Poivre Samarcande by Hermes

Put simply, Poivre Samarcande takes an age old feature of mellow woods and tickles it in a way that bends it in a playful direction. Take the typical masculine wood note, energise it with spice, and then round it with an aromatic pungency.

Poivre Samarcande curves around itself closely, wafting its wholesome and round structure with a thoroughly forward moving quality. Sometimes, Poivre Samarcande is massively fiery with a numbing hum of pepper, chilli, and pimento to the nose like the lingering of culinary spice; and at other times Poivre Samarcande (such as now, as I write this review) is rooted in a fragile aromatic spiral pulsing waves of heat, cumin, woods, and a curious dustiness.

So I ask, do you want some pepper on top of your sweat?


Photo by Hermes

Poivre Samarcande by Jean-Claude Ellena for the house of Hermès is a massively fiery scent, like an old wooden structure set ablaze. The top notes are like an uppercut to the olfactory jaw – pungent greens, a celery seed note reminiscent of Caron’s Yatagan, then topped with a big grinding of peppercorn, cumin, and dried sage. The impression left from this opening is of spiced bravery and seasoned macho. To tune the light and shade of this fragrance, a very functional amber note smooths out the opening. However, this is only apparent moments later after the initial shock of the top notes fade. I think also, with continued wear and trialling of Poivre Samarcande, the opening wham and bam of these tenaciously upfront notes becomes a bit of a habitual craving when worn, that is, the officiousness of the opening becomes the desirable feature.

Ellena’s trademark cedar molecule ISO-E SUPER is here in very high concentration, with its velvet-giving properties. Perhaps it’s used to round out and cool the burn of the peppers and spices? Departing from there, find an old and dusty wooden treasure chest: dry woods then varnished with Chinese oakmoss and decorated with leather. What’s in the chest? Maybe some patchouli, some ambergris, some more woods, some smoky sweet liquor… The nose knows.

Yet, what the nose may not know, appears only under serious analysis of this fragrance. One may be mistaken to call this a simplistic, or perhaps mono-faceted fragrance, but on the contrary it must be acknowledged that Ellena achieves a mesmerising fragrant idea of pepper. It is firm, solid, and most importantly elegant, but that cannot be achieved without some sort of functionality of notes in the background.

Of course, forgive me for sounding overly methodical, but Poivre fascinates me immensely. It was the first Hermes fragrance I had even thought of possessing, but even today it is still something I’ve yet to fully commit to. But… I love it. So that leads the question, why not own it now? When one goes crazy for fragrance, such as myself last year, I would look for something obviously of distinction (Hence, my inception fragrance into fragrant blogging was the bombastic Brin de Reglisse by Hermes). My mistake however in retrospect, was not sticking to my gut nor allowing myself to travel with Poivre Samarcande’s progression.

I concede that this fragrance can be simplified into just pepper. However, I sniff closely and discover the salty warm tang of ambergris, and further the ultimately functional addition of boozy and syrupy notes to cool the heat. Even on finishing, Poivre Samarcade presents a leather note cleansed through pepper, vaguely recalling the crackling and cackling Coup de Fouet by Caron. What surprises me the most however, is that despite these descriptions of spice and warm qualities, Poivre Samarcande is perpetually transparent – turning generally the thickness of often cloying spicy aromatics into something vividly fresh and faintly sinister, with a mossy quality that is staggeringly fantastic on the nose.

A reassured fragrance, amazingly androgynous.

Subjective rating : 5/5

Objective rating: 4/5

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