Friday, June 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Rhubarbs: Hermes Rose Ikebana and Aedes de Venustas Signature

Deliciously tart, ruby red stalked and leafy green, rhubarb grew like a weed in the bottom of our garden in late spring. When I was a child, my mother would give us rhubarb stalks freshly picked and trimmed with the ends dipped in sugar.

Rhubarb isn't a common note in perfume, but I ran across it three times this spring. The first was in La Tulipe by Byredo where it lent an impression of brilliant red and green to a perfume built around the idea of the spring flower.

Then this June, I was lucky enough to go on a vacation to Las Vegas. I love the hot, dry desert; it's so different than my usual wet, cold or humid Toronto. While in Vegas, I went perfume shopping - naturally. I found myself drawn to two perfumes with a distinct rhubarb note: Rose Ikebana by Hermes and the new Signature from Aedes de Venustas.

Rose Ikebana

"Beautiful and minimalist, the traditional Japanese art of ikebana - arranging bouquets of cut flowers and leaves using very few elements - ideally corresponded to a form of expression I could transpose in a perfume. The smell of a rose early in the morning, damp, sprinkled with dew, delicate and light." - Jean-Claude Ellena
I had to include that beautiful quote from the perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena because it perfectly describes the perfume and, I think, his famously minimalist style. In Rose Ikebana, the rhubarb note is tart but sheer and a little like grapefruit. Although I originally went into the Hermes store planning to buy Pamplemousse Rose, I ended up with a bottle of the more subtle Rose Ikebana. After the rose and rhubarb, the dominant note is green tea. Dry and pretty, but not soapy or sweet, Rose Ikebana is the perfect antidote for the heat. Spray liberally however, for I find it doesn't last. [P.S. The Hermes in the Crystals shopping centre has the nicest store director! We chatted for a long time about perfume and Jean-Claude Ellena. He made me feel quite at ease in a store where I couldn't afford anything but the perfume.]

House: Hermes
Nose: Jean-Claude Ellena
Notes: rose, rhubarb, green tea

Aedes de Venustas Signature

When I saw the heavy amethyst bottle with its gold scroll top, I did a little jump for joy, right there in Barneys at the Venetian. The new Signature perfume from the niche perfume store Aedes de Venustas in New York is only available in their own shop or in Barneys and a few other places, but no retailers in Canada, so I was really excited to be able to try it. Not to mention that Signature was created by one of my favourite perfumes, Bertrand Duchaufour.

My first impression of Signature was "Huh. Weird." But after an hour with it on my hand I knew it was the most interesting thing I had smelled in while, and I went back for a bottle. It's very unique. It's also hard to describe because Signature has so many different facets. Mostly I smell damp earth with green growing things and a tension between bitter and tart. The tartness is the rhubarb, running like a green grapefruit note throughout the bitter earth. There's a dry woody hint of incense and something kind of funky in that dirt too, like compost in the garden, but I wasn't quite able to name what it reminded me of until I got home. I was walking in the hallway of my apartment building and smelled a familiar skunky sweetness and I had a light bulb moment! In an interview with Bertrand Duchaufour on Grain de Musc, he says he inserted a "ganja" accord into Signature. It's just a hint that pops up now and again in a very complicated but thoroughly enjoyable perfume. I've been wearing Aedes de Venustas Signature a lot this month and I am not even close to getting bored with it. I think it will be great all year 'round too.

House: Aedes de Venustas
Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour
Notes: rhubarb, hazlenut, green apple, ganja, vetiver, incense


  1. oh man, you have me lemming the Hermes!

  2. I don't get on with the Hermes sadly, as it is too grapefruity for me... ; - (

    I can recommend another rhubarb fragrance - TDC Bergamote. I believe Ulrich Lang Anvers 2 has a bit in it too. And isn't there one by CDG that is all about the rhubarb?, though I have yet to try it.

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      I love grapefruit in a perfume, but I know it's a problem note for many. I will definitely check out the TDC Bergamote, thanks. And yes, CDG does a Rhubarb in its Sherbet series. I haven't tried it though.

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  4. I can relate to the fun of perfume shopping in Vegas. The Engineer and I went last winter, and we spent a day just sniffing. I squeed more than once in Barney's to see bottles I'd read all about but never encountered here in the wilds of Calgary. I feel really bad for the person who sat beside me that evening at La Cirque as I wafted ten different fragrances.

    The only perfume I've tried that evokes rhubarb for me is Byredo Pulp. Even though I'm pretty sure that's not a note in it, the overall feel is tart, juicy rhubarb to me. And now that I think about it, I first encountered it at Barney's in Vegas....

    1. Hi Dionne! I will have to pop over to Holts here in Toronto, they carry the Byredo line, and try a spritz of Pulp. I must have smelled it before but i can't rmember it. I like that line, and they often smell like notes not listed to me too - such as Bal d'Afrique, which smells like pineapple to me even though it's not listed as a note.


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