Well, well...the other day I did that thing I vowed I wouldn't do any more, seasoned-and-semi-jaded-perfumista-with-a-fridge-full-of-flacons that I am - I bought a bottle of a particular scent after a single test spray. No waiting until I had at least drained my sample, no trying to squirrel away decants through swaps on Makeupalley, no checking out the listings on Wikisplits. No, straight for the jugular - as in hit the Paypal button - and in no time at all our chirpy postman with the surfer dude shades was knocking on the door with a parcel containing a verdantly well packaged bottle of Lostmarc'h l'eau de l'Hermine....
How did this happen? How did I manage to fall so hard and fast for a perfume from a range to which I have mostly tuned out up to now? Yes, I must admit to overlooking Lostmarc'h as a brand, partly because I am never sure where to put the apostrophe, and partly because I really didn't care for the bread puddingfest that is Lann-Ael, which is also difficult to spell. I know, it's Breton - hey, I have visited a cling film manufacturer in central Brittany on an industrial estate called "Kerguilloten", so I expect a few linguistic curved balls - but still.
The fact is, I received a sample of l'eau de l'Hermine as an extra in a swap this week. I have written a few cynical and fully jaded posts about swapping, in particular the high mileage dross that passes for "thoughtful extras" in so many of these transactions, but this particular extra from a relatively new swapper with just six tokens to her name pulled me up short.
It was a citrussy, musky scent in the same vein as Sonoma Scent Studio Opal (sandalwood, vanilla, musk, bergamot, ambrette) or Creative Scentualization Perfect Veil (lemon, bergamot, musk, vanilla, sandalwood), but it was lighter and more scintillating somehow. Maybe because it has neither vanilla nor sandalwood, though it is also a minimalist, bergamot-and-musk composition.
Bizarrely, the notes in l'eau de l'Hermine would never have reeled me in on their own, not being a fan of lavender, grapefruit OR heliotrope. And I do tend to sneer at peony a little, with it being such a ubiquitous note in Stella Flankers and fruity florals generally.
Notes: lavender, grapefruit, bergamot, neroli, peony, heliotrope, white musk
Yet the whole composition is so seamlessly blended that no one note asserts itself unduly. The citrus opening - with bergamot and neroli uppermost to my nose, tempered by the lavender which adds an offbeat herbal edge - is sparkling and bright. It positively tingles, like salt spray on your cheek. I visualise a rugged coastline, with the sun glinting on the waves as they crash on the rocks.
Then within seconds the clean and muzzy musk and heliotrope notes of the base nudge their way through, toning down the glittering citrus accord. And tucked in between the two is a bright and cheerful peony note that has made me rethink my attitude to the flower. After all, I do like Histoires de Parfums Vert Pivoine, though it does sound better in French.
So I was immediately smitten by l'eau de l'Hermine - a daytime Holy Grail Scent, near as dammit - or one of a select few (under 10, say)! I keep banging on on Bonkers about how much I like understated, muted scents, and this is right up there with the very best of the "quiet" genre, with a marked summer vibe. Marina of Perfumesmellingthings says she would like to "swim in it", and I completely agree. And certainly you do have to reapply l'eau de l'Hermine rather a lot, as it is fairly fleeting. But that's fine - you won't ever hear me complain about evanescence. Why, I have one of their albums!
The description of l'eau de l'Hermine on Luckyscent's website sums up its impressionistic style:
"The fragrances from Lostmarc’h are like watercolor sketches of Brittany – vivid, but with a certain delicacy, capturing the spirit and enchantment of the place with a few precise, perfectly placed strokes."
And there is another reason why l'eau de l'Hermine was calling my name, apart from the connection with Brittany and the cling film factory. It is to do with the dear little ermine featured on the bottle...
The ermine (Mustela erminea) is a member of the weasel family, which also includes the marten, the weasel proper, the polecat, ferret and mink: all of them deceptively cute looking furry creatures with a tendency to administer a nasty nip to any soft flesh they might find on their forays up trouser legs.
Now in winter the ermine's fur turns white, but the tip of its tail remains black. In the 14th century a pattern of white with black spots at recurring intervals was adopted in heraldry, most notably in the Breton coat of arms, featuring a design of "herminois plain" ("plain ermine").
My own convoluted link with ermines is through Max Rat, the small and rather bendy soft toy I take on my work trips. Bloody Frida has met him, and can vouch for his compact size and pliability. Additionally Max is trimmed with fur, which led me to coin the phrase: "The vermin with ermine".
So what's the allusion to water all about, you may wonder? If you let your mind wander a bit too freely, "The ermine's water" doesn't sound too fragrant on the face of it. I am guessing, but I think the "eau" may either just be short for "cologne" (as in the cologne associated with Brittany's animal emblem), OR it could also be a reference to the pool which, legend has it, one particularly pelt-proud ermine refused to cross.
"In Brittany, we usually say that Duchess Anne saw a ermine chased by hunters and this ermine stopped, refused to cross a pool and prefered to die. The duchess said that it was an act of bravery. The motto of the Duchy of Brittany is Potius mori quam foedari (Latin) / Kentoc'h mervet eget am zoatran (Breton), Rather dead than spoiled."
"Spoiled", as in "soiled", I take it - the animal's nice white fur might have got a bit bedraggled crossing that pool. Elsewhere I have seen this motto translated as "Death before dishonour", where the dishonour is (presumably) specifically linked to the act of getting dirty!
It is an interesting tale, especially when I think about the dishevelled state in which I opened the door to the postman bearing my perfume parcel! He always makes some wisecrack if he finds me dressed before lunchtime...
Yes, l'eau de l'Hermine has wormed its way into my affections like a ferret up a drainpipe. Let's hope some of the animal's high sartorial standards may rub off on me. And if not, I will be happy just to splash on copious amounts of the stuff and smell like the sunlit sea in Dinard...
UPDATE: As a rare bonus, Mr Bonkers likes it too! I was half way across the living room when he remarked: "That is almost acceptable from a distance", adding after a pause: "Yes, I'd say that is my No 1 least hated perfume so far."
Photo of Lostmarc'h store display from 2010.espadrillesetchampagne.com, photo of Breton coastline from pt.surf-forecast.com, photo of flag from crwflags.com, etching of ermine from lookandlearn.com, other photos my own.