Christine Nagel has been the brainchild behind multiple cult classic fragrances, having taken her expertise to the Hérmes house, she shares with BAZAAR her creative process and the story behind the new Hermés Un Jardin à Cythère.
How does the creative process start for you when creating a fragrance?
Creating a fragrance involves working with memory, with our archives. I’m both curious and sensitive, so each new day brings me its share of images, impressions, encounters and moments that leave their mark on me. I store them away in my memory until the right moment comes along for them to express themselves in fragrance. And in any event, they feed my imagination and creativity continuously.
I work for Hermès, a house that is wonderfully rich in history and creativity. It has an abundance of worlds and I see sources of inspiration in it everywhere, every day. They are the fruit of encounters and discoveries of métiers, know-how and traditions. The house likes to say that there is no amnesia in design, no creation without memory. That is absolutely true as far as I am concerned. I’m inspired and nourished by the house, which offers a bottomless well of inspiring stories for each and every one of us.
What was the inspiration behind the Un Jardin à Cythère?
The future garden could only be Greek because, in my eyes, Greece is and has always been a garden; every plot of its land is a garden. One image emerged in my mind, an image of fields of sun-drenched olive trees surrounded by wild grasses, sloping down to a deep blue sea that is steeped in history, under the intense blue of a clear sky in the blinding light of a blazing sun.
This vision of Greece is one that I have seen many times and admired in many different places, not least on the islands when arriving by sea. But it was on Kythira, a long time ago, that I first experienced this emotion that is so vivid it transports you elsewhere.
If you could sum up the Un Jardin à Cythère in three words what would it be?
I would say it’s a sunny, enveloping and tender fragrance.
Were there any specific notes that were non-negotiable and you really wanted to be included in the fragrance?
The notes that are there all have their importance, all have a role, and none is superfluous. I work with few raw materials because I am convinced that what is essential is necessarily simple. I probably owe this it to one of my teachers, Michel Almaraic. If I could not explain to him why I had included such and such a material in a composition, he made me remove it. And I started again. For perfumers, simplicity remains an exercise in style of great virtuosity. And it is very apparent.
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What kind of woman do you see wearing the Un Jardin à Cythère?
There is no “who” any more than there is a “when” or a “where”. With fragrance, a personal, unique relationship is formed, an emotion that everyone feels with regard to their own history and memories. The essential thing is to feel pleasure.
Were there any challenges that came up during the creation of the scent?
I worked on this garden during the very dark period of the pandemic. As we were unable to travel for many months, the only option I had was to create my garden from memory. I was genuinely curious to see where my olfactory and visual memory could go, where it would take me.
All that remained was for me to compare it with reality. As soon as the borders reopened, I travelled to Greece to make sure that the image I had formed and held in my mind’s eye was accurate. And I found my garden. The images, impressions and emotions that had made their mark on me were all there, in the creation.
As the first female head perfumer of Hermès, what has been your most memorable moment with the House?
My most memorable moment is not related to me being a woman. When the house contacted me, I was at a point in my life where I wanted a change. I was actively considering joining a house. One house was my absolute dream, and that was Hermès, which I always felt close to.So you can imagine my joy when my dream came true. This recognition is a source of delight every day because I am living my dream, creating fragrances that uphold and embody all the values of this house. It is a wonderful creative challenge to be part of its saga.
Do you believe in pairing perfumes and layering? If so, what would make a good layering partner with the Un Jardin à Cythère?
When a perfumer creates a new perfume, he or she works for many months to achieve the perfect balance. The result is a creation, a fragrance made to be worn alone. That being said, perfume is also and above all a story of emotion. If someone likes to layer two perfumes, it is their free choice and it a perfectly admirable one. I respect a woman’s choice and desire to have an olfactory signature, to leave a unique scent.
What has been your most favourite fragrance to create?
It may seem surprising, but I don’t have a favourite fragrance, not in terms of their creative journey nor of the creation itself. They were all responses to a moment in my life, to encounters, to worlds that contributed to my career and my experience, day after day. They all remain important, from the most confidential to the most talked about. I don’t deny any of them.
What is the ‘right’ way to wear perfume to ensure longevity of the scent?
Emotion is such a personal thing. Even though in my opinion the alchemy between skin and fragrance is unique and leaves a particular sillage, there is no right, better or single way of wearing perfume. The main thing is to do it in a way that suits you and makes you happy.
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