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In September Hermès launched a new perfume aimed at a more millennial audience: Twilly d’Hermès. The scent was inspired by the luxury house’s younger clients using the famous silk carré in fun new ways—tied to a purse, worn as a bustier, or wrapped around their hair. Hermès fragrance director Christine Nagel decided to put her own twist on what she does, asking how she could change the codes of perfume making. To find out how she did just that, Whitewall spoke with Nagel.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe your role as fragrance director?
CHRISTINE NAGEL: To preserve, develop, and make perfumes and values live. To perpetuate this pattern of a perfumery of commitment, free and bold, made of encounters, but also to immerse in the heritage and innovation to better understand the present. Hermès has succeeded in reworking the way a so-called French-style perfumery expresses itself. I say “French-style perfumery” because we give more weight to emotions than sensations, to the offer than the demand, to seduction than usage, to the beautiful than the good, to style than trends . . . Today, what clearly and deeply inspires me is the entire Hermès world and heritage. It is very vast and rich, but it is also a great source of inspiration.
WW: How has the fragrance industry changed since you started working in it?
CN: Since I have been practicing this magnificent work, perfumery has changed—and fortunately. It has changed and adapted to all times. The mutations are sociological, economic, artistic, or technical.
Economic because perfumery of large distribution appeared. There was an exclusive “bourgeois” perfumery in the seventies; nowadays, it is a mass perfumery. The two perfumeries come side by side with all gradations between the two pillars—bourgeois versus mass. It is adapted to the taste of each. On one side, it is complex, secret, exclusive perfume; and on the other, it is easy to understand, obvious, and familiar.
Artistic because the names of perfumers who create perfumes are put forward.
Technological because of the new process of extraction of materials, new molecules, tools of knowledge, and analysis that has also changed the way to conceive the perfume. If one day I had the power to change something, I would forbid consumer tests and panels that standardized and confined the world of perfume. I would give creative confidence to the creators.
WW: How is Hermès shaping the fragrance industry?
CN: The most noticeable difference for me is having complete freedom and plenty of time. Decisions are made between Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director, Agnes de Villers, the chairman of Hermès Parfums, and me. There is no market research, no consumer panels. Marketing is only there to support the creation, but it doesn’t influence it. This stance gives the creation and the creator essential roles. It’s horribly exciting and a big responsibility, because perfumes may be the most accessible objects from the House of Hermès. We have a duty to create. It’s unique not having any pressure except the pressure you impose on yourself. It’s wonderful being in control of your own creations.
WW: Tell us about the new fragrance that launched in September, Twilly d’Hermès, geared toward the millennial crowd. Are you sourcing from the archive library again?
CN: When I would go around the streets of Paris, I realized young girls love to use our codes, but with a twist, transforming them into something else. With Twilly d’Hermès, you have the same free spirit. Young girls, instead of wearing a silk carré (Hermès silk scarf) on their heads like Grace Kelly, wear theirs like Amy Winehouse—styling the scarves as a bustier, tying a twilly in their hair, or tying it on the handles of their bags.
I loved this young aesthetic and thought, “Maybe I can work like them. How can I twist and transform the codes of perfume making?” So, I took three raw materials and transformed them. There’s ginger, which adds a white spice; tuberose, which lends a mysterious quality; and sandalwood, which is very elegant.
This depiction of a generation has been put into images and words, and in a film that Hermès has created. This film is a story of the encounter between the street and the Faubourg—our first and emblematic boutique located at rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. An encounter between the house and a new generation that knows Hermès only a little. You will see these strong-willed girls meet in front of our store for a unique and strange storming—that of our fragrance! A fragrance that becomes the link that now unites them to Hermès.
This interview appears in the Whitewall Couture 2017 issue, out now.