Ryoko Sekiguchi, écrivain et traductrice, au restaurant Botanique, 71, rue de la Folie-Méricourt.
Ryoko Sekiguchi, writer and translator, in the restaurant Botanique, at 71, rue de la Folie-Méricourt.
Galop, the new scent from Hermès, swings mischievously from tactile leather to ethereal rose.
It is a visceral, inexpressible, intensely personal tremor of emotion that few have experienced. That unsettling thrill as you come into contact with the skins locked away in the “leather cellar” of luxury house Hermès. For you have to be an insider to get to experience the vibration, to catch that animal whiff in the air that gives you goosebumps.
Christine Nagel is among the fortunate few. The first time, she was still finding her way around. She had just been appointed house perfumer, future successor to Jean-Claude Ellena, and wanted to soak up every aspect of the house’s fine crafts. It was her instinctive way of building her own store of emotions, on which she could draw when composing her olfactory narratives.
So there she found herself, in that famous cellar. “It’s a secret place, whose location can’t be revealed. It’s a real vault, where hundreds of leathers are rolled up, nestling snugly against each other, like roses. All those colors filled me with wonder. But above all, there was that smell of leather. It was a beautiful smell that infused the air and enveloped everything.” The various materials were presented to her one by one, “like precious carpets in an Ali Baba’s cave.” She touched them, listened to their sound, breathed in their smell. And fell completely in love with a velvety Doblis calfskin. “As I stroked it, I realized that leather is a very feminine material. It’s elegant, tactile and soft, but also has a certain strength to it. This particular one can also be used both for its flesh side (the soft inside of the hide) and its grain side (the velvety outside).” As others might make sketches in a margin, Nagel set about thinking how this meeting of opposites could be translated into a perfume. It wasn’t for an order; it was out of a simple desire to seize and describe that moment, the “tactility of the material.” She imagined an embrace devoid of egotism. On the one hand, strength; on the other, softness; the animal quality of the leather and the gracefulness of a rose, “without one ever dominating the other.”
Birth of a feminine classic
And so Nagel came up with a very intimate interpretation of that indescribable emotional tremor, conceived for those attuned to a masculine/feminine olfactive dialogue. Its language is impressionistic, deployed in a condensed, concise formulation. While the original idea was beautifully simpleto bring rose and leather together in a dancers’ embracefinding the right balance took months. A full-bodied, enveloping Turkish rose with a drop of succulent quince to bring out its physical sensuality. A hint of bergamot, for a fresh top note. A sprinkling of saffron to give a little bite to the leathery notes. As the fragrance is worn on the skin, you are drawn either into its leather side or its rose temperament, which imparts a certain sensorial depth, a hint of what is to come. The perfumer’s mental sketch materialized into a first great woman’s perfume: a Galop all about control and release, and a symbol of an olfactive duality reaching both to the earth and into the air.
Hermès presents it in a bottle that was unearthed from the archives, a gift created for the opening of the New York store in 1930. It is a slightly improbable object, with its 13 hand-polished pieces, screwing mechanism (which can be unscrewed, too, making the bottle refillable) and a form that is suited to a single perfume capacity, 50 ml“beyond that, the bottle’s aesthetic power is lost.” It requires a certain strength of character to launch a new perfume in a single format, to be ambitious in its conception, without consideration for price, to take the time to develop it, forgoing the customary small-scale test before the big glitzy launch. This is what Christine Nagel loves about her new house. She wishes all perfume houses could indulge in such bold and delicate ventures. For the time being, she continues to draw on those intoxicating sensations to define the contours of her next olfactory composition.
Perfumer Christine Nagel imagined an embrace devoid of egotism. On the one hand, strength; on the other, softness; the animal quality of the leather and the gracefulness of a rose, “without one ever dominating the other.”