I usually dislike aquatic fragrances because I was overexposed to fragrances such as Acqua di Gio, cK One, and L’Eau d’Issey when I was growing up as a child and teenager. Even today, when I’m back in Sunny Singapore, I catch more than the occasional whiff of these marine-themed fragrances on guys and girls alike when walking along the streets. A well-dressed young man who’s probably an executive at some corporate firm walks by. Acqua di Gio. A guy in a singlet (sleeveless t-shirt, for those who aren’t familiar with this term) and flip-flops walks by. Acqua di Gio. What can I say, most Singaporeans like to smell ‘clean’ (this is a generalisation and I sincerely hope to be proven wrong). One can easily see how being so exposed to these fragrances so often makes me want to not wear them. It’s not that I don’t think they were brilliant for their time. I can appreciate their technical composition. It’s just that they are so ubiquitous that I have nary an aquatic-dominated fragrance in my perfume wardrobe… save for Un Jardin Après la Mousson by Hermès.
Thing is, I’m not even a fan of many of Monsieur Jean Claude Ellena‘s compositions. They might be works of exquisite and pristine beauty but they lack a certain… heart, for want of a better word. They tend to come across as bloodless and lacking a joie de vivre. I’m fairly certain that I’m entrenched in the non-JCE camp. Yet Mousson sings to me and inspires such beautiful images that I don’t mind not being able to fall in love with his other creations.
Mousson belongs to the Jardin series which includes En Méditerranée (dirty, mildly decaying green fig), Sur le Nil (unripe green mangoes with sparkling citruses) and Sur le Toit (apple. pear. add some florals. pretty but meh.). It is my favourite of the series. Yet amongst its peers in the Jardin series, Mousson has elicited the most varied of responses, from the mildly disappointed (Robin at Now Smell This) to the contemplatively contented (Victoria at Bois de Jasmin) to the downright what-the-heck-is-this-contraption?! (Chandler Burr’s Scent Notes). And here we have me, who’s blessedly in love with Mousson. I have a theory that might explain this. Because I experienced Mousson not having many positive expectations of what JCE had to offer, I was pleasantly surprised, whereas my other far more distinguished perfume counterparts went in expecting a typical JCE creation and experiencing somewhat of a shock in return.
Does Mousson have a distinct JCE signature? Yes, if by a ‘signature’ one refers to a certain translucent, abstract quality to his compositions. And yet Mousson is distinctively more opaque, heavier and far denser than other JCE creations I’ve experienced. It is aquatic but not quite in the same mold as others in the same fragrance family and definitely offers far more than just ‘clean’ or ‘safe’. From the opening whoosh of effervescent spices (cardamom, coriander, ginger) frothily-blended into a juicy, slightly-rotting cantaloupe note that anchors the entire perfume through all stages of its development, to the abstract floral (still nestled in melon), and down to the spiced-up musk of the drydown, I was utterly captivated. But for the spice-averse, there’s no need to be put off Mousson. The spices aren’t the dirty kind, nor are they particularly strong. Rather, they add an original dimension to the marine notes, and the marine notes complement the spices by keeping them in check. Now that’s what I call harmony in perfumery.
Note dissection aside, and more importantly, Mousson conjures memories of being caught in a heavy downpour. I haven’t personally been to Kerala, so I can’t ascertain what the monsoons there are like. But my experience with the monsoon rain where I’m from is such that the floodgates of heaven are open and deluge after deluge of torrential rainwater crashes down heavily without respite. And after the monsoon rains have finally run their course, the air is thick, sticky and humid. And then there’s the heat that amplifies everything. Monsoons aren’t clean. They aren’t the kind of rain that you’d like to be caught in (think the springtime patter of rain as you’re walking in a park) and are a far cry from the pathetic drizzle experienced in London. They are at once glorious and tumultuous. They bring life to the rivers and yet have the potential to cause death and destruction.
And that’s why Après La Mousson speaks to my heart. Where some might decry the decaying note in Mousson as contributing to its unwearability, my humble opinion is that it is the most essential piece in the whole story, and Monsieur JCE has taken this ‘rot’ and rendered it wearable. Mousson is not a light, watery, floral perfume. Nor is it clean like the calone-heavy fragrances of the 90s. It is a hefty downpour that drenches one thoroughly and leaves one shuddering in its magnificence.
Un Jardin Après La Mousson is easily obtainable at most department stores and at online discounters. You may discover that you dislike it, as some other reviewers do. Or you may find yourself falling in love with it. Whatever the case, given its relatively availability, you should at least give it a try. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
[I wrote this review after a few years of wearing Un Jardin Après La Mousson, so I’ve had much time to think through this particular fragrance. As testament to its place in my heart, and for whatever this is worth, the 100ml bottle I bought is down to 50%, which is a feat considering I seldom use more than 10ml of many of my fragrances.]
~ The Smelly Vagabond