If I could hire Mathilde Laurent to create a perfume for me based on a time of day, I’d choose dawn. My fragrance — I’ll call it la Naissance du Jour1 in honor of my favorite Colette novel — would evoke happy, and quiet, endings (the last breath of a day that will never return) and the fresh possibilities of the new day that’s just beginning. My fantasy perfume would start off dark (full of Mysore sandalwood, cedar, cypress, agarwood) and turn “bright” like a rising sun (with notes of iris root, sharp, green stems and leaves, galbanum, rain-drenched narcissus blossoms, and vibrant citrus — tangerine, lemon, bergamot). My perfume would be a revelation and its “development in reverse” a miracle — I’d never tire of the fragrance (and not just because it would cost me approximately $80,000).
Cartier's Les Heures de Parfum collection (created by Laurent) has been petted (heavily) by many in the perfume sphere; the perfumes have been giddily critiqued (no tongues in cheeks, no winks hinting at hyperbole) and deconstructed like complex poems. Cartier must relish the attention, even though the perfumes are currently in limited distribution (less than 30 stores are selling the fragrances worldwide during their first year of release).2
In Women's Wear Daily, Sabrina Daninos, marketing development director, Cartier fragrances, said the perfumes were “a really ‘haute’ collection of exclusive fragrances for connoisseurs.” Stéphanie Lefoll, market development director, Cartier fragrances, deemed the collection “very exclusive.” Daninos also references the Cartier bespoke fragrance business where a “made-to-measure scent” costs “about 60,000 euros, or $79,630.” Daninos said the bespoke business has “created a lot of buzz in a very exclusive way.”3
“Haute,” “connoisseurs,” and “exclusive,” “exclusive,” exclusive! The Cartier team has its talking points down-pat. But flattery will get you nowhere with a true perfume lover. I’ve never bought a perfume (or anything else for that matter) due to personal flattery (“That looks GREAT on you!”) and I cringe if someone fawns over me in a shop or calls me a “connoisseur.” Pound me with marketing jargon about “exclusivity,” connoisseurship and the like and I begin to wonder if what you’re offering is a good product or the selling of an “idea” (exclusive — expensive, hard-to-find — fragrances).
Lately, I’ve been a bit grumpy as perfumers and venerated fragrance houses remain quiet and passive in the face of IFRA rules and projected bans5 on some of the most gorgeous ingredients used in perfumery. As a group, perfumers seem particularly mute and docile (they DO work for the big business aroma-chemical companies). Where’s the big-name rebel? Or the “Nose” that defends perfume’s “rights”? I’m not inclined to philosophize about perfumes and I am now, as I prepare to sniff Les Heures de Parfum, in what I’ll call L'Heure de la Clarté4 — my time of stringent appraisal. When it comes to fragrances, I search; I find; I smell; and I decide (like it, love it, hate it, boring, can’t smell it…).
I L’Heure Promise
I L’Heure Promise “represents a moment of possibility”; its notes include petitgrain, fresh herbs, iris, sandalwood and musk.
L’Heure Promise opens with a soft and beautiful petitgrain and iris accord mixed with a “dry straw” aroma (and perhaps a thread or two of saffron); citrus-y iris hangs in there for about 30 minutes before the perfume enters its clean, sheer, floral-musk phase. L’Heure Promise is pleasant and sophisticated in style, but ‘the moment of possibility’ represented by those great top notes does not, in the end, produce a satisfying perfume experience. L’Heure Promise’s pretty and spring-scented opening is fleeting and leads to a dry-down of nothing-special musk. L’Heure Promise stays close to the body and has so-so strength (you’ll need to reapply during the day).
VI L’Heure Brilliante
VI L’Heure Brilliante “was inspired by high-energy nightlife and neon effervescence” and includes notes of lemon, flaxseed, gin and aldehydes.
L’Heure Brilliante begins with bubbly aldehydes and lemony gin — a good start. The lemon top note reminds me of “original” Monsieur Balmain: delicious lemon, lemon and more lemon. Slowly, L’Heure Brilliante’s sparkly lemon juice turns bitter, like unripe, sour citrus rind mixed with a fresh, dill-like aroma. During this phase, I begin to smell an undertone of what I believe is flaxseed (smelling of uncooked oatmeal). Surprisingly, lemon blossom makes an unexpected, pleasurable appearance when you least expect it and leads to L’Heure Brilliante’s final stage — a honeyed flaxseed aroma. L’Heure Brilliante stays close to the body and has Eau de Cologne power, yet L’Heure Brilliante smells more complex (up close, on skin) than most citrus perfumes; it’s my favorite of Les Heures de Parfum fragrances.
X L’Heure Folle
X L’Heure Folle was inspired by Cartier’s Tutti Frutti jewelry collection, and the notes feature red currant, pink peppercorn, grenadine, blueberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, violet, leafy notes, ivy, boxwood, shiso, aldehydes and polygonum.
L’Heure Folle presents brash/artificial-smelling, jam-‘berry’ aromas upon application and there is also a touch of greenery (ivy); L’Heure Folle’s green notes intensify during the dry-down, but there’s still some “sugar” in the berry mix. L’Heure Folle is a linear fragrance, and its heavy, never-changing berry accords (not even alleviated by the sheer musk in the base) hang heavy on me all day (like a weighty sweater wrapped around my shoulders that I want to toss off). L’Heure Folle has excellent sillage and lasting power — figures, it’s the fragrance in the collection I’d NEVER wear.
XII L’Heure Mystérieuse
XII L’Heure Mystérieuse contains notes of jasmine, patchouli, elemi gum, coriander, incense, frankincense and juniper.
L’Heure Mystérieuse begins with musty notes of patchouli and elemi gum; there is also a touch of “menthol-citrus” from coriander and a barely there minty note. Quickly the composition smells like “incense-flavored chewing gum”…sweet and almost edible. Juniper is discernible and it blends nicely with a smooth, refined, nearly-smokeless frankincense aroma. L’Heure Mystérieuse dries down to a rather dusty/flat and one-dimensional scent: there are hours and hours of never-changing gray-ashy frankincense-incense. Near the end of its development, I detect a similarity between L’Heure Mystérieuse and Cartier Roadster.
XIII La Treizième Heure
XIII La Treizième Heure is described by Laurent as “olfactive trickery, like a crime with premeditation”; the notes include leather, maté, birch, narcissus, bergamot, patchouli and vanilla.
I love leather-birch notes in perfume — and what smells more wonderful than narcissus (to me, not much). I thought of all Les Heures de Parfum fragrances, THIS would be the one I’d enjoy most. La Treizième Heure begins with smoothest leather, Lapsang Souchong tea and birch notes that quickly meld into a “sweet-smoke”/medicinal-smelling accord — then there’s the fade-out to plain-and-simple vanilla-patchouli in the base. Where’s narcissus? Perhaps a dog or cat could detect it — or a connoisseur — but not me. Something about this perfume reminds me of the scent of hospital waiting rooms.
What do the fragrances in this collection have in common? They are ‘quiet,’ have close-to-the-body sillage (L’Heure Folle excepted), and after their top notes fade, they are mostly uncomplicated and linear. If I were forced to pick one adjective to describe Les Heures de Parfum, I’d choose “nice.”
Cartier L'Heure Promise, L'Heure Brilliant and L'Heure Folle are Eaux de Toilette; L'Heure Mystérieuse and La Treizième Heure are Eaux de Parfum; all scents are $255 for 75 ml. For buying information, see the listing for Cartier under Perfume Houses. Over the next four years, eight more perfumes will join the collection.
2. Women's Wear Daily, 5/18/2009.
4. hour of clarity
5. For background, scroll through the posts tagged "IFRA".