On the day of its global launch held in Paris, Gritty Pretty spoke with Hermès perfumer Christine Nagel about her first fine fragrance for the illustrious French house.
Nagel, for those who don’t know, is the woman responsible for creating cult classic fragrances including Narcisco Rodriguez for Her (2003), Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie (2005), Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia (2010) and Giorgio Armani Si (2013), to name a few. Yes, this is the woman we all have to thank!
And, so, in the words of the perfume Queen herself, here we are celebrating what Nagel humbly calls “Galop d’Hermès – my greatest masterpiece yet”.
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“I have always been very open to everything Jean-Claude Ellena [Hermès House Perfumer] could teach me. Jean-Claude and I share an office and our work tables face each other. I talk a lot. We take genuine pleasure from being able to surprise each other in our day-to-day work. We both worked on different projects things, each in our own personal creative world, but when it comes down to it, we’re very similar. There was never any suggestion of a diktat from him or even of him correcting errors. He just has a kindly way of suggesting ideas and giving advice, as a father might to a daughter. He was teaching me to take my time, the time to smell and time to forget smells so that I can come back to them fresh. The time to rediscover them in a new way, from another angle.”
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“As a perfume, every morning I go to my workshop and smell the trials that I created the day before and then my day follows the rhythms of creating. Creation requires discipline. My strengths would certainly be my audacity, my sincerity, and my expertise concerning the different techniques to create a fragrance. Today, what clearly and deeply inspires me is the entire Hermès’ world and the brand’s rich heritage. It is very vast but also a great source of inspiration.
To move forward in creating Galop d’Hermes, I ironically decided to look back. In 1930, a stirrup-shaped bottle (certainly appropriate considering the equestrian heritage of the house) was gifted at a New York store opening to just 200 journalists and socialites.
To begin my creative process for the juice, I immersed myself completely in the utterly unique world of Hermès. From the start, every door was opened to me, everyone was very generous and frank; I discovered all the in-house crafts. There are 16 of them but I became particularly enamored by one: leather. The notes of Doblis leather and Turkish rose – both traditional to perfumery – bring with them an audacity, express a degree of nerve and a great concern for detail. I wanted this leather to be as supple as skin, and to make the rose as strong as leather.
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“When I started working with Jean-Claude, I should have been terrified. It’s odd but I wasn’t that overawed because I’d known his perfumes [Balenciaga Rumba (1988), Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (1992), Yves Saint Laurent In Love Again (1998) and Hermès Voyage d’Hermès (2010)] so well and for such a long time that I felt I already knew him before I did at all.
As a female perfumer in a male, family dominated industry, working for Hermès is like an end in itself. When you realise your dream, you feel a huge sense of happiness. It’s so wonderful, it almost feels unreal. That’s how I felt when I was given the job. If they have chosen me, then it’s for this distinctive signature; and I have to say that the recognition is a pleasure for me every day, because I’m living my dream. The dream of creating perfumes that communicate all the values of this house, they incarnate it. I consider it a tremendous responsibility because perfume is still the leading entry point into the world of Hermès, and it’s an entry point that’s accessible to everyone. I owe it to myself not to disappoint. And to be worthy of the task I’ve been set and the trust that’s been put in me. There are many facets to the House of Hermès; Jean-Claude’s perfumes cover just one part of that, and I now feel I completely belong there.”
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“In my perfumes, there’s often something tactile, textured, a particular sensitivity to the raw material, the feel of it, the sensuality of touching it. People often describe my work as physical perfumery. To quote Rodin: “To give my figures more breadth, I give them more life, I exaggerate them and get more life. That’s absolutely true of my perfumes, I recognise myself in that quote. I accentuate features, bring out raw materials. I’m proud of the fact that my perfumes are never linear.”
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“At Hermès, the beauty of the raw materials is central, it’s at the heart of all crafts. It also goes without saying it’s central to mine. Hermès gave me the once in a lifetime opportunity to create Galop d’Hermès without a brief – it was an open book and mine to write. I was given the unique freedom to choose whatever raw materials I liked and that is an absolute luxury, which allows me to go where no one else has gone with fine fragrance for a fashion house. Galop d’Hermes is unlike any other parfum I’ve created. When you wear Galop d’Hermès, I want people to stop and ask, “Oh, are you wearing Galop?”
…And, ask they shall, indeed.
Hermès Galop d’Hermès is available now.