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Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre – green and woody and gorgeously wearable

When I first heard about Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre, from French niche line Etat Libre d'Orange, I was excited. Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre, or What Two Horsemen Were Thinking in the Forest, is quite a handle for a perfume, I know, but that's because it refers to a poem by French writer, Victor Hugo.

I remember studying his novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame at university. Hugo led the Romantic literary movement with his plays and is renowned for his poetry collections. In fact, Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre was part of a collection called Les Contemplations (The Contemplations) published in 1856.  

The poem is one of my favourites and begins with this: 'The night was so black and the forest very dark. By my side, Hermann seemed to me like a shadow.' Written while Hugo was mourning his daughter, Léopoldine, the poem considers the meaning of life. Typical of the Romantic movement, the work is dramatic, emotional with nature playing a prominent role: fountains that sing, tress that murmur, a wind that carries the sound of the angelus bell, graves where grass grows, stars, sky, dirt and earth. It's a moving piece of work, and you can read an English version of it here.

Etat Libre d'Orange founder Etienne de Swardt's grandmother, who taught French literature, would read this poem to him when he was a child. So, Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre is an homage to de Swardt's grandmother and a scent memory of her that lives in the wind and the shadows. The nose chosen to create this fragrance was Quentin Bisch.

When I first tried Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre, I was surprised by how much I liked it and how soon it became a big love.

It opens with warm black pepper, not too sharp or bracing; it's paired with spicy, green, piney galbanum. A note of fruity, woody blackcurrant buds reinforces the greenness with a minty coolness and adds an animalic aspect to the top - and just like that, I am in a forest. As it blooms, a note of piney, earthy incense comes forward. It's not heavy and dark but sheer as a veil that allows the green through. A note of Calypsone adds a cool, watery fresh-citrusy feel to the fragrance. It combines with Geosmin to create the smell of freshly turned earth which has just been rained on. The forest just got eerie and moody. Soon note of light, floral rose wafts through the fragrance. Petalia has a fruity rose, peony scent that extends the rose absolue without deepening it while at the same time, it maintains the effect of the scent of roses in the distance carried on a breeze.  At the base, vetiver smells earthy and woody while patchouli smells earthy and musky, like the smell of wet soil. Ambroxan ties it all together with its sweet, earthy, musky aroma.

Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre is a shadow game of notes that juxtapose each other, move through each other to create a gorgeous expression of a forest – the fountains, flowers, wet earth, flowers – all of it resting on my skin like a shadow.

Conceptual fragrances are on-trend right now. They aren't necessarily pretty, but they are unconventional. They can challenge us to think, to feel to question, and often so weird; they are difficult to wear. Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre is a rare thing: a gorgeous fragrance that was made to be worn.

I'm going to give the last word to Victor Hugo, who said that ‘to contemplate is to look at shadows.’

Hermann A Mes Cotes Me Paraissait Une Ombre, or simply Hermann as we'll call it from now on, is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $6.00 for 1 ml.