Above the bay of Antibes on the Mediterranean coast in the pine-clad hills is the Hermes workshop and Jean-Claude Ellena is the master perfumer. He describes his job as being the nose for the French luxury house Hermes. He has definitely done a wonderful job as the sales at Hermes’ perfume division more than doubled in the six years he has been there. He is not competing with other divisions that make Hermes Bags or Hermes Birkin or Hermes hand bags or Hermes iPad case. The 64 years perfumer never wears perfume but likes to describe himself as a scent writer. Some time back he published ‘Journal of a Perfumer’. It captures a year in his life and also describes in detail recipes of 22 scents.
It is his way of passing on his knowledge to the next generation. His recipes are different as he uses relatively few ingredients. His compositions use only about 200 substances as compared to between 1,000 to 1,500 for a typical perfume. Creating a perfume is like telling a story for him. He has inherited the interest in perfumes from his father who was also a perfumer. He grew up in Grasse which is called the perfume capital of France. He lives in the same region even today.
Jean-Claude works on his formulae in his study but it is tried out in the lab by getting the ingredients measured and mixed. He normally uses one third natural ingredients. The rest is filled up by synthetic scents that he adds milligram by milligram. He keeps going back to his study to smell as the perfume develops. He believes that it is wrong to call a perfume feminine or masculine. The concept is recent and primarily a commercial one. He was the first to use tea in his creations and it has become something of his signature. He has created several lines of perfumes for Hermes often travelling to far off places to get the inspiration and the notes right.