Library of scents

Hermès’ new perfume boutique takes a literary approach to its fragrances

The entrance at Hermes
The entrance at Hermès

In Vladimir Nabokov’s first novel, “Mary,” the author wrote, “memory can restore to life everything except smells, although nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”

The mission of every brand is to tell a story, and if possible, revive a pleasant past in the mind of the customer. Birkin bag purveyor and luxury-goods giant Hermès seems to have taken that bit of Marketing 101 wisdom quite literally at its new perfume boutique in the Financial District.

In September, Hermès opened a “perfume library” with house perfumier Christine Nagel, who worked with famed nose Jean Claude-Ellena on assembling the collection. It’s the company’s first and only stand-alone fragrance shop, located at 225 Liberty Street at Brookfield Place — Downtown’s (mostly) luxury shopping mall.

Hermès has sorted its fragrances, both new and old, along glowing bookshelves organized into literary categories: poems, novels and novellas. Just don’t expect to borrow anything.

The “poems” are “a collection of olfactory poems, with sobriety and intensity, which freely explore new facets of emotion,” according to Hermès. A bit of poesy, scents like Ambre Narguilé, Brin de Réglisse or Epice Marine range in price from $225 to $405.

The majority of the scents throughout the collection are suitable for both men and women.

Next along the 1,000-square-foot shop’s main wall are its colognes, or “novellas.” Scents like Eau de Mandarine Ambrée, Eau de Narcisse Bleu and Eau d’Orange Verte — the brands’ founding cologne created by Françoise Caron in 1979. They range in price from $129 to $169 — although many of the scents throughout the entire library are available in perfume strength at an additional cost.

Along the same literary wall in the novella section is Hermès’ Les Jardins line. “These narrative tales recount real meetings between the spirit of Hermès, the soul of a special location and Jean-Claude Ellena,” Hermès notes on its website.

Scents like Un Jardin sur le Nil recall “an impressionistic stroll through the island gardens on the Nile at Aswan;” Un Jardin après la Mousson “explores unexpected aspects of India;” and Un Jardin sur le Toit “describes a secret garden, nestled in the heart of the city in Paris.” The line is priced from $97 to $135.

Finally, Voyage d’Hermès, the brand’s line of “novels,” tell a more lasting story.

“An interplay of paradoxes, complements and unexpected alliances upholds the premise of woody notes that are fresh yet musky, familiar yet surprising, hovering between impulsive and comforting,” is how Hermes describes them. They are priced at $136.

Unlike the sparse style of many upscale boutiques, the small wood-paneled shop feels bountiful with fragrances displayed from waist to ceiling on the main wall. The shop is well staffed with knowledgeable noses happy to give you the cliff notes on any scent.