Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SOTD: Hermes Terre d'Hermes (And sugar and spice and modern women's scents)

Painting of smiling woman.I don't like girly scents. Sweet pink ruffly bottles of flowers and syrup and fruit that bat their eyes and giggle? Scents designed to please and flirt? Not for me.

But I've learned in the past few months that I do like women's scents. Scents that would tend to be inappropriate on a teenager. Even, or perhaps especially, drop-dead femme fatale scents. A scent that could be worn by Jane Russell, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman? That's fine with me. Even, in fact, if those women are wearing ruffles. This tells me that I'm not opposed to femininity, not at all.

So what do those women have? They have presence. And presence means power. This brings me to the realization that what I object to are scents that reassure one's audience by signaling a complete lack of power.

Photograph of Myrna Loy
Many modern women's scents make me think of those men that try to tell women to "smile!" when the woman isn't being decorative enough for their taste. I don't want to smell like a woman who would give an apologetic start and provide that smile. I want to smell like the woman who would make that man shrink into his shoes with one raised eyebrow.

Now, some women can wear lacy ruffled fruity flowers and still strike that eyebrow blow. I suspect that they're the same ones who draw power, instead of helplessness, from a fine pair of high heels. I'm not one of those women. Femininity doesn't come naturally to me. I've discussed that.

All of which brings me, sort of, to Terre d'Hermes. Or at least to men's fragrances. Men's fragrances, whatever else one might say about them, almost never suffer from a lack of power. Men's fragrances don't smile on command, or simper, or flirt. They may charm. They may say, "Well, hello, there." But there's always an underlying base of "This is what I smell like. You wanna make something of it?"

I like that. Now, I don't always need a full dose of it, which is why the vast majority of my bottles are unisex fragrances, and most of the rest are femme fatale fragrances. But once in a while I want a fragrance that has no intention whatsoever of smiling unless it's in the mood. Which brings me, again, to Terre d'Hermes. I may finally talk about it now.

So what does it smell like? To me, it smells like sharp dark gravel and peppered orange peels, with a wakeup effect like a cup of coffee. (Well, like I imagine a cup of coffee. I don't actually drink the stuff.) The bitter, volatile elements of the orange fade in a little while, as oranges always do, and for a few hours their function is replaced with a dose of bitter vetiver. The bitterness is a little much, but just as I'm ready to declare that it's too much, it fades away. The final remains are very close to the skin and quite out of character for the rest of the development - soft, woody, and sweet, like the remains of something that had vanilla.

I like it. But now that I've had a day of it, I may not need that much power again for a little while.

Review Roundup: Now Smell This and Bois de Jasmin and Perfume-Smellin' Things and PereDePierre and The Non-Blonde and nioi and Basenotes and Fragrantica and MakeupAlley.

Photo of Myrna Loy: Wikimedia Commons.
Painting of smiling woman: Wikimedia Commons.


  1. The women vs. girly fragrance thing is a really interesting area. Our cultural obsession for youth and all things young is matched by the trends in fragrances. Our mothers and grandmother wanted to smell like 'ladies' and felt that Chanel, Guerlain and Dior were accessible to them. But now women, whatever their age, want to hang onto youth as long as possible so baulk from wearing anything that it more potent than a fruity floral.
    I'm fascinated by the trends in fragrances and what they say about other areas of our lives.
    Great post.

  2. Interesting point about girly vs. womanly, and how times have changed. My first fragrance was Sweet Honesty, which was all girly-wirly and sweet - but I was something like eight years old! My first "real" fragrance was Lagerfeld's Chloe, which my grandmother gave me when I was twelve. I recently revisited after not having smelled it for a couple of decades... and it's huuuuge. Complex, bosomy, on the edge of indolic, and yet my prim mother allowed me to wear it.

    On the other hand, I am frequently fond of lightweight cocktail-y scents like Parfums de Rosine Rose d'Ete and Ines de la Fressange. I even liked Tommy Girl. And being all Womanly and Smoldering, 24-7 - to be honest, I think that would wear me out. Sometimes I just want a cotton dress and sandals and pink lipstick.

    I don't really care much for men's scents because too frequently they smell like shaving cream to me, ugh - that, or citrus, and I'm just not much of a citrus fan (exception Eau Sauvage). And unisex scents are very often vetiver-focused, and I'm not a big vetiver fan, either (exception No. 19). I own very few unisex fragrances (Bulgari Black and SSS Tabac Aurea), but I love the ones I have.

  3. What a post!! I've never tried TdH, because I gave up on House of Hermes a while back-- their scents are simply too retiring (and they go to bed early on my skin as well.) But "sharp dark gravel and peppered orange peels"-- Hel-lo. Now you are talking my language.

    I still haven't pulled apart "masculinity" and "femininity" in scent-- the distinction between "girly" and "womanly" seems like another order of magnitude of difficulty.

  4. Thanks, SignatureScent! Yes, it's an odd trend. I have hopes that it may be fading just a little bit, with last year's green trend - compared to many offerings, Jasmine White Moss and even soft, sweet, eager-to-please A Scent were relatively challenging. If they did well (I don't know if they did), maybe the next round for this trend will be more so.

  5. Mals, I suspect that you're one of those women that can be feminine _and_ still retain your power. (Whereas I am emphatically not, at least for any definition of feminine that I yet fully understand.)

    Although the scents that you mention don't sound, from a quick glance at the reviews, like nervous-smile "don't worry; I'm powerless" scents. Rose d'Ete, in particular, is referred to by Bois de Jasmin as "effervescent and vivid". There's power there, even if it's not power that I can carry off.

    I almost said that I'm also not a fan of vetiver, but I realize that more and more often, I discover that vetiver is an essential element of what makes one scent or another work for me. So while I don't like it as a main course, it may be that I do like it a lot as an ingredient.

  6. LCN, Terre d'Hermes is much more emphatic than the average Ellena scent, or at least it is on my skin. It does have a tendency to smell fairly synthetic once every several wearings for me - infrequently enough that it's not a dealbreaker, but I wanted to offer that as a caution in case it happens more often on your skin.

    My acceptance of the "womanly" scents is still something that startles me. With the exception of No. 19, which I fell I love with very early, and possibly also Habanita, I think that it's simultaneous with my acceptance of tuberose. So that's very recent.

    (And actually, I still think that if No. 19 were released this year, it would be marketed as unisex, so I don't think it counts in the "womanly" category, more the "otherworldly". So that just leaves Habanita.)

  7. No. 19 is stunning, is it not? But it is odd how much the concentration of this one seems to matter to me. I prefer the vintage edt, with its small edge of leather... actually, I have a vintage parfum as well, and while it is in very fine shape, no weirdly aged notes, I think I'd rather have modern edt than vtg parfum. It might be something about the weight and the weather - I never ever wear No. 19 in even mildly chilly weather, it just seems wrong. This is probably my ONE vetiver scent, and I agree on its gender-neutrality. This would smell great on guys.

    Today I'm re-trying AG Heure Exquise, which everybody seems to think is an improvement on No. 19. I like it better today than I did before, but I still say no on the improvement dealie. Nope. 19 kicks butt.

  8. Mals, I keep wishing that I could like modern No. 19 EDT. The parfum is often a little too much, and I'd enjoy spraying lavishly, and, of course, you can buy it without having a friend who travels to Paris. :) But the green isn't sharp and deep enough for me, and there's something aldehydic that I dislike, so my lavish-spray Chanel green is Cristalle.

    Yeah, I can definitely see that the EDT wouldn't work in cold weather. The stronger galbanum hit in the parfum is more compatible with cold weather - there's sort of a green-ice snow queen thing, where in the EDT it would be more of a spring queen.

    I do need to get my hands on the vintage EDT - I think that the leather would make all the difference.

    Yep, Heure Exquise didn't do much for me. I should try it again, just to expand my green options, but I also can't imagine it (or anything) beating 19.