Paprika Brasil is the latest fragrance to join the Hermessence Collection at Hermès. Like the others, it was developed by Hermès house nose Jean Claude Ellena. Paprika Brasil was reportedly inspired by the 1955 Claude Lévi-Strauss book Tristes Tropiques, which recounted his travels in the Brazilian interior. The fragrance notes include pimento, clove, paprika, iris, green leaves, reseda, ember wood (aka Brazilwood or Pernambuco) and woody notes.
My initial trials of Paprika Brasil cannot be described in any way other than disappointing, and the experience points to the dangers of building up expectations based on the fragrance name, back story and notes. I suppose what I was expecting was a deep woods scent with exotic spices, something that would evoke the jungles of Brazil before the impact of globalization, where Lévi-Strauss was said to have found "a human society reduced to its most basic expression".
I wouldn't necessarily know such a thing if I smelled it, mind you, but Paprika Brasil certainly doesn't call up any such picture. It is first and foremost an iris fragrance, and a sheer one at that. The top notes have the same feel of rooty carrot that you find in Hermès Hiris, but without the sharp metallic twang. There is a slight whisper of green, and a dusting of dry paprika, and yes, there are woods, but the whole is extraordinarily muted, and easily has the least presence of any of the Hermessences so far.
As a rule, I like sheer and muted. It is one of the reasons I admire Jean Claude Ellena: he can work magic without shouting, and while using a very limited palette. But Paprika Brasil feels almost wan, and so entirely fails to live up to its name that it is hard, quite honestly, to find a way to approach it with an open mind. Last night and again this morning, I tried it next to a group of my favorite iris scents, and it failed to make much of a showing. Ah well, thats $180 (or more? did I hear they raised the price?) saved.
For two more (not radically different, I'm afraid) opinions, see Victoria's review at Bois de Jasmin and Marina's review at Perfume Smellin' Things. If you have tried Paprika Brasil and loved it, do comment, I'd love to hear another side.