The panther is the symbol of Cartier femininity: divine, exquisite and rebellious simultaneously. In a word: free. Free to love and live life to the full, with passion, eye to eye...an unexplored, almost paradoxical accord: a feral floral. Cartier perfumer Mathilde Laurent began with a gardenia. From this fresh flower she set out to create a fragrance that would leave pure, mesmerising tracks of a colour pushed to its animalistic limit.1
To quote Angie's review of Ys Uzac Satin Doll yesterday, hey, sign me up! A feral floral pushed to its animalistic limit, with gardenia no less, sounds perfect. I haven't always been a Cartier fan girl, but Baiser Volé started me on the road to conversion, and the stunning panther bottle for the new La Panthère finished me off. So when the fragrance went up for sale on the Cartier website, and I saw that they'd made the 30 ml bottle available at the outset (often, they're hard to find, or never appear in the US until much after the launch, if at all), what did I do? Well, I bought it of course.
Never buy unsniffed, right? I'm usually pretty good about following my own rule, and for that matter, I don't buy much perfume of any sort, tested or untested, these days. But my resistance is low at the moment — it feels like it's been winter FOREVER — and what's more cheering than fragrance arriving in the mail? And I'm happy to report that the bottle is just as gorgeous in person, although it looks best with light shining through it (the panther is hard to make out otherwise).
La Panthère opens on bright but sheer fruits; I've seen reports of rhubarb, strawberries, dried fruit, apple and apricot, but there are no notes listed in the press materials other than gardenia, chypre and musk. It doesn't matter as it doesn't smell much like any real fruits, more like a blurry, sort of apple-ish, sort of rhubarb-ish, sort of green-ish blend of spiced tart fruits, rendered nearly weightless. It changes quickly in the early stages, there are flashes of almost-recognizable-but-gone-before-you-can-decide notes; several times I was convinced there was a brief hint of anise, and yes, there's just the faintest bit of something like dried apricots.
The heart, as promised, is gardenia, but it's likewise weightless and blurred. I said when I reviewed Baiser Volé that lily haters need not (necessarily) worry, lily lovers need not (necessarily) drool: that goes double for the gardenia in La Panthère, which is done here as a conceptual neo-gardenia, or, to borrow more terminology from my Baiser Volé review, it's gardenia-esque. It's not the sort of gardenia likely to give anyone a headache, or the sort that might make younger consumers worry that they smell like their mothers or grandmothers. The base is a dusky woody musk, and it's nicely mossy — not musty-mossy, like the old days, but clean-mossy; La Panthère could be a (very) modern version of a fresh chypre. The fruity undertones linger long into the dry down. The lasting power is ok, but on my skin, a light application was mostly gone in four hours. Applied more heavily, it made it through most of a day, but was too flat for my taste by the early afternoon.
Verdict: I don't think La Panthère will strike many perfumistas as feral, but it's beautifully done. It's interesting, unusual, easy to wear, and has a kind of luminous, radiant quality. I don't often think of perfume in synesthesia terms, but La Panthère struck me as having a golden glow that meshes nicely with the color of the juice. It's probably seasonless (ask me again in summer) and while it's not über-clean, I would think you could get away with it anywhere.
Do I love it? Well, unfortunately for me, seeing as how I already own it, no. I like it, but I would not go any farther than that. If you make a habit of buying unsniffed, I hope you do a better job of it than I do. But I look forward to seeing where La Panthère goes next: if it follows the Baiser Volé trajectory, we'll get three or four variations over the next few years, and I will not be surprised of one of those turns out to be the one I should have waited for. Meantime, I've got a lovely 30 ml bottle that I wish had Baiser Volé's juice.
If you are so inclined, do comment with your own buying unsniffed mistakes!
Cartier La Panthère is available in 30 ($72), 50 ($103) and 75 ($135) ml Eau de Parfum.
1. Via the Cartier YouTube channel.