Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Given the hurricanes we have recently endured here in my part of the world, and in honor of my dear friend who evacuated from Florida a week ago and is able, happily, to return to her intact home tomorrow, it’s time for me to comment on a favorite fragrance: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, translated as “a garden after the monsoon.” Very apropos, especially considering that my friend is a landscape architect and designer of lovely gardens!

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is, of course, one of the “Jardin” series of fragrances created for Hermes by Jean-Claude Ellena while he was their in-house perfumer. I love all five of them, but this one is high on my list. Hermes’ website describes it as a unisex fragrance meant to evoke the calm of a wet garden in India after the rain“A serene expression of nature’s rebirth after the monsoon rains.” Jean-Claude Ellena

Un Jardin après la Mousson explores unexpected aspects of India, when the monsoon gives back what the sun has taken from the earth, and drives away the scorching breath of drought. In this novella, ginger, cardamom, coriander, pepper and vetiver tell the story of nature’s rebirth, captured in Kerala in a world overflowing with water.

Mousson’s specific fragrance notes include: cardamom, coriander, pepper, ginger, ginger flower, vetiver, and unspecified citrus, floral and water notes (it seems that the citruses are lime and bergamot). The spices are not hot or warm or traditionally “spicy.” They present themselves as “cool” spices, after a refreshing initial gust of citrus on first application. Omitted from the official list of notes is melon, which clings to the whole composition; some wearers experience that note as more like cucumber. Its presence is confirmed by a later analysis revealing that the aromachemical Melonal is a key ingredient.

Both melons and cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, the flowering gourds. Both are indigenous to India and have been cultivated there for thousands of years, possibly as long ago as 3000 years. Many varieties of each are cultivated in Kerala and are widely used in Indian cuisine, with cucumbers especially often combined with the spices listed as notes for Mousson. The cucurbits grown in Kerala are “rain-fed crops”, benefiting from the region’s monsoon rains.

Cultivation of gourds and melons hanging from vines in India

Melons and gourds cultivated in India; photo from asianetindia.com

I have never been to India, but I have read that Kerala is one of its most beautiful regions, with tropical beaches and islands, breathtaking waterfalls, tea and cardamom plantations in the hills, rivers, lakes and houseboats. Some travel writers say that monsoon season is an idyllic time there, as the rains are not incessant deluges as in other regions, but daily downpours that last a few hours and disperse every day, allowing sunshine to reveal a remarkably verdant, rain-washed landscape. The rains replenish the famous waterfalls, lakes and rivers and cool the air. Monsoon season is also the time for the harvest festival of Onam; and it is reputed to be the best time for the ayurvedic treatments for which the region is famous.

Kerala, India, waterfall and green mountains during monsoon rainy season.

Kerala waterfall in monsoon season; photo from iryas/wikipedia.

Jean-Claude Ellena visited Kerala more than once during his work on Mousson. One of his trips is described by Phoebe Eaton in Liquid Assets:

In coastal Kerala, spices have been trafficked since the Romans rode in on the winds of the monsoons seeking cardamom and pepper: black gold. Women wear their saris differently here than they do up north, draping them like togas. And when the first monsoon blows in from the Arabian Sea — and it always seems to arrive during the first week of June, extinguishing the scorching rays of the summer sun and ushering in a joyful verdant renewal — the modest women of Kerala rush out into the rain, and the saris cling close to the body.

Chant Wagner wrote a lovingly detailed review of Mousson when it was released in 2008, at www.mimifroufrou.com. She’s a fan, as is Luca Turin; Chandler Burr was not. The latter’s review is puzzling; he spends more than a few sentences on his hypothesis that Ellena’s new creation would present a new experience of the aromachemical Calone, then he expresses outrage that it turns out not to be among the ingredients and calls Mousson a failure. Turin, on the other hand, praises the “core accord” as a “combination of melon, capsicum, and peppercorns” with an “incongruously fruity” effect. His review also notes the watery effects which Chant Wagner describes so well:

From the vantage point of the watery motif, it offers a notable variation on it by introducing a lactic, milky sensation that makes the perfume feel both aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. The fruit that is showcased here – a green cantaloupe going at times in the direction of a buttery watermelon – is [as] fluidly delineated as an impressionistic fruit can be.

Aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. Those words perfectly describe some of the lovely photographs I’ve seen of Kerala during monsoon season:

Clouds over mountains in Kerala, India, during monsoon season.

Kerala in monsoon season; photo sreetours.com

Mousson’s bottle is also lovely; it matches all the bottles of the other Jardin fragrances and, like them, is tinted with ombre shades of green, blue, or both (here, green is combined with blue). The bottle has a pleasing weight in the hand. The outer box is printed with a charming Hermes print of fanciful elephants, monkeys and parrots, cavorting amid flowers with tiny parasols in their grasp.

Print for outer box of Hermes' eau de toilette Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson print; hermes.com

I find Un Jardin Apres La Mousson intriguing, delightful, and different. I especially enjoy it during the summers here, which are hot and humid. As an admitted fan of all the Jardin fragrances, and a gardener myself, I may be biased! Have you tried this, or any of the others, and what did you think?

un-jardin-apres-la-mousson-boat

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson; image from Hermes, perfumista.vn

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Sur le Nil

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Sur le Nil

The weather has hit the high nineties in my part of the world, complete with dense humidity and hot skies. It is steamy and hot, and we just spent a weekend with friends at their lake house. The house has a huge, high-ceilinged screened porch with two swinging daybeds suspended from its beams and ceiling fans rotating lazily above. I spent most of Saturday lounging on one of those porch swings, reading and looking out over the lakeshore where my teenagers alternately baked themselves in the sun and dipped into the water. And boy, was I in the mood for Un Jardin Sur le Nil! I spritzed myself with it liberally throughout the day and just basked in its green mango and lotus flowers. This fragrance truly blossoms in summer heat and humidity.

Bottle of Un Jardin Sur le Nil fragrance from Hermes, floating on a lotus leaf

Un Jardin Sur le Nil; photo from hermes.com

Citrus-based fragrances are not usually high on my list but perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena is a magician with grapefruit. The opening of Un Jardin Sur le Nil is my favorite part of the fragrance — a gust of grapefruit and green mango that I find very refreshing and alluring. The entire impression is very green, which likely comes from notes like bulrushes, tomato leaf and carrot, with that wonderful fruity-but-not-sweet opening. It is a different green than most “green florals”, though light floral notes emerge as the citrus dries down.

The story of Un Jardin Sur le Nil and its creation has been masterfully told by Chandler Burr, first in this story in The New Yorker and then in longer book form, in The Perfect Scent.

Book cover of The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr

The Perfect Scent

After experiencing Un Jardin Sur le Nil on such a steamy, hot, humid day, I am appreciating its charms anew. In such an environment, it wafts off the skin in gentle waves of fresh coolness, as if one is about to sip the most delicious, refreshing drink in a green oasis. After the green mangoes and watercolor floral notes, the sycamore and incense notes at the base lightly suggest exactly the kind of setting in which I found myself this weekend: a wooden porch looking over a body of water, a humid breeze, a daybed heaped with pillows, ceiling fans turning gently above. In other words, there is a suggestion — just a soupcon, really — of this kind of room at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, where the Hermes team stayed during part of their exploratory journey:

Porch of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, looking over the Nile River

The Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan, Egypt. Photo: sofitel.com

Others have described and reviewed Un Jardin Sur le Nil in much more expert terms than I, and I encourage you to read The Perfect Scent, as it opens a window into the arcane world of perfumery in both Paris and New York. If you want to try the fragrance itself, I suggest that you try it on a hot summer day, when it truly comes into its own.

Bottle of Hermes fragrance Un Jardin Sur le Nil against background watercolor of lotus flowers

Un Jardin Sur le Nil, hermes.com

 

May Muguet Marathon: Muguet Porcelaine

May Muguet Marathon: Muguet Porcelaine

Thank goodness. I have been eagerly anticipating the release of the new (and last) Hermessence by Jean-Claude Ellena, Muguet Porcelaine. I love his Jardin series very much; the transparency of his fragrances appeals to me although some other perfume lovers do not like it. And I truly love lily of the valley scents, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that Muguet Porcelaine would not disappoint. And it doesn’t.

Before I got my own sample, I read some comments that used words like “cucumber”, “melon”, “watermelon” and even “bubble gum”! No, no, no, I thought, surely Ellena would not play such a cruel joke on perfume lovers who look forward to his new works, or on the lovely lily of the valley flower that has so inspired great perfumers like Edmond Roudnitska, whom Ellena holds in high regard.

He did not. Continue reading

Fragrance Friday: Rosemary

Fragrance Friday: Rosemary

I grow rosemary. I love the small blue flowers, the grey-green evergreen foliage that resembles needles. But most of all, I love the scent of rosemary. Freshly picked and minced, rosemary adds fragrance and complexity to so many dishes. In ancient Greece, rosemary was thought to improve the mind and memory, a belief later supported by some modern studies of aromatherapy. It later came to signify remembrance: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” Ophelia, in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5. Rosemary was also carried in a bride’s bouquet or worn in a bridal wreath as a sign of fidelity. All in all, an herb and fragrance with many meanings and nuances. Some lovely quotes about rosemary, and its uses, can be found at the blog The Herb Gardener. Even more detailed information about its varieties and culture is at Auntie Dogma’s Garden Spot.

Coincidentally, a fragrance that currently fascinates me also has rosemary among its notes: Diorissimo. I used to wear it many years ago, in the 1980s. Diorissimo is another scent that seems to send the perfume blogosphere into orbit — not because people hate it but because they mourn its reformulation. I loved it because of its strong lily-of-the-valley fragrance, another favorite scent and plant of mine. (I grew my own to carry in my bridal bouquet and for my husband’s boutonniere). I hadn’t realized Diorissimo also has notes of rosemary until I did a search for rosemary-inflected perfumes on Fragrantica.com. Another surprise? It appears in Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Toit, which I am lucky enough to have received as a gift but haven’t tried yet! Can’t wait, as I have loved the other Jardin perfumes. Tomorrow, perhaps?

Rosemary may be having a cultural “moment.” The most recent catalogue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a gorgeous rosemary necklace with patinated metal “leaves” dangling from freshwater pearls. The jewelry maker is Michael Michaud, and his company makes a whole line of rosemary jewelry. I plan to enjoy this moment while it lasts! And maybe I’ll even try today’s Diorissimo.

Photo: Auntie Dogma’s Garden Spot.