In the French luxury world, referring to brands as maisons is a reminder that many began as family-run businesses. Hermès is one company that lives and breathes its maison heritage – the publicly traded firm is still majority-owned by the Dumas clan and its products enhance the art of living inside the home as much as they do outside it.
Until now, however, Hermès has never created a complete range of perfumed items for our maisons, despite fragrance being among its strengths.
Le Parfum de la Maison, as the line is known, represents a significant addition to Hermès's lineup, consisting of five scents available in three different forms: candles set in ceramic faceted bowls, stylized ceramic "pebbles" and small origami horses whose flat paper shape is ideally suited to travel.
Last month, Hermès unveiled the collection in – where else? – a private home. Except that this was no ordinary flat. Tucked away on a winding side street in the remote 13th arrondissement, the house is classified as the last remaining folie in Paris, a leisure retreat that dates back to the early 1700s and contains an "ice vault" that tunnels below ground level. The trough, which the current owners have covered with a glass panel, provided the perfect staging for the illuminated objets d'art.
Guests were encouraged to tour five rooms propped to convey the soul of each scent. For the soft, hay-like accord of "Des pas sur la neige," faux snow overflowed from a bathtub; a lifesize painted horse model surrounded by books stood for "A cheval!" and its smoky, leather notes. A girl reading in a steam-filled bedroom conveyed the misty freshness of "Temps de Pluie," while a wall covered in reeds marked the grassy alchemy of "Champ Libre." An ethereal bedroom summed up the abstract freshness of "Fenêtre ouverte."
Each scent corresponds to a coloured glaze inside the white faceted bowls. Designed by Guillaume Bardet, they can rest tilted for display when not in use. The sculptor also conceived the pebbles, which resemble a starchitect's construct in miniature.
The fragrances are independent of Hermès perfumes. Jean-Claude Ellena, the company's longtime perfumer, entrusted the project to his daughter Céline, an established nose in her own right. The narrative for the collection began when she visited her father at his home in Cabris several years ago and searched for olfactive cues.
"A home breathes and whispers, it makes noises and murmurs," she explained. "These objects will inhabit your home, participate in your life and feed your thoughts."
Your maison, in other words, need not be luxurious to smell that way.