With summer underway, I thought it might be worth looking at two fresher, lighter fragrances that were recently released: Annick Goutal‘s L’Ile au Thé and Hermès‘ Le Jardin de Monsieur Li.
ANNICK GOUTAL L’ILE AU THÉ:
L’Ile au Thé is an eau de toilette created by Isabel Doyen. The fragrance comes in two different bottle designs, one for women and one for men, but they are the same scent. As a side note, Annick Goutal is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amore Pacific since 2011.
The Goutal website describes L’Ile au Thé and its notes as follows:
L’Ile au Thé is an infusion of well-being, an invigorating and soothing perfume to be shared.
Between the sea and volcanoes, a stroll in the fields of mandarin trees and tea plantations, waving in the wind of an Asian island. The crystalline mandarin bursts into freshness, contrasting, in a soft and soothing breeze, with the tea, green and leathery, and the osmanthus, carnal and fruity, like a caress on the skin…
[Notes:] mandarin; tea absolute; osmanthus; and white musk.
L’Ile au Thé opens on my skin with massive amounts of extremely sharp white musk laced with green tea. Pinches of smoky Oolong tea follow on their heels, steadily growing stronger, though they’re never quite as pronounced as the green tea or musk. Dabs of tangy mandarin pulp smudge the edges, along with a quiet osmanthus apricot floralcy, but neither one is particularly solid or strongly delineated.
The result is a mixed bag. The green tea is very nice because it’s not pale, insipid, or thin like the jasmine tea in Kilian‘s Imperial Tea, but a robustly deep, almost grassy and leafy green tea with a natural sweetness and a touch of herbaceousness. It’s aromatic in the very best way possible, and I say that as someone who really doesn’t like tea as an actual beverage, particularly not the green variety. Yet, I find the aroma here to be really enjoyable, especially when there are flickers of smoky Lapsang Souchong with its tiny undertones of tannic bitterness.
Unfortunately, the tea is about the only thing of merit in L’Ile au Thé, and it’s not substantial enough over the course of the fragrance’s entire lifespan to save the scent from generic banality. The white musk is so potent, it gives me a huge headache whenever I smell the fragrance up close for too long. And the rest of the elements are blurry, inconsequential wisps: the mandarin isn’t a bold, robust, or vividly concentrated note; the osmanthus’ apricot facet is even weaker; and its floralcy feels wholly generic to me. The white musk clobbers most of them, but particularly the osmanthus’ delicate flower, into insipid slivers without much substance. It even dilutes the tea accords, which is a particular shame.
The main sense and bouquet that I’m left with is a nebulous, peachy-apricot-y-orange citrus medley infused with green tea, sprinkled with slivers of vaguely peachy flowers, then blanketed by ultra clean freshness. It’s not a laundry aroma by any means, but it’s still an excessive amount of cleanness with an occasionally sharp edge. By the end of the first hour, the white musk actually leads the charge, followed by the green tea, while the blurry mandarin and osmanthus trail far (far) behind. All of it is a gauzy, sheer bouquet, though there is quite a scent trail on my skin, thanks to the clean musk which tends to increase a fragrance’s sillage. Using 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, L’Ile au Thé opened with 4 inches of projection and almost a foot of sillage. At the end of the 1st hour and start of the 2nd, the numbers dropped to 1.5 inches of projection and roughly 6 inches of sillage.
L’Ile au Thé shifts gradually and in small ways. At the 90 minute mark, the clean musk turns softer up close, but is still very noticeable from afar as one of the primary notes. Roughly 2.25 hours in, L’Ile au Thé is primarily a greenish bouquet of tea and citrus. The clean musk is almost gone but, consequentially, so is much of the fragrance which is now a thin wisp and a skin scent. It’s softer and smoother, almost pleasant in a way, though nothing really extraordinary or special in feel. Everything feels blurry, including the tea, and I can’t really pull out the green or black parts. It’s simply a competent tea aroma with crisp, lightly sweetened, citrusy fruitiness in a very fresh bouquet. At the end of 4 hours, L’Ile au Thé dies away as a wisp of fruited cleanness, a big start that fizzles out into flatness with a whimper.
On Fragrantica, there are only a handful of reviews that describe L’Ile au Thé, and reactions are mixed. Two people describe it as “nothing special” or “boring,” while a third calls it a “huge disappointment.” For this group, L’Ile au Thé is essentially either a fresh green tea scent with a lot of citrus, or a citrus fragrance with some green tea:
- A classical, dated, boring and uninspired fresh green tea fragrance. Very citrus (along the lines of Eau d’Hadrien), with notes of petit grain, lots of green tea (slightly smoky) and musky base notes. It smells like most of the clean unisex fragrances massively launched during the 90s. I don’t understand why Camille Goutal decided to add this to their range.
- Very huge disappointment. Same as Vent de folie.
Nothing Special. Little spicy mandrine(maybe they insist this sent is Mandarine blossom I guess) and some tea scent… Where is rest of them? [Emphasis to names added by me.]
On the other side, two people think L’Ile au Thé is quite enjoyable:
- a very pleasant and solid green tea fragrance: its green tea note is very natural and realistic, not too sweet or watery or wispy or overly synthetic like some fragrances of the same genre can be. For a refreshing green tea experience, I think it worths a try.
- This is a warm and shimmery tea fragrance that’s a true unisex scent. It opens with a burst of citrus which bears some resemblance to Eau d’Hadrien, but this is distinctly greener. It’s a really lovely perfume, lasts quite long into the day, although very lightly. A perfect perfume for after shower on a warm day. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
I think L’Ile au Thé had promise, but the execution fell short. This could have been a fun scent for summer because the green tea note is enjoyably deep, leafy, realistic, quietly herbaceous, and non-synthetic. But the balance of notes skews too much towards the mainstream, generically “fresh and citrusy” side that is so popular with department store buyers. It robs the fragrance of its character, so I agree with the Fragrantica posters who felt L’Ile au Thé wasn’t special, though I don’t think it’s quite as clean as “most of the clean unisex fragrances massively launched during the 90s,” the way one person wrote. I also think it says something that many of the detractors seem to be Goutal fans in general.
In fairness, I’m not in the target audience for a fragrance like this, as neither citrusy fresh nor green tea scents are my thing, but if you love either then you should probably try L’Ile au Thé for yourself. Just keep your expectations low.
HERMÈS LE JARDIN DE MONSIEUR LI:
Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is a new eau de toilette created by Jean-Claude Ellena. It is reportedly the final fragrance in Hermes’ Jardins Collection, though it’s unclear to me and other bloggers whether this will be the last fragrance that Monsieur Ellena creates for Hermès before his retirement.
As Hermès explains on its website, the inspiration for Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is Jean-Claude Ellena’s memory of a Chinese garden:
“I remembered the smell of ponds, the smell of jasmine, the smell of wet stones, of plum trees, kumquats and giant bamboos. It was all there, and in the ponds there were even carp steadily working towards their hundredth birthday.” Jean-Claude Ellena
Le Jardin de Monsieur Li describes a Chinese garden somewhere between reality and imagination. A place for meditation where strolling is allied to thought, and every step sets the imagination free.
According to Fragrantica, the notes are merely “kumquat, jasmine and mint.” Sephora, however, states that they are “Jasmine, Watery Notes, Kumquat, Grassy Notes.” I think it’s a mix of the two, but the one thing neither of them mention and that I’m certain is a key element is hedione. To be specific, I think the supposed “jasmine” note is actually hedione, one of Monsieur Ellena’s favorite materials and a synthetic that he uses in a lot of his scents: First for Van Cleef & Arpels (the fragrance that made his name so many decades ago), L’Eau d’Hiver for Malle, Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert for Bvlgari (as detailed in a New York Times article on its creation), Voyage d’Hermes, Terre d’Hermès, and Un Jardin sur Le Nil (whose compositional development, including the hedione, was described at length in an old New Yorker article that covers Monsieur Ellena’s interactions with Hermès executives and how he finalized the scent).
The Perfume Shrine has an article that describes hedione, as well as Monsieur Ellena’s love for it and its use in some famous fragrances, like vintage Eau Sauvage (before it was removed in newer versions), Chanel No. 19, and L’Eau d’Issey, among others. In a nutshell, “methyl dihydrojasmonate is an aromachemical (patented as Hedione by aroma-producing company Firmenich) that is often used in composition in substitution for jasmine absolute, but also for the sake of its own fresh-citrusy and green tonality.” For many people, the scent has a fizzy green “sparkle” and luminosity. It certainly skews green for me — far more green and heavily citrusy than anything close to actual jasmine, and always with a crisp, synthetic freshness.
I absolutely loathe hedione in huge dosages, which is unfortunately how Monsieur Ellena often uses it and Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is no exception. The fragrance opens on my skin with endless waves of citrusy hedione, laced with mint and splattered with a drop of aromatic herbs. It’s neither indolic nor real, actual jasmine by any means. Rather, it smells like very crisp, brisk, lemony, fresh greenness that bears a suggestion of nebulous, wholly abstract, quasi “jasmine” floralcy and an undertone of effervescent coolness that is vaguely watery. It’s a hugely clean scent, helped by white musk that is both slightly soapy and occasionally similar to floral hairspray. There is no kumquat at all on my skin; it is a fruit I am very familiar with because one of the places I grew up had rows of the trees in one part of the gardens, but that is not the scent here. Rather, it’s more like the bitter oils from a mandarin rind used in such a delicate way that it merely creates the quiet whisper of brisk, crisp citruses.
In the New Yorker article on Un Jardin sur Le Nil, Monsieur Ellena talked about how he created illusions that only indirectly reference the targeted bouquet:
Ellena is proud to be an illusionist. “Picasso said, ‘Art is a lie that tells the truth,’ ” he told me. “That’s perfume for me. I lie. I create an illusion that is actually stronger than reality. Sketch a tree: it’s completely false, yet everyone understands it.” The point of Un Jardin sur le Nil, he said, was not to reproduce the scent of a green mango but, rather, to create a fantasy version of green mango.
In the case of Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, I suspect the goal is not to replicate the actual scent of kumquats, jasmine, tea, and gardens, but to create a wholly impressionistic mirage thereof. I suppose he succeeds to some extent. On a purely fantasy basis, if I squint hard, perhaps it does vaguely and theoretically evoke a Chinese-y garden in a way, with the Hedione’s fantasy “jasmine” freshness and green liquidity, as well as its subtle suggestion of tea, a suggestion that is helped along by the mint. And I suppose, if I really pretend, the bitter orange rinds may possibly approximate “kumquats.” But it’s an effort and an imaginary exercise, because what I really smell is a bucketful of hedione generating citrusy greenness and nebulous floralcy, infused with clean, semi-soapy, semi-hairspray, white musk freshness and with a smidgeon of bitter mandarin peel oil. Ribbons of mint curl around the main accord, but they don’t last. After 30 minutes, the mint retreats to the edges, then disappears completely before the 2nd hour is over.
Le Jardin de Monsieur Li doesn’t change substantially from that point forth except in the balance, order, and clarity of its notes. Roughly 3.5 hours into its development, it smells of soapy clean citruses layered with hedione’s indistinct, fantasy “jasmine,” white musk, and a hint of wateriness. There is no mint or kumquat. At the end of the 6th hour, the scent turns slightly creamy in texture, reminded me of a lemon chiffon mousse wrapped up in cleanness and with a hint of green floralcy. All the notes are hazy, minimalistic, and impressionistic. Finally, 7.75 hours from the start, it dies away as a blur of clean greenness that is vaguely citrusy in nature, and perhaps a bit flowery.
As a whole, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li had soft projection but good sillage, thanks to the quantities of hedione and clean musk. Using 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opened with 2 inches of projection, but the scent trail was about 6 inches at first. It turned into a skin scent at the end of the 3rd hour, but I could smell tendrils of citrusy cleanness wafting up at me whenever I moved until the start of the 4th hour. As for longevity, it was better than I expected for both an eau de toilette and one created by Jean-Claude Ellena, but I should stress that my skin holds onto things with a lot of clean musk or hedione for a long time. Others have not fared as well, as you will see below.
I don’t like Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, just as I don’t like any of the Jardin fragrances and the vast majority of Jean-Claude Ellena’s creations, period. In fact, I’m sick to death of his hedione and his minimalism; I don’t share his feeling that it’s so damn cool to be an illusionist creating imaginary, fantasy mirages; and I can’t wait for him to leave Hermès and for someone else to take over. There, I said it. I cannot wait for him to leave, and I cannot stand his fragrances.
Since I’m not a fan of the man and his creations, I’ll give you the perspective of someone who is. Robin of Now Smell This thought Le Jardin de Monsieur Li was “simply lovely.” A clean “watery” jasmine that initially made her think of a lotus flower first was mixed with aromatic citruses, a “glimmer of pale green,” and a hint of cold wet stones. The scent didn’t last long at all on her, even less than the “few hours” it endured on a paper blotter. She makes it clear that the scent is like a “whisper” after its opening:
think of the most gauzy and transparent Jean-Claude Ellena fragrance you can, and then make it even more soft-spoken. Everything past the opening is like a whisper, or a meditation, or a garden seen through the haze of a long-ago memory. To my nose, it is easily the mildest fragrance in the Jardin series. [¶][…]
it struck me as having a wistful aura — and a spareness, or economy of notes — that seems a fitting end to the series that started with the far livelier and more direct Un Jardin en Méditerranée. It’s the closest yet to a true haiku, even more so than the Hermessences, and I fully expect that many will find it too insubstantial, and many others will find it too short-lived on skin.
On Fragrantica, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is a hit with those who like fresh, crisp citruses and Ellena’s Jardin collection. A small group of dissenters, however, either find it boring, don’t think it’s very special, see too many similarities with Jour d’Hermes, or prefer other Hermes’ creations. I’ll leave it to you to read the reviews if you’re interested, as I’ve had quite enough of Ellena’s imaginary garden and aesthetics.