“At Hermès, anything is possible,” house nose Christine Nagel tells me over breakfast on the top floor 24 rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré—the same spot Charles-Émile Hermès opened shop in 1880. High above the heritage brand’s bustling boutique, where throngs of tourists have willingly lined up around the corner to purchase Birkins and Kelly bags (some of which cost as much as a compact car), there is an Edenic rooftop garden that overlooks Paris. Even on a drizzly gray day, the jardin sur le toit is nothing short of glorious. When food was scarce during World War II, the Hermès family started cultivating their own produce in this urban oasis. Because anything—even a fruit-bearing farm in the midst of German-occupied France—is possible when it comes to Hermès. True luxury means not having to compromise.
The same can be said of the house’s fragrances. What is important to most major brands looking to turn a profit—time, money, raw materials, and marketing—is not the priority at Hermès. Originality, quality, and craftsmanship is at the heart of every scent. “I am free to make mistakes,” says Nagel sipping her cappuccino. “I take my gift and I create with a lot of freedom.”
And what is more freeing than a proper holiday in the French Riviera—the source of inspiration for the latest perfume launch: Eau des Merveilles Bleue. A leisurely promenade spent gathering petit trésor along a pristine plage littered with pebbles is what motivated Nagel in the lab. “When I returned to my chaise lounge after my walk, I put my treasures in the sun, but after 15 minutes [the stones] looked horrible because they were gray and colorless,” she says. “When I return the pebbles to water, however, the colors appear and the merveille [wonder] is once again in my hand.” To capture the true essence of the ocean, Nagel recreated “saltiness” via juniper (“I have the same sensation when I smell a gin fizz,” she explains) and employed a “high-tech molecule” to produce a “mineral woody note.” The end result is feminine but not floral—a rare combination in perfumery. And it certainly doesn’t smell like the many interpretations of the beach currently on the market, which are typically teeming with lush tropical fruit notes (like coconut or mandarin) and super saccharine flowers (such as jasmine or freesia). Then again, I’d expect nothing less from Hermès, a place where imagination knows no bounds (nor budget). Now, if only the same terms and conditions (along with France’s “right to disconnect” law) applied to my own summer beach escape.
Hermès Eau des Merveilles Bleue, $146; available at Hermès Boutiques