This review comes to us from Eric, a Dermatologist and perfume lover who resides in North Carolina, USA. I am extremely grateful and thrilled that he agreed to write this wonderful and intimate account of himself, his father and an iconic house and perfume.
Created by : Edmond Roudnitska
Date : 1951
Genre : Cumin leather
Concentration : eau de toilette
My fascination with the House of Hermès started as a child. 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 a splash with a stopper and a gold string around the neck sitting on a pedestal 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 teased me.
The only person who never teased me was my beloved father. He was a truly superior individual. A writer and highly intellectual scholar who taught philosophy and literature, the kind of father who would say today “my four year old son can be anything he wants to be and I will still love him”. That was pretty unique in the mid-seventies!
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 unique toy to add to my collection.
Small children tire within a mile. But 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 a familiar sign 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 almost daily: some days I wanted to see the Soviet Embassy up close, with the steel mask of Lenin staring at you. Other days the Citroen Dealership on Avenue de la Grande Armée. And yet others, it was 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 on display and that looked like Russian matryoshka nesting dolls all lined up together. 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 right then! He would smile and say “OK yes we can, but when you’re a bit older”. I would nod back at him and say “How much older papa?”. He would say, “Fifteen, when you can start wearing fragrance”. Little did he know that his boy 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 stored in LU cookie metal tins. Yours truly started preferring skateboarding and put fragrance 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 the Hermès store 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 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! My moist skin brought wafts of spices on light-dishwashing-liquid-style lemon. The cinnamon was not exactly Cinnabon, but Indian Buffet runny warm dessert laden with cumin 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. A shower, now. Please!
Eau d’Hermès was created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1951 and remained the scent of the rich and famous and the horse riding royals who entered Hermès stores to buy saddles, Limoges ashtrays, cigar cutters, silk scarves and leather bags. Finding Eau d’Hermès in a regular perfume store or an American Department Store was impossible. Even Hermès stores carried it selectively. Hermès stores in Asia did not carry it at all I hear. Until 1991 when Hermès started re-marketing it carefully and non-aggressively.
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 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. 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. Opening a box was a hard-to-describe feeling that adolescent boys usually spontaneously experience at night. 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 or even morning breath by some bloggers!!!
Among my friends, I am one of the few who can still wear Eau d’Hermès. I particularly like it in cold weather… and only a drop at a time. It’s actually not a bad Christmas scent especially when you don’t want your family members 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 and ambitiously widening its distribution. 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 part of the cinnamon, make it more contemporary, cleaner and less polarizing.
Eau d’Hermès is available on the Hermès website “for him, for her, for me, for you” (in reality for NO ONE!) and for a hefty price tag still and in non-crystal regular glass bottles.
Top image : Eau d’Hermès Limited Edition crystal bottles
Bottom image : From Eric’s collection – 1996 (in display box) The Year of Music, 1993 The Year of Japan, 1997 The Year of Africa and 2000 First Steps into the New Century (by Sempé)