Le Jardin de Monsieur Li Eau de Toilette by Hermès Review
This is my favorite Jardin so far for its beauty in simplicity: refreshing polished greens and jasmine with hints of deep orangey citrus fruit. Like the other Jardins, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li by Hermès is very clean, but the green notes keep it from getting soapy or bath-product-ish, steering it instead towards a minimalistic refreshing vibe, like a tall glass of water with floating mint leaves and kumquat fruit.
For the first few seconds in the bottle and on my skin, I smell something like a darker, tangier, sparklier, sultrier, zestier sort of orange… kumquat! That most romantic and mysterious of citrus fruits. This has a deeper, richer tone than an ordinary orange, sparklier, not unlike a perfect tangerine. It’s flirty, laughing and dancing and winking, wearing ruffles of rich orange and red.
I think of traditional Flamenco: the dancers, the dresses, the music and guitars, rhythm and poetic ambiance, one-act plays and a woman with a teasing smile gesturing to you from across the room, the mountains and irrigated plains of Andalusia.
This is the brightest of the Jardins. Unlike some of the others, it miraculously keeps from becoming like an expensive hand soap or shampoo. It clings a little like the intense clean scent left behind after washing your hands with a strongly scented fancy liquid hand soap, but it isn’t uncannily soapy or bathroom-y.
No, it isn’t really bathroom-soapy, but if I had to make a comparison to any household product, I would describe Le Jardin de Monsieur Li as vaguely like dish soap, a bright, organic, green-and-citrus sort of dish soap, gentle with rounded edges and unabrasive. I smelled the citrus-scented liquid dish soap from Trader Joe’s and raced to note down the name, because the caliber of clean, gentle citrus-y brightness is quite similar to that of this fragrance, especially its bright kumquat opening. Once I’ve smelled the similarity, in fact, I can’t un-smell it; I can still wear and delight in Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, but its levity and neat, cleanly sparkling inoffensive brightness still inevitably makes me think of a good pricey dish soap.
The bulk of the power of this pricey dish soap association is in the body of ambiguous clean aqueous and greenish notes that make up the base of Monsieur Li.
(Or, rather, what struggles to serve as a base: I suppose part of what makes all the Jardins so fleeting is that none of them have any real base notes. They are all made up of fleeting and delicate things, fruits and flowers and a few sanitized bright green leaves, without heavier notes to steady them or leave a lingering nostalgic trail behind them.)
I can’t list any green notes in particular. Perhaps the consistency has the slightest similarity to the clear ooze that comes out of the stems of cut flowers like daffodils, but this lacks the grounding bitterness of any sort of real plant ooze or sap. Instead, this oozing clear liquid gel is… dish soap, with some name like “clean and bright” and no recognizable notes to speak of.
There’s a touch of mint blended elegantly into the other nondescript fresh and green notes, lending them just a touch more cool freshness. Nothing is distinctly wild or jagged here; there is no sharp mentholic spearmint edge or breeze carrying the scent of Pacific northwestern mint growing wild with reckless abandon. Rather, something fresh and cool is extracted from mint, all its hard edges shaved away, and this is infused to add lightness to the greens. This is a light pastel mint color, a pretty color for a fashionable tea room, not a true pot of mint cuttings on a windowsill. Still, the freshness from the mint leaves feels authentic and genuine, refined but not unbearably atomized to its freshest chemical components.
This is one of the greatest achievements of Le Jardin de Monsieur Li: it manages to be extraordinarily light and fresh without treading into the neon-colored territory of bright blue calones, cucumbers and melons. No, Hermès is far too tasteful for all that after-gym-cologne, Bath-and-Body-Works lotion stuff: the freshness here is propped up by mint and vague green and citrus contours that are too ambiguous to pin down to any particular note, yet are lightweight and well-blended enough to not become overwhelming or garishly obvious.
Punchy, alien, neon colors are the fastest shortcut to freshness, but Le Jardin de Monsieur Li takes no shortcuts, building a delicate trellis of light green notes, carefully balanced so as not to be too loud. This makes this a fantastic tasteful summer fragrance, light and extraordinarily refreshing without shouting for your attention with tacky or artificial-smelling deodorant fumes. This is like the coolness of water with twigs of mint and pieces of cucumber in it, polished carefully down into a tasteful whisper of something you might drink by the pool, instead of an overwhelming waterfall of blinding cucumber or melon.
This is one way to blend aromatic or green notes with citrus harmoniously. It’s unadventurous, sure, but de-clawing your herbs and greens to a state of floating aqueous freshness is a simple way to allow them to blend eloquently with nectar-sweet bright orange citrus. Thus, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li deftly sidesteps the odd toothpaste-and-orange-juice (and orange blossom) effect of the discordant L’Homme Ideal Eau de Toilette opening.
As the gold flecks and sparkling details blur and the kumquat slowly fades away, at times a disembodied sweetness floats through Le Jardin, like the syrupy golden concentrate where a drop of orange juice has dried on the table. It’s pleasant and friendly, still on the lighter side and never cloying, just a spot of concentrated sweet gold drying in the sun as the sparkle and tang evaporate.
This is the closest our restrained Jardin de Monsieur Li gets to a sweet-creamsicle-orange citrus scent: just a hint of concentrated golden sticky sugar left behind as the water and the more volatile facets in the flashy kumquat fade away. Even this sweetness is subdued: smiley and bright, but never anywhere near cloying or anything like a gourmand or particularly edible smell. This is still cool, clean dish soap, with a heady golden flash of dripping kumquat juice mixed in.
The blooming white florals are very closely intertwined with the citrus freshness at the heart of Le Jardin de Monsieur Li. This jasmine feels more to me like orange blossom than true jasmine, rich and golden and heady, sticky and oozing and a little bit dizzying, flecks of gold and dripping orange juice. It lacks the cold, sharp, or even powdery edge that some standoffish jasmine can have.
This is a blossom that is friends with the fruit that follows it, rather than holding its chin up high and glaring down at its progeny in disdain.
This is a golden-flecked orange blossom that is full of love, lending only its best, fullest, richest indolic parts to the citrus, blending its golden depth with the bright-tangerine-colored surface of the fruit.
The deeper golden richness of the jasmine flowers and kumquat is blended exquisitely with the incredibly light and fresh green background. Neither part seems at odds with the other; they are at peace, the kumquat and jasmine flirting and dancing flamenco happily in the golden sunset, a laughing, delighted cascade of fuertes and sordas, and everything is so overwhelmingly clean, not a whisper of sweat or booze or grime, just a refreshing and perfectly sanitary cool summer breeze and a tall glass of water with two sticky golden fruit at the bottom.
Like the other Jardins, this is a cohesive, well-blended scent. It’s hard to untangle it to compare its smell to that of something else. This is an elegant example of Gestalt: the individual note components are simple and few, but, somehow, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is greater than the sum of its parts, coming together to form a single cohesive scent that sings with sunshine.
And yet, for something so clean and so bright, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li seems just a tiny bit tinged with melancholy to me as it fades away. It is such a golden sunny day, the kumquats are so deliciously overripe, everything is so clean… so why am I just a little bit sad?
The entire affair is finished within four hours. It seems that all the Jardins have undergone a recent formulation that makes them even more ephemeral than before. Samples I purchased a year ago were fleeting, but still lasted just a little longer, lasting to five hours and singing just a little louder. The newest bottles, on the other hand, are extinguished entirely within some four hours, leaving not even a whisper behind, and are drowned out by the scent of even a simple hand soap in their last whimpering hour of wear. They are all pretty, but so fleeting for the price that you should likely keep yourself from falling in love with them if you can help it. The Jardins are flaky. They’re lighthearted and faint and they won’t show up for you when you really need them.
As with all the other Jardins — and most Hermès compositions in general — I am left feeling like perhaps this is something meant for someone much more put together than I. Each of them has a refined edge to it, like this is a scent for a matter-of-fact businesswoman who has it all together to wear on a night out. These fragrances feel to me a bit like the polished, neat image of someone new you are just starting to fall in love with: perfectly colored within the lines, clean and golden and neat, nothing odd or offputting or messy about them.
Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is no different. As with the other Jardins, this feels like a scent for someone like my mother, wearing her brown Clinique pencil eyeliner, matching all her outfits together impeccably, collecting and restoring high-quality leather bags. All these faint feminine Hermès scents feel to me like the smell of a silk scarf owned by someone who actually bothers to regularly wash their silks by hand with gentle soap or shampoo, and this is the hint of bright and clean scent that remains after the scarf has been hung out to dry. Sometimes it’s a fancy bar soap from Marshalls, sometimes it’s Trader Joe’s dish soap, sometimes it’s an odd sort of shampoo… it always turns into a faint and timid lovely whisper of very clean and well-behaved things.
This is the freshest of the Jardins, prepared to fight grease and anything else that may come its way with brightness and bubbles. If I hadn’t made the dish soap association, on smelling this I would simply picture an innocuous, bright, outfit on a sweet, bright, refined and neat young woman. She washes her hair every day and carries a vintage Coach bag, but she smiles just a bit wider than the rest of her sisters, wears clothes and scarves that are more brightly colored, loves to take a moment to close her eyes and just breathe when she walks outside and the sun hits her face.
Recently I wore Le Jardin de Monsieur Li for an outing to an independent coffee shop on a sunny afternoon in June.
It paired perfectly with a long, dramatic, romantic tangerine-colored dress with elbow-length puff sleeves, a small brown leather bag, and gold hoop earrings. She is stylish and put-together, refined, proper yet unassuming, pleasantly sparkly and clean on a hot summer day. It’s sparkly and warm in a way that makes me think of warm skin tones, flamboyant reds and oranges, gold jewelry.
At the same time, its backing is cool, fresh and chilled, like transparent water in a glass pitcher out of the refrigerator, with the lightest, palest minty tinge to it.
The development is linear, with no surprises. The kumquat is loudest in the bottle, then in the first moments on the skin, and then that golden-blossom-edged citrus fruit fades out gently over the lifetime of the fragrance. Perhaps it is an intentional achievement of perfumery that no note ever feels entirely gone; the citrus fades and gets more generic, but it is still noticeable and present until the very end. It’s faint, but by then most everything else about the scent is faint, with the indistinct clean fresh green scent lazily taking up a little more of the fragrance profile as every component fades together.
It goes without saying that this does not smell at all like an actual garden. None of the Jardins do. There is no earth, no sap, no fibrous snapping twiggy greenness, only the cleaned and concentrated whisper of something that did grow in the wild once, topped with a spritz of golden sparkle, sanitized and polished for the professional with impeccable hair and a tasteful silk scarf on.
After writing the bulk of this review, I looked into the marketing copy written around this fragrance to discover the inspiration and who, exactly, this Monsieur Li is. It turns out that Jean-Claude Ellena was inspired by a visit to China, and that this is his spin on a serene sort of garden, “A retreat in which to converse with oneself and others, and to honour one’s ancestors.” This, to me, is bunk. Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is far too clean, aqueous, and fancy-perfumey to recall anything of a real garden or a contemplative, grounding, quiet place.
As a counterexample, the Comme des Garçons Incense Series certainly isn’t ugly or gritty, but it plays with weight in its woods, incenses, cold resins and rich aromatic notes to create some heft that brings to mind places of reflection, religion, and serenity. Le Jardin de Monsieur Li lacks any such weight: it is all watery, clean, polite notes, mixed together in a light spritz of refreshing flavored water. The Jardins are simply too polished and pretty and detached from reality to really inspire anything quiet or meditative to me. There’s no grounding; there are no true base notes. This is a delicate melody played on the prettiest of instruments, perhaps something like a kalimba. It lacks the breathiness and weight of something like an introspective pan flute.
I imagine a more realistic, unfiltered approach to Monsieur Li might yield something that makes me think of The Garden of the Forking Paths, that gorgeous short story by Jorge Luis Borges: an exploration of a serene Chinese garden and, underneath, the awe-inspiring infinity that unfolds before each of us with every choice, a dizzying monument to crane your neck at, too large to ever comprehend. This is what I might have hoped to see in Le Jardin de Monsieur Li had I blind bought it with no knowledge of the Hermès style, and this is not at all what is in the bottle before me.
Instead, this is pretty, watery, and perfume-y to its core, not in an overwhelming or headachey way, but in an unmistakable filtered, refined, restrained manner. It’s darling, neat, a bit debonair, but a garden it is not. This is Hermès. Expect elegance, but not zen. There’s nothing wrong with what it is — I quite enjoy it — but the ad copy misses the mark here.
Nothing in any of the Jardins is at all dirty or particularly challenging. None of the notes feel cheap or artificial; they are mildly unrealistic in the pleasant way of being clarified and refined for a pure experience, emphasizing all the sweet and clean facets of each component.
I adore the flirty and romantic citrus captured at the forefront of Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, with its flashes of golden light and sparkle. I would feel much more compelled if it were paired with something of grit and substance, perhaps the sweat of dancers, the wood of a guitar, a bit of booze swirling at the bottom of a glass… but that’s not Hermès’ style.
No, this is a perfectly clean, delicate composition, faint and transient, becoming increasingly nondescript in its politeness as time goes on until it is just the murmur of that pleasant dish soap left behind on your skin after washing up. Like all of the Jardin sisters, she is pleasant and refined almost to a fault, carrying her head held high but flashing a neat smile to every passing stranger. She is distinct and well-blended, courteous and agreeable, and would bring a squeeze of refreshment and pleasure to the summer collection of any put-together silk scarf wearer.
In the winter, the citrus in Le Jardin de Monsieur Li never fully develops. It needs sunshine and warmth to activate it fully; without it, this is a simple clean and green scent, perhaps just a touch more crisp and snappy, a little more like the oozing delicate transparent sap leaking from a delicate green stem. It’s not milky like the fig sap in Mugler’s Womanity or powdery or baby-product ish, like the fig sap in Diptyque’s Philosykos. It’s just a bit closer to the cool, snapping green flower stems in a blue glass of water in En Passant by Frederic Malle. It intersects elegantly with the hints of kumquat fruit, which feels fleshier and less citrus-y and bright in the few hints that do come through in the cold.
The jasmine feels more like a traditional jasmine when chilled than a gold-tinged orange blossom. It’s more distinct from the fruit and greens, all chilled fresh indols with a standoffish edge. Even in the cold, the jasmine successfully keeps from getting soapy, elegantly holding its boundaries and staying in the realm of real florals rather than floral-scented products.
No, this fragrance was born to bloom in the summer: without it, her golden freckles disappear, her flirty smile goes frigid, and she is left simply clean, vaguely green, and fresh. The warmth allows all the notes to develop fully and meld fully together into one scent.
Le Jardin de Monsieur Li is a lovely but ephemeral clean and fresh summer fragrance for the proper, sophisticated woman with just a bit of a mischievous twist to her smile. Jean-Claude Ellena artfully blends a sparkling heady golden combination of citrus and white florals on a light, fresh, and airy background of clean, aqueous, vaguely green notes. The result is an artful balance of polished and playful that makes for a great warm-weather going-out scent. As with the rest of the Jardin fragrances, I only wish it lasted a little bit longer.
Where to Find Le Jardin de Monsieur Li Eau de Toilette by Hermès
You can find full bottles of Le Jardin de Monsieur Li Eau EdT at StrawberryNet.
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