A lush new fragrance takes a complex approach to simplicity.
as the sun climbs higher in the sky each day and lingers a few minutes longer in the evening, thoughts naturally turn to romance and, for some, horticulture. Hermès has long catered to its elegant spade-and-trowel clientele with the Jardin group of fragrances, each composed by its in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. So far, Ellena has led us on an olfactory walking tour of rooftop gardens (Un Jardin sur le Toit) as well as gardens in the Mediterranean (Un Jardin en Méditerranée), in monsoon territory (Un Jardin Après la Mousson) and on the Nile (Un Jardin sur le Nil). His latest perfumed peregrination, Un Jardin de Monsieur Li, takes us to the Far East, where he has summoned up the vegetal spirits cultivated by a fictive “Monsieur Li.”
Monsieur Li’s garden is a traditional Taoist one in which none of the paths are straight and everything—trees, waterfalls, lily pads, stones—has a spirit. The perfume smells like wind in the willows or like a high-flying aerial act in an arboreal canopy. Ellena’s composition brings together a resinous sap, the fruity kumquat and the distinctive waft of damp stones. “It’s a hard odour, a little like steel, that one gets from mineral molecules,” explained Ellena at the launch, which took place in a folly of a pagoda in Paris’ otherwise businesslike 8th arrondissement. “It reminds me of cement.”
The jasmine in Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is the star ingredient, and, fittingly, it is almost celestial. “My palette is more restrained now,” said Ellena. “I can do jasmine with three molecules to obtain an ‘eau de jasmine’ that flows, that doesn’t have the heaviness jasmine usually does.” His simplicity is revelatory. Perfumery molecules have multiplied in number and levels of sophistication, but Ellena focuses on the essentials, creating a note from only a few ingredients. “The garden is a microcosm of how you see the world,” he said. “As the Chinese say, ‘You begin your life when you begin your garden.’”