skanky" Leather
Concentration : Eau de Toilette
My fascination with the House of Hermès started at a very young age.  My French mother owned a Kelly bag. It was brown and old-lady-like but she sported it like Grace herself, with an Hermès scarf and all.  She also wore Calèche in extrait concentration. The bottle was made of crystal with a stopper and a gold string around the neck and the amber liquid became denser as time went by and the level dropped.  I would sneak into her bedroom and steal a drop. Only I was not light-handed and my family made fun of me.
The only person who never made fun of me was my father. He was the nicest man.  A writer and scholar who taught philosophy and literature.
My attachment to my father was stronger than any of my relationships in life. He and I were referred to as “partners in crime”. We often went for long walks after school. I held his hand and we walked up the Champs Élysées, a stone’s throw from our house in Paris, in pursuit of adventure or some new toy to add to my collection.
My father and I walked and walked in the City of Lights’ beautiful fashion district: Avenue Montaigne and Faubourg Saint Honoré to name just two.
The Hermès logo became familiar in my mind early on and I often pulled my dad across the street to look at the Hermès windows. My brain had strange requests that changed daily: some days I wanted to see the Soviet Embassy up close, with the steel mask of Lenin staring at us.  Other days it was the Citroen Dealership on Avenue de la Grande Armée.   And yet others, it was simply the windows of Hermès!  My father never said “no” to any of my requests.  He saw in each and every one of my requests a true developmental opportunity.
Hermès has always been equestrian-themed and their windows often changed décor and items. I had a weakness for perfume bottles even as a child.  One vivid memory from the 24-Faubourg Hermès flagship store was a series of heavy crystal bottles that were displayed side by side like Russian matryoshka nesting dolls. They had brown leather ribbons tied around their necks and a round beige Hermès paper label on the front and their sizes ranged from a full liter to an ounce. They contained a yellow amber liquid. As a child, I never paid attention to the lower label that read “Eau d’Hermès” in an italic rustic handwriting.
I wanted them all and I wanted for my dad to buy them for me immediately! He would smile and say “OK yes, but when you’re a bit older”. I would nod back at him and say “How much older papa?”.  “Fifteen, when you can start wearing fragrance” he answered.  Little did he know that I was sneaking a drop of Calèche here, a drop of Chant d’Arômes there…
Pause for 10 years.  The 80s were rough and hairstyles became unforgiving. The pleated pants are hard to look at even now on old Kodachrome pictures. Yours truly preferred skateboarding and put fragrance bottles on the backburner. I contemplated College and later Medical school, followed by internship and specialty and the absence of high end “Eaux”.  Drakkar Noir became the scent to wear and later fear.  The aquatics hit big and Escape was the one to have (it is the one to escape from now!)
One day in 1993 while on vacation in Nice, I went into Hermès on the Promenade des Anglais and started browsing the fragrances. Having always loved the fresh Eau de Cologne in the green glass bottle (later renamed Eau d’Orange Verte) I gravitated towards it. One very elitist sales woman stopped me from spraying it and said “Monsieur, you should really try Eau d’Hermès, it is pure class”.  Sure enough, the scent was interesting and different to my nostrils so I bought a bottle. I wore it in the warm weather in May and liked the citrusy opening freshness. But less than an hour into it, the heat and humidity brought out the cumin and leather and I started suffocating in my polo shirt! Wafts of spices on light-dishwashing-liquid-style lemon became unbearable. The cinnamon was not exactly Cinnabon, but Indian Buffet warm dessert laden with cumin cardamon and caraway.  It was like dropping lemon juice on moth balls and sniffing them. I did not know the word “Scrubber” back then but I think I experienced it. 
Eau d’Hermès was created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1951 and remained the scent of the rich and famous and royals who went tp Hermès stores to buy saddles, Limoges ashtrays, cigar cutters, silk scarves and leather bags. Finding Eau d’Hermès in a regular perfume store or a Department Store was impossible. Even Hermès stores carried it selectively. Hermès stores in Asia did not carry it at all I was told. Until 1991 when Hermès started re-marketing it carefully.
By 1993, Eau d’Hermès re-appeared in beautiful heavy lead crystal limited edition bottles that looked like those I saw as a child, only much more luxurious and without the paper logo. They were hand etched with the “Theme of the Year of the House of Hermès” and were limited to 500 numbered bottles each year sold exclusively at select Hermès stores.  There was “The year of Japan”, “The year of the Sun”, “The year of Africa”, “The year of the Road”, “The year of India” etc.
Each cost a hefty 600 USD in the beginning and by the last year of their production (2002 and the scary Euro), the price had gone up to a 1000 USD approximately.
I was fascinated with these bottles despite my dislike of the scent as I remembered the walks with my father as a young child. I wanted to own all of them. Hermès was nice enough to chase them around the world and ship them to me for a cost of course.  I must have spent thousands of dollars on these bottles.  Shipping across oceans is a laborious task but is probably a breeze by comparison to what I went through with US Customs to retrieve a bottle. Each weighed about 10 pounds in its beautiful heavy display Hermès orange box lined in beige satin. The perfect hand etching, the leather ribbon in a different color each year (yellow, tan, blue, green, purple, etc.), the card carefully describing the theme of the year, the number “out of 500″ and the name of the artisan who completed the work made the entire presentation a true masterpiece.
But when it came to the scent, oh that hard-to-describe strangely fresh yet animalic scent of Eau d’Hermès!  It is best left in those heavy crystal bottles forever. Following the pleasant citrus opening that lasts only a few minutes, memories of stables and animal farms come to mind. The drydown has often been compared to sweat, mothballs, body odor!!
I can still wear Eau d’Hermès at times, particularly in cold weather… and only a drop at a time. It’s actually not a bad winter scent especially when you don’t want people to get too close! Eau d’Hermès is one of those “love it or hate it” scents.  Hermès had a rough ride re-launching it again in 2001 for its 50th anniversary. I predict that it may very well become discontinued in the future. Unless Monsieur Jean-Claude Ellena chooses to clean it up. Perhaps remove the cumin and some of the cinnamon, make it more contemporary, cleaner and less polarizing.
Eau d’Hermès is available on the Hermès website for a hefty price tag still and in non-crystal regular glass bottles.
The picture above is from my collection: The year of music (1996) and some others.
Please do write what you think of Eau d'Hermès. Perhaps your experience with it was different from mine!