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An Icon Reborn: Perfumer Christine Nagel Talks Us Through Hermès Latest Scent


Terre D’Hermès Eau Intense Vetiver. Courtesy of Hermès

It’s a signature scent synonymous with Hermès, but Terre D’Hermès isn’t resting on its laurels. The classic fragrance loved by many, has been reinterpreted by master perfumer Christine Nagel for a bold new update. Rich and warm, this latest chapter focuses on its facet of vetiver, combining it with notes of fresh citrus and bergamot. Taking us through the process, Nagel reveals how she created a scent that is set to reach cult status.

Why look to a perfume of the past to create a perfume of the future?

It is extremely intimidating but also very exciting to ‘touch’ an icon. I agreed to focus on this project when the balance shifted clearly in favor of the exciting aspect. The desire to create and to make took hold of me. In the end, I experienced a kind of tipping point into the creative phase after a period of observation. It is a bit like leaving several footprints in the ground! But I’d like to emphasize the fact that it really is a creation; I tackled it with energy and without apprehension, which enabled me to take it quite far. It is not a matter of simple cosmetic work; I have done more than that.

How did you approach this process?

I took the original formula of Terre D’Hermès. I always like to dive into a formula to discover its mechanism. I am like a watchmaker who dismounts the mechanism of a clock or a watch to understand the way it works. And then I go back, with my colors, my palette…

What raw materials did you keep the same and what did you change in Terre D’Hermès Eau Intense Vetiver?

I kept the frame, the spirit, and the structure. Regarding raw materials there are three basic things: a work on bergamot, a bergamot picked green before ripening which gives a brighter and note to the fruit. A Sichuan pepper (it is not a pepper but a rutaceous), a note similar and close to grapefruit smell. And vetiver of course. They work very well all together. It’s like an elegant crossfade.

Vetiver was a highlight. Did you use a particular kind?

Vetiver is a very important note in men’s fragrances. It can take a large number of facets, notably hazelnut and peanut, which I did not want to be apparent in this creation. I was looking for a smooth vetiver, not at all rough, and in some ways the substance is docile too. Our suppliers have this incredible talent of being able to reveal different facets of the same natural element. The one I used is a very smooth vetiver made especially for us.

Do you believe that there are more masculine raw materials?

Gender is an interesting subject in perfumery, and I also want to talk about the creative process of the fragrance, and of the name of its creator – the perfumer. I strongly believe that perfume is an art like all other arts – it has nothing to do with gender. Gender appeared in perfumery for financial reasons and because of the genius of marketing. From my point of view, just as in Oriental or Indian cultures, rose or patchouli can be worn by men. It is not the perfume that determines your gender, as some perfumes can become masculine on a man’s skin and feminine on a woman’s skin. So let’s put all the diktats and advertising to one side and be daring. Be bold and try the so-called men’s perfumes on women and women’s perfumes on men.

Why are they considered masculine? How does this affect perfumes?

As I have said before, whenever a fragrance has gendered ingredients and/or is labeled a gendered perfume, it is marketing. It is so hard to override conventions, you have to be brave to break free. Raw materials in their simplicity and naked truth have no genders.

You are described as the perfumer of the matter. What does that mean?

Yes, it is true I feel very comfortable with this way of painting my perfume. When I discover an ingredient, I want to know everything, to knead it, crush it, work it, and experiment with it. I want to take it where I like, coax it. I want to push its boundaries. I want to force it, tame it. In my perfumes, there’s often something tactile, textured, a particular sensitivity to the raw material, the feel of it, the sensuality of touching it. People often describe my work as physical perfumery. I’ll quote Rodin: “To give my figures more breadth, I give them more life; I exaggerate them and get more life”. That is absolutely true of my perfumes, I recognize myself in that quote. I accentuate features, bring out raw materials. My perfumes are never linear.

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