Un Jardin sur la Lagune Eau de Toilette by Hermès Review
If Jean-Claude Ellena’s light-handed transparent delicate compositions are watercolors, this is a punchier gouache. The colors are brighter and more opaque, the contours slightly sharper; there’s a clearer boundary between where there is and isn’t paint on the canvas.
Unfortunately, you can’t spell gouache without gauche, and Un Jardin Sur La Lagune is exactly that. It’s a perfectly competent scent, but a touch heavy and cliché for Hermès, bringing to mind an odd marine flanker for a generic floral celebrity scent.
This feels like an aquatic designer scent, but mercifully it has the restraint to avoid the bright blue headachey qualities of so many of its peers. For all its comparative gawkiness, it does retain the basic light-handedness and smooth blending of an Hermès scent; it is the components themselves that are comparatively rather uninventive and lurid for the house.
The concept of La Lagune excited and intrigued me. I like bogs and moss and wood and dirt in my perfumes. I don’t like salty notes, per se, but I am fascinated by them. Hermès isn’t a house to explore anything remotely impolite or offensive, and I was excited to see what La Lagune has to offer. A heftier, more substantial twist on the Jardin theme? Sign me up!
Sniffing the bottle, I can instantly sense that something here is heavier and much denser than in any of the other Jardins. For just a moment, I excitedly wonder whether this might be something like oakmoss, a bitter green thing growing in the lagoon. After a few more breaths, however, I realize it’s just a condensed saltiness that feels hefty in a green and almost mossy way in the bottle, perhaps like a tangle of seaweed plants.
There’s also a burst of freshness that feels almost citrus-y to my nose, which I assume develops into the marine fresh notes and the slightly lemon-y facets of magnolia flowers more fully on skin. It isn’t zesty or sparkly, nor is it sour, but it feels like the most straightforward, inoffensive sort of suggestion of pleasant yellow lemon, folded into a hint of something floral.
Applied to the skin, however, La Lagune tells a slightly different story.
From the instant of application, magnolia dominates the first hour of the fragrance. It’s loud, it’s pretty, it’s fairly clean and fresh as far as floral notes go. This is the cleanest and freshest that Un Jardin Sur La Lagune gets, and there’s something just a tiny bit laundryish about it.
Like many notes in Hermès compositions, this is not a true magnolia, but a classy upper-middle-class mother’s Platonic ideal of one: cleaned up, de-waxed, and rid of all its objectionable edges, whittled down into a simple and palatable soft and white note.
While pleasant and well-constructed, the immediate effect of the strong opening gust of airbrushed laundry powder magnolia is reminiscent of far less expensive designer and celebrity scents released in the early and mid-2000s. It simply feels cliché, going down the path of genericity that dooms all floral scents that try to be everything at once: clean but pretty, cute but sexy, head-turning but sophisticated. The result is a smell that makes me think of high school gyms and low-rise skinny jeans, a girl with crimped hair spraying on way too much perfume in hopes that Brad will notice her at homecoming.
Though it feels quite 2000s-designer-mall-fragrance, the burst of magnolia in the opening is rather lovely. It soars and sings its pretty, sweet floral song. A friend said the opening smelled like “floral, but like a soft floral, like the name would be cotton something or other” and I have to agree. Even without knowing how a magnolia smells, you could sense that there’s a big white flower here with large, rounded, silky petals, built partly out of a soft and laundry-fresh almost-powdery note. It’s a bit of a generic floral, a magnolia declawed, the addition of one or two extra aroma molecules to the typical designer floral mix, but it’s pleasant enough.
I can only imagine this is a healthy (or, in light of the recent ban, unhealthy) dose of lilial and other abstract floralizing sorts of molecules, meaning this will likely go under a substantial reformation soon in light of the recent lilial ban by the European Union. I’ll be interested to see how La Lagune changes upon its impending significant reformulation.
Something in La Lagune smells like sunscreen to me. Perhaps it is that sunscreen-like effect that certain florals, lilies sometimes, or lilac, can have at the edges, along with a healthy dose of contextual imagination. That face-cream quality of lily is baked in the sun, creating a slightly oily, almost-coconutty sunscreen-esque effect.
Maybe something just a whisper like salt after that, not too overwhelming or metallic or unpleasant. Only the very faintest ting metallic on the end if you squint.
And yes, there is salt. It’s hardly noticeable at first behind all the loud floral action, and for a few minutes longer you can’t quite place that odd thing you’re smelling, but by thirty minutes in you’re noticing an increasingly prominent salty accord in La Lagune.
In the first one to two hours, the salt feels oddly chlorinated to me, like I’m by the pool rather than a Venetian lagoon. As time goes on and that sharply teal chlorinated edge wears off, the character of the salt leans more and more towards the scent of a beach by the ocean.
It isn’t photorealistic by any means, but it’s clean and straightforward enough: this is a saline note, complete with its inevitable mild metallic edge. (It hardly feels metallic at all in the first couple of hours, but that edge gets more noticeable as time goes on.)
There is a current of something faintly amber-sweet flowing through the background of Un Jardin Sur La Lagune to counter the salt, a generic but agreeable foil.
In the first one to two hours, I get an impression that makes me think of marsh mallow — real marsh mallow, from the plant — and other wet, soft, boggy plant things, like cattails and reeds. It’s sweet, likely an early manifestation of that background amber with a few distinctive tweaks, almost (but never quite) gourmand, like this is the raw material for marshmallows the dessert.
This is entirely a fantasy note I’m making up — actual marsh mallow plants have very little scent, and what they lend to the sweet treat is their gooeyness, not any sort of sweetness — but that’s the concept that comes to mind when I smell amber in conjunction with something wet, planty, and marshy. It isn’t sticky, overtly sugary, or gooey, but rather sweet in a subtle amber way that feels like a light and refreshing treat in the middle of the bog. Thus, although the amber is rather uninspired, its effect in context is pleasant.
About an hour in, the intense designer-perfume-y edge is receding, along with the magnolia. As the initial designer magnolia and skincare-product lily fade away, the pittosporum comes to the forefront. It’s a heady white floral, an undercurrent of something like jasmine that isn’t exactly jasmine. It lacks the herbal and almost-green facets of jasmine that can be almost standoffish at times, making this a warmer, sweeter, denser white floral. It’s heady, sure, but not in a way that is nearly as dizzying as jasmine.
This is a relief: there’s enough loud, brash, pretty designer things happening in La Lagune that an intensely indolic herbal jasmine would make the composition both overwhelming and discordant. The gentler, more rounded and soft pittosporum gels well with the inoffensive floral sweetness of the magnolia and lily in the opening, and makes for a smooth transition from their dramatic contours to the long seaside-musk drydown.
Along with the designer-perfume-y-ness, the first one to two hours of La Lagune have some almost designer sillage, quite strong for a Jardin fragrance. This fades away after these first hours, but La Lagune remains a bit louder than her sisters the entire time she is with you.
By four hours in, you’re approaching the salty musky drydown. Hints of florals still flash by here and there in the background, but by now this is predominantly a salty marine scent with hints of amber. This saline seawater scent is not nearly as brackish, concentrated, and thick with gritty brown sand as Mugler’s Womanity. It’s a milder salty scent, easier to tolerate, but retaining that metallic edge that’s seemingly inevitable for salt scents.
This is not a scent that makes the insides of your nose curl and your brain hammer against your skull and your nose water, making you feel like you’ve consumed some illegal drug, the way Womanity does. No, this is a tamed version of the concept, drawn back down to earth enough to pass the Hermès test panel.
Womanity is straight-up swamp witch. This is Womanity’s palatable little sister.
She’s embarrassed of her swamp family and everything about where she comes from, so she does her best to comb the seaweed out of her hair every morning and douses herself in designer perfume before heading off to high school in a huff.
It doesn’t work as she’d like, of course: she’s defanged herself, scrubbed herself of every vile and powerful thing, but the other teens at school just kind of see her as weird.
The salt in Un Jardin Sur La Lagune is diffuse enough that this metallic tinge does not bring to mind blood, dirty pennies, or other chilling and unpleasant things, but it is still there, lurking at the end of each salty breath.
It might feel a touch disconcerting, but not downright wicked. It’s accompanied by a faint vaguely floral musk and just a hint of remaining white lily sunscreen. Every once in a while, a touch of magnolia or pittosporum comes your way at the bottom of a deep breath, but La Lagune is mostly salt and musk from this point onward.
I suspect the prominence and timbre of saline notes is highly dependent on skin chemistry. On some, this may feel like a sweet feminine designer floral with just a hint of sea breeze. On others, unfortunate skin chemistry and sensitivity may combine to make that sea breeze a putrid, headachey rusty-standing-water nightmare. Like any marine scent, this is never going to be a safe blind buy if you aren’t very, VERY on board with salt.
(Really, there’s no such thing as a safe blind buy, and you shouldn’t be blind buying anyway, but nobody’s perfect, right?)
From the very beginning, this is much muskier and less fresh than any other Jardin fragrance. In the bottle I’d thought I smelled some bitter, almost green, musky, amber-adjacent, almost-oakmoss quality that intrigued me, but it never shows up on the skin. What does show up is a musky amber accord that’s been elusively described by Hermès as woody notes and likely leans heavily on the contentious Iso E Super molecule.
No, there is no wood in La Lagune to my nose, only a basic cheap amber in the background. It provides a sweet touch of relief from the salt in the foreground, and never gets overwhelming, but it isn’t wood: just gentle semi-sweet amber and musk.
Some people talk about amberwood in discussions of La Lagune, that confusing fantasy note that doesn’t literally mean anything and is this used as a descriptor for many different things. It seems that many people blame this imaginary amberwood for a base common among numerous perfumes they can’t stand. All I can say here is that there is no wood to me, just a musky amber background. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but it does provide a pleasant respite from the saline notes as time goes on.
Perhaps on some, the wood this presents as something like dry, scratchy driftwood, which I can only imagine would be a thematic woody choice. My understanding is that the ambiguous woodiness here leans heavily on the Iso E Super molecule, a woody-cedar-fresh scent a number of people are anosmic to. I suspect I am among the number that can’t smell it, so take my opinion of the woods with a grain of Venetian lagoon salt. This may very well be much woodier to you than it is to me, and your perception likely depends on whether you can smell Iso E.
The development is largely linear, fading in phases from a loud celebrity designer floral to a marine-white-floral scent to a final salty amber musk. This salty musk phase lasts the longest by far, with the florals moving into the background after the first few hours and then disappearing entirely. At last, after the salt has faded away, a whisper of a sweet amber skin scent remains long after everything else is gone. Lasting some ten hours in its salty signature and then another several hours with a fine musky trail, La Lagune is far longer-lasting than her sisters.
Un Jardin Sur La Lagune is nothing like the other Jardin line perfumes. Likely this is in large part due to those being composed by Jean-Claude Ellena, and this one by Christine Nagel. I hadn’t quite thought of the Jardin line as having shared DNA, but there’s a certain shared delicate lightness to most of them, an even daintier ephemeral twist on that clean, fresh, polite theme that is so quintessentially Hermès.
La Lagune bucks that trend entirely in favor of an aqueous salty marine scent with a white-flowers-but-not-quite-white-floral streak that feels distinctly designer. Indeed, this feels to me like it might be some sort of celebrity fragrance, like a very odd Britney Spears flanker of some sort.
The combination of musky amber, waxy magnolia, lotion-like-lily, white florals, and fresh sea notes… every note in this might be the “weird note” in a celebrity fragrance flanker on its own, making La Lagune feel a bit like an odd zombie from the designer cutting room floor, a vision pasted together from miscellaneous notes that the brand wanted to represent but that smelled too “off” in anything else.
It simultaneously feels both unoriginal and full of weird odds and ends, stuck in the uncanny valley of imaginative perfumery.
To put it bluntly, the opening of La Lagune smells hackneyed and almost a little bit cheap — not in actual note quality — which is solid — but in cultural associations with their brash tone. Don’t get me wrong, there are iconic designer scents I adore out there — like the original formulation of Euphoria by Calvin Klein — that scream mall Sephora, TJ Maxx perfume rack, teens trying to act grown up at their first school dance. It’s a vibe that can be nostalgic, comforting, romantic in its simplicity. Here, however, it feels overbearing and wrong for a name like Hermès. I don’t want to restrict their nose’s creativity based on a set image, but they do have a brand and a distinct typical fragrance profile that help people know what to expect.
Un Jardin Sur La Lagune is precisely not what Hermès-lovers expect, which, perhaps, is why it has gotten so much vitriol. People come to Hermès — particularly to the Jardin line — for clean, elegant, polished and put-together fresh scents that are pretty and tactful with some sort of vague narrative twist.
La Lagune is none of that: she is weird, gawky, a bit vulgar in her opening, and, for many, weird and off-putting once the marine notes come out to play. This is an interesting fragrance in its own right, but is positioning as an Hermès offering and a Jardin to boot is at the crux of its mixed reception.
Nonetheless, I really don’t appreciate the amount of snide comments and flack Christine Nagel has received for this and other Hermès fragrances. She’s a very skilled nose and an artist, and following up Jean-Claude Ellena would be difficult for anyone. Imagine having to routinely come up with brilliant, innovative new scents for Hermès, all while staying within the lines of the brand’s style developed entirely by your mentor so as not to anger his fanbase. It seems like a very challenging balancing act, and every nose has their more ambitious and controversial scents.
This is one of those for Christine Nagel, and that’s okay. Art requires exploration and daring. If Hermès simply wanted to rehash dozens of exact Jean-Claude-Ellena-style floral freshies, they could set up a computer and a copycat team and do that in a heartbeat, never bringing in anything new. Un Jardin Sur La Lagune is an attempt at something new for Hermès, and that is to be lauded.
I don’t smell a lagoon or even the standing water of Venice here. To me, Un Jardin Sur La Lagune is quite beachy, in a trimmed-down way, with a few essential qualities blown up and emphasized like the facial components of a caricature, made just a bit too smooth.
This is one thing about La Lagune that does keep in line with the rest of the Jardins: it is scrubbed too clean for any realism, leaning into abstraction because each note has been reduced to the most notable parts of its essence. The effect makes me think of shaving far too much of the edge off an image when I’m editing photos into transparent cutouts for this blog. It feels like there needs to be a little bit more border for there to be any realism, but prettiness and meltiness are prioritized to the point that notes don’t have to entirely make sense.
In Monsieur Li, for instance, you don’t quite have mint, but rather the distilled freshness of mint, separated from its jagged green contours. It’s the faint coolness on a dried and half-crushed mint leaf you find in a corner of your room while cleaning, which must have dropped off the mint plant in your window overnight.
In the same way, here you have slightly metallic salt, just a dash of chlorine, skincare-reminiscent unctuous lily, a pretty and purified waxy magnolia, rid of all its latex-y natural edges, a deep indolic white floral streak that is almost but not quite jasmine, and an amber musky accord topped with Iso E Super that we are supposed to believe is woods.
All in all, the abstraction and over-purification of notes here feels more obvious and messy than in the other Jardins, perhaps in part due to the blending, but definitely in part due to the subject matter. Marine scents have always been divisive and challenging to get right, and rely on a good amount more abstract molecules than simpler scents humans have been distilling for millennia, like jasmine and roses. Blending a smooth, elegant, remotely realistic but not entirely repulsive marine scent is an incredibly difficult, nigh impossible, task.
La Lagune is ambitious. This isn’t just a marine scent, but one inspired by stagnant, tepid city water – Venice – while setting itself up for endless comparison with fresh and light Ellena scents. It’s like comparing crisp green apples to salty, salty oranges.
Still, I think Lagune gets far more hate than it deserves. This is a beachy, salty marine scent that probably shouldn’t have ever been sold as a Jardin.
Is it downright putrid? No, not even close.
That being said, the composition still strikes me as lackluster and odd. I don’t find it pleasurable, and it doesn’t go far enough into the world of weird and cursed artsy notes (like Womanity) to be fascinating in its originality and power. It’s a little wishy-washy, wanting to be a little interesting and transgressive and radically different from any other Hermès scent without delivering something that really wows you.
I feel like I’m watching somebody’s kid and they keep pestering me every five seconds to “watch this!” when the ‘this’ in question is just a small hop into the air or 180° turn. I act appreciative and impressed to be polite, of course, but nothing here is really something interesting or new to me, yet it keeps demanding my attention every few minutes.
Un Jardin Sur La Lagune seems highly variable depending on skin chemistry and contains a number of contentious notes. Sample with care. You might love it. You might detest it. You might think it is simply okay. If you enjoy salty marine scents or just have a strong craving for magnolia or pittosporum — I won’t judge, I try everything I can get my hands on that might remind me of the lemon blossoms of my childhood — give this one a try.
If you are simply a fan of the rest of the Jardin line but not of the listed notes, don’t feel compelled to try this one. Among her sisters, La Lagune is an imposter. You might find her quirkiness and gaucherie endearing or merely unpleasant, depending on your particular tastes.
If, on the other hand, you like salty marine scents and find comfort in early-2000s-mall-floral-type fragrances, give La Lagune a try. She just might be perfect for you.