The myth and marvel of a sunlit isle inspires Hermè’ newest creation.
Christine Nagel’s beginnings in the aromatic arts were inspired by a moment of joy, albeit one witnessed from afar. When she was still been a chemist, Nagel saw famed nose Alberto Morillas at work through her office window. “He was asking two young women to smell his trial fragrances. I saw their smiles, I felt their emotions, I perceived their pleasure,” she recalls. “At that precise moment, I knew. I was sure that this job, that allows you to give so much, was for me.”
Today, as Hermès’ in-house perfumer, her days are filled with the same creative endeavors, working intuitively to concoct new marvels through scent. “Creation doesn’t fit into a process; it is above all a need, a necessity, an impulse that has nothing to do with reason,” she says, conveying how her days are spent smelling, adjusting, and perfecting her fragrances.
Despite her current success, as a woman, Nagel has had to surmount more than her fair share of challenges to enter perfumery’s rarefied world. “When I started, it was almost exclusively a male profession. I belong to a generation where there were very few female perfumers,” Nagel notes. “I also had to overcome the fact that I was not the daughter of a perfumer and not born in Grasse, in the South of France.”
Nonetheless, the Swiss-Italian persevered. “I couldn’t rest until I became a perfumer, constantly learning, and perfecting my knowledge,” Nagel recounts, training under her mentor Michel Almairac, eventually creating a coterie of celebrated fragrances for some of the world’s most noteworthy designer brands.
Her intrinsic talent and impressive dossier led to a position in Hermès in 2014, working alongside her predecessor Jean-Claude Ellena. She would take the reins two years later, making her the first woman to ever hold the position in the brand’s 186-year history.
The award-winning nose has since blended numerous fragrances for the French label, fueled by passion and the maison’s heritage. “It is a house of creation with a wonderfully rich history. It has an abundance of worlds and I see sources of inspiration in it everywhere, every day.”
Her newest olfactory exposition is Un Jardin à Cythère, a woody citrus scent that conveys a journey to the island of Kythira. “I was inspired by my vision of the Hellenic landscape: a plot of Greek land, a hot, dry hillside, the grass turned golden by the sun’s rays and caressed by the wind,” she shares, describing the picturesque landscape that she notes has since inspired writers like Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire.
In her deft hands, potent sensations associated with the Greek isle, its breezy fields surrounded by a glistening sea of blue, find its fragrant and poetic equivalent. “I bottled a memory,” she declares.
To evoke the essence of this blond, sun-drenched expanse, untamed by human hands, Nagel has put the focus on three ingredients. “Olive wood is the backbone, the framework of my garden,” she shares, lacing it with notes of wild grasses, reminiscent of those that grow in the shade of olive branches. “It’s a very gentle scent with a touch of toasted grains that is so delightful, it seems almost regressive to me.”
To enhance her composition’s suppleness, Nagel has added the scent of fresh, pink pistachios. “Its texture is different: full of water, but a little oily and very gentle. I love its tenderness,” she says.
As the seventh opus in the Parfums-Jardins collection, which has since traversed verdant gardens in places like Venice, Egypt, and Paris, Un Jardin à Cythère is unique in that it features no flowers. Instead, it conjures Nagel’s vivid reminiscence of her very first visit to Kythira, fabled to have been where the goddess of love Aphrodite was carried by Zephyrus immediately after birth.
Through this fragrance, you can perhaps imagine the free-spirited island, and countless other sun drenched locales. “Once you have visited Kythira, you can better understand the poetic French expression, “S’embarquer pour Cythère [to set sail for Kythira],” which means to fall in love or go on a date with a sense of newness… the beginning of a wonderful journey full of promise,” Nagel declares.
It is indeed in the perfumer’s wheelhouse to deal with the ephemeral, eliciting emotions and concocting universes both real and imagined through his or her palette of notes. “A scent moves us because we have smelled it before,” Nagel shares. “It takes its place in the world of scents that we create from the moment we are born.”
While a trip to this fabled isle may yet to be on the books, the beauty of scent is its power to transport, capable of taking you on a Greek adventure through whiff, wherever you may be.