The history of Hermès is steeped in fragrance. Creating iconic scents that have truly stood the test of time, from the Calèche to Eau des Merveilles collections and its most recent triumph Twilly, true perfume lovers have embraced the evolution of the house. Employing artists of the olfactory world, the fragrances share the ethos of Hermès, looking to superior expertise and craftsmanship to create, quite often a product like no other. Now opening their second store in the world in Dubai, following the success of its first Hermès Parfums boutique in New York City, residents of the region can experience the ultimate luxury. Travelling to the city for the launch, the director of fragrance for Hermès and their first female perfumer Christine Nagel speaks to Vogue Arabia about her journey and the concept behind the store.
How did you get into the world of fragrance?
I am half Swiss and half Italian. I studied chemistry. In front of my university, there was a lab where every day I saw someone testing perfume on the hands of ladies and I wished to join. Quitting university halfway through my course I applied to the school at the lab. Initially, they said no. Firstly, because I was a woman and back then it was a job for men not women, secondly because I wasn’t from a family of perfumers and thirdly because I was Swiss. They offered me another job, which now only three people are doing. It was to smell the perfume and note down the ingredients in it. An example, when you smell the perfume it is fresh, but you can’t necessarily identify all of the notes. It might be lemon, orange, mandarin or bergamot. When I found an orange as another example I also had to identify where it originated. Depending on the country it came from, it can smell very different. It is a specialty.
What initially drew you to work with Hermès?
I love Hermès. It was a dream. You don’t ask to work for Hermès they choose you. When they asked me to work for them, I was very calm and polite on the outside, but on the inside, I was so excited.
How does it feel to work in an industry predominantly dominated by men?
It used to be dominated by men at the start of my career. It is now not about gender, it is about personality. It is a sensitive job.
When creating a fragrance for Hermès where do you begin?
If I am touched by a moment in my life, an exhibition, a flower, a dessert, it is stored in my memory. I start the process from this. At the same time, I work a lot with scents. In the morning I smell ingredients and I am well trained. It’s like being a ballerina. When you see the dancer it seems very simple, but behind the scenes, there is a lot of work and exercise. It’s a mix of the emotion and exercise.
Working for Hermès, it’s so different than working for any other brand. Firstly, I have total freedom. I don’t have a brief. My creation arrives when I am ready. I choose my subject and I propose to Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the Artistic Director of Hermes. There is no limit when it comes to the price of the formula, I am free for the choice of the raw materials I use. I buy them from across the world. They can be custom made. They can cut the exact part of the plant I require.
It is also possible that I use all the ingredients with color. It is unique. A lot of brands when they ask a perfumer to create a fragrance, the first note is, “we would like a colorless perfume.” For the marketing its easier to pick a color later on in the creation, because the perfume itself is colorless. In Twilly, as an example, I used a very good quality tuberose, which is black. When used in perfume it becomes a yellow, brown color. At Hermès it’s not a problem for the perfumer, it’s a problem for the lab technician after me. It is a gift for me because, if I was obligated to work with colorless tuberose, it has a different odor. I’m very lucky to use all of the raw ingredients without restriction.
When is the best part about working at Hermès?
At Hermès, they have confidence in me. It’s a gift but it is also a responsibility. For Twilly I was inspired by millennials. All of the perfumes on the market for this generation were very sugary, with lots of caramels. My responsibility because I am free, is to create another proposition. I am not criticizing caramel notes; I think if I don’t propose any other types of perfume it is a waste. I can open the discussion for other fragrances, with ginger with tuberose, with sandalwood and I’m so happy, because the young ladies like it and perhaps playing my little part, I can change the perfume world.
What has been your biggest success at Hermès?
Success is measured at different levels. You have success if you sell a lot of perfumes. It’s a success if one of your peers or competitors congratulates you. Sometimes, it’s also just creating a spectacular perfume, even if it is exceptional it may not come at the right moment in the market but it is still a success.
Why did Hermès decide to open their second boutique solely dedicated to fragrance in Dubai?
Dubai is the right choice because, in this part of the world, people love perfume. The history of perfume comes from this region. We should never forget about this. I have had a lot of discussions about how men and women use perfume here. I discovered an art in perfumery. Not only with the fragrance. It is the technicality of how they use it.
I work for one year to create to a millimeter of formula that works, and they mix the perfume. After observing the art, for me now, it’s a good thing to layer perfume. The reason you have perfume on your skin is to make you feel good. It’s a question of emotion. If you wear perfume with a special personality, why not? It offers a unique signature scent.
I create a perfume for Hermès, with the Hermès style and spirit. The perfumer before me, there are a lot, they create with the same spirit. I have tried mixing these scents and it is very easy.
What is your favorite aspect of the boutique?
Creating a shop in Dubai for me was very important. When you go to choose a perfume a lot of shops are overwhelming with brands and noise. When you arrive in the Hermès store, it is small but in the back, you have a private room. It is possible for all clients when they arrive if you ask to smell several fragrances to go back and draw the curtains. It is quiet, you have time to choose one perfume or try layering different fragrances. I think this is a gift. Taking the time to choose a perfume.
What does luxury mean to you?
I think Hermès is the definition of luxury. I think when one object, which is old is still desired over time like when a young woman receives a bag or a scarf from her mother or grandmother and still desires it, that is luxury. The reason why it is possible, are the raw materials. It is the center of the spirit of Hermès. It’s a long process. Hermès only picks the best. We also focus on fairtrade and ecology. When I choose an ingredient I am very attentive to know where it comes from, that it’s sustainable, for the wellness of the world. This is for all of the products at Hermès.
Hermès Parfums is located at Mall of the Emirates, Ground Floor Next to the Central Galleria.