Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: HERMES COLOGNES Eau d'Orange Verte, de Pamplemousse Rose, de Gentiane Blanche

I've been really interested in eaux de cologne/eaux fraîche this summer. Inasmuch as the genre can be interesting? But it seems it can. Still waters run deep... well, at least enough to inspire a reemergence (with some modest reinvention) of the genre in the last few years.

Then again, it isn't as if citrus eaux have ever gone away. So, the above is probably less considered than willful observation on my part. (Plus some enthusiasm spilled over from my interest in the Diptyque neo-cologne trio, already reviewed.) Still, insofar as this newer generation of eau de cologne must contend with the good old canon, it has to do at least some deliberate thinking about itself in relation to its genealogy, even if it doesn't aim to kill the father.

I start with the Hermès trio: Eau d'Orange Verte (1979), Eau de Pamplemousse Rose (2009), Eau de Gentiane Blanche (2009).

I have to admit, I still like Eau d'Orange Verte best of the three. I think only a small part of that has to do with its having become a beloved summer staple for me and mostly to do with its unmistakably oldschool signature -- i.e. the oakmoss.
I'm by no means an oakmoss fanatic, but its presence here is very, very nice. It gives EdOV a surprising depth (for a citrus eau), veering it toward a chypre, while still remaining very refreshing (as a citrus eau should be). And though EdOV now has become absorbed into the eau de cologne canon as a classic, its addition of oakmoss and subtle emphasis of the orange constitute its own 1979 genre-reinvention. It's a simple adjustment to the standard recipe but so brilliant. I really love how it transforms this eau de cologne into a contrast of citrus and woods, opening with a clean hit of that lemon-orange and then drying down wonderfully dark green and mossy. Like lying on a forest floor under a huge tree and breathing in the cool shady damp. But without the itching.

Fast forward to Pamplemousse Rose and we have something very contemporary. Even the citrus in it smells more present-day than that of EdOV. In fact, it isn't the oakmoss alone that 'dates' EdOV; its lemon is somehow oldschool, too. Somehow a bit powdery in the drydown -- and definitely not as linear and sheer as in, say, Marc Jacobs Lemon. Actually, it reminds me quite a lot of the lemon in Caron Eau Fraîche (1997), which I take to be a traditionalist take on eau de cologne (in contrast to the other two Caron Eaux, Forte and Pure).

But back to Pamplemousse Rose. The citrus here is very clean, very light, very sparkling. Also very fleeting. Probably the shortest-lived of the Hermès eaux on the skin. But happy and lithesome while it lives, rather like the Sempé-like drawings on Hermès' website. And also the simplest (some might say boring) of the trio. There must be other notes in its composition but its name says most of it, and both the grapefruit and rose are easily recognizable. It opens with the grapefruit, more fizzy than tart and not at all sour (or sulfurous), with a touch of rose, which then blooms on the skin until it almost equals the citrus.
This is eau de cologne as grapefruit ginger ale.

Eau d'Orange Verte and Pamplemousse Rose are aptly associated with the colors green and pink, but Eau de Gentiane Blanche, I think, should get gray, not white. Gentian probably doesn't come in gray, but then, I have no idea what this flower looks/smells like, while what I most recognize in EdGB is iris. A cool, rooty (but progressively more floral) iris, with the signature Jean-Claude Ellena transparency. Of the Hermès trio, it is the farthest removed from traditional eau de cologne and, actually, seems more related to Hiris. Not as if Hiris were turned into an eau de cologne, because there really is too little citrus for that, but rather, as if Hiris were soap-washed, thinned, made more green-vegetal, and its powder transformed into mist. It's a gray morning high up in the mountains.

I'm surprised I don't like it more than I do. I do like it, and more than the pretty Pamplemousse Rose, but I didn't like it on my first try -- there is something vaguely fecal in there. It isn't obvious on cold sniff, so it may merely be its development on my skin, but after the pleasantly medicinal and aldehydic opening, something like an indolic neroli appears and keeps interfering with the iris. It does subside eventually and the late drydown is more enjoyable for me, as a sheer floral white musk grafted onto iris and which also very slightly sweetens the otherwise dry composition. The white musk is a little soapy, but its overall effect on EdGB seems to me less laundry detergent than white tea. Like a Hiris Thé Blanc flanker, gauzy and cool. Not tremendously eau de cologne-like, apart from general lightness, but at least, maybe the white is apt here, after all.

On the whole, I don't know that by these two fragrances, Hermès achieves any startling revelations about (or revolutions to) the general State of Eaux or its own H signature on it, except to say in various ways that these are 'new' in contrast to the 'founding' Eau d'Orange Verte. Still, intriguingly, there does appear to be the illusion of coherence -- a trio series, linked by bottle, color, theme, and some inchoate idea of 'freshness.'


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