What does daybreak smell like exactly? And how would you go about bottling it?
If you're Jean-Claude Ellena, the in-house perfumer at Hermès, you would start by combining a bouquet of white flowers – sensual gardenia, joyous sweetpea – to convey "the beginning of light." Then, you would conspire with Pierre Alexis Dumas, the luxury-goods firm's artistic director and overseer of brand vision, to gather a gaggle of beauty journalists in a wooded clearing near Delphi, Greece, where you would enlist a team of white-clad nymphs to tie scented ribbons around said journalists' wrists just as the sun went up. On those ribbons?
A whiff of morning incarnate. Not to mention the dawn of a new chapter in Hermès's fragrance history.
The theatrics on that carefully chosen Greek clearing – Dumas, as it happens, has a home not far from Delphi, while Hermès, of course, was the youngest of the Greek gods, overseeing, among other things, transitions – weren't entirely unwarranted, as Jour d'Hermès, the newly launched eau de parfum, is a big deal for the company: It's a follow-up to Terre d'Hermès (the blockbuster men's scent launched in 2006) and is geared specifically – and unusually – to women (typically, the house produces gender-neutral scents).
"The feminine part is underrepresented," admits Catherine Fulconis, president of Hermès Parfums. "So we wanted to balance the [offerings] and also propose a feminine fragrance with the Jean-Claude imprint."
That "imprint" has been a boon for the brand, establishing Ellena's genius in the process. Seven years after its launch, Terre d'Hermès continues to register double-digit growth annually, ranking among the top five men's scents in France and the top 10 in Europe.
Hence, now, the women's scent, which Dumas was determined should not only evoke but capture light. Such a mandate could not have been easy for Ellena, who says the composition took him nearly three years to perfect. (Terre d'Hermès, by comparison, took eight months to create.)
But he seems, improbably, to have pulled it off. On those scented ribbons in Greece and in its bottle, the scent suggests liquid sunshine. (Conceived by Pierre Hardy, who also designs jewellery for the brand, the bottle suspends the peach-hued perfume in a soft-edged cubic vessel.) At the same time, it sets a new standard for floral fragrances, seducing slowly and unaggressively, yet lingering on the skin.
"I think it's time for something refined – the comeback of elegance," Fulconis says. "People are looking for distinctiveness."
"The goal," Ellena himself adds, "is not to read [the scent] too easily. There [should be] an aspect that's [reflective] of my way of composing, but that's also sufficiently complex so that you don't understand all of its sides."
Jour d'Hermès is available at Hermès boutiques across Canada and Holt Renfrew now and at Ogilvy and The Bay starting in March. It costs $120 for 50 ml and $165 for 85 ml.