Hermès’ Oud Alezan perfume captures the emotional bond between horse and human

Hermès’ nose Christine Nagel tells of her chance meeting with a horse named Scheherazade, which formed the inspiration behind new fragrance Oud Alezan

Hermès in-house nose Christine Nagel in her perfume lab with Hermès Oud Alezan perfume bottles, and bucking horse sculpture
Hermès’ in-house nose Christine Nagel
(Image credit: Courtesy of Hermès)

Perfumer Christine Nagel has been working in-house at Hermès for ten years now. However, her appointment at the storied luxury maison with deeply equestrian roots (Hermès was founded as a harness workshop, and then a saddlery, in Paris in the 1800s) had an ironic twist: Nagel was afraid of horses.

‘When you are a child, you try different activities... dance, or piano, or tennis, or horse-riding,’ she tells me in French, via an interpreter, at the Hermès HQ in London. ‘In my family, it was ballet and piano. So, I didn’t grow up with horses. And I was, in fact, rather frightened them. I thought they had very big teeth. But, of course, the horse was the first Hermès customer,’ she says, flashing her silk and cashmere Carré 100 Rocabar de Rire scarf, playfully printed with an illustration of a horse sticking its tongue out.

Christine Nagel on a sofa

Christine Nagel

(Image credit: Courtesy of Hermès)

Hermès Oud Alezan

Determined to overcome her phobia, Nagel made up her mind to venture into the stables at the Saut Hermès show-jumping event, held annually at the Grand Palais. ‘Because I’m very curious by nature, one day I asked to go and see the Saut Hermès. But it’s very difficult to get near the horses there because they are the most beautiful horses in the world. But I was given exceptional permission.’ It was here that the Swiss-born nose, and one of the most prominent women working in fragrance today, had a life-changing encounter, the result of which takes the form of the new Hermessence Eau de Parfum: Oud Alezan.

‘I went through all the stables, all the stalls in the reserved area. And I found that the horses were not at all interested in me. I think they probably felt the kind of fear I was experiencing or the reluctance,’ continues Nagel. ‘I liked the smell of the stables. And I'm not telling you any fibs: this is really how it happened when I reached the last stall. I think I was more relaxed at that point. I wasn't frightened. A horse suddenly stuck her head out and put it against my face. And I don’t know what happened to me, but I walked into the stall and I started smelling the horse’s neck. This triggered such an emotional reaction in me. And I thought to myself, with such a strong emotion, one day this will be the starting point for a creation.’

Christine Nagel sniffs scent, amid superimposed bottles of perfume

Christine Nagel

(Image credit: Courtesy of Hermès)

The horse in question was a chestnut mare, that she soon discovered was called Scheherazade. Nagel returned to see her once more at the stables, and the horse reacted in the same way. ‘I could feel the hair across her head… I could nearly feel her palpitating heart in her neck,’ she says. But how does one capture such a uniquely visceral memory through olfactory means? Well, not easily. And it would be another seven years after her final meeting with Scheherazade before she came across the right materials to realise her vision.

‘One day, I was given some blotters. The supplier didn't say what was on them. When I smelled [one of them], it was as if I was smelling Scheherazade’s neck again.’ The scent was that of an exceptional oud, grown in Bangladesh. ‘I must say that this is the most wonderful oud I've ever come across. And it’s probably the most precious ingredient in my palette. This one has got a beautiful story: the tree has got to be at least 80 years old before the oud can be harvested. So in fact, the people who are harvesting it now are harvesting from trees that were planted by their grandparents. And the ones they are planting now will be harvested by their grandchildren.’

Christine Nagel looks at notebook amid superimposed perfume bottle

(Image credit: Courtesy of Hermès)

Although Nagel had never worked with an oud before (she remarks that she often finds it too overpowering), she instinctually knew that she wanted to blend it with rose. ‘Usually, you have to use a very powerful rose absolute to be a match for oud. [But I wanted to] do something a bit different here,’ she says. Nagel opted to work with very light rose water, which she says ‘creates a permanent dance’ between the two. ‘But I also wanted to introduce something different in the composition,’ she continues. ‘So I decided to also use rose oxide, which is a synthetic molecule. The rose oxide is a bit like a laser – it’s clean and very sharp, preventing the perfume from being a bit too soft or lacking in body.’ 

Christine Nagel in a white perfume lab

Nagel in the lab

(Image credit: Courtesy of Hermès)

Each perfume that Nagel creates for the house is presented to only three people: Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès; Agnès de Villers, the president of Hermès Parfum & Beauté; and Véronique Nichanian, who has been in charge of men’s fashion for 30 years. They never mass-market test, or pressure Nagel to rush her work, and allow her to choose from a wealth of raw materials from anywhere in the world. ‘It’s a total respect for creation,’ she says. 

The Oud Alezan bottle (the first refillable from Hermès) is also meticulously designed, in typical Hermès fashion. The plum-brown-lacquer references the unity between the chestnut colour of Scheherazade’s coat, and the notes within the perfume itself, and it is topped off with a saddle stitched chalk-toned leather cap, with ‘Hermès Paris’ engraved on a saddle nail. ‘It’s called Oud Alezan because Alezan is Scheherazade’s colour. And that’s also why we chose to make the colour of the fragrance what it is, too.’

Hermessence Eau de Parfum: Oud Alezan by Hermès in clear bottle

Hermessence Eau de Parfum: Oud Alezan by Hermès

(Image credit: Courtesy of Hermès)

‘This [story] is from my memories of course,’ concludes Nagel. ‘But interestingly, when I tell [it], many people can relate to this type of situation. I think human beings wear perfume when it [has meaning]. What you wear on your skin is different than clothes: it’s much more intimate. And that’s why I say I do the most beautiful job in the world.’

Hermessence Eau de Parfum: Oud Alezan is available now.


Also available at Selfridges.com and Harrods.com

Beauty & Grooming Editor at Wallpaper*

Hannah Tindle is Beauty & Grooming Editor at Wallpaper*. With ten years of experience working for media titles and brands across the luxury and culture sectors, she brings a breadth of knowledge to the magazine’s beauty vertical, which closely intersects with fashion, art, design, and technology.