Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hermès Hermessences 1: Paprika Brasil and Iris Ukiyoé

I have really fallen for the Hermessence series perfumes, which appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities much more than do Les Jardins from this house and perfumer. It's not that I dislike those creations, but they have never really spoken to me in the way that the Hermessences do. Each of these two series constitutes an independent, beautifully crafted set expressing a distinctive aesthetic vision, which is why liking or disliking or being indifferent to one of them (as I am to Les Jardins) implies nothing about the other.

When I think about how the various members of each of the two sets fit together with one another while remaining individually unique, I am amazed at Jean-Claude Elléna. It appears that I may have been won over to the cult after all. I recently read Elléna's book Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent (2011), which no doubt facilitated my conversion...

Let me begin with the biggest surprise of the ten Hermessences: Paprika Brasil. The very first time that I tried this perfume, I was immediately struck by the marked iris note. It was beautiful, and the creation was so far from what I had been expecting (something along the lines of the L'Artisan Parfumeur salsa perfume...), that I even suspected a decanting error. I read and re-read the name on the vial, and wondered if it was possible that it contained Iris Ukiyoé (which I had yet to test) instead. Now, having worn Paprika Brasil several times, from manufacturer-prepared samples, I am convinced that this was not a mistake or an illusion. To my nose, iris is the focal note of Paprika Brasil, its name notwithstanding.

This is honestly one of the most beautiful iris compositions I've ever smelled. Perhaps I am iris hyperosmic, or perhaps the reviewers who hate this creation are hyposmic. Or perhaps both. All I can say is that this gorgeous presentation of iris blows me away. Do I smell paprika or pimento in this composition? Only briefly, and only in the opening. Do I smell clove? No, not at all. After the slightly spicy opening, Paprika Brasil settles down on my skin to a smooth woody iris scent. The wood seems to be mostly cedar, although it's not the usual Elléna base—by which I mean the one underlying some of the Jardins and Colognes by this perfumer.

In an endeavor to solve this enigma, why a fragrance named Paprika Brasil should turn out to be an iris perfume, I decided to read all of the reviews I could find. Some people hate this creation and claim that it smells like vegetables in a kitchen. Others find it extremely ephemeral and insubstantial—a skimpy little thing. About half of the reviews I read do not even mention iris. But a lucky few, among whom I number, are captivated by this scent and pleasantly surprised by the dominant iris note. I take all of this evidence on its face to support the thesis of variable salience of notes to noses and variable expression on skin from wearer to wearer. I do not know what this smells like on paper. Why would I want to waste any of it by spraying it there?

With surprisingly good longevity and medium sillage, this unique iris creation is now on my full-bottle wish list, but results do vary quite a lot from person to person, so try before you buy! 

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Elléna
Notes: clove, paprika, pimento, green leaves, iris, precious woods, mignonette
 (from Parfumo.net)

This Hermessence is of course supposed to be an iris perfume—and it is. But it is very different from Paprika BrasilIris Ukiyoé does not feature a light, powdery iris à la Guerlain Après L'Ondée or Prada Infusion d'Iris. I am huge fan of both of those perfumes, and in fact I love every version of the Prada Infusions d'Iris: the edp, the edt, and Infusion d'Homme as well. I hope to try the latest member of the group, the Absolue, soon...

No, Iris Ukiyoé falls into the camp containing Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile, Hermès Hiris, and, to a lesser extent, Yves Rocher Iris Noir. The latter contains a strong and pervasive Yves Rocher base common to all of the other members of the prestige perfumes from that line and is probably my least favorite of the darker iris perfumes for that reason. Iris Ukiyoé is a heavier, orris-type iris perfume, but it also has a slightly carroty-vegetal side. It's definitely not as carroty as Hiris, but let's just say that there seem to be a few carrot seeds or leaves thrown into the mix.

Ironically, then, Iris Ukiyoé smells more like vegetables to me than does Paprika Brasil. I do not think that it smells like chopped vegetables in a kitchen, however. The quality I'm talking about is similar to the vegetal quality in Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. Obviously, that's a very different perfume, featuring, as it does, tuberose, but I perceive some sort of vegetal connection between the two. There are no vegetables, neither carrots nor greens, listed among the notes. Perhaps Elléna decided to dip into the plant pheromones for this creation, following Dominique Ropion's lead? On ne sait jamais...

In any case, Iris Ukiyoé is a heavier (I want to say "soggy", but that sounds derogatory...) iris perfume and not at all powdery or woody to my nose. It would surely appeal to anyone who appreciates Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile, it seems to me. I like it a lot, but if forced to choose a single iris perfume from this series, I'd select Paprika Brasil—believe it or not!

Still, Iris Ukiyoé is appealing in its own right, and in the fantasy world where I am permitted to buy every worthy perfume in existence, this one, too, would join my collection.

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Elléna
Notes: iris, mandarin, orange blossom, rose (from Parfumo.net)

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