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.