Perfume Review – Hermès Paprika Brasil: Chilies & Woods

Shakespeare was right when he said that a rose, by any other name, still smells as sweet. However, a name can be bloody important! In perfumery, a name can convey either a wealth of details about the type of scent a perfumer has made, or the sort of impression that a perfume seeks to evoke. A name can also lead to great expectations (to bring up Dickens this time), followed by a great, whacking THUMP of disappointment as the consumer falls down the cliff to a different reality. Exhibit No. 1 for that would be Chanel‘s Coco Noir which is neither Coco nor Noir, and as such was met with howls of disappointment from many perfumistas.

Paprika BrasilExhibit No. 2 would be Paprika Brasil from Hermès. It was released in 2006 as part of Hermès’ exclusive, in-store Hermessence line of fragrances and created by Hermès’ in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, a legendary perfumer who was recently called by Der Spiegel “the best ‘nose’ in the world.” Ellena is known for his minimalistic approach to ingredients, and for perfumes that always have depth and complexity, despite seeming sheer and transparent. That sheerness is rather a signature of his and, for some, was taken to unfortunate extremes with Paprika Brasil.

An even greater problem was the name itself which led to certain perceptions of what the perfume would entail. A number of the negative reviews explicitly mention that the reviewer thought the perfume would be something very different than what it was and, as such, was a disappointment. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin felt that way, saying “I feel particularly disappointed with this latest creation. Perhaps, it is due to my high expectations.” However, no-one was quite as blunt about it as Robin at Now Smell This who wrote:

My initial trials of Paprika Brasil cannot be described in any way other than disappointing, and the experience points to the dangers of building up expectations based on the fragrance name, back story and notes. I suppose what I was expecting was a deep woods scent with exotic spices, something that would evoke the jungles of Brazil before the impact of globalization, where Lévi-Strauss was said to have found “a human society reduced to its most basic expression”.

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

On the Hermès website, Jean-Claude Ellena describes Paprika Brasil as “[t]he ravaging power of paprika and brasil wood, tempered by iris. Seductive, passionate, unexpected.” He adds:

A tinctorial wood to colour fabrics red, ‘brasil wood’ gave its name to the country. With its power of suggestion, “bois de braise” sparked my imagination and I chose paprika to illustrate it. By mixing and matching, I recreated its scent, which is more secretive and discreet than its taste.

The Fragrantica classifies Paprika Brasil as “Woody Spicy”, but it doesn’t list the full notes. NST states that they include:

pimento, clove, paprika, iris, green leaves, reseda, ember wood (aka Brazilwood or Pernambuco) and woody notes.

I had read the reviews of Paprika Brasil before trying it and — since I have a tendency to root for the under-dog — I was initially quite huffily indignant on the poor perfume’s behalf! It was quite fascinatingly original at the start, and I was baffled by the degree of contempt and animosity which Paprika Brasil has engendered in some.

Pimento chilies.

Pimento chilies.

My immediate reaction to the opening seconds was, “Oh my God, I smell like a chili pepper!” There was an astonishingly powerful, sharp burst of red pimento chilies, followed by green bell peppers, cloves and a touch of paprika. (I wrote in my notes: “Add lettuce, ranch salad sauce, and I’m lunch?”) The paprika is never particularly strong on me, Bell Pepperthough others have reported a different experience, but the green bell pepper is very prominent. It is tamed about ten minutes in, countered by the advent of wood notes that are faintly smoky, peppery and spicy.

Brazilwood or the Pernambuco tree.

Brazilwood or the Pernambuco tree.

Twenty minutes in, a soft green note unfurls, like leaves opening in the sun, and there is the start of the iris note. The perfume has quickly progressed from a chili-vegetable scent into something entirely different and, frankly, it’s rather astonishing. It’s turned into a very airy rendition of spicy, peppery woods with a touch of green and the softening note of floral iris. I found it very original and quite fascinating. I sniffed my arm constantly and with a smile, always wondering about those incredibly dismissive and often caustically sneering reviews.

The scent is translucent in a way and, yet, also strong. It doesn’t project outwardly with vast trails, but what you do smell is quite noticeable. Or, perhaps, I’m merely surprised by the strength given that a commentator on Basenotes disdainfully dismissed Paprika Brasil as “one of Ellena’s more anemic and evanescent efforts.” This is not my definition of “anemic.”

Harvesting the iris root. Source: Weleda UK

Harvesting the iris root.
Source: Weleda UK

As time progresses, 2.5 hours in, the wood notes start to dominate. They are both smoky (black) and spicy (red chili). I wonder if some of the Brazilian reseda or ember woods used have an aroma similar to guaiac because I smell the same sort of black peppery notes here.  The iris has also emerged to great extent. It is oddly both floral and earthy at the same time, as though Ellena used both the orris root and the flowers. It’s never powdery, though there is a faint, subtle, almost microscopic element of powder hovering around the edges. As several commentators on Basenotes also found, the contrasting floral and earthy notes counter the dryness of the wood and spices.

It’s at this time that my feelings start to change about Paprika Brasil. It started to wear me down a little. By the end, about 4.5 hours all in all, I had completely reversed my position and had enough. I don’t know if it was the linearity or the constant pepper accord but something had become too much. There were so many conflicted thoughts darting through my mind.

For one thing, where on earth would I wear this scent??! The supermarket produce aisle would seem to be the most logical choice, since I certainly would not wear this out on a date or to a party! As we’ll discuss shortly, it’s not cheap, so it’s far too expensive for the dog park. And, frankly, that may be the only place where I wouldn’t be embarrassed to smell like chili peppers. I live in Texas. There is a Mexican food place every few blocks. (I cannot stand Mexican food, if I might add.) Paprika Brasil’s green bell pepper may have been apparent mostly in the opening, but the red chilies are constant and, due to where I live, the mental associations are inevitable. (Salsa, anyone?)

The Hairy German

The Hairy German

I spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to determine what might have been a better, more accurate, potentially less disappointing name for the perfume — and concluded that the task is a lot harder than it seems. Neither “Chili Woods” or “Peppered Woods” has much élan. Nor does “Airy Pimento” or “Peppered Iris.” Frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss with regard to all aspects of this scent, and it must have shown because I suddenly noticed The Hairy German watching my face with great concern.

One thing that bewilders me is how different my experience was from many others. Victoria on Bois de Jasmin found this a cold, “watery and limpid” fragrance:

In comparison to the other fragrances from Hermessence collection, I find Paprika Brasil to have the least presence and impact. Theoretically, the weightlessness and the airy quality of spices and woods is interesting, but as a whole, the composition appears watery and limpid, a sketch that never seems to attain the form one wishes it to possess. Being an admirer of Jean-Claude Ellena’s work and Hermessence Collection, I feel particularly disappointed with this latest creation. Perhaps, it is due to my high expectations. Perhaps, it is because I already have encountered two fragrances this year that explore the same theme of cool rocks and damp earth via iris and green notes with much more interesting results– Eau d’Italie Sienne L’Hiver and L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha. Paprika Brasil appears to me like a modern art piece, without a key to understanding its concept.

NST also found it wan, though it classifies Paprika Brasil as a predominantly iris fragrance:

It is first and foremost an iris fragrance, and a sheer one at that. The top notes have the same feel of rooty carrot that you find in Hermès Hiris, but without the sharp metallic twang. There is a slight whisper of green, and a dusting of dry paprika, and yes, there are woods, but the whole is extraordinarily muted, and easily has the least presence of any of the Hermessences so far.

As a rule, I like sheer and muted. It is one of the reasons I admire Jean Claude Ellena: he can work magic without shouting, and while using a very limited palette. But Paprika Brasil feels almost wan, and so entirely fails to live up to its name that it is hard, quite honestly, to find a way to approach it with an open mind. Last night and again this morning, I tried it next to a group of my favorite iris scents, and it failed to make much of a showing.

I’ve only tried Ambre Narguilé thus far from the Hermessence collection, so I can’t compare how Paprika Brasil measures up to the line as a whole. Taking just Ambre Narguilé as a point of comparison, yes, it is far more robust, but Paprika Brasil is hardly a weak, wan, cold scent on my skin. It’s all hot chilies and peppered woods. It’s monotonous, exhausting and, ultimately, the furthest thing from versatile, but it’s not cold and reminiscent of “cool rocks”! None of the commentators on Basenotes found such coldness either, but, rather, dryness, paprika, iris and woods. To the extent that it doesn’t have much depth, body or complexity, then perhaps, yes, Paprika Brasil is “watery” in that sense — but only in that sense.

My experience seems tiny bit closer to that of Marina from Perfume-Smellin’ Things who noted the predominance of  the chili note, but who ultimately found Paprika Brasil to be a huge disappointment:

The spicy notes bear a promise of a scent that is red-hot, fiery, supremely piquant, but Paprika Brasil is much more tame then what the presence of pimento, paprika and clove might suggest. It starts green and dry, making me think of twigs and indeed green leaves. A delicate spicy accord is woven into that greenness, it grows stronger as the scent develops but is always kept in check by the leaves and the wood and the cool earthiness of iris (which is very apparent on my skin). The spice that I smell here is mostly pimento and it is a beautiful note, crimson, dry and appealingly sharp; it saddens me that this attractive piquancy was not allowed to be more prominent. No, I don’t want a scent where other notes are overwhelmed by the spices, but neither do I like the idea of a scent where the spices are beaten into submission by the rather pale and unexciting rest of the ingredients. Dusty-green, too dry, too delicate, dull and fleeting, Paprika Brasil was a bitter disappointment for this fan of the other five scents in the Hermessence series.

I didn’t find Paprika Brasil to be so green, delicate or pale, and the spices were always there, permeating the iris and wood notes. However, at the end of the day, it was simply just too exhausting to wear.

The opportunity to smell like a bell pepper, then iris and chili-ed woods, does not come cheaply. Paprika Brasil costs $235 and is sold only in the large 100ml/3.4 oz bottles directly from Hermès itself (whether online or via its boutiques). It doesn’t come in any other size and only comes in the eau de toilette concentration.

The Hermès travel or gift set.

The Hermès travel or gift set.

However, and this part is key, Hermès sells a travel or gift set of four 15 ml/0.5 oz bottles for $145. You can get 4 bottles of any perfumes in the Hermessence line, or all 4 can be the same perfume. In short, for $145, you would be getting 60 ml or about 2.0 oz of perfume, which is more than the standard 1.7 oz bottles for perfumes. As such, it is a much more manageable price. If you want to smell like iris and pimento-ed wood, that is.

I don’t.

DETAILS:
Paprika Brasil is available on Hermès’ website at the link provided above. Samples are available at a number of sites, as well as on eBay (which is where I obtained my 4 ml vial). Surrender to Chance sells samples starting at $3.99 for the smallest size. As always, I think they have the best shipping prices, so I would start  there if you’re interested in testing out the perfume.

34 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Hermès Paprika Brasil: Chilies & Woods

  1. This basically confirms my suspicions of this scent, which didn’t sound appealing in the least to me from what I had read prior to this review. Everything about just sounds like everything I wouldn’t want in a perfume. Sometimes even if something doesn’t sound good, I’m tempted to at least try it to see what it’s about. Not this one, and the review certainly didn’t change my mind!

    With that said, I’m not opposed to the idea of 4-15ml bottle set of other Hermessence perfumes….Hmmmm….:)

    I won’t take you to task for your disdain of delicious Mexican food though (though I will concede that TexMex is irredeemably awful cuisine). More for me! 🙂 LOL.

    • I really liked its originality at first. I swear! I was so pleasantly surprised after the reviews I had read, and was all ready to do battle on behalf of this poor beleagured scent! Even the green bell pepper was original and really worked with the rest.

      I don’t know what happened around Hour 3. By Hour 4, it was over for me. A total 180. It wasn’t even olfactory fatigue; this is no Tom Ford scent. I truly can’t pinpoint it and I tried the perfume on twice, if truth be told. I simply had enough of it. Plus, there is the whole Texas issue and how every TexMex fast food joint reeks of chilis. Let’s not get started on the 7 million varieties of salsa here, either! *sigh* (I thought of you, btw, when putting in that parenthetical comment about how much I loathe Mexican food. If I had some of the empenadas you like to make, maybe I’d feel differently. But I doubt it. I think if you lived in Texas, you’d be less keen on the cuisine too…..) 😉

      • I like bell peppers, but I actually don’t even like the smell of them. Or really even paprika for that matter. Yikes!

        Mexican food may not be your thing, but I think you’d like the tamales I made over Christmas. I promise I’m not heavy handed with cumin and they were delicious perfection. LOL. It’s okay, it can’t be everyone’s thing. I can imagine the fatigue with the prevalence of Mexican (or Mexican-ish) food in Texas. It’s hard (really, really, really hard!) to find decent Mexican food in DC, and I miss it a lot. The fact is DC doesn’t have a lot of Mexican immigrants, but they have a lot of Latino immigrants from Central America. Their food is good, but it’s not the same.

        • No, you’re right, it’s not the same at all from what I know of Central American food. Next time you come to visit, I’ll try to find a good Mexican place to take you. I don’t think I know of any though and, as you’ve noted, Tex-Mex is a whole other thing! *shudder*

          • Or we could just go get the delicious soup dumplings again. Drool. I dream of those constantly. Seriously. They were so good, I think I could have eaten 50 of them. But I’m a sucker for any sort of filled dough.

            Or that delicious Ethiopian place, and have another giant pile of raw lamb (or maybe it was beef?). LOL. And, suddenly, the yogurt I had for breakfast is no longer satiating me.

    • ROFL! Yes, you definitely had better like it for that amount. I wish I could figure out what they could or should have named this to lead to less disappointment. As someone in the Basenotes thread that I linked to mentioned, it’s really a victim of poor naming in large part. And, you know, a number of people think it’s sorely under-appreciated. I think, if my circumstances and location had been different, I may not have switched course quite so much and would have liked it a little more. I doubt though, that I’d ever like it enough for a full $235!

  2. All that money to smell like chilis and bell peppers. Oh hell naw! I can get all those ingredients at my local market’s produce and spice aisle for less than $5.00, add in an extra $1 and upgrade to organic! The other added bonus is, I can eat it too! This is not a scent for me. I have no intention of smelling like produce and spices unless Im about in indulge in eating them. LOL. I can use the $235 and buy me a bottle of NY Oud, a fragrance that is worthwhile. Great review K!

    • “Oh hell naw!” ROFL. Ferris, I just choked a little on my coffee. “add in an extra $1 and upgrade to organic!” HAHAHAHA! You don’t live in Texas, I don’t think. Imagine smelling like that here!

      To be fair to the scent though, many people got a hell of a lot more iris than I seemed to have done. And they didn’t seem to think it was quite such a chili-fest as I did. But, yeah, it’s not a popular scent. I still insist though that it would have been more successful had it not been named so badly and thereby subject to disappointment. But I really don’t see it on you by ANY means and under ANY name, given your perfume profile!

  3. Sorry it didn’t work for you Kafka! Your review says it all, I’m not even going to try this one. Paprika, perfume, me? No, not a good match.
    I appreciate Ellena’s creations but I mostly find them too light, to ethereal, too watered down not to say they’re dull because they’re not. They’re just not making me swoon.

    • Heh, I definitely don’t see you wearing this one — the iris note notwithstanding. It’s not just the paprika; it’s the chili pepper!

      As for Ellena’s creations, I thought you adored Ambres des Merveilles? Have you become less excited about that one as time has progressed?

      • Good, I don’t want to wear it at all.
        Speaking of Ellena’s perfume. Ambre des Merveilles is gorgeous but I wouldn’t buy a bottle of it. It’s too airy, I would definitely use up the whole bottle too quickly.

  4. Kafka, I have zero interest in this one even though I do like Mexican food. I find if I cook it at home my hair seems to absorb the odors so I can approximate smelling like a pepper for much less money. I just wanted to say that I love the Hairy German. He has got an absolutely gorgeous coat! Look at the shine! He is one very handsome boy.

    • AHA! Finally!! A perfume that not even the adventurous, curious Poodle can be bothered with! 😉 I laughed at your comment regarding “I can approximate smelling like a pepper for much less money.” *grin*

      Thank you for your compliments about The Hairy German (aka Zola, Zoli Zol or Emile Zola). He’s my baby, my furry son, my source of endless joy. I kiss his paws and am his perfectly trained slave. 😉 Big dogs are one of my great passions but German shepherds in particular. And, because I don’t want to have (human) children, I truly consider each one to be my actual child. So, your comments truly mean the world to me. *hugs* As for his coat, it’s partially due to Alaskan Salmon Oil. I tried to put Zola on the BARF/Raw diet but none of my GSDs have ever seemed to like it. Zola rebelled to the point of anorexia. So, instead, he gets grain-free, super premium food that costs an arm and a leg. Actually, right now, due to some skin issues that are acting as a huge obstacle to his necessary hip replacement (he’s only 3 years old!), the Hairy German is on a vegan diet. He’s actually flourishing, to my surprise. And you’ve never — EVER — seen anything as amusing as a giant, hairy German shepherd crunching on a celery stalk with closed eyes in delighted bliss…. 😀

      Ooops, sorry, Poodle. I tend to get carried away when I talk about furry children. I’d love to hear about yours one day. The more details the better. Are you a poodle girl the way I am a GSD one?

      • I am a poodle girl. Hubby likes his sight hounds so we have a whippet as well. The whippet loves celery too. It’s so strange. My mini poodle has skin issues now that she’s older so I know what you’re going through. I could go on and on about the dogs too but I don’t want to hijack the comments section here. 🙂

        • Poodle, feel free to talk to me about your furry ones ANY time you want! I mean it. 🙂 I’m sorry to hear Greta has skin issues too. What are you giving her for them? Steroids, N’Zymes, something else?

          BTW, the amount of exercise needed for whippets….. *gulp* I feel exhausted just thinking about it! Your husband must be a very fit man. LOL

          • Ha! Exercise!?! Mel the whippet exercise? He’s the laziest dog I’ve ever had. When we had greyhounds they were lazy too. Mel wants nothing to do with physical exertion and everything to do with a blanket and the couch. The standard poodle has far more energy.

          • I’m so bewildered! Seriously? The greyhounds and whippets I’ve seen at the dog park are insane exercise and speed demons! Only one of the Weimeraner owners looks as remotely exhausted as the greyhound owners. LOL. I must say, I envy you their laziness. The Hairy German is an exercise junkie and I’ve been known to throw him those rubber bumper sticks at TWO IN THE MORNING on the green near my house, just so that I can get him off-leash and wipe him out. (The police think I’m quite mad. heh.) What I would do for a dog who doesn’t need and DEMAND (by physically headbutting you) exercise at all hours of the day and night!! How old is Mel and how old is Greta?

  5. I also find Elena’s work too airy and light for me. I’ve tried the whole Hermessence line and nothing stood out for me(I liked Rosé Ikebana a little bit). Plus the price they charge for these scents I don’t think it’s really worth it.

  6. Ellena hasn’t been always so airy with his creations. Some of his commissioned work for designers ( I think he did Rocha Globe) had a lot more presence.

    As to Paprika Brasil, I don’t remember much of it but it was the least eventful of the line. I tested it once and it did last through a 2-hour movie but the fact that I don’t remember much says it wasn’t very impressive.

    • No, he hasn’t always been this way. Let’s not forget Van Cleef & Arpel’s First! Oddly enough, that was my very first experience with being turned off by Jean-Claude Ellena. I was about 7 and my parents bought me a bottle as the perfume had just come out about 6 months before. I hated it. Passionately. It was the aldehydes, I think.

      But, going back to your point, he can manage things with more Oooomph. But he seems to be getting more and MORE minimalistic as time progresses. People may point to Ambres de Merveilles as an exception but I really am not a fan of that one. At all. Honestly, at the rate he’s going, he’s going to give us rose water next….

      • Haha, absolutely, as Turin put it in one of his reviews, next on the list is Vodka Novosibirsk.

        I like Ellena’s stuff because most of it is very “safe”. Pick any of the Hermessence collection – they are all light and polite and very likable without being cliche or boring. The same is true the Jardin collection – it’s interesting and polite but not earth-shattering.

        Ellena is not an avant-garde perfumer like Lutens, for example. I think his fragrances are a reflection of his life philosophy – simple pleasures and effortless refinement. I recall Chandler Burr quoted him once saying that he (Ellena) didn’t want to be rich, he wanted to have the lifestyle of someone who is rich. “Rich” here should be understood in the context of “old money”, not nouveau riche. I got carried away here but I hope it makes sense.

  7. I’ve tried all of Hermessences and even like/own some (these 4×15 are great!) but I don’t remember Paprika Brasil at all! (I have to confess that until today I thought the name of the perfume was Paprika Basil – probably I was hungry when I read it first 😉 )

    • OMG, you too??! I call it Paprika Basil in my head nonstop! In fact, every time I write the name, I have to double-check that I didn’t write Basil instead! My excuse is that I’m a foodie and Paprika Basil sounds much more logical than the actual name. LOL.

      As for the perfume itself, you’re now the 2nd person here who knows they’ve tried it but has absolutely NO recollection of what it smelled like. I think that says something….

      • *blinks* *blinks again* Wait, it’s NOT paprika basil? I read it as basil, my mind’s eye say it as basil, and only now do I realize it’s actually Brasil! LOL. And I totally agree, given the paprika, one can’t blame someone for reading Basil instead of Brasil! Too funny. Guess my reading comprehension needs a bit of work (what else is new?).

        • Kevin, you’re another foodie, so it’s no surprise how your mind automatically interpreted it…. Do you know, I had to go back through my draft review of this and fix NINE errors in name before posting it simply because my fingers refused to type out the word Brasil?! LOL. If it had been spelled BraZil, it would have been much easier for my mind and fingers to accept.

          • I think that’s what got me too – the Bra[s]ilian spelling of “Brazil.” Yeah, the Z would have made my mind realize. And now I want a Caprese Salad.

  8. Actually, this sounds like something that I would like. The ingredients are different from the standard rose, white floral, etc. I would not have thought that this would be light and airy though and instead much more intense. Do you think this would work better in the summer or in the winter?

    • Mr. Hound, I will gladly send you the remainder of my large vial! As for the seasons, I honestly think that this could work in a lot of them. Summer may give it more oomph since it isn’t a hugely heavy, chewy or dense perfume by any means! The heat may bring out the subtler notes, so I can see it being used on occasion there. At the same time, the spiced wood element definitely makes it something that could work in winter too.

  9. I liked this one a surprising amount more than I ever might have expected. Now, I wasn’t like, bowled over or anything, but I had anticipated hatred. This one was pretty light and transparent on me – its biggest sin was that it was a tad boring for my tastes. Pretty forgettable, overall, and about 5 hours longevity total. For $235 bucks, there are a lot of things I like more though. I guess when the bar is so incredibly low it doesn’t take much to exceed one’s expectations, but still, it exceeded my expectations.

      • Thankfully, I didn’t smell chiles or green peppers, but I have virtually forgotten what it smelled like. But I only remember what it *didn’t* smell like because I was specifically looking to be disappointed in those elements. LOL. But yeah, I pretty much can’t remember anything about it, which gives you a good idea of how I felt about it. As I said, I liked it more than I thought, but for $235, I know I could get something that would make me say “Wow.” Hell, for $100, I probably could! I would need someone else to verify, but perfume I think tends to stay very, very close to me with few exceptions. So I tend to like more robust scents that aren’t quite so faint on my skin. I don’t want to gas people out, but I’d like for them to somewhat notice I smell like something without sticking their nose directly in my neck. In conclusion, I won’t be pursuing this one further, though I will probably use up the remainder of the sample!

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