Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena.
For an established luxury goods producer, the trick to remaining relevant is to promise both the past and the future. The authenticity of heritage and a bright future of previously unimaginable luxury. This two-step is nothing new for Hermès. Their products are exceptional specimens of craft, but their true artistry lies in manipulating perception.
The brand’s Eau de Cologne series shares the standard Hermès bottle with the Hermessence perfumes but come in in bright, lollipop colors, a carefree alternative to the austere pastels of the Hermessence line. They are ‘note-driven’, just like the Hermessence line. (Grapefruit, narcissus, rhubarb for the colognes versus osmanthus, massoïa and paprika for the high-end.) They are effectively a ‘mini-Hermessence’ line.
Hermès tend very carefully to the symbolism of their products. The language surrounding the products might seem nonchalant but the meaning is specific and the intention is unmistakable. When Hermès launch a product, nothing is left to chance. From images of the product to the text describing it to press events, every detail is deliberate. Hermès know how to manipulate the echo chamber effect of the fashion world with an almost scientific precision. Whisper the stories in just the right places and through unquestioning repetition, they become legend.
The concept of Eau de Néroli Doré is not a new one. This strategy, Finery At All Costs, is an unsubtle one in the first place but Hermès have pulled out all the stops. Their claim of using one half of Tunisia and Morocco’s annual neroli production is an undisguised demonstration of both power and crassness. Hermès are apparently capable of putting the northern portion of a continent on hold in order to suit their product design. (And in doing so, hand you a flawless example of post colonial arrogance wrapped up with a bow.)
No theater works without an audience and here Hermès rely on the privilege that they foster in their consumers. Part one of the strategy is the scale of the act: A multinational claim on a material. Part two is the intent, which is to invite its customers to relish the frivolousness. International economies are bent to your whim. So what that an equally good eau de cologne could have been made with less sensationally-sourced, inexpensive materials? You deserve finery at all costs.
Hermès’s sentimental account of a young Jean-Claude Ellena’s learning to distill orange blossom is an attempt to give Eau de Néroli Doré a sincerity, a human scale. In classic cake-and-eat-it-too fashion, Hermès want to alter the economy of nations, but they also want to project a wide-eyed artisanal purity. For all the spin surrounding Eau de Néroli Doré, it can’t beat the perfume truism that any cologne is pretty much as good as any other cologne. It has an olfactory ‘aftertaste’ that undermines the touted neroli. It smells briefly aromatherapeutic and then like a bottle of cologne smashed on sidewalk cement.
The launch for Eau de Néroli Doré and Eau de Rhubarbe Escarlate by new in-house perfumer Christine Nagel was a lunch that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Hunger Games. One of the above images is from the Hermès lunch, the other is from The Hunger Games. Please feel free to contact me if you can’t tell one from the other.