Terre d’Hermès is a strange creation in several respects. This nouveau Woody Chypre is both very popular and highly regarded yet also has a lot of detractors, particularly among the more elite bloggers and taste makers. A thoroughly modern fragrance originally designed in 2006 by Hermès’s in house superstar nose, Jean-Claude Elena, Terre enjoyed a meteoric rise both critically and in terms of high end sales, particularly with guys in their 20s and 30s. And as with so many super successful fragrances, I think that likely led to a lot of blowback from the self-appointed cognoscenti, a la Bleu de Chanel. Purposely designed to be a world away from the then-reigning sweet and aquatic creations, Terre was meant to be a return to something like the citrus-forward/woody-based masculine qualities of Dior’s original Eau Sauvage, only amped up on 21st century steroids. And at least for the Parfum version that is pretty much what you get (full disclosure: I haven’t tried the original Eau de Toilette so there may be more nuance to that version).
The Parfum, which I feel is really more of an Eau de Parfum in terms of actual strength, does come on like gangbusters with a mighty waft of oily orange peel. Some have described a “rotten orange” quality but I don’t get that. For me the orange comes across as fresh, a trifle sweet but really heavily like a big chunk of peel that you’ve just wrung out to drop into your Old Fashioned. The note pyramid states there is grapefruit there at the top, as well, but I feel like the orange is so strong that I don’t really get any of that, which is a good thing in my book because grapefruit in cologne is definitely hit or miss. Almost immediately after this big opening a heavy duty balsamic (as in pine not vinegar) quality muscles its way into the action. It’s green and sharp and plays off the citrus with a bracing effect. Now there’s no evergreen notes listed so perhaps this is a trick of the professed “shiso” and “flint accords,” which I take to mean sort of minty/herbal for the shiso and a sharp high note for the flint, mingling with the cedar-infused “woody notes” in the base. But to my nose I get a definite “pine grove” sharpness commingling with that orange. And maybe that’s just the limitation of my nose… or at least how I perceive the massive amounts of Iso-E Super in Terre, that omnipresent modern chemical stand-in for sandalwood.
And then… well, then it pretty much just stays like that for the duration, which for a Parfum is not overwhelming at around 6-8 hours (there could well be olfactory fatigue at play in that perceived modest longevity — others may well smell it on you longer after your nose has been fried). Now the Parfum pyramid, while still a simple one, claims additional notes of oakmoss and benzoin (a sweet smelling resin of the styrax tree). But aside from vague whispers amidst the shouting of the top notes I don’t really get a lot of those. To my nose, Terre d’Hermès is an extremely linear fragrance, meaning that it essentially stays the same from the time you apply it until far into the dry down. The smell is nothing so much as one of those homemade holiday crafts projects where you stick a whole orange full of cloves, only in Terre’s case you’ve stuck the orange full of pine sprigs and cedar chips.
And while some use this consistently limited two-note quality to bash Terre, I won’t. It is a fairly unique scent and the Parfum version is powerful without being offensive (there are zero animalic notes). The sillage is quite significant but not that of a real divisive powerhouse-type fragrance. I don’t really see how any man could offend while wearing Terre d’Hermès Parfum, particularly a few minutes after the somewhat riotous initial blast upon application dries down. That may also be why it receives its fair share of disdain from the connoisseurs — it has the feel of something designed scientifically rather than a fragrance that has been born of inspiration or passion. As mentioned above, Terre has a massive amount of Iso E Super in it, a chemical that is used to boost woodsy notes. And you do get that in spades, in this case for me it’s like a freshly cut conifer sapling (and the brighter side of a much danker effect that Iso E Super creates in the vetiver-heavy Encre Noire from Lalique. With its very recent creation, it makes sense that rather than using something like organic sandalwood or cedar Mr. Elena would use his modern-day perfumer’s tools to achieve a similar effect in heightened form. I don’t begrudge him or Hermès that even if Terre is nonetheless quite a pricey juice for such a clearly artificial creation (the Parfum lists for $115 for a 2.5 oz bottle though can be had for cheaper on Amazon). But then I also don’t feel like Terre d’Hermès, at least in Parfum form, is all that brilliant a creation, either. More like a chemically clever one.
Once you get past its seeming daring and boldness in mixing orange and woods into such a relatively potent cocktail then you are left wondering just what exactly are you trying to convey when you wear it? Again, I think it is consummately inoffensive, fresh without being sweet or cloying and certainly somewhat elegant. But I don’t feel its very sexy in and of itself. If you’ve already got a significant other, chances are they will like it on you when you cuddle up. But I don’t see this one as mating call juice at the local bar. It’s a bit too perplexing to be sexy. Yes, you’ll smell good but probably not hot and steamy good, just “nice” with all that entails. But maybe its “safe,” non-threatening quality can work to one’s advantage more than I’m giving it credit for. I do think this one works well at any age and probably best in fall and spring, where the cool but not cold weather allows the heady citrus to float off the body in an appealing way. I can see how this could come across as a bit too heavy in the summer and there is something about genuinely cold weather, despite the likely Christmas connotations of its profile, that seems to choke off Terre, stunting its power (unlike, say, Eau Sauvage Parfum, which thrives in frigid temperatures). So that’s it really. I guess I feel like Terre d’Hermès neither deserves the fawning praise of the masses or the scorn of the elites. It’s good, it’s a little weird but it’s never freaky or funky. A solid pick for daytime, especially causal rather than office use, or a night out with friends or a committed partner. You’ll smell good, you’ll smell like a piney orange and you’ll smell classy. But if you’re like me, you won’t want to smell like this all the time. Terre d’Hermès will likely be a solid addition to your collection for occasional use — it is definitely distinctive! — but not a signature fragrance. Frankly, the world of cologne is much more interesting and far ranging than this simple, straightforward beast.