Perfume review: Hermes Osmanthe Yunnan

hermes Osmanthe Yunnan perfume

Osmanthe Yunnan is the fifth and most recent of the Hermessence series, which debuted in 2004 with four fragrances: Vetiver Tonka, Ambre Narguile, Rose Ikebana, and Poivre Samarcande. Like the others, it was created by Hermès house nose Jean Claude Ellena and is available exclusively in Hermès boutiques. The perfume notes are tea, orange, freesia, osmanthus and apricot.

Osmanthe Yunnan opens with sharp, dry citrus; as noted in the comments last week, it is somewhat reminiscent of another Jean Claude Ellena fragrance, Divine Bergamote by The Different Company. As it dries down, Osmanthe Yunnan veers off in another direction, starting with the lightly smoky scent of dried black tea leaves and gradually allowing more of the osmanthus to shine through. The whole stays very muted and soft and pale. It is summery without being bright, and fruity without much sweetness: rather than a juicy bite of ripe apricot, there is a more subdued aroma, something akin to the leathery skin of a dried apricot.

Jean Claude Ellena is known for his minimalist approach to perfume, and it is in full swing here. Osmanthe Yunnan probably vies with Poivre Samarcande as the most pared down of the Hermessences. It is also the least foody of the bunch. It is a lovely scent, but not one that makes a huge statement, and in that sense it is perhaps less interesting than Vetiver Tonka or Ambre Narguile. I have no idea what fabric it is supposed to evoke (Vetiver Tonka was to be wool, Rose Ikebana silk, etc) but I would choose a light summer gauze.

All of that is not to say that I don't love it — I do. It is worth repeating a quote that I cited in my review of Poivre Samarcande:

"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)

Osmanthe Yunnan reminds me of another little haiku of a tea fragrance, Thé Pour Un Été by L'Artisan. They smell nothing alike, really, but share the same "add nothing that isn't needed" approach. It is easy to imagine that with a modicum of training in perfumery, you could do as well or better yourself, and it is only after trying hundreds and hundreds of fragrances that it becomes obvious how rare it is to find something that is really simple but still worth the wearing.

The packaging is lovely: the bottles have a nice heft, the caps are done up in stitched leather, and each of the Hermessences is given a different hue by a layer of color which reflects upward from the bottom of the bottle. The bottles come in a muslin drawstring bag nestled inside the signature orange and brown Hermes packaging, all tied with a brown ribbon.

The 100 ml bottle of Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan Eau de Toilette is $180. Ouch. Would I have bought it if I had smelled the fragrance first? Absolutely. But it is a shame that I didn't have the patience to wait for the Discovery Set, which until the release of Osmanthe Yunnan consisted of four 15 ml bottles for around $125 — not as economical per ounce, but perfect if you don't need quite so much juice and can find others to split the set with you. I don't need 100 ml of anything, myself.

Victoria will have a review of Osmanthe Yunnan today on Bois de Jasmin.

Other fragrances with osmanthus: Serge Lutens Datura Noir, Parfums de Nicolai Fig TeaKeiko Mecheri Osmanthus, La Perla Eclix, Acqua di Biella Janca.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    “Summery without being bright, and fruity without much”- I like that! I also like the fact that it reminds you of The Pour Un Ete, my favourite tea/sumery scent … I am curious to try OY, but I am sure I will not conisder it FBW untill summer.

  2. Anonymous says:

    M, It would make a much better impression in the spring, and I just don't understand the rash of light florals being released this fall & winter. It is very odd!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I cannot agree more when you say that “Osmanthe Yunnan probably vies with Poivre Samarcande as the most pared down of the Hermessences.” I was told that it is supposed to be fairly light, but I still was not prepared for transparency. Of course, I expected a big blast of bitter Yunnan tea. It is still wonderful for someone who adores Ellena's work as much as I do.

  4. Anonymous says:

    NST, I've been so eager to hear what you finally thought of your long-lusted-after OY! And your review is excellent (it is really fun to have you and V review this new fragrance simultaneously. Since I know both of your tastes, I can extrapolate, more or less, what would be my own reaction to this Hermessence.) One thing is for sure, I'm not in a hurry to buy–but that might change this week when I sample some of V's bottle ;D.

  5. Anonymous says:

    'Light summer gauze' – yes, that's exactly it. It definitely is transparent, as Victoria says. I tried this along with TDC Osmanthus at the weekend, and I found that, although the TDC makes more of an impact at first, the OY dries down much softer and warmer. I liked it more than the TDC or even the OJ. 'Leathery skin of a dried apricot' – yes, you've nailed it – see, it was well worth making the investment! I also found that it has surprising staying-power – although it's light and gauzy, and doesn't have powerful sillage, it has clung tenaciously to sleeves and collars from a testing many days ago. It's a haiku that's deceptively simple, but leaves you thinking.

  6. Anonymous says:

    V, would have been expecting the transparency more if it was a spring release! Agree that it is wonderful all the same.

  7. Anonymous says:

    L, So, what do you think your reaction will be? Can't wait to hear what you think of it after you try.

  8. Anonymous says:

    N, I adore the OJ, but they are so different it is hard to compare them. The OJ is so happy, the OY is so mellow. I certainly like OY more than the TDC Osmanthus, which I just can't make work for me.

    Yes, the staying power is not bad, but I do find myself using 4-5 sprays, which for me is highly unusual. Wish they had done the lighter Hermessences in EdPs.

    Thanks for the early reports, BTW — I am glad I bought it!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful review dear R – loved your description of this perfume ! I am delighted that this works for you. I continue to be amazed at most of these companies launching summery perfumes in winter. I agree that their packaging is rather chic. :)

    Enjoy it!


  10. Anonymous says:

    I think I won't like it as much as you both do, but then again… . I know both you and V like the other Hermessences more than I do. I also ended up giving Jardin sur le Nil to my daughter C, who loved it. There was a dull 'bread' note to the Nil one that, in the end, spoiled it for me. I guess it was something about the mango. Still, this new one apparently has many exciting qualities that I may fall for!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you N — it had ought to be chic at that price :-)

  12. Anonymous says:

    L, am going to predict that you will like this one better than the other Hermessences.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I'm glad you ended up liking this unsniffed purchase, R! Since I have TDC Divine Bergamote, do you think it's worth buying OY too?

    Re Discovery Set: Do you know if Hermes will be making one with OY in it?

  14. Anonymous says:

    I, OY only smells like the TDC for a couple minutes, and even then, the TDC is much woodier & greener. I don't think having one would preclude having the other. But honestly, the OY is even more transparent & sheer than the TDC. I would try before you buy.

    It will be in the discovery sets, but I didn't ask how they will be configured — 5 bottles, I guess? Or choose your 4? Don't know!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Doesn't sound like a must-buy to me, but I will certainly try it in time. The idea of these scents as “little haiku” is illuminating. The Hermessences almost remind me of L'Artisan, the way they state a concise idea of a fragrance, and then leave it, without embellishment.

  16. Anonymous says:

    T, good point, they are rather like L'Artisan. I wish they were priced like L'Artisan too.

  17. Anonymous says:

    J-C E has proven, once again, that less is truly more. What a perfect antecdote to keep in mind as we enter the Holiday season.

    I am so happy that you love OY, R. May I assume that it is your current favorite of the quintet? :)


  18. Anonymous says:

    R, you will be smelling it very soon I am sure :-)

    No, not my favorite…that would still be Vetiver Tonka, but this is my 2nd favorite. Ambre Narguile is probably the next best, but as I don't like Amber, Rose Ikebana comes in 3rd for me, then the Ambre, then poor old Poivre at the rear.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I should have known better, R; a great vetiver fragrance will come in first on your list every time!

  20. Anonymous says:

    So I christened the first day of my temporary return to NYC with a trip to Hermes, because I was SO excited about trying this new Hermessence. The SA sprayed it on a card. I loved it on the card. Bright, sparkly, delicate, juicy–at last, an Hermessence to love and buy! Or so I thought. Then I tried it on my skin, and was unfortunately very underwhelmed. For the first hour or so, it was extremely faint and bland, like a slightly more bitter, and much less refreshing, Divine Bergamote (as others have said). The drydown sweetened as the osmanthus became more prominent, but it was still very faint, bland, and unimpressive on my skin. Not nearly as juicy and bright as it was on the card. In the end, I think this JCE creation was just too transparent for me. *sigh* Ah well, I await the next one.

    By the way, I asked the Hermes SA what fabric OY was supposed to represent, and she didn't know either! Heh.

  21. Anonymous says:

    L, Agree — not bright, sparkly or juicy on skin. I do think this would have made a much better impression in the spring & have a feeling many people are going to be underwhelmed. I don't personally have any strict rules about summer vs winter fragrances, but this just isn't the sort of fragrance you put on with a sweater. I had to give it 4-5 good sprays, which for me is just an awful lot of perfume, and really have to wonder if I would have bothered if it wasn't a JCE scent. But glad I did, because I do love it.

  22. Anonymous says:

    HA! AT LAST I know why often we are so different re: staying-power ratings! 4-5 sprays R?! I feel like an over-scented gigolo now, with my 10 sprays…or more! Perhaps my skin drinks up cologne? I feel your Osmanthe Yunnan review is 'reserved'…especially when I look back on your great enthusiasm over other scents. I will wait for the discovery set. IS this scent truly “unisex?” No one has remarked on that. K

  23. Anonymous says:

    K, 10 sprays!!! *sputters and chokes* Actually, I like my fragrance very light. Very few people who know me even know that I wear perfume — I wear it more for myself than others, I guess.

    My review is reserved, I guess, but I really do love it. It is going to be a summer staple. But I do think that the scent is bound to disappoint many people because it is so sheer (see the comment from smellslikeleaves above). Remember that I love Rose Ikebana too, and it does not seem to be a big favorite either!

    As to gender: it is not as overtly unisex as VT, PS, or AN, or the TDC Bergamote, but nor is it as feminine as Rose Ikebana. I would place it at about the same level as L'Artisan Thé Pour Un Ete, actually — does that help?

  24. Anonymous says:

    HAHA! Indeed…usually three sprays per arm and three on chest! No wonder no matter how much I launder my scents remain (even the dry cleaner comments)! Ah. You know The Pour Un Ete, which I tried only once in-store, did come off a bit feminine to me if I remember correctly…so that does help me. K

  25. Anonymous says:

    K, Am cracking up at the image of your dry cleaner trying to decide what scent you were wearing that week :-)

    “A bit feminine” is probably accurate.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hello, I´m new. Wonderful blog and comments! I bought OY last week. I love it, but not as much as Ambre Narguilé,Rose Ikebana or Vétiver Tonka. I prefer OY in the drydown. But I´m a huge fan of J.C.-Ellena, so…Anyway, the Hermessence samples are great, 4 ml.!, perfect for travels.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Hello and welcome! Glad to see another JCE fan. OY will never displace Vetiver Tonka in my affections, but waiting until next summer to see how much I really love it.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Definitely, it would be even better on summer, but…..never will displace my Rose Ikebana and Cologne Bigarade in the AWFULLY HOT July days in Madrid….But it is definitely intriguing and “clean”. I am currently also very much in love with “Un Jardin sur le Nil”, but I used it more in summer.

  29. Anonymous says:

    M, I love Jardin Sur Le Nil too — it was one of my staples this summer. I just can't wear the Cologne Bigarade though — on paper it smells fabulous, on my skin it turns horrible within seconds. Drat!

  30. Anonymous says:

    The Bigarade is just perfect on my skin, but I have the effect you describe with Timbuktu, I almost bought it, but there is some note there that just spoils the parfum for me…Do you like Bois Farine? I find it interesting, and works well with my skin, but…

  31. Anonymous says:

    I didn't like Timbuktu at first either, but it has grown on me. Bois Farine is one of many that I need to revisit. I didn't like it the first time I tried it, although would agree that it is interesting. Perhaps, like Timbuktu, I will love it on the second try.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Hello! Today I´m wearing Bois Farine. Well, it is still not my favourite scent, that´s for sure, but it is definitely interesting and worth trying, although I am not sure if I did well buying a bottle…Do you know Preparation Parfumée by Andrée Putman? And Fumerie Turque? And Chergui? The thing is: I am very intrigued about Fumerie Turque, I have the feeling that it will be similar to Ambre Narguilé, but the only Serge Lutens parfums sold in Spain (and that only a few months back) are the range with his name, like Un Bois Vanille, Santal Blanc (which I have) and Ambre Sultan. The others I have to buy them on the net, and unsniffed…

    By the way, yesterday I wore Osmanthe Yunnan, and I definitely like it more and more…

  33. Anonymous says:

    Have reviewed the Andrée Putman. Need to re-try both Chergui & Fumerie Turque, did not love either on first try but that was some time ago. Do not remember FT being nearly so sweet or foody as Ambre Narguile, but my memory is not always good :-)

  34. Anonymous says:

    OHHH Robin, I was just given a gift of a vial of this. Oh dear God, I have died and gone to heaven. It is divine.
    I cannot even put words to it. I was sent a package from Tokyo with many goodies, and this was in it. I can NOT stop smelling my wrists. It is pure genius. It has in four short hours rushed to the top of my favorite list. Very difficult to do, as my top 10 are hardcore perfect.

  35. Anonymous says:

    So glad it's found another fan, it is one of my very favorites!

  36. Anonymous says:

    This was the one I was most excited about after spraying all of the Hermessences on test strips. It smelled perfect and light, just slightly odd in a most welcome way.
    I thought I would love this. Unfortunately, it turns out, I don't want to smell of apricots. Especially a dried one that someone dropped in my black tea.
    What a weird testing experience the testing has been. I liked the one I thought I'd like the least (Vetiver Tonka) and disliked the one I thought I'd like the most (OY). Of course, you know what that means: I must sample the rest to see which one makes the cut in my Discovery set…. That is, if it the Discovery set works as it did before OY came out. I'll inquire about that, too.

  37. Anonymous says:

    OY took longer to grow on me than the others. I think I'd still rate VT the highest, but OY is the one I actually wear the most. I guess I do want to smell like apricots in black tea ;-)

    Do let me know how they're doing the Discovery sets now; I've no idea.

  38. Anonymous says:

    It's a beautifully-done perfume but, as I mentioned, it's just not working for me. I've got another patch test happening this morning and it's still not doing much for me. Oh well. 3 out of 4 is much better than I expected. Of course, knowing my luck, they'll have eliminated any sort of Discovery Set and I'll have to choose. Dx And this wasn't a total waste: the sample vial looks very pretty on my perfume shelf. =D

    Well, when I find out, I'll drop a line.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I think I would really enjoy smelling like black tea and dried apricot.

    I'm ordering samples next month (just bought a bottle of Parfum Sacre', very reasonable price, but my budget is still sadly limited) and wanted to know your opinion on OY versus Osmanthus Interdite. I'll probably sample both if I can manage it, as I love the almost-floral scent of black tea on its own. Any other “don't miss this” black tea scents you might suggest? Thanks!

    I like green and white teas, but they seem so much more green and leafy, without the complexity of black tea, that I'm just not terribly interested in them as fragrance notes. I do have a sample of DSH's The Silk Road, which is smoky tea/ floral/ spice/ leather. Interesting as heck, and aptly named, but I think I'd rather have one that is more meditative and less busy thoroughfare.

  40. Anonymous says:

    I do have a mini of Bvlgari Black and love it. On me it's lapsang souchong/new bicycle tire/sweet vanilla. I've also got a sample of CBIHP Russian Caravan Tea waiting for me in a shopping cart somewhere, but I admit I'm a little worried about that “old book” accord.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Not sure if you were asking me or Eric, but OY is a much lighter scent, more summery, OI has more emphasis on the floral notes. Both are lovely!

  42. Anonymous says:

    Asking anybody who has something to say about it, actually… thanks.

    Now I'm just waiting impatiently for March and more samples.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Okay, so I tried OY yesterday. (Promptly spilled my sample, curses! At least the carpet smells good.) It IS gorgeous, extremely so. It's such a quiet scent that I kept thinking it was gone, and then I'd move my arm and get another lovely whiff of it. I love that you do smell the tea, along with the floral/apricot/suedey smell of the osmanthus.

    (Must check out more osmanthus smells – that stuff is great. And Apres l'Ondee does that same now-you-smell-it, now-you-don't trick, too.)

    However: OY is so blasted pricey, particularly since I have to put more on than I usually do, that it won't be on my Wishlist. Ah well. I should think of it as money saved.

  44. Anonymous says:

    So very sorry about your lost sample. Hope it will linger nicely in the carpet, anyway!

    It is VERY spendy stuff, and you're right, it can't be applied lightly :-(

  45. Dave says:

    I think I would splurge if the stuff lasted longer than a few hours, but, alas, it does not. I’ve had longevity issues with several of the Ellena frags, except for Terre, which lasts forever, and for which I’m not a big fan. The Hermessences are now upwards of $235, I’ve heard, and I just don’t understand how they can charge so much for something so fleeting. Money saved, indeed – though what I really wish for is an OY that lasts more than three hours on me! :(

    • Robin says:

      It is true, it isn’t a long last scent, and the price has gotten really silly. I’m sticking with the 15 ml travel sizes from now on.

  46. Dave says:

    I bought a 15 ml from the Court, and I think it’s something I’ll just have to enjoy once in a while. What’s odd to me is that I suspect OY would do well in a larger, wider release (minus the cool leather cap and whatever cache the people who can afford the silly price grant to its being so inaccessible to the proles). Everyone who’s sampled mine thinks it’s really something else. Oh well.

    • Robin says:

      I have thought that of most of the Hermessences, that is, that they’d sell to a wide audience, but agree OY definitely has possibilities.

  47. DJ says:

    I am way late to this review lol

    Only just managed to try this gorgeous fragrance during the week – it is absolutely beautiful – and oh! if only it lasted more than 45 mins on my arm I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    • Robin says:

      Luckily it lasts more than 45 minutes on me :-)

  48. bluegardenia says:

    just fell in love with a sample of this (obviously wayyy too late) only to google and find it’s no longer on the hermes site and seems to be selling on ebay for almost 500 dollars! sigh

    • Robin says:

      They remove things from the website when they’re out of stock…I would not assume it’s discontinued! Check again in a month & see if it’s back.

  49. bluegardenia says:

    oh, spoke too soon. it’s on amazon for just under $500, but the 15ml bottles are on ebay for around 50 bucks. not bad. i guess it is discontinued though?

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