"Winter water" as it's name loosely translates, takes Hermès house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena out of his usual budgetary constraints for an exercise in extreme luxury courtesy of celebrity tastemaker and niche perfume mogul Frédéric Malle, but before we get started I must let it be known that this will disappoint those looking for a scent that will survive winter weather, since it isn't made for winter, but rather made -of- winter. L'Eau d'Hiver is a cold breeze on the face, fleeting ephemeral wisps of chill florals underpinned by musks. This is actually a scent more suitable to bring the chill of winter into the summer, so if you want any kind of longevity at all from the stuff, you're better off wearing it in the dead heat. Naturally, this limitation to usage might also narrow interest, but in a sense also offsets the usually enormous price tag that Frédéric Malle scents carry because you'll wear it maybe a handful of times a year, making your bottle last forever. Jean-Claude Ellena has of late delivered a lot of fairly commercial and "modern" chemical-assisted creations for Hermès, so it's unsurprising that his outing with Frédéric Malle would also be relatively stark compared to the usually opulent creations under the Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle label, but the stuff works once it's understood. I won't say the mixed reception of L'Eau d'Hiver is undeserved, because let's be honest: when you pay this much for a perfume, you expect it to be usable whenever you want it to be, and all concepts of artistic vision or context fly out the window as you try to wrack your brain about the commodity value/usefulness of what you just splurged on.
Even the most fiscally flush perfume hobbyists would be mad if their favorite ultra-luxe brand released a scent that vanished from skin unless worn under certain conditions, and the claim that this is little above an eau de cologne is justifiable. However, with all that out of the way, on a warm sunny day, L'Eau d'Hiver brings it's "heart of winter" to life splendidly. The opening of hedione and heliotrope is unlike anything I've ever encountered in a fragrance at any price, since heliotrope is so often unused in large quantities due to it's restriction after it was found that heliotropin is used to cook crystal meth (darn it), and stripped from most things that featured it. Hedione is usually found with jasmine because it comes from jasmine, but here it is pounding fists with heliotrope like a bro, which is joined after a bit by a dihydromyrcenol "water/air" note like what is found in a lot of freshies. I won't be critical of aromachemicals if used efficiently, because even the late Edmond Roudnitska himself once made it known that a perfume's main job is to be efficient, regardless of what it's made from, so this works. Iris comes in the middle phase, and it's not a cheap body spray iris, but a nice pillowy plush one, sitting mostly alone in the middle of the scent until joined by a base of white musk, talc, honey, and a ghost of a tobacco note. L'Eau d'Hiver feels like a summertime variant to Versace The Dreamer (1996), with more longevity but much less sillage, which can also bring up the argument that a lighter application of The Dreamer can save one hundreds of dollars if that's the aim, but I digress.
There's something incalculably crisp about L'Eau d"Hiver which makes me like it enough for a neutral rating. I agree that performance from a general perspective is lacking, and it smells like a lot of things, but at the same time, has it's own X-factor which makes it unlike anything else I've tried. I can't put my finger on what makes me come back to sniffing this, but although I don't give it a thumbs up, I deny it endorsement under the condition that it's not something that will hardly ever see use in a person's wardrobe so buy it only as the "change of pace" scent and not as a potential favorite. This is sold as unisex but it sways more masculine to my nose, due to the crisp and stark nature of it, and fans of modern Hermès will see this as a more-upscale version of something recent from that house, since it has Jean-Claude's stamp all over it, and doesn't fall far from the Hermès tree. I don't think Frédéric Malle had a lot of influence on this one, or at least it doesn't feel that way, since so much of Ellena is here, and there's no major "theme" outside the wintry vibe, unlike all the other Malle scents in the collection. Another sample-before-buying scent for me, but at least it's rather austere nature makes a good office scent, since there's absolutely nothing even remotely risque about a hedionic cloud of heliotrope, iris, and honey (the latter of which is barely there I might add). Certainly not the best of the breed from this house, but not nearly as bad as all the hyperbolic rejections make it seem, just try not to have the usual expectations associated with perfumes of this ilk, which is understandably difficult because that's like trying to get somebody to not feel underwhelmed by a low-performance Ferrari meant for grand touring and not racing, but ahh well. L'Eau d'Hiver delivers on it's name, if little else.
For the scent itself, it's the good type of powdery. The iris and heliotrope are puffy here, the lightness possibly owing to a hint of citrus notes. As it dries down, a slight honey note joins in, dimming down the whole perfume a little. The musky undertone then keeps you warm like feather pillow.