Among this year's recent launches, the unisex Eau de Citron Noir by Hermès in their cologne series, is striking for its unmitigatedly beguiling personality; this is no mere figure of speech. It is truly about the literal beguiling effect that a good perfume is wont to offer to attract you...
Perhaps this is due to the fact that it manages to be intrinsically well-rounded. In scent-speak terms - the ones chosen by the French luxury house - it purports to be a well-rounded "noon-time-to-midnight cologne." We've seen that kind of tagline before; it might just mean that this is a cologne with a certain oxymoronic depth to it.
We stand by the idea that what makes Eau de Citron Noir stand out is, more than interesting depth - for a cologne - a complete scent personality. This doesn't mean either just that the composition is well-balanced.
Being "well-rounded" for a perfume is like for the corresponding human personality, to some extent, saying that it is the point of convergence of a host of qualities that makes it versatile, finely balanced, not shallow and easy-to-wear, converse-and-live with - it is a completeness born out of a variety of traits.
You've all happened on perfumes which are interesting but too psychologically niche to become good campanions. Not so with Eau de Citron Noir, which is companionable and "good" according to the art of perfumery, i.e., innovative and technically above reproach: it delivers; it interests; it wins you over; it is companionable. You can get so used to those traits that you might need to step out of the comfort zone it creates for you once in a while, which is in the mores of perfume-wearing nowadays at any rate, where "tasting" perfumes is recommended just like reading many books is, even if you do have a bedside book you favor: your signature scent.
This is an inviting eau, easy on the nose, elegant, ductile and subtly complex. It is both fresh and warm. It feels as natural to wear it as drinking a glass of water, at noon or midnight - and at any other times in-between and thereafter. Yet, this is no facile opus. It is just sort of close to a certain idea of wholeness and equilibrium of parts.
Its composition is explicitly inspired by the seminal Hermès Eau d'Orange Verte composed by Françoise Caron, which made the alliance of freshness, fruitiness, bitterness and dryness just so.
This time, In-house perfumer Christine Nagel searched high and low for an agrume with a capacity to disconcert, just a little, yet in a different manner to the matricial fragrance. This quest led her to finding the so-called dried Black Lemon (Siyah Loomi) that Iranians use in their cuisine as fragrant spice. Such dusty-brown-to-charcoal-colored lemons - limes really - are the result of a human technical process. Someone, someday discovered that boiling small green limes in salty water, then letting them dry under the sun for several weeks, turned them scorched, with a subtle kick to them, while offering a new, human-made aromatic profile. The perfumer explained,
"The path I was following in the olfactive universe of hesperidic notes made me delve into the heart of a vast world, filled with surprises - lemons. Caviar lemon, Buddha's Hand lemon, Eurêka lemon, Combawa lemon...so many original lemons were calling my name, but it is the black lemon - so smoky, so distinguished - which finally imposed itself as the high point." -- Christine Nagel [Editor's translation]
« Un cheminement dans l'univers olfactif des notes hespéridées m'a plongée au coeur du monde vaste, parsemé de surprises, des citrons. Citron caviar, citron main de Bouddha, citron Eurêka, citron combawa... Tant de citrons originaux m'ont interpellée, mais c'est le citron noir, si fumé, si racé, qui s'est finalement imposé comme le point d'orgue ». Christine Nagel
The cologne is also much more implicitly inspired by the Eau des Merveilles series at Hermès. It seems that in this new perfume are symbolically fused the warmth of the Merveilles ambergris and the tanginess of tanned and cured black lemons, both the products of sunshine curating and far-away travels. There is something of the spirit of the Book of Marvels by Marco Polo in this quest for unusual ingredients. To this perfume critic, a bit of the spirit of Medieval wonderment can be felt in the composition, which is anything but blasé or cynically commercial. It is a genuine attempt to look for a new spice to beguile the West.
Eau de Citron Noir is at first explosive and pleasantly bitter and acidic, soon morphing into a softer incarnation of itself, while keeping all kinds of small olfactive asperities. The freshness is green and fruity at once, but lightly so. It becomes quite lemony and tart, with a veil of smokiness. It is very close to the impression of inhaling the scent of black lemons as you may do so in a well-stocked Iranian grocery store, except it is mixed with the whitewashed bitterness of a classic eau de cologne intent on relieving your nerves on a hot summer day, since the 18th century. The glacial aspect of the tonic is counterbalanced by a warm, slightly sticky sensation, which will soon evolve into an enduring warmed-up skin-and-fur smell. It's a pleasant muskiness without show.
There are mineral and animalic accents, but they are never dirty - nor clean for that matter; this is a well-mannered cologne with just a tactful hint of sub-garment scent. The sillage is a killer. You will want to follow it around and ask the name of the perfume, except you won't because you are not a slave to your nose, and besides, there is no need to if you read this review.