Interview

Hermes’ Jean-Claude Ellena: Redefining Luxury

 
Hermes’ Jean-Claude Ellena: Redefining Luxury

Much has been made of this term ‘luxury’ in recent years, but the word ‘luxury’ wears many meanings. It has become a concept, a “portmanteau-word’ in which you can put a lot of things. ‘Luxury’ is also a definition of ‘sharing’. Thus, a long time ago, the wisest tribal chief shared his fortune in order to preserve harmony and peace for his tribe. This, for me is the true meaning of ‘luxury’. For me, creation is a selfish act that takes its strength from the sharing. That’s what I try to give.

Beyong the moment shared with friends, from a cigarette to a meal, ‘luxury’ is recognizable in an event, a thing, an object, something that is beyond comparison. That is how I define and recognize luxury – the lack of comparison is a defining quality. For instance, having attended a concert of Miles Davis, I discovered that the sound of his instrument was incomparable, unique. The sound was wonderful.

I would not say that the idea of luxury is an invention of retailers, but I have to accept that there are several levels of luxury. I will quote from Shakespeare:

“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous. Allow not nature more than nature needs; man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s.

“For Hermès, luxury is the quality of the materials that we use in our perfumes. To enable us to use these materials, we favour the long term partnerships with our suppliers so that we have the best qualities.”

Is ‘Luxury’ decadent? Can it have a decadent element, an element of cruelty? For many philosophers, especially the Greeks, and those from the age of Enlightenment, luxury, because it is synonymous with wealth, opulence, superfluity, it is a vice leading to feelings of pride and vanity, which takes us away from simple pleasures and makes men unhappy, sometimes greedy and cruel. What is the relationship between Luxury and Money? There is none, there are simple types of pleasures that are luxurious.

For Hermès, luxury is the quality of the materials that we use in our perfumes. To enable us to use these materials, we favour the long term partnerships with our suppliers so that we have the best qualities. Yes, when the fragrance is incomparable, it is luxurious. For the creation of the Hermessence Santal Massoïa, we relied on the partnership we have with Australia for the quality of its sandalwood, and to avoid deforestation of the sandalwood coming from India. In travel, there are places, closer or far away, that have a way of affecting and engaging all your senses and make you “live a little more”. For example, during the creation of the fragrance Jardin sur le Nil I spent some time at Old Cataracs in Aswan. The place is magical, out of time and that is a luxury experience. But beauty and luxury are not the same thing: I won’t mix them. Two mirrors facing each other do not give answers.

On a personal level, I consider my ultimate luxuries my ability to live in good health and to love.


 
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