Voyage by Hermès (2010): Creativity Pause or A Voyage along Traditional Trails {Perfume Review & Musings}


My first impression smelling it on someone else: space

My impression upon smelling it on my skin: a crystalline white citrus with a dirty undertone of sea-floated gray amber.

If it is about a voyage, it is certainly not a disembodied one; you can elect to think either about making love or having to share the scents of the bodies of your fellow travelers on an overcrowded steamship.

In another sense, in a perfumery sense, Voyage is an olfactive summary, a shortcut taken between the bitter and sparkling purity of Orange Verte by Hermès, created by nose Françoise Caron, and the scent of the sheets of a sieste crapuleuse or afternoon lovemaking bespeaking of time-off and holidays, which is to be found in the sweaty cumin note of Eau d'Hermès by Edmond Roudnitska, the ex-mentor of Hermès' in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena the author of Voyage....
With time, it becomes clearer to me that the perfume is a reinterpretation of the citrus-ambergris arc of Eau des Merveilles by Hermès (I had almost forgotten it was by Hermès when the thought struck me) but done cleverly by incorporating the inspirations from these two other Hermès perfumes found at the two extreme poles of the perfume spectrum of the house. Indeed as Hermès state themselves, it is a perfume which is both "new and familiar." In this part, I see the house homage of the perfume to reside like a vertical accord between two extreme tonalities. It is a little like showing off what the house of Hermès is capable of encompassing: the sound of a Gregorian chant, the sound of a fresh river by a citrus grove (Orange Verte) and a quasi bordello atmosphere (Eau d'Hermès). And then, the sea voyage note of Eau des Merveilles leaving its trail on the foamy sea.

The animalic aspect of the scent can also be seen to be an allusion to the equestrian heritage of Hermès which is emphasized in the advertising campaign showing a galloping horse and a dove in flight to symbolize the unisex aspect of the perfume. It is of course also what makes up that unmistakable French touch which was immortalized in literature by Rabelais and become the stuff or historical anecdote with king Henri the IVth. It is the bon vivant but also connoisseur tradition of French culture, one capable of enjoying and singing the praises of a symphony of ripe smells. It is about ordinary everyday lustiness and appetite for life, one unafraid of strong, erotic and decaying scents.

Saying this, I feel some nostalgia for the genius of an olfactory culture which could give rise to the following exchange I will transcribe for you in a moment. Allow me this digression. And here I will have to jump back to the 17th century in the streets of Paris to let you apprehend its strange exotic quality. The maréchale de Thémines also called Marie de la Noue was reputed to be a connoisseur of the scent of well-ripen mud in Paris in that age where the city stank of horse by-products and muddy putridity. She in fact was known to appreciate the aroma of ripen, inhabited mud so much that she reportedly would ask that her windows be flung wide open to better take in the scent of the street when someone moved the muck. The mud of the time consisted of all sorts of organic elements including horse excrements, used waters, food refuse and what not. One day, walking with Marie de Médicis who was treading in the organic compost, this one asked her,

- Madame la Maréchale, is this one of a refined grade?

- No, Madam, it is not ripe enough

This leads me to thinking about what "voyage" can mean when put into perfumery language. It makes me perceive more concretely one of the most fundamental functions of perfumery which is to be a voyage in time. If a fragrance can make you smell not only exotic sensations in space, it can make you travel through time as well.   

No fragrance notes are provided in the press materials (see addendum above) but I perceive a mingling of cardamom, gunpowder, mineral dust - a nod to Ellena's own creations, Déclaration by Cartier (cardamom), Terre d'Hermès (flint stone)- and citruses. On paper, I further detect notes of black pepper, ginger and a hint of lemon grass. The scent although capable of showing its white quality on the skin is even more so on paper where the animalistic notes do not seem to be able to come to life. Voyage d'Hermès needs human skin to warm up.

As the perfume progressively comes to life on skin, it becomes actually creamy, almost maternal, almost gustatory in a Milka direction, a note one could find in a slightly offbeat way in Un Jardin Après La Mousson. As the cardamom note makes me think of Déclaration by Cartier it is perhaps by association that I now perceive like the scent of curry leaves and my thoughts go in the direction of Indian cuisine. Now the scent becomes almost waxy and snuff-like.

As Voyage dries down, it becomes transparent again but less in a romantic, aquarelle-like manner as in a white almost clinical style full of sobriety and purity.

We are seeing in the recent period a host of "white" perfumes. They seem to evoke like this one the proportions and volumes of modern architecture but as if the construction smelt of citruses. It's the perfect scent to wear at the Guggenheim Museum, it seems. The citruses are tart and a bit pungent, always warmed up by the ambergris underneath and some gray-colored iris. Again the gray iris here is not a romantic note at all but contemporary, evoking concrete and even vinyl more than any classical supple material prized by high fashion, to refer back to Iris Gris by Jacques Fath, which led to a discussion of Hermès having purchased the name and the possibility of creating an Iris Gris scent signed by the house.

Taking a step back, the citruses, the cement-like iris, the flintstone and the flotsam amber all meld harmoniously but with an element of dissonance, which if you hesitated to think what is meant by this, is good. The longer drydown is both citrusy and dryly woodsy rounded off by the sweet green note of cardamom. There is a lemon milk quality which is perceptible, pleasant.

All in all, Voyage by Hermès offers for me a rather intellectualist approach to the experience of travel despite the more spontaneous animalic facet it develops which does not make it necessarily sensual but certainly adds a touch of eroticism; Dom Juan was cold after all. Terre d'Hermès to me is more sensual although cleaner in tonality. This new perfume is fully representative of the latter manner of Jean-Claude Ellena and makes you feel like the composition rests on an economical, restrained formula.

I am however struck by its legacy aspect this time. Despite the fact that some of the perfumer's personal accords are recognizable, Ellena seems to have given priority to the olfactory history of the house. Like Idylle by Guerlain, it is an institutional perfume or patrimonial perfume but here the emotions are somewhat harder to perceive.

I appreciate the manner in which the perfume seems to open up space around it and suggest vast expanses, but it is better perceived on someone else than on the wearer herself/himself, unlike Terre d'Hermès, again.

It seems that more than innovation, Voyage seeks to solidify a heritage. It is a moment of creative pause. I was more blown away by the parfum version of Terre d'Hermès which seemed to me to create emotion and beauty and to be able to take flight. Perhaps the more obvious, lyrical floral notes in it helped. Voyage, as far as I can tell, may contain little or no floral notes to speak of.

Voyage is in some ways like a slim white paperback containing a Nouveau Roman production brought with you on a journey with whiffs of Marguerite Duras and Nathalie Sarraute. You even find the obligatory love scenes in the afternoon on a bed covered with white sheets. It will please lovers of the genre. I cannot help but think that the perfume distills a certain dullness. It fails to reach for me that level of abstraction or poetry where it would smell of "the unknown in all its splendor."  

You could also appreciate it as a softer, lighter and whiter version of Eau des Merveilles which I felt was reinterpreted by Daniela Andrier too, with less licence to do so, in the transparent and refined L'Eau Ambrée by Prada, ultimately a more sensitive take than Voyage which appears somewhat limited by institutional thinking and perhaps damped down by it.

Materials: milky and gentle sandalwood, hot and dry cedar, the green freshness of angelica, the icy freshness of juniper berries, the gentleness and comfort of white musks. 

You can read more background information about the scent here.

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Ah! Juniper, eh? That's why I smelled gin and tonic! Now, I love this drink, but I shouldn't want to bathe in it. Maybe the dry down is better. I'll stick to my 24 Faubourg if I'm wanting something from Hermes. Incidentally, why no review of this utter classic?

    • That's a good question -- one of the reasons is that given the blog medium, you tend to give priority to new releases. Another reason is that classics (including their flankers and reformulations) require more research so it is more time-consuming. But maybe I should just pretend they are not well-known classics and have no flankers and just saw the light of day, like any other fragrance that just came out. Might encourage a fresh take on them. Except I still think it's hard to abstract from the context in which they were created.

      Chant Wagner

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