Hermès welcomed Christine Nagel – the creator of fragrances such as Narciso Rodriguez for her, Miss Dior Cherie and countless Jo Malone scents – as in-house perfumer in 2014. Galop d’Hermès is the intoxicating new fragrance from the now sole nose of the storied brand. With so much history bound up in a maison made famous by leather, we find out what it means to be a part of this French bastion of timeless excellence.
You worked alongside Jean-Claude Ellena when you first joined Hermès. How did you find this experience?
When I was chosen by Hermès, it was a dream come true. Hermès only has respect for the creator: I arrived in softness, and Jean-Claude Ellena retired in softness, so it was unique because we stayed for two years together. During those two years I went each week to the south of France to understand how Monsieur Ellena – with his style – captured the spirit of Hermès. Now my job is to capture the spirit of Hermès with my style. This was the best gift Hermès gave me, allowing me to take my time to understand the house, to capture the spirit, to discover the universe.
You have a very technical background as a chemist. Does this influence the way you work on creating scents?
When I started as a perfumer, I didn’t talk about my background as it was so scientific and not very poetic. But today, it’s very different. I am free. Just as a dancer: when you see a ballerina it seems very easy, very gracious, but there is a lot of work and technique behind the scenes. It’s the same for me. A lot of perfumers come from the same trained background, but there are very few of us that come from chemistry and chromatography. And because of this I am not afraid of molecules, or raw or synthetic products.
Tell us about your newest fragrance, Galop d’Hermès.
Galop is a very special perfume for me. Firstly,because it was not a request. When I discovered Hermès’ incredible leather archives and the Doblis leather, I decided to create the perfume. And I choose the rose because immediately in my mind it was, “OK, perhaps flower is good with Doblis”. I choose a Turkish rose because for me the rose is on the same level as the leather. The idea arrived very quickly, but to obtain the balance was a challenge. My desire was for a dance between the rose and the leather, so that part of the process took me one year.
Also, Hermès is the only brand that doesn’t test the perfume. When I joined, Hermès’ CEO Axel Dumas said to me, “Christine, I would like you to stay free. You don’t hesitate: you have the right to be wrong”. All my life I work for tests, for good results. So now if it’s possible for me to work with freedom, I take it! I am very tired with sugary perfumes, but before I was obligated to do it. Now I am free, I decide not to. Hermès follows the choice of the creator: that is the philosophy and that is unique.
I’ve read that the Galop bottle has an interesting story behind it.
The day I shared Galop with Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director at Hermès, was the same day – and this is not a story! – that the Hermès museum presented us with the one bottle that was offered (never sold) to inaugurate the first shop outside France, in New York City in 1929. The bottle was perfect for this perfume, and so the development department began work to recreate it. But two or three months afterwards, they said it was too expensive, impossible to realise; to which Dumas simply said, “We are Hermès.”
What is your inspiration when creating a new fragrance?
I am very curious. All my life I see, I smell, I touch – ideas arrive every day. I don’t have a recipe for success, I work with my heart and my gut. When I create a perfume, sometimes I know – this is very special. It makes me feel something. It’s impossible to explain. Galop is one of these.