The Unbearable Lightness Of Being – Review: Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil

Most of you hard and heavy Perfumistas are probably familiar with the story of the inception of Un Jardin sur le Nil.

Chandler Burr wrote about it in his book “The Perfect Scent” that came out in 2007. No doubt it had some influence on how this perfume sold, and – that is for sure – it had a big influence on me.

My obsession with perfume was kick-started when I read this book and of course, Un Jardin sur le Nil was one of my very first perfume purchases in the new era of Perfumista-dom, as opposed to the previous dark times of unenlightenment.

Jean-Claude Ellena, the perfumer who created Un Jardin sur le Nil for Hermes, turned into my favorite nose quickly and my mission was before me, clearly visible for the first time – sample everything Ellena ever did.

I am still on that mission, although as you know there are many things that sidetracked me and my tastes have broadened considerably. This Ellena fan wears an Amouage perfume today, of all things!

But as I thought about my beginnings as a scent-fiend, I realized Un Jardin sur le Nil played an important part, so it is high time I reviewed it.

The Jardins series comprises three perfume so far, Un Jardin en Mediterranée, Un Jardin sur le Nil was the second in the line and Un Jardin aprés la Mousson the third. A fourth one is to be released in spring of 2011, Un Jardin sur le Toit (A garden on the roof), I am looking forward to this release.

Notes include green mango, lotus flower, aromatic rushes, incense, sycamore wood. It was created in 2005.

Upon application Un Jardin sur le Nil wakes me up with a most effervescent green grapefruit note, fresh, bracing and non-sweet citrus, perfect. Then it calms down towards the subtler scent of green mangoes, as yet unripe, still hanging in the tree. There is a soft, ever so slight sweetness, underscored by the lotus flower, but it never gets too fruity, which would be a turn-off for me. The mango is surrounded by green and dry woody notes that stealthily take over during the perfume’s development.

It is one of those amazingly constructed Ellena perfumes that is as transparent and translucent and light-flooded as can be, yet still proves to be a lot more tenacious that one would think given its incredible lightness of being.

The drydown is dusty green, wood tinged with incense, a very unusual and memorable base, again astounding for something so weightless.

I could marvel for days about the high art if Jean-Claude Ellena’s style of paring down a perfume to the minimum without ever going to far, there is everything it needs, nothing is missing and yet nothing is too much either. But you heard me rave about this several times already, so I will just leave it at that:

The lightness of being this perfume exudes is almost unbearable in its delicacy and refined beauty. It is easy to underestimate and file it under cologne-style summer scent. But that would not do this perfume justice, although it is highly wearable, highly comfortable, perfectly gender-neutral and simply pretty, it is also a perfume that seems like lit from within.

I love to bask in its milky, opalescent light.

Image source:, Leaves courtesy of, some rights reserved, thank you!

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37 Responses to The Unbearable Lightness Of Being – Review: Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil

  1. RH says:

    This was also one of the first perfumes I gave a “serious sniff” 😀 While I don’t wear it very often, I do like to take whiffs from it every once in a while. I think it’s one of the few “green” “aquatic” scents I can tolerate.
    You make everything you review sound so good!

  2. lady jane grey says:

    For years now I’ve been on the search for the ultimative GREEN SCENT. For something effervescent and bitter and fresh – but complex and sophisticated. And also understated. (I know, i know, sometimes I tend to be a maximalist…) . So far I haven’t come nearer to that than Jardin sur le Nil – I also found its name lovely and poetic.

    Strangely, my other greenest favorite is Calyx (one of the first serious fragrances in my life, must have been around ’93) – although I think generally it’s never classified as green.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I love the name of Nil too. 🙂
      Have you tried Miller et Berteaux Green, Green… and Green or The Different Company Un Parfum de Charmes et Feuilles (not really green but pretty much everything else you listed above).
      I have worn Calyx around that time too, must have been a big hit in Austria then. 😉

      • lady jane grey says:

        It means I have to give another go to M&B’s Green…
        I’ve never tried the one you mentioned from DC – a company I’ve met again and again, but yet never tried (don’t really know why)

        • Olfactoria says:

          I like The Different Company because of the Ellena connection (JCE founded it, his daughter Celine was perfumer until recently) and Bois d’Iris! 😉 But soon it will be in Duchaufours hands, so this makes the company even more interesting in the future.

  3. Marla says:

    By funny coincidence, my husband and I both chose this as our scent-of-the-day! You’re right, the color is bright opalescent green, I think of the stone chrysoprase when I wear it. My bottle is almost empty, time to start searching for a new one!

    • Olfactoria says:

      Certainly no coincidence but the similar workings of great minds! 😉
      Chrysoprase is a great simile for Nil, very fitting.
      Thankfully this is a perfume that is not hard to find! 🙂

  4. Marie says:

    Yours is the first description of Un Jardin sur le Nil that has made me want to try it.
    One would be crazy not to want to bathe in milky opalescent light 🙂

  5. *jen says:

    “the previous dark times of unenlightenment”.

    I love reading you!

  6. Tarleisio says:

    B, you did this perfect justice – and this is a beautiful review! Thank you for that!

    Shhhhh. I have a secret. You may or may not agree with the term, but Jardin Sur le Nil was, in effect, my very first ever-so-slightly niche purchase. (As I said – this is the Niche Empty Quarter of Northern Europe). So this Ellena creation is very dear to my heart, and another one I hope never to be without, especially in spring and summer! It dances, it breathes, it swirls like the morning mist among the rushes on the riverbanks and takes me away in a felucca. When I later discovered that Ellena was also the nose behind Bvlgari’s Thè Verte (another perennial summer favorite, especially in the Extrème), everything made sense – and scents, too! 😉 I love, love love Sur Le Nil. And I’m not the only one!

    • Olfactoria says:

      I am glad you love it too and you liked my take on it.
      I am very curious about the fourth Jardin soon to come out, a garden on a roof, I always wanted to have that, now at least there is an olfactory rendition that is easier to obtain. We’ll see whether it’ll match my dream! 😉

    • Marie says:

      Tarleisio, I believe we live in the same regrettably niche-free zone – are you familiar with stores that sell Hermes perfumes apart from the Hermes boutique on Stroeget (if it still exists)?

      • Tarleisio says:

        Marie – so far as I know and have experienced, the only place to buy a (very) small selection of Hermès apart from the Hermès store in Copenhagen (still there on the corner of Strøget and Ny Østergade) is the Douglas chain of stores. They also sold Rancé, believe it or not. My own bottle of Sur le Nil was bought there. For niche, the only other stores I know of – both in Copenhagen – are Storm in Grønnegade (CdG, Diptyque, Miller Harris), and Silk in Antonigade (Histoires des Parfums.) So if you have a Douglas store near you, it could be worth it to see what they have. Hope this helps?

        • Marie says:

          Thank you, that certainly helps – I’d never heard of the Douglas stores until recently, believe it or not, but then I only work in Cph., I don’t live there.

          I read a while ago that Lubarol in Gothersgade carries Parfums de Rosine, but I haven’t checked it out yet. And Juliette Has a Gun is apparently available in Storm as well as in Matas (Frederiksberg) – but they are few and far between, that’s for sure.

          I’m off to Storm as soon as I steal a few hours of personal time in Cph.! 🙂

  7. Flora says:

    I really love this fragrance! Good to see it getting some positive attention. Your review is masterfully phrased and very enticing. 🙂

    • Olfactoria says:

      Thank you, Donna! I am glad to hear such positive feed back about Nil, all I have heard before was not so rosy, so I thought I had to stand up for it. 😉

  8. FearlessBG says:

    Excellent review of an excellent fragrance! 🙂 While I don’t love each and every perfume J-C Ellena did, I think this is probably his best work and one of the greatest perfumes I know in general. You described how the lightness of Sur le Nil still has plenty of substance, and I think that’s what makes it so unusual. It is never too loud or obnoxious but you’re definitely wearing more than a light eau de cologne.

    I’m really curious how the Sur le Toit will be, and hoping it will be worthy of a purchase… the Mousson didn’t do it for me because of the melon. Please let us know if you get to smell it!

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello Fearless BG,
      thank you for your kind words.
      It is my favorite JCE fragrance too. I am looking forward to the release of Sur le Toit, and will be sure to review it! 🙂

  9. Axum says:

    Ahhh, Sur le Nil. I remember sniffing it when it first came out, at an airport duty free. I was so excited I called my best friend about it, in spite of the outrageous roaming charges. He knew and loved it too. I used up a bottle in record time, and plan to re-purchase.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I love that story! Some great perfume discoveries are worth roaming charges! 😉
      Nil is certainly a bottle I am going to have to and will want to replace sooner or later too.

  10. Undina says:

    The first time I tried Un Jardin sur le Nil I didn’t like it much. But then I tried it again. And again. And then bought a bottle. The strange thing is: I have many bottles (and even more samples and decants) of perfumes, I cannot say that Un Jardin sur le Nil is even one of my most dear perfumes. But somehow I’m already almost out of a 100 ml bottle of it. I have no idea how it happened 😉

    I liked the review. I hope it’ll inspire more people to try and love it and it stays around for those days when I find my next bottle suddenly empty and need to replace it.

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  13. Uella says:

    I’m with Luca Turin on Jardin sur le Nil, I found it too harsh, my favorite citrus at the moment is Cartier L’Heure Brillante (not “brilliante”) composed by Mathilde Laurent. Reviews of Jardin sur le Toit by french bloggers are not good, the consensus is that this fragrance although “nice” doesn’t add anything interesting enough to the Jardin and Hermessence collection.
    What Amouage perfume were you wearing? Ellena composed Amouage Dia in 2004.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hi Uella,
      I actually found L’Heure Brillante pretty harsh, but that is why there is more than one perfume out there, so we all find a match. 😉
      I have been testing Toit over the weekend, and I must say I like it a lot, it has an interesting twist in the drydown that absolutely grabbed my interest, and aside from that, I like that I can always trust Ellena to create something very wearable on a high artistic level.

      That day I believe I was wearing Memoir Woman. 🙂

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  15. Uella says:

    That’s what the discussion is all about in the french blogosphere right now, everyone admits Ellena is a highly talented perfumer but the very wearable signature style eventually seems to bore just about everyone.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Well, to each his/her own, as they say! 🙂
      I believe wearability is never a bad thing. I want to wear my perfumes, and although I can appreciate the greatness of some, I prefer those that have both traits – greatness and wearability. The same goes for the paintings on my walls and the music I hear.

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