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.
I had my first kiss at nine at a birthday party playing the kissing game, spin the bottle. I was very nervous as I spun the bottle and it landed on one of my classmates. In theory I sort of understood what I was supposed to do but as I leaned in to perform I wasn’t sure. I was focused on the shiny lip gloss on her lips and the faint smell of strawberry. When our lips met it was nice. As I pulled away and licked my lips the taste of strawberry lip gloss was there to let me know I had indeed kissed a girl and I liked it. Funny thing that grew out of that was I always enjoyed kissing girls who wore fruit scented lipstick. I hadn’t given that much thought until I tried the new Cartier Baiser Fou.
Perfumer Mathilde Laurent has been the in-house nose for Cartier for almost ten years. She has added a spirit of adventurousness to Cartier fragrance that was present previous to her tenure but is now much more assured. It is also a brand which shows that same ability for unique even in the mainstream releases. Last year’s L’Envol de Cartier or even the previous entry in the “Baiser” line Baiser Vole are good examples of Mme Laurent’s idea of what she envisions department store perfume can aspire to. Both of those fragrances I mentioned are like nothing else on those counters. Baiser Fou is another although it has some more familiar touchstones perhaps.
The press material says Baiser Fou, which translates to crazy kiss, is inspired by lipstick kisses. Most perfumes inspired by that go for that Coty lipstick iris/rose on beeswax accord. Mme Laurent’s lipstick kisses, like my early ones, are fruitier. There is a real sense of playfulness in this crazy kiss that is also quite appealing.
The opening of Baiser Fou is that subtle but distinct fruity accord. I believe there are at least a couple of different fruits as I seem to detect strawberry, cherry, and melon which seemed to me different every time I tested. What I like here is these fruits which could be obstreperous are applied with the feathered effect of a stolen kiss. It is this lightness which sets this fruity opening apart from thousands of others. Mme Laurent uses an orchid accord to provide the powdery lipstick itself. As the fruity notes settle on top of the orchid it is again held together like a gossamer wing. This fragility is a significant reason why I like this part of the development. The final piece of this is dusty cacao which is identified as “white chocolate” but it feels more like a rich cocoa powder to me. It is in keeping with the tone of what came before a delicately gourmand-y way to finish Baiser Fou.
Baiser Fou has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
Mme Laurent is one of the most creative perfumers we currently have working. Everything about Baiser Fou is appealing as she continues working on these very delicate constructs as she did with L’Envol de Cartier last year. Baiser Fou is another like that. There might be the tendency for some to want to ask for more. I am happy with just a light but crazy kiss from someone as creative as Mme Laurent.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Cartier.
There are perfume brands which seem to mine their original creations incessantly with flanker after flanker. Cartier can easily be accused of this with the entire Declaration line. Ten flankers in the 18 years since Declaration’s original release. Eight years ago in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent tried to till some new ground with Roadster. I liked it but it seems others did not share my enthusiasm. So it was back to Declaration flankers. Now it seems Mme Laurent is ready to give it another try with L’Envol de Cartier.
L'Envol de Cartier is described as a “transparent Oriental” in the press release. Throughout that description the adjectives which bring to mind sheer are used. Surprisingly I didn’t find anything mentioning this was aimed at Millennials even though it is this transparency which seems to be the common thought amongst the brands that this group desires. That may just be my Baby Boomer curmudgeon surfacing. It is not like Mme Laurent hasn’t composed in this style previously. L’Envol de Cartier is kept light and airy until we get to the base which literally roots this.
L’Envol de Cartier opens with what is called a “transparent honey accord”. What that means is a very light presentation of honey is buoyed by some ozonic and airy notes. I feel like there is an aldehyde in here but this is so slight it is difficult to be sure. Bottom line this is like a very thin film of honey over a pane of glass with the sun shining through it. The airiness is added to with an application of the more expansive white musks which take that honey accord and mount it on an expanding soap bubble. After all of this it is a surprising contrast when a near full-throated patchouli provides the foundation. This is a classic dirty patchouli adding a vivid contrast to what came before.
L'Envol de Cartier has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
On the days I wore this there was always a moment when I wanted something more. I like what Mme Laurent has done here. As it compares to many of the other transparent fragrances crossing my desk this is in the top tier of this style of perfume. I think it is going to be too transparent for some. I am probably in that category. I admire the effect and the skill necessary to achieve it. I just wish it connected with me more. I am very happy to see Cartier try something different. If this doesn’t succeed, please let Mme Laurent try again instead of doing another few Declaration flankers.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample from Cartier.
Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent is creating one of the best collections across the board of any designer house. I look forward to everything Cartier releases because of her. If there is any collection which has not lived up to my expectation it has been the Les Heures Voyageuses. Through a set of three releases in 2014 and one in 2015 Mme Laurent has used this collection to explore the many facets of oud. In the first three releases she did intense two note examinations matching up oud with rose, musc, and even more oud. I liked them but they seemed like Mme Laurent working within someone else’s confines. It wasn’t until last year’s Oud Radieux that I felt her hand on the wheel. There are two new additions to the collection this year. One is literally a mixture of three or four sources of oud into a fragrance named Oud Absolu. It is a good perfume for someone who has never smelled real oud. On the other hand, if you have it is diluted down to a presumed palatable level which keeps the oud from being as dynamic as it could be. Thankfully the other new release, Oud & Santal, doesn’t have that issue.
Oud & Santal had me a little bit worried because it is also a classic pairing with oud. If Mme Laurent was going back to what the first three offered it was going to be disappointing. What I admired about Oud Radieux was the way Mme Laurent pulled something outside of the oud to use as contrast. The same thing happens in Oud & Santal as she employs a rich plum note to provide an oddly satisfying syrupy quality.
Oud & Santal opens with that super sweet viscous plum. If you’re familiar with Japanese plum wine it is all of the sweet of that and none of the booziness. In short order the plum oozes all over the oud. The oud here is that smelly gym socks and bandages kind of oud. The plum tames it with the sweet fruitiness. As the sandalwood approaches from below it also tames it with the sweet creamy woodiness characteristic of that material. The sandalwood matched with the oud is a classic combination because each fills in the gaps of the other. Drenched in plum syrup it is like this was the missing third piece.
Oud & Santal has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
As she did with Oud Radieux Mme Laurent has taken an unusual note to graft onto a classic oud combination. It leads to something I am surprised to find as compelling as it is as this kind of fruitiness usually does not appeal to me. In the case of Oud & Santal it makes the plum desirable along with the expected woody duet.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Saks fifth Avenue.
One of the best collections of exclusive perfumes is Cartier Les Heures de Parfum. In-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent has been filling in her thirteen-hour clock since 2009 and it contains some of the best perfumes of Mme Laurent’s career. We are only lacking V & IX to complete the series. Last year we got an indication that the spirit of a very luxurious artisitic collection would continue when the numbers were done. Those three releases were called Les Heures Voayageuses and were oud-focused as you can tell by their names: Oud & Rose, Oud & Musc, and Oud & Oud. These were well-made versions of these classic oud pairings but they all felt like they were Mme Laurent working on the classics before putting her own spin on it. (There is a great little interview by Mme Laurent on Persolaise where she mentions working on these first three) I was more interested in what newer companions Mme Laurent might think would be good with oud. The new release Oud Radieux answers that question.
In the interview linked above Mme Laurent is quoted as saying, “I find that going to Arabian countries with our perfumery is like selling French Coca-Cola in New York. But at the end, as I really love oud, I decided I wanted to work on it.” I understand her point but my favorite oud perfumes have come from Western perfumers who have decided to make an oud perfume which is meant to be French Coca-Cola instead of something sold in the Middle East. The first three did not reach that level for me. Oud Radieux does.
When I read that quote I am much more interested in Mme Laurent truly embracing an oud that would be something different. I think Oud Radieux shows right from the start her desire to elucidate the nature of real oud with the same minimalist structure as in the first three. Here she creates something modern.
I tend to inwardly groan when I read press copy which mentions using energizing ginger as a top note. There are very few times I find it energizing. Mostly because it is way too often muddled up with other citrus or spice notes. In Oud Radieux Mme Laurent provides as distinct a ginger note as I’ve encountered. It has a sharply spicy rootiness which smells like the way I taste the pickled ginger which accompanies my sashimi. Paired with this is Szechuan pepper. Ever since smelling this at Pitti Fragranze in 2014 it has shown up in some of the most interesting places in the new perfumes of 2015. It is an excellent choice to go with ginger as it adds a shimmering spicy heat to contrast the more savory spiciness of the ginger. The other facet is this sort of musty quality it has underneath. Mme Laurent uses that as the connection to the oud. When you encounter real oud it also has a similar mustiness to it which is much more pronounced. This pulls the ginger along with it and the moment when they mix with the oud is fascinating. Real oud also carries what some describe as a medicinal or Band-Aid smell. The ginger and Szechuan pepper turn that into an accord which takes those less desirable elements and finds a place of zesty beauty within it. From here the oud really takes over. I am not sure if it is the oud Mme Laurent is using or if she accentuates it with some other animalic notes but it really gets a little more animalic than I usually encounter with real oud. It is definitely the most animalic of these four perfumes even more so than Oud & Oud. It feels like a natural progression down to something which carries a bit of ferocity in the end.
Oud Radieux has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
There has not been any of the numbered entries of the Les Heures de Parfum which have used oud. If there was going to be one Oud Radieux would be among the best within that collection. I have really enjoyed Mme Laurent’s version of French Coca-Cola and hope if there are more to come they are in the style of Oud Radieux. Maybe a macaron next time?
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Saks Fifth Avenue.
There may be no designer collection which holds more interest for me than the Cartier Les Heures de Parfum. Starting in 2009 Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent kicked off Cartier’s exclusive perfumes with five entries on her thirteen-hour clock face. Ten of the thirteen hours have been released but there hasn’t been a new one since 2012. Mme Laurent works at her own pace and so after a nearly three year wait the latest entry has arrived, XI L’Heure Perdue.
L’Heure Perdue translates to “lost time” and this time it seems like a bit of non-sequitur for a name. Mme Laurent was very conscious of creating a specific effect with L’Heure Perdue. In an interview with Thomas Dunckley on his The Candy Perfume Boy blog Mme Laurent was quoted on the creation of L’Heure Perdue, “I wanted to create a perfume that did not rely on natural ingredients. It’s totally molecular or ‘synthetic’.” The more I talk to perfumers the more I am hearing this slight irritation with the perception that natural is better by default. For these artists natural or synthetic they are all components for them to comprise a specific effect. The effect Mme Laurent is going for here is sci-fi milk.
Mme Laurent, also in The Candy Perfume Boy interview, mentions that she uses vanillin as the keynote for L’Heure Perdue precisely because it has been the source of the smell of vanilla for 100 years and it is completely synthetic. By using vanillin and its familiar vanilla as her foundation she forms a kinetic kaleidoscope of other aldehydes. It makes L’Heure Perdue one of the boldest explorations of aldehydes in recent memory as Mme Laurent goes to her organ and sweeps it clear except for the shelf holding these ingredients.
The first aldehyde which comes out is heliotropin. Heliotropin besides smelling like heliotrope also carries with it a slightly sweet almond-like nuttiness and a vanillic undertone. This is where I would tell anyone who tries L’Heure Perdue to stop and really experience the first moments. It is almost a heliotropin solo act. If you stop and smell the heliotropin I think you will see there is incredible depth and nuance in this synthetic component. It doesn’t take long for a sirocco of many aldehydes to sweep in and lift the heliotropin up on their shoulders and carry it toward the vanillin in the base. This middle phase has all of the kineticism I associate with aldehydes as they fizz and pop around the heliotropin. Eventually they arrive where the vanillin is waiting. Once L’Heure Perdue comes together it is like a digital version of milk. It definitely has the smooth creaminess of milk but the other aldehydes twist it into something a 3-D printer would produce. I have spent days trying to find a way to describe this and still words fail me.
L’Heure Perdue has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
L’Heure Perdue’s embrace of the synthetic over the natural feels a bit like a statement from one of our best perfumers that you ignore the synthetics at the peril of your own creativity. What L’Heure Perdue displays is if you embrace the right synthetics you will produce something as breathtaking as anything nature can produce.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
When it comes to the luxury designer perfume houses the public is well acquainted with Jacques Polge and his fragrances for Chanel or Jean-Claude Ellena and his for Hermes. In my opinion there is another, less well-known, perfumer for a luxury brand who has posted a stronger resume of perfume over the last three years and that is Mathilde Laurent for Cartier. My infatuation for their exclusive Les Heures de Cartier collection is well documented and if that was all she was doing that would be fine. But at the same time she has also been making the mainstream releases with the same panache I find with the Les Heures. The latest mainstream release is called La Panthere.
La Panthere refers to the nickname given Cartier jeweler Jeanne Toussaint who created sparkly objets d’art all which contained a slinky panther within the design. Some were very obvious and others were more abstract. Because of the prominence of the panther, in 1987, perfumer Alberto Morillas created Panthere de Cartier. That fragrance was almost too mannered to capture the fierce intelligence which created these jewelry designs. It has taken nearly thirty years for a similarly fierce intellect in Mme Laurent to assay the idea of La Panthere in fragrant form again.
La Panthere is described as a “feral floral” by Cartier and that promises a bit more animalic character than is on display. If pressed to keep to a feline theme I would describe it as a “stealthy chypre”. La Panthere transforms from fruity floral to chypre over the course of a few hours and that trip is akin to a panther slinking its way from tree to tree stalking its prey.
Cartier Panthere Ring
The early moments of La Panthere fall firmly into fruity floral territory with the fruit most prominent a sort of dried fruit accord paired with peach and some tart components. While this is well trodden ground Mme Laurent infuses this with the sparkle of a gemstone under a light. There is a palpable glow to the early moments of La Panthere. Gardenia is the keynote in the heart but this is not the overt narcotic gardenia often encountered. Mme Laurent seems to be capturing the final throes of the gardenia as its petals start to turn brown. It has the effect of making this seem very contemporary as the gardenia almost seems like an abstraction of itself. From this arises the most traditional chypre ingredients of moss, patchouli, leather, and musk. Mme Laurent turns this into a downy soft version of a chypre. As I mentioned above it seems to all of a sudden just pounce from out of the fruits and florals and stand there in all of its muted intensity.
La Panthere has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.
La Panthere is a gentle primer for those who would like to experience a chypre for the first time. It will bring you to it by first sharing the fruity floral you are most likely familiar with before giving you a new experience. I worry that those who are big aficionados of either fruity florals or chypres might find La Panthere trying to have its cake and eat it too with both of those camps. I found the construction of La Panthere and its distinct unfurling of two different styles to show the ingenuity of Mme Laurent. La Panthere stalks the wearer from fruity floral to chypre with the intensity of a big cat on the prowl.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of La Panthere I purchased.