Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil: A River Runs Through It
Most fragrance lovers and followers of perfume blogs have probably read the Chandler Burr piece about perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena's journey to Egypt in search of the elusive essence of the Nile river for a new fragrance in The New Yorker in 2005, followed up by the book The Perfect Scent, which chronicled the process of two very different fragrances for a year. Un Jardin Sur Le Nil by Hermès has been out for more than four years now, and I have tried it many times, loved it, but never bought it. Why not? I believed everyone who said it had absolutely no lasting power. I did not want to spend that much money ($125 USD for 100 ml) for a fragrance that was little more than a light cologne. This refreshing unisex scent by the great “minimalist” Ellena seemed to be nothing more than a very pricey summer spritzer. The theme intrigued me of course, because what could be more romantic than gliding along the verdant banks of the Nile River, with breezes carrying the varied scents of riparian life filling the sails of a graceful felucca?
A fortuitous sample swap recently brought me a travel size spray of this fragrance, and even though it's nowhere near summer I have been wearing it regularly, and guess what? It has decent longevity after all, and even though it is only Eau de Toilette, it lasts better than some Eaux de Parfum I have worn. I guess my skin has an affinity for this stuff, since it lasts a good six hours or even more on me, which was a nice surprise, and I will certainly be replacing the travel bottle with a big one. I think I will be running out of it sooner rather than later.
Un Jardin Sur Le Nil is a fruity-floral fragrance, but don't let that definition stop you. It is not sugary or “plasticky” or syrupy, and most of all it is not boring. It is marketed as a unisex scent, as are the other “Jardins” in the line and it fits that definition perfectly. Its spare, taut structure and highly pitched exhilaration is a welcome change from the usual run of modern fruity-florals, most of which settle into smelling pretty much the same after the first fifteen minutes. This one keeps its unique character all the way through. Its zesty tang comes from the accords of green mango and grapefruit, softened but not really sweetened by lotus blossom, a damp and erotic floral, and even more interest is added by the use of a green note in the manner of river rushes and a base of sycamore and incense. If there were more fruity-floral scents like this, the genre would garner far more respect.
With most perfumes, the wearer knows little about how it was actually composed, but I was delighted to read yet again the story of how it came to be and how such ephemeral scents as the aroma of green mango on the tree that disappears within a minute once the fruit is picked can be recreated with alternative materials by a master perfumer and artist such as Jean-Claude Ellena. For it does not smell like a flask of laboratory chemicals; it smells like the juiciest, most deliciously tangy fruit you can imagine, the kind you long for on a hot, breathless dusty day when all you want is something to cool your parched throat. Its green aspect is not the sharp grassy bite of galbanum or other materials that are normally used in “green” perfumes, but the tender murmur of the streamside rushes, with just enough of a floral quality to evoke the slightly decadent (in the literal sense of decaying plant life) feeling of the timeless Nile. (Fear not, this is not a “marine” fragrance, and the watery feeling is quite realistic.)
The good news is that now that it's been out for a few years, and even though it is still sold at full price at finer department stores and perfume boutiques, it is also available at a number of online retailers for considerably less. I took a look around and found the 50 ml and 100 ml sizes and a generously sized 200 ml body lotion starting as low as about $40, ranging up to around $70 USD, at a number of discount outlets, so it really pays to do some comparison shopping. At those prices I know just what to do when summer does arrive.
Image credit: Egyptian felucca at sunset from tripadvisor.com