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.
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.