A lunch date with Hermès perfumer Christine Nagel

Honestly, I can’t decide where should I start from? From the breathtaking décor of the gallery in the Hermès store located in the heritage Horniman Circle or go back in time to July last year when a bottle of Hermès Eau des Merveilles Bleue arrived on my desk.

Don’t we know that it takes a lot more than money to get our hands on the famous Hermès Birkin bag (costing around $13,000 depending on the model)? One of the finest examples of leather craftsmanship, it may take up to two years to own a Birkin bag, as there’s an unbelievably long list of people who would do anything to get one. That’s because having a Hermès handbag is like owning a piece of history, as their value is not only financial but also artisanal. From beginnings in saddlery and fine equestrian leather goods, it is today best known not just for its handbags as well as fragrances. I feel, one of the best entry points to its luxurious universe is through its fragrances.

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury, Hermès Eau des Merveilles Bleue
Hermès Eau des Merveilles Bleue

I still remember my utter delight in unboxing the packaging to take a closer look at the translucent blue bottle. The shape and texture reminded me of moonstone crystals or the clear pebbles that one finds on the beach. It was enchanting to smell a refreshing feminine scent with woody, amber, and sea notes. It is perhaps one, of the few feminine fragrances, that doesn’t have a trace of a floral note. Personally, I love florals, but sometimes, something unexpected makes a place in your heart. Like this scent did. The beautiful bottle (and its scent), for me, was reminiscent of a starlit evening by the beach, with a cool sea breeze and soft white sand kissing my toes.

I was intrigued by the perfumer, Christine Nagel. Here was a woman who managed to break the glass ceiling in the world of perfumery, despite not coming from the south of France and not being the daughter of a perfumer. In fact, she wasn’t even French. She was Swiss-born to an Italian mother. It was inspiring to learn that the creator of luxury scents started her journey in the research department of Geneva’s fragrance giant Firmenich (the world’s largest privately-owned fragrance & flavor company, creating fragrances and flavors for the world’s most desirable brands). When I sent her the questionnaire for a story on Twilly’d Hermes in Verve (one of India’s leading lifestyle magazines), never did I imagined that I would get to meet the perfume creator in person.

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury

And within a year, here I was, having a fangirl moment in the presence of Christine Nagel, at the Hermès store in Mumbai. Before she joined as the exclusive perfumer for Hermès, Nagel had created some best sellers for Thierry Mugler, Narciso Rodriguez, and Jo Malone London. Call it coincidence, but these three top my list of fragrance favourites. Why is a Hermès fragrance different?  Because it is not dictated by market trends but is a work of art, for art’s sake. “I get no brief from the brand. I am free to choose my own inspirations and work on a perfume. The ingredients used are some of the most precious in the world of perfumery,” explains Nagel, who travels extensively, and of course, her travels inspire her creations.

As expected, it was not her maiden visit to India. She had been here for leisure and pleasure on my trips. In her own words, “India is the best shock that ever happened to her.” The spices of Kerala and jasmine from south India are some of her favourite notes. She tells me how she is in love with the scent of an Ayurvedic hair oil that she picked up on her visit to Kerala. “Don’t be surprised if I use that as a reference point in my creations in the future,” she smiles. A connoisseur of Indian scents and smells, it’s on her wish list to attend the big fat Indian wedding that’s a maze of fragrances (right from floral décor to garlands to flowers in the bride’s hair to the havan samagri).

And then the gates to the gallery opened, and voila! The simple white hall on the first floor of the Hermès Mumbai store was transformed into the most gorgeous lunching site with a floral garden suspended from the ceiling.

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury

And if this was not gorgeous enough, the artisanal food that arrived on our plates, with some fume here and some mist there, was beautifully paired with the fragrances that Nagel had created for the House of Hermès. Eat Drink Design, a boutique catering company, customised food with notes of the fragrances.

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury, Hermès Eau de Rhubarbe Eclarte
Hermès Eau de Rhubarbe Eclarte

So the first course – Avocado & Cream Cheese Roulade with rhubarb gel, red currants, and white musk smoke was evocative of Hermès Eau de Rhubarbe Eclarte.

Ginger Macerated Stuffed Tortellini with tuberose petals and sandalwood scent paid a culinary ode to the hero notes of the youthful Twilly’dHermes.

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury
Ginger Macerated Stuffed Tortellini with tuberose petals

And the absolutely divine dessert, Champagne & Rose Parfait – peach and lemon whipped ganache, black lime shards, and toasted seeds was a riot of colours and flowers, both of which are Nagel’s leading inspiration in her creative journey.

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury
Champagne & Rose Parfait

In an intimate seating arrangement, Nagel narrated anecdotes about the creation of her perfumes, her travel inspirations, and her favourite ingredients. Talking about Musk, she said, “It’s like the petticoat beneath a lovely sheer designer dress. You can’t see it but you need it to make the dress look fuller and more beautiful. Similarly, you can’t smell musk as such, but it enhances the vibrancy of the top notes. It gives a fragrance a well-rounded structure.”

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury
Hermès Perfume Creator, Christine Nagel shares what inspires her works

The afternoon was as much about Hermès as it was about the legendary perfumer herself. Attention to detail, one of the hallmarks of the brand, came through the event as well. Everything, from the seating cards to the thank you notes, was bespoke and handcrafted. It was spelled luxury from all angles but one that envelopes you with warmth and not the cold, snobbish air. Here the classic (dreamy flowers, candles) effortlessly blended with the trendy (artisanal gastronomy), much like the fragrances themselves.

But most importantly everything – candid conversations, decadent floral décor, beautiful food, and takeaway strung with balloons – worked in unison to make one feel incredibly special. And what a designed coincidence Hermès scents do just the same, they make you feel incredibly cherished, confident, and cheerful!

hermes, aparrna gupta, aparna gupta, lavenderoom, lavender room, fragrance, christine nagel, beauty event, luxury

Author

  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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