The Composer: Jean Claude Ellena Creates Magical Scent Symphonies For Hermès

Photo from Farfetch
Photo provided by Hermès

The first-of-its-kind Hermès parfumerie debuted this month in the Financial District’s luxe shopping center, Brookfield Place. Designed by RDAI and RP Studio with 1,000 square feet of retail selling space in concrete, marble and leather, it features personal fragrances and candles for the home. The brand’s legendary perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, whose latest scent, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, launched in early spring of this year, talked to Haute Living about his artful yet personal approach to create scents that sing like an operatic aria.

How did you start your career as a perfumer?
I began at a young age of 17 in Grasse, France by making raw materials for a perfumery [Grasse is considered the birthplace of perfume since the 18th century]. Step by step I grew my perfumery business, and now I am nearly 70 years old. I have been working with Hermès for 11 years, and although I will slow down a bit I will not completely retire.

What made Hermès decide to create this one-of-a-kind fragrance experience?
Robert Chavez, Hermès’ U.S. CEO, decided on the idea of a dedicated parfumerie, and we supported it wholeheartedly. It’s the only one in the world. He believes in Brookfield Place and chose it as the spot for this unique shop.

Traditionally the French are more invested in fragrance than Americans. Do you think the trend continues?
Today I think it is really the same because it’s such a global world. In both America and France women use perfume in nearly the same way. And it was not like that in the past.

What’s unique about this shop?
We believe in telling story behind the fragrance. We will council the customers and give advice. In big corporate stores people come in and they buy without that any help — they take what’s off the shelf. We believe the future is to give advice — present the story to the customers. Hermès’ approach is unique because we have nothing to do with marketing. We don’t test the market at all — and I’m against it. I alone decide what perfume goes on the market. Also, we enlisted Brooklyn-based artist Daniel Gordon to create art experiences for the shop, which adds to the experience.

Why are you against market testing?
People only love what they know — no more than that. 90% love the familiar and maybe there are 10% are willing to take a risk with a new scent. I create unexpected scents that people don’t know they will like until they try them. I’m about moving toward the future not about the past.

Is there a scent or note that you keep going back to and including in your perfumes?
For me, perfume is literature. The “notes” of a scent are the words and they tell a story when I assemble them in a particular way. In a sense, I compose them, and it makes for a beautiful story. That is what perfume is to me.

Photo from Farfetch
Photo from Farfetch

Hermès 225 Liberty St., Brookfield Place, New York City.