Hermes Poivre Samarcande (Hermessence Collection) ~ fragrance review

Hermes Poivre Samarcande

As long as we are talking about the Hermessence line from Hermès (see yesterday's review of Rose Ikebana), I thought I would pull out my sample of Poivre Samarcande and give it a real try on skin. A quick smell on a test strip last fall had convinced me that it was too masculine a fragrance for me to pull off, but test strips are such a waste of time that I don't know why I bother. Poivre Samarcande is meant to mimic velvet, and has notes of pepper, chili pepper, oak, cedar, chinese moss, and musk.

Poivre has strong pepper top notes; as it dries down, the wood notes intensify, but it stays very peppery, and very dry. It is also very minimalist, and it is worth quoting Jean Claude Ellena, the nose behind the Hermessence perfumes, on this subject:

"These are not light fragrances," explains Ellena. "But they're not these 'big stories,' like some complex fragrances can be. Instead, I think of them as little haiku." (via W Magazine, September 1 2004)

Interesting, because just as Rose Ikebana is reminiscent of Yves Saint Laurent In Love Again, so Poivre Samarcande immediately reminded me of yet another Jean Claude Ellena perfume: Cartier Declaration, but Declaration stripped down to its bare, essential elements, and jazzed up with lots of pepper. There are also hints of two other notes used in Declaration, coriander and cumin. From the same article:

Clearly, Ellena's nose is up to the task of creating olfactory poetry. "In the smell of sweat, I can discern cumin; in bubblegum, jasmine; in truffle, leather; in roses, rhubarb; in amber, honey," he says. His goal in creating the Hermessences was to let the rest of us in on his subtly scented world. "The main idea is to show what vetiver or poivre means to me," explains Ellena. "I tried to put what I call intelligence in the perfume ... to see perfume in a more intellectual way."

I, obviously, do not have Ellena's nose. I do not find jasmine in bubblegum, and I don't find cumin in sweat. But even my uneducated nose can find the sweat in cumin.

A little bit of sweat is not always a bad thing in a fragrance, and I think I have already mentioned Annick Goutal's Eau du Sud in that regard. The sweat in Cartier Declaration is too much for me; in Poivre Samarcande, it is lighter, but it is very much there. There is also a touch of something else, which might be the moss but which smells like tobacco or leather. The combination is not really too masculine, exactly, but of the four Hermessence fragrances, this is the one I would be least likely to wear.

Freskagirl commented yesterday that Poivre layered nicely with Rose Ikebana, and I would agree. The mixture doubles the foody quotient in an interesting way, minimizing the grapefruit and cumin and emphasizing the rhubarb and pepper. It is rather nice, and those of you bored stiff by Rose Ikebana might find it an improvement, although if it bored you, you probably don't have any on hand.

Like Rose Ikebana, it is relatively short-lived. For purchasing information, see the listing for Hermès under Perfume Houses.

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Parfums Raffy


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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hrmph. That's the last time I ever save *you* a seat on the bandwagon. I find what you say about Cartier Declaration to be true of many of the Jean Claude Ellena fragrances I have tried. Cartier Declaration, Angeliques Sous La Pluie, and Cologne Bigarade all have the same core to me. Poivre Samarcande immediately reminded me of a swarthy version of Angeliques, which was just too weak and timid for me. It will be interesting to see what we both think of the Concentrée version of the Angeliques when that comes out. I do have to say though, that Poivre is much too dry and splintery to remind me of velvet. Velvet to me would be smooth and swishy and quiet.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You don't detect cumin in sweat, R? Actually, this is one of the few things I have picked up. Remember Alexander McQueen's Kingdom? (How could any of us forget? LOL!) Cumin was a prominent note in it, and I am sorry to report that when I tested it on my skin, it smelled like…sweat. :(:(

    But no, I do not detect jasmine in bubblegum (puh-leeze!!), rhubarb in rose and whatever other comparisons Jean Claude listed above! :):)

    I have not tested PS, but I highly doubt that it would remind even my 8 year old, or anyone for that matter, of velvet. What pretense!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi K! I knew you were going to be angry with me ;-)

    Jean Claude Ellena is one of my favorite noses of all time, but yes, all the ones you mentioned are the same core. Cologne Bigarade was a particular disappointment, because the notes sounded so perfect, and it basically smells like sweat and rotting fruit on me. It is highly unlikely that I will like the Concentree since I don't like the original Angliques.

    Now that I have further devalued myself in your opinion, will at least agree that Poivre bears no relation to velvet, and of all those mentioned, I do like Poivre the best.

  4. Anonymous says:

    R, No, when I smell sweat I never think of cumin, but when I smell cumin, especially in fragrance, it does smell exactly like sweat (not sure I was clear above).

    And I will never forget Kingdom! Or Dinner by Bobo, for that matter. Someone once described Dinner by Bobo as meat served by a sweaty waiter, and that is exactly on the money for me.

    Trying now to think of what fabric Poivre should have been, and can't come up with one. It is kind of pretentious, but they don't make any big deal of it in the store and they've never done any advertising on these at all, so it could be worse.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Okay, gotcha on that cumin/sweat thing! :):)

    Oh, Dinner by Bobo smelled like a bad curried meal on me. Just awful!

    And yes, the pretension factor could be worse, much worse. Think JAR! LOL!

  6. Anonymous says:

    My inexperienced, uneducated nose is reassured by this talk of sweat. Yesterday I experienced Chanel's Bois des Iles for the first time and after a while detected a bit of sweat in it (not my own!). What ingredient would call that smell forth? I don't imagine sweat (even in French) forms part of a description of the notes of a scent.

  7. Anonymous says:

    JAR is going to win the pretentious prize for this year, for sure!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Interesting. Bois des Iles is one of my favorite perfumes, so it just goes to show how individual tastes vary. Bois des Iles has bergamot, aldehydes, iris, rose, coriander, amber, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka bean. I don't get sweat, although it is a bit smoky. Would guess it is the coriander that is calling up sweat for you.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Speaking of JAR, V's post today on boisdejasmin.typepad is devoted to JAR and Golconda. Have you read it yet, R? As usual, it is excellent!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Inspired by your review, I decided to test Poivre myself. Remember, I picked up two samples at the store? I agree that it does not conjure any velvet associations at all, and while it is not overly heavy on cumin on my skin, it has a warm skin scent, as if I spent the day in the sun (this is hypothetical, because with my sun-sensitive skin it rarely happens). You are the one who got me obssessed with Jean-Claude Ellena. Look, I already have a man in my life! (and it is not Serge, by the way) :)

    Well, I am enjoying it, especially the leather note that keeps appearing and then softening into the background. I have to try Vetiver Tonka next and see how I like that one in comparison with Poivre Samarcande.

  11. Anonymous says:

    R, no, hadn't seen it yet — am using Bloglines for a blog reader and they are always behind. Off to check…

  12. Anonymous says:

    And speak of the devil (see the comment above). Hate to say it, but a day in the sun == sweat, LOL!

    Jean Claude Ellena is still my hero, though.

    Will do Ambre Narguile tomorrow & Vetiver Tonka on Thursday. VT is still my favorite, and since the next one is supposedly leather, I assume it will remain so.

  13. Anonymous says:

    R ~ “test strips are such a waste of time that I don't know why I bother” ~ I love that and find such a gem of interest there: that our skin chemistry plays such a role in how we perceive all these fragrances, it's so individual and can there ever be an objective evaluation of any fragrance, those things considered?

  14. Anonymous says:


    Poivre does not really smell sweaty to me (not like Kingdom or Dinner by Bobo). We will see what a repeated testing will tell. Excited about your review of other Hermessences! You are a star!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, R…I'm interested in these Hermessences , especially Ambre Narguile which sounds lovely…but I've never smelled any of them. I'm not even sure where I'd buy them if I tested and liked!

    Glad I'm not the only one who finds scent-strips useless. Sometimes I wonder if the perfume-experts couldn't come up with some kind of paper that mimics skin in some way? Things simply don't develop on cardboard, they just swell and fade.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I'm right there with both of you! Bois Farine alone was enough to put Jean-Claude in my pantheon of perfume gods, but his scents that Keeter named all do have the same slightly sweaty thing going on. I attribute it to J-C's love of coriander (which comes perilously close to cumin and sometimes crosses the line), as well as his fascination with watery notes. Put 'em together and you've got…sweat!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Chemistry is important. Test strips are a necessary evil though, just because you can only put so many things on the skin at one time. I crack up when I read on MUA that people are testing things on their ankles — those days are gone for me, LOL!!

    And a very happy birthday to you, by the way :-)

  18. Anonymous says:

    N, is there no Hermes boutique anywhere near you?

    In NYC, they are nice about samples if you go to the store in person.

    Part of the problem with scent strips (other than the obvious fact that they don't smell like skin) is that they don't warm up the fragrance fast enough, so that I am misled by the top notes.

  19. Anonymous says:

    LOL — perhaps I need to set up a small altar and pray for my dream green-jasmine-incense scent…

    Now see, I would swear that all those fragrances have coriander AND cumin, even though it isn't listed in the notes (although it is listed in Declaration).

  20. Anonymous says:

    Is it your birthday, R? Oooh, happy birthday…I hope it was a fragrant and wonderful one! N

  21. Anonymous says:

    No, not me — mireille above in the comments :-)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Sweaty coriander? Hmm. I cook with coriander and cumin a lot, and coriander has a fruity, lemony, almost floral quality, none of that sweaty sulfur I think of when I think of sweaty fragrances. Cumin, however, is totally sweaty. It could be a grapefruit note impersonating sweat, or a touch of whatever terror was in Serge Lutens's dreaded Mouscs Koublai Khan. Can that horrendous smell really be musk? Or is it simply that “armpit” is not a note one can list? (Confession: I do like the sweatiness in Bigarade and Declaration.)

  23. Anonymous says:

    T, Will defer to your judgement since I gave up cooking some time ago. With JCE, whenever I see coriander mentioned, I assume he has thrown in some cumin as well.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Goutal's Les Nuits d'Hadrien with cumin does not smell sweaty on my skin but I can detect a sweaty buildup in clothing or bedclothes after wearing it for a few days in a row.

    On scent strips: one thing they are very good for is telling you if a perfume has a highly chemical smell, before you put it on your bod. There are certain chemical notes that if I smell them on the strip I know I won't be able to wear the perfume and, vice-versa, if the notes attract on the strip, I know it's worth a try.

  25. Anonymous says:

    It is true that scent strips allow me to weed out the really horrible things that would never work for me, but I worry that I dismiss other things too quickly because they don't smell interesting on a strip. Caron Alpona is a great example: I smelled it several times at Caron on a strip and had zero interest, the minute I smelled it on a human, I swooned.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Alpona is on my sniff list. It seems to be very well liked by al those who have tried it.

  27. Anonymous says:

    R, perhaps this would be one to retry in the fall? I find that sweat notes often heat up in the summertime, but stay somewhat subdued in cold weather. And don't you think, texturewise, that Poivre Samarcande is well represented by burlap? Not glamorous enough for Hermes? Make it orange burlap, if you must.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Hope to get around to trying my sample next week. I would love to have a classic Caron to love — I do covet those bottles!!

  29. Anonymous says:

    Burlap!! Surely not glamorous enough for Hermes, LOL! But yes, the perfect fabric reference.

    Not a bad idea, will make a note to try it again in cooler weather. Meanwhile I am perfectly happy with my Andree Putman for pepper :-)

  30. Anonymous says:

    I just fell hard for Farnesiana after resisting the lure of the Carons for a long time. Have you tried this one?

  31. Anonymous says:

    Yes! Farnesiana is a very unusual, maybe even weird fragrance. I like it very much but without wanting to wear it. Maybe it will grow on me :-)

  32. Anonymous says:

    And by the way, very interesting about the rhubarb/rose, bubblegum/jasmine! As soon as I read it, I thought, “Good God, that's it. Jasmine smells like bubblegum.” I used to think amber smelled like honey, too, until honey fragrances came out, and I discovered that honey, in fragrance, after a time on the skin, smells like summer sidewalk urine. I'll take amber over that any day.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Wow, T, I am so impressed. Maybe I need to go buy some bubblegum. I have a feeling that I won't get it though.

    And didn't pick up on the honey-urine thing until I smelled SL Miel de Bois.

  34. Anonymous says:

    I'll be brief on this one. Lasts the least amount of time of all the Hermessences. At least, on me. Curry powder. Then a tiny dash of curry powder on wood-infused water. Turned to water only about three hours later. (It's funny: brief = elimination of sentence subjects.) As much as I think I should dislike it, I really don't mind it. It's not on my list to Santa but I still like it ten times better than my least favorite of the series. And it should be fun to try layering it with everything in my closet! xD

  35. Anonymous says:

    I'd say at this point that I feel about the same: don't mind it, don't need it.

  36. sandstorm1983 says:

    I have a collection of over 150 bottles and this fragrance is on my top 10 list. Often people who dislike Poivre are really the beginners with not much experience in the world of perfumery. There are a few pepper based fragrances that are blended and formulated correctly and among all the pepper fragrances I’ve ever owned and smelled, only Poivre Samarcande, and Le Labo’s Poivre 23 have impressed me. To me, this was love at first smell! JCE blended the smell of the bazar of city of Samarkand with OakTrees, and the formulation is done just absolutely perfect. This is a must own bottle. If you haven’t smelled any of the Hermessence creations make sure to check out Poive Samarcande, Ambre Narguile and Vetiver Tonka

    • Robin says:

      Saying that people who don’t like something must be “beginners” is probably not a great way to make friends on a fragrance blog :-)

      • sandstorm1983 says:

        Don’t get me wrong. Actually I respect your review above. Afterall, its a personal thing rather right? Cheers

  37. Subhuman says:

    Wow, how did I miss this one? It sounds right up my alley, given that Déclaration is one of my holy grails. I’m warming up to Ellena’s creations rather quickly these days – I’ve been leaning more toward translucent veils of scent rather than the brick walls I was attracted to in the early stages of my perfumista-ship, and JCE does translucent like no other.

    The “cumin/coriander = sweat” discussion is interesting. I do think cumin smells sweaty, but of the stale variety, not fresh, and mostly focused on the armpit area (hey, if we’re going down this path…). The cumin in Déclaration is loud and clear, but somehow it doesn’t remind me of BO in the slightest. I suspect the overall dryness of the composition, and its complete lack of musk, cancels out any “sweatiness” from the cumin, at least for me. It smells arid, crisp, and zingy, like a freshly-opened jar of the spice itself. For truly sweaty cumin in fragrance, I look to Rochas Femme. (And then I run away screaming.)

    • Subhuman says:

      Forgot to add: Poivre Samarcande contains something like a 65% dose of Iso E Super, a synthetic that gives fragrances a sweet, cedary scent and “velvety” texture, so perhaps that’s where the velvet association comes from. (I really do get a “velvety” sensation from fragrances heavy on the Iso E, like Déclaration and Terre d’Hermes. It’s amazing how smells can seem to possess not only weight and color, but texture, isn’t it?)

    • Robin says:

      If Declaration doesn’t smell like BO to you, then this one won’t either, I should think. Declaration is VERY sweaty to me, but also a more interesting scent than PS (again, to me).

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