I first encountered Eau d'Hermès at a huge perfume emporium in Tijuana, Mexico, when I was very young. I sniffed Eau d'Hermès and recoiled, thinking: “It smells filthy!” Over a decade later, on a whim, and at a steep discount, I up and bought a bottle of Eau d'Hermès. I hadn’t smelled it since Tijuana, and this time I loved it. Perhaps age (and feverish buying and sampling of fragrances for years and years) had altered my opinions of ‘difficult’ perfumes and helped me appreciate the “underside” of fragrances: the musks, the indoles, the rude spices.
Legend has it that perfumer Edmond Roudnitska aimed to capture the scent of an Hermès handbag, its insides, with Eau d'Hermès. Right now, I’m retiring my own “handbag” — a big black leather thing that I’ve had for at least fifteen years. My bag used to be handsome, “fit” and trim; now its zippers are failing, it’s more gray than black, and it’s “flabby” after years of being stuffed with my stuff. I call it my Blood (it’s been to the hospital with me many times), Sweat (so many trips to hot places) and Tears (lots of losses occur in fifteen years) Bag.
Though it’s old, my bag smells pretty good. I've used it to transport more perfume samples and perfume bottles than I can remember. Candy plays a part in my bag’s scent: there’s chewing gum, chocolate bars, and Choward’s Violet mints tucked into an inside compartment. My bag still has a faint leather scent because I’ve moisturized that bag as much as I have my own skin (and that’s a lot). I’ve kept food out of my bag…except for an occasional orange or tangerine. SO: if you could shove your face inside my bag you’d smell: spices and flowers, citrus, candy, leather, and hints of scent from cosmetics I use – like my honey lip balm and lavender-tea tree-eucalyptus hand sanitizer.
OK…I’ll admit it. My bag has a “tough”/rough-around-the-seams vibe too; how could it not after 15 years of almost-daily use? My bag’s held onto residual (rather “piquant”) background aromas — from old books, money (paper and coins), pencils, and even handkerchiefs I’ve used to wipe my face and then threw into the bag until I got home….or till I “found” them weeks later…my bag is big). I’ve held that bag in my hands, used it as a pillow, hugged it on crowded subways; it has absorbed my DNA and smells like me.
And Eau d'Hermès smells a bit like my bag: for one thing, it does not conjure the scent of a NEW bag. Eau d'Hermès opens with strong bergamot and cinnamon-cardamom (do NOT think “sweet, candy cinnamon”…think cinnamon sawdust). Lots of Eau d'Hermès wearers (and haters) note the presence of dusty cumin in the perfume; I agree there’s a cumin-like aroma percolating, but this “dirty” note reminds me more of pungent, arse-kicking cedar-civet than pure cumin. In mid-development, Eau d'Hermès introduces a quiet, but intense, jasmine. As the jasmine begins to shine under all those spices, Eau d'Hermès comes alive for me; it gives me, I’ll admit without so much as a blush, a thrill. The heart notes also provide the leather accord in Eau d'Hermès — a soupçon of birch, bold cedar, musk, a wonderful woody vanilla-tonka combo, and (what smells like) “salty” skin (human skin, not calf skin). The addition of the “human” element (almost 'acrid') to Eau d'Hermès’ leather is an ingenious, and audacious, touch, whether inspired by a real person and purse or by Roudnitska’s imagination.
I’ve compared the perfume from an old bottle of Eau d'Hermès to brand new juice; the current version is “smoother” for sure, but the spirit of Eau d'Hermès remains the same. Though it has a powerful character, Eau d'Hermès is not a strong perfume; it turns silky in the dry-down and stays close to the body (I usually reapply it once during the days I wear it). Tip: I love wearing a drop of narcissus oil with Eau d'Hermès; they complement each other. Eau d'Hermès is available in 100 ml Eau de Toilette for $120.
As for my dear old bag? I won’t be throwing it away, but will store it ‘respectfully’ in the closet next to my bed, its body filled with meaningful items to make it feel useful; I might even spray an old handkerchief with Eau d'Hermès and tuck it inside, too.