Saturday, 9 July 2011

Lostmarc'h L'Eau De L'Hermine Review - Love At First Nip!

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."

Mikael Bodlore-Penlaez

"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, photo of Breton coastline from, photo of flag from, etching of ermine from, other photos my own.


lovethescents said...

I'm so surprised you only just tried it now? I sent some to you over a year ago when I fell in love...funny how our noses evolve :-) I"m so glad you love it! It's a summer staple for me.

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I am so sorry, but I have no recollection of this sample from one of our swaps - this particular vial arrived last week from a swapper in France. And I have no recollection of ever having smelled the scent either. So weird!

Do you know if I acknowledged receipt of your sample at the time, or made any reference to it, in which case I must be having a seriously senior moment!

And if not, I wonder whether, in my eagerness to unwrap the parcel, it might have got lost in the bubble wrap, where I have mislaid a few samples in the past? This week was my first encounter with it as far as my nose believes!

But as you love it too - and if you don't have a FB yourself - you know where to come for a top up!

Vanessa said...

A very vague memory is coming back to me about this scent, in the light of lovethescents' comments. Did I perhaps like it a lot at the time, so much so in fact that I drained the sample and promptly forgot about it? That sounds a little perverse on the face of it, but I am flittersniffer for a reason! And my memory is a holey shadow of its former self. Perhaps it needed two goes, a year apart, to bring about an epiphany. Love at *second* nip, as it were?

The mystery continues... If lovethescents remembers my speaking of it first time round, we will be able to exclude the bubble wrap tangle theory at least. Then I wouldn't have left it so long before trying a sample, so the only possibilities are lost or - bizarrely, as it is so nice - forgotten!

Vanessa said...

Right, so following a concerted rummage in all repositories of samples and decants, I can confirm that the l'eau de l'Hermine sample from lovethescents is definitely missing, presumed drained??

Cymbaline said...

Alright, I'm getting my sample back out and will give it another try. I only gave this fragrance a cursory sniff the first go-round. The weather is warmer now, which might help and I'll spray rather than dab.

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

Warm weather and a good old spritz might just do the trick this time round. Imagine sunlight glittering on blue sea and take it from there...

: - )

Anonymous said...

I have a soft spot for Lostmarc'h, apostrophe and all. But I have not yet tried L'Eau d'Ermine, which sounds lovely. I totally understand your quick buy, somehow Lostmarc'h does that to people (my bottles of Ael-Mat and Lann-Ael bear witness).

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Yes indeed, I remember your being a fan and it was your recent post that made me think Lann-Ael was probably due for a retrial.

D'you know, between us I reckon we could do a really nice job for the Brittany Tourist Board... : - )

lovethescents said...

Hi Veee, you're so funny! I sent you that sample over a year ago, when I fell in love with it. I don't think you were keen on trying it because of the lavender, so maybe you tossed it in your 'maybe' bin? Anyway, I'm thrilled you love it too. When I drain my big decant, and it is draining quickly in this heat, I'll def. come your way for more. Thank you so much!

JoanElaine said...

"Yes, l'eau de l'Hermine has wormed its way into my affections like a ferret up a drainpipe" - best review ever!

Fantastic that Mr. Bonkers hates it least of all LOL

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I have turned the bedroom upside down and it isn't anywhere, truly. I am starting to get a dim memory of a nice refreshing scent you sent me around that time, which is probably l'Hermine. So my theory remains: missing, presumed drained! And the name - due to my memory being a holey shadow of its former self -forgotten...!

Anyway, thanks for thinking of me with this one - it was a good call, even if I didn't appear to hear you till now! : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi JoanElaine,

So glad you like this one too - and do feel free to come to me for more supplies if you don't have your own bottle. This 100ml size is overengineered even for my copious splashing needs!

Vanessa said...


"Loved this review, Vanessa. Everything from Evanescence and Max Rat to the cling-film factory and speckled royal ermine. "Rather dead than spoiled" would be a good motto for Lady Gaga, after all she'd rather die than let her fans see her w...ithout heels.

Very happy you've found (or re-found)a scent that you love that much (and that Mr Bonker hates that little). If this comment doesn't post yet again I will scream!!!" I didn't scream btw but did huff.

Anonymous said...

Max Rat is adorable.

And Mr Bonkers makes me laugh. "I hate it the least"!

I have a sample of this that I found pleasant but forgettable. I suppose we never know what is going to push the Love button, do we?

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

Officially replying to your comment here...

: - )

You are spot on with the Lady Gaga analogy - I bet she doesn't slouch round the house in a ripped BHS nightie from c1985 (which may be getting its own post one of these days). Okay, so she smears herself in meat now and again, but it is only the best cuts, I am sure!

Vanessa said...

Hi Muse,

I totally get how someone could find this forgettable - if it were a novella or a piece of music, one would call it "slight". But "wispy and attenuated" is what floats my boat, I'd say, in this case the one bobbing on the sunlit sea!

Wordbird said...

I have liked the idea of 'Weasel Water' ever since I heard about it.
What's not to love?
Though I'd be concerned - if I copped off with a man while wearing it, would it be prophetic? Would I have pulled a weasel?

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird,

Not if he was called Marten, but otherwise I would be concerned, yes, stoatally!

: - )

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone
Am on my third bottle of L'eau de L'hermine. Discovered it on a ferry from ireland to brittany, 3 years ago. I hope my love affair with it ends soon... Can anyone point me towards a similar scent?Am pretty clueless . All I know is that women in ireland wear heavy, overpowering, mainstream perfumes and i hate them all. Thanks

Vanessa said...

Hi Anonymous,

Your post cracked me up! I have just discovered Ael-Mat from the same range which is also soft and subtle, but with a slightly maritime feel. Prada L'Eau Ambree is mainstream, but very understated and cosy, and two others that are somewhat similar but more obscure are Creative Scentualization Perfect Veil and Sonoma Scent Studio Opal. CK Beauty is not a bad quiet scent either (though again mainstream), and one of my favourites (though expensive) is Parfumerie Generale Bois Naufrage. The precise note listings and reviews of these will be easy to fetch up in google if you are curious. I also love Hermes Vanille Galante in similar vein. This is my kind of scent too!