Friday 22 July 2016

Premium Melon Chameleon: Hermès Muguet Porcelaine review

Giant Cavaillon melon, Provence ~ Source:
I like Jean-Claude Ellena. He has a likeable air of weathered cragginess. A bit like Samuel Beckett, but tanned, more approachable, and without the slightest trace of demented woodpecker. I watched an interesting documentary about Ellena a while back, which showed him at work in his airy studio in the pine-covered hills near Grasse. Having lived on the Riviera myself for a year, with frequent forays into the Provençal hinterland, I can well imagine what a sensory paradise that would be. Then I once met up with Denise Beaulieu of Grain de Musc the day after she had been to a launch-related Hermès jolly in Brittany, where the great man was in attendance, so I felt I'd come a little bit closer to him in an asynchronous, 'one degree of separation' kind of a way. Oh, and I have read Ellena's book, 'The Diary of a Nose, A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur' - in the original French, even. I also lapped up 'The Perfect Scent', Chandler Burr's fascinating account of the making of Jardin sur le Nil, one of Ellena's numerous aquarelle compositions on which I cut my neophyte perfumista teeth.  And I could cite a number of perfumes he created for which I have a very soft spot to this day.

Jean-Claude Ellena's village of Cabris

But the latest addition to the Hermessence line, Muguet Porcelaine, the very delicacy of whose name unleashed a flutter of anticipation when the über-generous enabler Val the Cookie Queen of APJ said she had scored a sample with my name on it, did not quite work for me. Or rather, the opening is sufficient to put me off the later stages. Specifically, it's the mahoosive melon and cucumber accord that whooshes up on first application which floors me. I am not partial to either note in perfumery, and in Muguet Porcelaine they are very big, very juicy and in your face - or 'up your nostrils', to localise the phenomenon a bit more precisely. And though it pains me to say so, for it feels like heresy, given the prestigious nature of this line and the high regard in which I hold Ellena, but this big fruity explosion also comes off as noticeably synthetic to my nose.


And I do love lily of the valley, I really do. I have a soft spot for this particular flower too because it was my mother's favourite. She copped for many a tin of Yardley talc with that scent from me as a child. Plus I know that lily of the valley can only be replicated by artificial means, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to proceedings. Once Muguet Porcelaine settles down I do think it comes a very close second to Diorissimo, having conducted a number of side-by-side trials with an old sample of the EDT from The Perfumed Court. Or rather it is in a soprano register to Diorissimo's alto. But crucially Diorissimo is not remotely synthetic smelling from the off. If anyone is curious as to how this compares to Van Cleef & Arpels Muguet Blanc, I would say that that one is much softer and musky - the Puredistance Opardu of LOTV scents, if you will.

Source: Hermès

Yes, to my chagrin the opening of Muguet Porcelaine is too strident for my liking. To my mind, the word 'porcelain' conjures up whiteness and stillness, not shrillness. I think of Birgit of Olfactoria's Travels' serene and milky-white complexion, for example, And also of course the delicate little white bells of the flower itself, so tiny and dainty you would assume them to be constitutionally incapable of producing a scent that loud. Though I do concede that the slight indolic facet you get with lilies in general can readily translate as decibels rather than harebells, or flowers in that general neck of the woods, say. The opening of Muguet Porcelaine is a china bowl that you have vigorously pinged with your fingernail, creating a booming soundscape that fades away (eventually, though not nearly fast enough imho) to a more pleasantly muted frequency.

So yes, I would like to stress that it is just the opening that bothers me. And not only me, it would seem, as I got a couple of sales assistants in my local branch of The Fragrance Shop to sniff my freshly spritzed wrists and give me their off the cuff observations in a blind test. Of the two ladies in question, one was about my age at a guess, the other still in her teens. She was rather shy and would only say she liked it and thought it was a young person's scent, so the following commentary is all from her older colleague.

Source: The Fragrance Shop

"It's a floral...I'm getting some fruit...a fruity floral, then. Is there honey in there? It reminds me of Marc Jacobs Honey. It's a bit young for me, and a bit too sweet - I don't think an older woman would wear it. That said, it probably settles down after a while."

When asked where she would position this perfume, in terms of brand or price point, she ventured, quick as a flash:

"Oh, Premium, certainly, I'd put it on a par with BOSS."

I am still struggling with my take on this one, as I did a while back with Alaia, where I seemed to be flying in the face of the consensus. At least I care enough to put the accent in in Hermès. Now there are some stellar reviews of Muguet Porcelaine out there from bloggers whose noses I respect far beyond my own, yet I still cannot come to terms with the 'fruitbomb' opening, to channel Viktor & Rolf for a moment. And I have dubbed this scent a 'melon chameleon' because I sense that other people's melonious mileage will vary.

And hey, the upside of the whole unfortunate saga is that if I hadn't gone into The Fragrance Shop to seek a second opinion, I wouldn't have clocked the fact that Mary Greenwell Plum is on offer at £28.50 for a 100ml bottle, or £19.50 for 50ml. The more you spray, the more you save!

PS Here I am in Cavaillon c1980, home of the giant melon pictured at the top of the post. So my inability to bond with the melon note in Muguet Porcelaine is clearly not due to a lack of early exposure to this refreshing fruit.


lady jane grey said...

That one is a huge chameleon of a perfume ! I got a generous sample form our lovely Val - but I gave up on the scent after thorough testing...
It was an indolic bomb on me, accompanied by cucumber and some muguet, both rather shy in the background. Sadly, I got zero melon - and Val confirmed that she couldn't get the melon on me either. So I was one of those very few who cannot stand Muguet Porcelaine, it's really very unpleasant on me

Vanessa said...

Hi Lady Jane Grey,

Sorry this one didn't work on you either. Well, I did like most of its development, but just found the opening really unsettling.

I think Muguet Porcelaine is a pretty good dupe of Diorissimo when it gets going, and I definitely get the LOTV with the indolic business, although the Dior feels more seamless somehow. And not indolic, come to think of it. Porcelaine definitely seems a misnomer, based on how it performed on me. Still very grateful to Val for letting me try it. The Aroma M Geisha range she also introduced me to is a whole other story! ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey Ms B. It was very indolic on LJG. And I can confirm there was no melon. Odd. The opening on my skin is a cross between thick green melon and jasmine. And I absolutely love it. Not a cucumber in sight. I have received so many compliments on this, quite surprised me actually. I find it to be a very heady LOTV and cannot wait to wear it in winter. I will buy a bottle of the stuff at some point. I had three of the 15mls and am now down to one. It is definitely one that needs to be tried first. I am never ceased to be amazed at how things can smell so different on the skins of others. Something I didn´t believe for a very long time. CQ xxxx

Tara said...

Oh well you gave it a good do, V. Watery, fruity notes can be tricky. I find LoTV pretty but rather dull so have felt no need to seek this one out.

I'm sure Hermes would be thrilled to have their Hermessence rated on a par with Boss :)

AustralianPerfumeJunkies said...

You are hilarious. Yes, melon. I like it.
Did you get the doft poopiness down the back end?
Portia xx

Asali said...

It seems we agree on not being impressed with this one.
I've said it before (I think), I'd like nothing better than doing a Von Trier-like 'the five obstacles' with Ellena, forcing him to do things out of his minimalist comfort zone. I image a 100% natural, an OTT oriental with a zillion notes a.o.

Vanessa said...

Hi Val,

I would love to smell Muguet Porcelaine on you, as I sense your skin is a perfect canvas for it. And you are right that it might be a different ballgame - or bellgame even - in winter. I have long been a believer that perfumes smell differently on different people and this merely serves to confirm me in this view. xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

I don't see you as a LOTV lover, as I know you are more drawn to moody, darker or more retro compositions, as a very broad generalisation.

Hermes would be right chuffed at the comparison, I agree! ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Portia,

Glad it raised a smile, and back end is the place for poopiness, certainly, but no - I can't say I did. MP just got softer and less indolic as it wore on, and finally faded away. xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

Had to Wikipedia that Von Trier chap but am with the programme now. I was interested to hear this was not your thing but based on what you are drawn to in your own reviews it doesn't come as a surprise. And yes, it would be fun to see some different Ellena compositions, but if he did Van Cleef & Arpels First I reckon he'd be up to the challenge!

Blacknall Allen said...

Maybe this is one more homage to Roudnitska scents, eg the melon from LPdT and Diorella etc. plus Diorissimo bringing up the rear?

Didn't Michel Roudnitska already do this with Debut?

Anonymous said...

All the Hermessences are fleeting, and MP was no exception. I didn't notice the dreaded melon wrecking-ball, but I sure do hate perfumes with it. The VCA muguet, sad to say, was an utter scrubber, so it's down to vintage Dioressimo for me. Oh, and an comparison with BOSS is hilarious! It reminds me of a Yugoslavian friend's delightful adjective: high-classy...AnnieA

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall,

Interesting theory...I didn't know there was melon in Debut, though, which I like a lot. I feel sure I wouldn't care for it so much if there was marked melon? ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi AnnieA,

LOL at 'melon-wrecking ball' - wish I had thought of that, haha. MP certainly wasn't fleeting on me, and I do quite like VCA muguet one, though you have to be okay with that kind of musk.

'High-classy' is great!

odiferess said...

Hi Vanessa, I love the idea of you pestering the Assistants in The Fragrance Shop. Are you on first name terms with them? In my new town there is an old tatty discount perfume/cosmetics shop but you have to ask to smell the testers (they are all behind a counter). I think I'm becoming a first name termer but the overall feeling is that I'm irritating the hell out of them. Thing is I DO NEED TO KNOW the age of their bottles of Fidji. It's that kinda place, you might get an ancient one... x

Undina said...

I was disappointed when I couldn't find this perfume among the other Hermessence scents on my last trip to Seattle (and since it was almost a closing time at the department store and there was no SA in site, I didn't ask about it), but now I think that maybe it was fate: I hate both cucumber and melon in perfumes. And, on top of that, I'm no too kin on the $150+ perfumes that basically use the same LotV molecule as cheap air fresheners you can buy for $1.50 ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

It was the first time I had bearded them in their own store, and I did not learn their names. I can picture just the sort of perfume shop you mean and you are right to be concerned about the age of their bottles. Some of them could easily have turned last century! x

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I tend to agree with you that your missing this one in Seattle may have been fate. Better by far to catch the Presidential motorcade, I say! After all, somewhat disappointing LotV scents will always be with us, but the current President's days are sadly numbered.

The Scentimentalist said...

Hang on. Where is the poo? It was pure dung on me.

Vanessa said...

Nary a dingleberry, at the risk of being indelicate. I guess the indolic lily might read that way?