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Epice Marine – Cold sea, warm spices – April 25, 2014 New Fragrance Listing

Photo - Wikimedia Commons - Cancale, France

I love a good story, no matter if it’s real or imagined. And when the story is about a perfume, that’s even better – all my senses instantly go on alert, primed for pleasure. This story happens to be true, and it's about two men, a perfumer and a chef, who live in France.

Jean-Claude Ellena, the Hermès nose known for his minimalist creative style, and Olivier Roellinger, the 3-star Michelin chef from Brittany known for his mastery of “sea and spices”, are two artists at the top of their game. The two are world travelers whose experiences in faraway cultures and landscapes have shaped their work, and each is a born story-teller. It’s not surprising that Ellena has written two books, Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent, and The Diary of a Nose, and Roellinger has written several cook books -  Contemporary French Cuisine: 50 Recipes Inspired by the Sea is the most recent.

Ellena lives in Cabris, Provence, in the sunny south of France near the Mediterrean, Roellinger lives in Cancale, Brittany, on the damp north coast of France, in Mont Saint-Michel bay, facing the English Channel. Two very different worlds, but the worlds of taste and smell are closely intertwined, so it’s fitting that these two talented men finally met, in 2011.

After Ellena spent time in Cancale, soaking in the history of the Spice trade and the mysteries of the sea from Roellinger, they became friends, sharing philosophies, expanding their aesthetic POV, exploring new themes in their creative repertoires. The result for the perfume world was the launch in Fall 2013 of Epice Marine, the newest fragrance in the Hermessence range, a scent created for M. Roellinger by M. Ellena which combines the warm facets of toasted spice with the cool saltiness of sea air, conveyed in Ellena’s understated masterful style.

Epice Marine translates as Spice Sea, but the scent is very different from what the name implies. This is not the stereotypical synthetic blue aquatic note so be prepared for a different experience than what your mind expects. First of all, the opening notes sparkle with bergamot, a lime-lemony rush very tart, green, and fresh, which is quickly followed by a cool spray of salty sea air – if you’ve sailed in cool weather you’ll know the smell/taste I’m talking about.

Then the spice surfaces from the depths, led by a cumin note that is totally different from the standard sweaty and musky perfume cumin I’m so familiar with. It’s the gift of M. Roellinger, which Ellena distilled from his friend’s proprietary mix of cumin, cardamom and cinnamon, (and most likely several other unidentified spice ingredients).  This cumin mix is toasty, woody, nutty, edged with a salted caramel, and it immediately adds a delicious warming sensation to the cool opening accord.

At this point, about ten minutes into the dry-down, the spicy heart is developing and for a few moments the marine scent becomes noticeably stronger. It’s the smell of the seashore at low tide – wet rocks and tide-pools, sand, seaweed, shells, misty spray, grasses – not blue, but grey-green, vegetal, watery and salty fresh. To me, having grown up beside the ocean, this is a comforting familiar smell, and is pure heaven. I can even hear the seagulls.

And then I detect a whiff of something different, and the seashore recedes into the background.  A smoky note, the amber peaty note of Islay whiskey takes its place, alongside the toasty spices, infusing a hazy radiance into the drydown, like incense scenting a cozy space. And in the centre of the accord, there’s a hint of floral sweetness which gives a muted elegance to Epice Marine. This is, after all, an Hermessence fragrance, created with Ellena’s magic touch, so that it seems to float effortlessly.

In the Hermès launch video, Ellena says ….. “when I came to Cancale I fell in love with this place, with the Channel, with the sea here, the colours, the sky….we talked about the perfume, of spices…our perceptions of them, how we’d describe them…the perfume is the story of this coming together…of a cold sea and the warmth of spices…in my head was the smell of boats, wood, smoke rope,…the smell of shingle, the smell of sand and shellfish, sea mist… that’s how we worked…from these words the perfume was born….”

Epice Marine is a fragrant story with a fresh beginning and a warm ending, a story of the sea and the sun, so exceptional and different that it should be at the top of any perfume lovers “To Try” list. Jean-Claude Ellena is an innovator, and his imaginative accord of spices and marine notes has forever changed  how I view the role of the aquatic note in perfumes. So Epice Marine is also a story within a larger story – the real story of a mature artist continuing to passionately explore and expand his artistic vision, with amazing results.  

As I said, I love a good story.

Epice Marine is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.

Read our posts about these other Jean-Claude Ellena scents:

Déclaration - Cartier

Angeliques sous la Pluie - Frédéric Malle

L'Eau d'Hiver - Frédéric Malle

Osmanthe Yunnan - Hermès Hermessence

Elixir des Merveilles - Hermès

L'Ambre des Merveilles - Hermès

Jour d'Hermès - Hermès