"A perfume does not necessarily need a subject, a concept; if it is beautiful it exists in itself." Thus stated perfume maestro Jean Claude Ellena upon the matter of creating at large. His inquisitive mind has been composing smells for decades for the sheer adventure of exploring what could be. Sometimes these converse into a point where all ends meet into a universal north and a concept starts to form. Few people may realise, but this is more or less how Terre d’Hermès came to being. The spermatic idea had been dormant in a moleskin notebook at the shirt pocket of a certain Jean Claude...
Enjoying something of the status of a modern classic, a relatively new one, blowing on its 10th birthday cake candles this year, Terre left a visible footprint as befits its "earthy" name. A bottle of it always infiltrates the best-selling men's scents list in France and enjoys a widespread international fandom as well.
Scents of this mettle possess that rare gift, they connect with the public in a powerful bond that expands on the subconscious need on one level, and on the more conscious partaking of quality of craftsmanship on the other. Men (and women) have recognised in Terre d’Hermès a scent that answers the need for a seemingly simple pleasure (traditionally masculine tropes, wood plus citrus) yet with the refinement of a perfume fit for such a classy outfit as Hermès.
Terre d’Hermès is a metaphor for materials, a matrix that speaks of territory as well as matter, earth, and roots. The name, "Terre" i.e. earth, had been copyrighted years before for use in connection to perfume. But surely, even though reproducing the smell of the earth (and even more so of petrichor) could be a lovely project in itself, it fell short of becoming a fully fledged perfume. Thus the perfumer, upon being given a vague brief upon his coming at the helm of the iconic French saddler turned luxury stronghold, set his sights into the structures he had developed for future use.
The high dosage of woody materials, of which Iso E Super a synthesised woody-amber with a cedar wood profile plays a big part, inspired the vision of a wooden post driven into the ground. Symbolic for man's presence, man's mark on the earth, set with a background of Irish landscape, the wooden post took a life of its own, traveling to the press material, the brochure and the sales staff training material.
The vertically structured scent of Terre d’Hermès is based on an alchemy of wood accented with the fresh bitterness of grapefruit and the vivacity of pepper, resulting from the intermingling of Iso E Super with the rest of the materials (much like it reveals a peppery character in Poivre Samarcande when allied with violet leaf).
Fresh spices coalesce with vetiver in an effect that people describe as "mineral", a novel approach to "read" perfume back in 2006 when these "mineral" evoking fragrances were few and far in between. But the flint felt in this fragrance is an illusion. It's a magic trick. It's what Jean Giono, Ellena's favorite author wrote: "All the work of expression takes place in the reader's mind; from that he derives his pleasures and the satisfaction, gratification, and joy it gives him."
Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume.