A mysterious garden with a lush history in the heart of Venice inspired Hermès’ latest chapter in fragrance.
Tree silhouettes reflect off the glossy roof of our canal boat. Humming along the waters of Venice, we enter a small corridor of water. On one side lies a cobbled street, on the other a wall, its ochre brick cracked and crumbling in places. At the island of Giudecca, we step onto a jetty and walk towards a bridge leading to a small green door. Even the city’s residence can’t access this private piece of land, which hides the Garden of Eden: the largest private garden in Venice. But for Hermès’ latest fragrance, Un Jardin sur la Lagune, perfumer Christine Nagel set out to uncover the mystery beyond the door.
“This fragrance was to be based on a garden and the feelings that it gives you,” begins Nagel. “Then Hermès let me free to do what I wished.” Of Italian descent, Nagel immediately looked to the gardens of her heritage. Her research led her to the story of the English lord Frederic Eden, who purchased a piece of land on the Venetian island of Giudecca in 1884. Tired of being surrounded only by water, he wished to create a garden in the heart of the city. Despite the shallow and salty soil making it difficult to cultivate plants, Eden followed through with the project. “He wanted to develop this particular land in line with nature,” says Nagel, turning it into a typical English garden.
Rose bushes weighted with flowers leaned against willow pergolas, and paths surfaced with local seashells were lined with cypress trees. A decade after Eden’s death, his widow sold the garden to Princess Alexander of Greece and her daughter, Alexandra, the Queen consort of Yugoslavia. “They lived in the garden without touching it too much,” says Nagel. The property was sold to an Austrian painter, Friedrich Stowasser, in 1972, who let the garden grow wild. “He was opposed to straight lines,” Nagel says. “He let plants prosper and the garden became a jungle.” When he died in 2000, the property was left to a foundation set up by Stowasser and shut to the public.
“I read all of these stories about the garden, with everyone saying it was forbidden to enter,” Nagels says. “This made me even more excited.” She wrote the president of the foundation a handwritten letter, receiving a reply requesting her presence in Vienna. She promptly booked a flight. “The president told me he receives hundreds of letters from people wanting to visit the garden but he always says no,” she says. Hers, however, had touched him, with its references to dreaming. Two weeks later, she stood outside the garden’s green gate.
Nagel recalls the experience precisely. “It was bitterly cold but I fell in love immediately. The garden was so beautiful even though it was winter time. It was still very green. It really moved me,” she says. After having studied the sepia images of its history, she had finally achieved the impossible – stepping inside the garden. She visited every month, discovering the different plants and flowers that blossomed in each season. “It was only in October, when I ate a Muscat grape from the vine that I decided this was the garden I would base my fragrance on,” she says. The following April, she was inspired by the flowering Pittosporums – “halfway between orange blossom and jasmine, it’s particularly delicate” – as well as the scent of Madonna lilies and magnolias. “You get the scent from the sky, it is a completely different experience to bending down and smelling a flower,” she says of magnolia. She was also inspired by the roots of the trees, which snake across the ground. “They evoked the idea of the palm of a hand,” she explains. “I found this particularly important and delicate as a note.”
The result – Un Jardin sur la Lagune – transports you to the water’s edge with notes of Salicornia and sea breeze. “I found it a very poetic image to see all these plants diving into the water of the lagoon once they had developed,” says Nagel. Having pictured these very moments, even before entering the space, it was important for Nagel to transport the wearer to the very depths of the garden. “I wanted to bring together all the lives of the owners and the lives of this place,” she says. “I am another person in this story, who can pass the dream of this garden onto whoever decides to imagine it.”
Originally published in the April 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia