It took Cartier a while to finally enter the fragrance game. Most of the other luxury brands had been in for decades before Cartier released their first in 1981. In those days, it was a place for perfumers Jean-Claude Ellena and Christine Nagel to refine their signature styles. It was a place where there were memorable perfumes but no coherence. That would arrive with the hiring of perfumer Mathilde Laurent in 2005. At first, she was exclusively creating bespoke perfume at the Paris boutique. It wouldn’t be until 2008 that she started releasing perfume under the brand. It has become so distinctive that Cartier fragrance can be divided into: “Before Laurent” and “After Laurent”. She has also created a style which she has described as using “wonderful ingredients and very few”. It has made this one of the more impressive collections in contemporary perfume. For this edition of Perfume 101 I am going to focus on the “After Laurent” phase of Cartier with five fragrances that introduce her style.
I’ll start with that very first release from 2008, Roadster. I was so sure I wasn’t going to like it because mint was listed as a focal point. Instead Mme Laurent uses the green herbal nature of the leaf which eventually combines with vetiver in a fresh way. Patchouli and woods are the other foci. It highlights Mme Laurent’s ability to find strength in transparency.
That quality would find its pinnacle in 2011’s Baiser Vole. Working with Domitille Michalon-Bertier an exquisite lily perfume was produced. They chose to surround lily with a top accord of watery green and a base accord of powder and vanilla. The lily snuggles in between to create one of my favorite lily perfumes.
Last year L’Envol de Cartier was released with the description of it being a “transparent Oriental”. That translates into a perfume which is like watching the expansion of a soap bubble coated in a microlayer of honey. It is so light in effect I dismissed it as a trifle when I first reviewed it. The more I wear it the more I have come to admire this honeyed bubble for that lightness.
At the beginning of this year the sequel to Baiser Vole was released; Baiser Fou. This is Mme Laurent showing her playful side as she wanted this to represent “lipstick kisses”. Except her lipstick was not the iris or rose of the cosmetic counter. Baiser Fou is the fruit scented lip gloss you apply with a wand. That accord is layered over cacao. It is a stolen kiss leaving a bit of scent in its wake.
Along with the commercial releases Mme Laurent has produced a luxury line for Cartier called “Les Heures de Parfum”. These are more like Cartier 202 style perfumes and not a good choice to introduce yourself to the brand. If there is one which I think is the best introduction it is Oud Radieux. It is because it is a fascinating taming of that fractious Middle Eastern ingredient, oud. Mme Laurent transforms it with ginger and Szechuan pepper. It adds bite from somewhere besides the oud.
I am short shrifting the work done for Cartier prior to Mme Laurent. If you’re of a mind Declaration, Must de Cartier and Le Baiser du Dragon are great examples of that time. For now catch up with the current house style with the five suggested above.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Every perfume lover has one or two problematic notes. One reason can be a strong association with something unpleasant. For me mint is that note. When I smell it I think of dental floss, mouthwash, and toothpaste; none of which conjure up particularly interesting images. I will find myself taking extra time when I receive a new fragrance with a strong mint presence because I don’t want this inherent bias to keep me from missing something good. What has probably been a positive by-product of writing about perfume is I felt the need to give some of these mint perfumes a chance. Over the years there have been a few which have managed to leave the dental behind while making a lasting impression. Here are five which have done that.
Heeley Menthe Fraiche was probably the last of the brand I tried because there was “menthe” on the label. I expected to not like it but I should have remembered James Heeley’s way of finding unique combinations of notes. In Menthe Fraiche before it can start getting too minty he cuts it with sharp mate, lotus leaf, and green tea. This is what mint needed; something to shred it a bit. A very pure cedar provides a greenish woodiness. This is as close as I get to a straight mint fragrance.
One of the great underrated collection is the Comme des Garcons Series collections from 2000-2005. Over seven Series they explored great accords using some of the very best emerging perfumers. Series 5 Sherbet had three entries all done by Bertrand Duchaufour. Comme des Garcons Series 5 Sherbet: Peppermint nailed the chill of the frozen dessert best. By applying sheerer applications of both peppermint and spearmint over similarly light versions of cardamom, and white pepper. The real linchpin is a floral note, daphne odora, which provides a light floral core which is similar to neroli but lemon-tinted while also being sweet like vanilla. A cocktail of white musks provide the chill as it curls away from the scoop.
In 2008 Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent wanted to design a modern masculine perfume. Roadster was going to be that fragrance built upon an axis of mint, patchouli, and woods. It helps that she keeps the mint tilted slightly towards the herbal side. Roadster has been one of those perfumes I have gone back and forth upon, because of the mint, until I wore it one blazing hot day. In that heat it all of a sudden shifted in to fifth gear with a roar. Now it is a shank of summer staple for me.
If there was a single fragrance which turned around my thinking on mint it is probably Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Geranium pour Homme. Perfumer Dominique Ropion had been one of the select group of early perfumers putting their names on the bottles for the brand. In 2009, I was excited to see what he would do with geranium. What he did was coat it in spearmint oil. This was a mint which was viscous and oozed over the geranium picking up green facets as it flowed over the flower. Underneath it all M. Ropion used ambrox and sandalwood to form a woody base. The oiliness of the mint won me over and Geranium pour Homme is one of my favorites within the brand.
By now I am a tiny bit more open to mint. When Pierre Guillaume showed me an early version of Mojito Chypre for his Parfumerie Generale Collection Croisiere I was caught up in the boozy revelry. The mint was there but so were all the sweet parts of a strawberry mojito. Sometimes perfume needs to just be fun. In the case of Mojito Chypre the mint is just part of an all-day party.
Even for me I’ve managed to find some pleasure in a note I find difficult. The above five mint perfumes are my favorite things.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.