Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Declaration by Cartier: fragrance review & comparison with L'essence and Bois Bleu

In horror fiction phantoms are creatures who consume other life forms as sustenance, and are able to perfectly mimic any creature they consume. Déclaration by Cartier is perfumer's Jean Claude Ellena's own homage to a phantom's mental connotations and in its turn the propagator of legion of phantoms in modern perfumery. But like its namesake aviation F-4 counterpart (affectionately called "the rhinoceros", although its first proposed ~and quickly rejected~ names were Satan or Mithra) it has done everything in a stealth of silent power!
Largely unsung and not given the proper attention it so richly deserves, almost taken for granted, it is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece of fusing cutting-edge modernity into a classical aromatic cologne formula for men. Eau d'Hermès (a 1951 Edmond Roudnitska creation) has been haunting Jean Claude Ellena's subconsious for ages, it seems. Its fantastically ripe, "skanky" interweaving of cedar, cumin, birchwood and moss manages to provide snippets of Jean Claude's insignia in almost everything he touches, interpreted and sieved through the most minutiae-capable colander; in Déclaration we see the student at once pay homage to the teacher and further the cause in most confident and spiritual brushstrokes of a mature Sōsho calligraphy. So much so that Jean Claude himself has admitted a partiality to this one out of his scented progeny. But whereas Eau d'Hermès went for the leathery, Jean Claude opted for the dry woody, injecting a large dollop of woody synthetic Iso-E Super, a material with which he has been experimenting for years to impressive effect.

"Created for men, but also enjoyed by women, Cartier's Déclaration was created for those who are in love, have an appreciation of openness, and feel passion". The fragrance erupted on the scene in 1998 like the ripples of lava slowly coming down the mountain: it has since consumed everything in its trail, influencing major players in its aromatic wake and pre-empting the new sharp, dry woody masculines like Colonia Intensa for Aqua di Parma (also by Jean Claude Ellena), Cipresso di Toscana by Aqua di Parma, Gucci by Gucci, John Varvatos Vintage and the newest niche masculine by Ormonde Jayne, Zizan; fragrances which gracefully followed the dearth of marines inaugurated by Bourdon's Cool Water two decades ago. And not a moment too soon!
My own personal encounter with it was buying it for myself upon launch, lured by the sexily fresh-sweat-vibe it exuded and then having my other half smelling it on me, usurping it most decisively, claiming it and making it his own ever since, to the most delicious effects which are better left to the reader's fertile imagination. It makes him feel refreshed , as if he's seeing the dawn for the first time opening windows which give on a view of the autumn forest, he says. Needless to say Déclaration occupies a very special segment of my olfactory cortex!

My friend Dane described it in a conversation as "a taxi driver in a forest" the other day and he couldn't be more accurate. If he had likened Déclaration to chantey, that would be close as well: The sweaty side married to the freshness of open horizons, all obeying a rhythmical discipline that engulfs you. The marriage of lucid clarity and sous-bois depth prove its masterful treatment of contrasting elements.
The jolting cumin opening is often feared as coming across as sweaty and indeed this is no scent for Waspy brokers who want to exude the prolonged latheriness of a morning shower-blast topped with a hundred grooming products à la Bret Easton Ellis heroes. On the contrary, this is very à la française, a scent for men the old style. Not caricatures of manufactured virility, you comprehend, but men who breathe and live and wear T-shits or wife-beater vests with a little humidity on their chest hair; a little overbearing or even narcissitic at times but passionate and sincere nonetheless. The idiosyncratic bitter citrusy elements (bergamot and bitter orange) and the green artemisia recall the comparable treatment Ellena reserved for his lustruous bitter-orange and limes themed Cologne Bigarade and Bigarade Concentrée for the Frédéric Malle line. But the real coup de grace comes in the guise of another exotic spice, cardamom, which makes me envision a slightly cocky chap in pressed chinos enjoying his aromatized inky tea taken in long, sensuous sips while checking the atractive passerbys.
This is Ellena's nod to Bulgari's tea-themed creations he authored previously, Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (1992) and Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert Extrême (1996). What is left is the ambience of a lasting warmth, not rendered easily by laundry musks but fanned out on dry, luxurious, slightly smoky woods, which manage to not obscure the composition but play upon light and shadow like a black & white photograph of a compelling and charismatic French actor.

The bottle reprises the watch mechanism of Cartier watches' winding section with its cap (You have to pull the little metal holder down to let the sprayer free, just like releasing the security of a watch winder). The glass part looks as if two parts of a whole have been cut and re-assembled at an angle creating a small heart on the shoulders if looked from above, which gives a playful and even eerily girly vibe (and which bodes well with the unisex concept).

Notes for Déclaration by Cartier
Top: bergamot, bitter orange, birchwood
Middle: cardamom, wormwood, juniper wood, artemesia
Bottom: vetiver, oakmoss, cedarwood

Déclaration by Cartier is available at major department stores around the world.

Two flankers exist, both created by Jean Claude Ellena: L'essence de Déclaration (2001), a minimally different version on the original with the addition of rosewood, immortelle, a little amber and a lightening up of the slightly medicinal aspects of the original, encased in the same design bottle in teal glass; and Déclaration Bois Bleu (limited edition in 2001), which is a "fresher" interpretation in a light blue bottle (which to me is usually foreboding of "sporty" things for people not into sports, really). For the latter Chandler Burr commented: "This one is PG-13, but that simply means the cuminic body odor is gone (some will miss it; more will not). Its personality has been smoothed and calmed and de-Frenchified". Personally I'd rather have the original, as I feel the aquatic addition skews it in a direction I am not sure I'd want to stalk.
There is also Déclaration Eau Genereuse (a Limited edition from 2003), of which "generous water" the concept of is reportedly a re-working in Eau de Cologne style.
Cartier went on and produced Roadster for men recently. Which is pretty nice, but no match for the strange allure of Déclaration, despite aiming at roughly the same demographic.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Jean Claude Ellena scents and opinions, Masculine fragrances.

Pics via Couleur parfum and Parfum de pub. Vincent Cassel photographed by Vincent Peters.


  1. Hello, dear E -- I can only agree with all of your effusive comments about Déclaration of Cartier. It is truly a masterpiece, and, as you say, an homage to Eau d'Hermès, but with its own personality, its own modern flare.

    It occurred to me this morning that now might be a good time to stock up on it, given rumblings about possible restrictions to be placed on Iso E Super.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between this work as progenitor, and Ellena's subsequent Cologne Bigarade and Terre D'Hermès.

  2. Thank you E. for the wonderful review! My passion for this scent is beyond words - I cannot even explain how perfect it is in every way. Wearable without being boring, animalic without being offensive...the very definition of "your skin but better".

    It honestly took me a long time to appreciate Declaration, but now that I understand it and the influence it had, I could never be without it. I look forward to the day where I encounter a woman wearing it...hasn't happened yet, but I know it will!

  3. I enjoy this one too, per your recommendation, though it's mostly citrus on me. I can only blame anosmia.

  4. I've been waiting for ages for you to review this one. Thanks! Even though I think your observations about the masculine qualities of Declaration are right on the money, I don't find it to be too butch for me. The animalic quality is much cleaner and more restrained than in some of the women's scents I wear, such as Bal a Versaille; and it tends to fade away in any case, leaving that wonderful moss and woods aura. I would love to sniff the flankers, although it's hard to imagine they improve on the original.

    Now I have to go hunt up my sample of Bigarade Concentree...

  5. This is a deliciousness.
    I went through one of those humungous bottles one summer.

    Vincent- I can't look at that poor man, without shudders of 'Birthday Girl' and 'Eastern Promises', LOL.
    He's great when he's DARK.

  6. Michelyn15:14

    over the past few years when unisex fragrances have been the craze, I believe the art of the masculine has been lost or mia. Thank you for this wonderful review of a much underrated and brilliant fragrance-- an iconic masculine.

  7. J,

    thanks for chimming in. Isn't this unjustly unsung? I thought we might give it a little boost before it gets re-jingled as you so succinctly mention (it is something to fear, that and POivre Samarkand too! And many others, alas).

    I will probably satisfy your intriguing "curiosity" on that spawn ;-)

  8. D,

    thank you for your compliment and for finally giving me the nudge to get down and write it in the first place!! It has been on my mind for years and I always planned to do a proper review, but postponed it.
    You have excellent taste my friend, as you wonderfuly put it it's the perfect aromatic citrus, with just the right touch of a living being; and not a can of disinfectant!

    Oh, and almost forgot ~it's clearer than the day: we should meet! LOL

  9. My pretty Dain,

    how are you? I am flattered you followed my rec. Isn't it excellently bright?
    I think you might be waiting for something more "talkative" to happen when in fact it is quite simple: the base is hazy, lightly smoky woods and that's it. The mastery lies in making this work as a whole without disentigrating into its constituent parts.

  10. M,

    honey I 've been procastinating this for ages! I was unforgivable, espcially as I had mentioned someplace I'd do a review at some point.
    You're correct, although delightfully masculine, it's not too butch (that I reserve for Givenchy Gentleman and Santos by Cartier which I used to ADORE but only on males, not me) and I wear it delightfully as well. It has a very special place in our house :-)

    I think you're nicely put with the original and do try the Bigarade, which is a little more sparse and less spicy.

  11. My I,

    how else can one go through the summer, especially those brutal ones we're having lately?

    Ah, Vincent. A brilliant actor!! Not conventionally pretty, but I can't take my eyes off the screen when he's on. Oh yes, he's fabulous when dark! I remember his troubled character in La Haine most of all (OK, alongside Irreversible, I guess, which is ~let's face it~ a pretty indelible mark on anyone's mind if they've watched it!), but also Le Pacte des Loups where he was aristocratically decadent and quite charming in his evil-ness.

  12. Dear Michelyn,

    thank you so much for stopping by and chimming in, I appreciate it :-)
    You put it succinctly: lost or missing in action. How tragic! And how wonderful it is that some withstood the craziness with elegance and laconic sparseness like this masculine ~to the point!

  13. Great review about the great creation of the great master. I cosider Declaration among the 10 most significant mens scents of all times. It was a shock, revelation when it has appeared. I weared it for a couple of years, but a friend of mine is using it since last century (sounds a bit funny) and doesn t want to change for anything else.

  14. Yes, THIS is a great one, very nice review, like always.. ! :-)
    Greetings to Greece!

  15. Hi E!

    Well I've gone and done it, hubby's been dropping hints that maybe he's not so averse to cologne-wearing after all and so...I hope he likes it!

    If not, the bottle I just ordered will go into my collection. It sounds wonderful.

  16. Mikael08:01

    About the Iso-E Super restriction: I read Octavian's blog entry from last Oct 27th, and in the comments someone mentions a possible restriction of 20% Iso-E Super in the final product. I don't know anything about the reality of the restriction.

    But if it's like that... for example Poivre Samarcande's 70% of Iso-E Super in the perfume composition translates into a much smaller percentage in the final product. If Poivre Samarcande was for example a 10% strength eau de toilette, the percentage of Iso-E Super in the final product would be 7%.

    (For the percentage to go over 20% in the final product, Poivre S. would have to be sold about 30% perfume extrait strength.)

    So to me it doesn't look completely sad. But like I said, I don't have real info about the restriction and percentages, just this blog stuff.

    And thanks for reminding me about Declaration, I've had a sample lying around for a long time, time to dig it out :)

  17. Aromacasa,

    how can I disagree? It seems like both you and your friend know artistry when you see it.

    Thanks for commenting!

  18. Thank you my dearest N!
    Hugs back to you (hope you're having good weather?)

  19. P,

    I am terribly flattered you follow my lead, you know. :-)
    I sincerely hope this proves to be as popular and delightful in your household as it has proven to be in ours ;-)

  20. Mikael,

    thanks for stopping by! This is an interesting and serious matter so let me check my archives and reply later on, please, with more.

  21. Mikael,
    returning to say that your calculation seems based on dilution, when I believe the 70% refers to compound (undiluted essence) which would basically render it impossible to lower and not alter the scent. I think... (if anyone knows better that;s the time to chime in)

  22. Mikael00:18

    Hi again,

    I’ve only seen it written that the *formulation* of Poivre S contains 70% of Iso E Super. I’ve understood that this means that the perfume “base” has 70% of Iso E Super and the rest (30%) is other aromachemicals. And that this base is then diluted with alcohol to make the final juice in the bottle. (In general, approximately 8-12% perfume base and the rest alcohol for an edt strength for example.)

    This is also how the poster "Alex" has understood it in a comment to octavian's post. I'll quote: "I was told that the limitation is 20 percent Iso E Super in a final product (and that means diluted in alcohol), so it is not that bad. When this number reaches 10 percent, we should worry. Terre d'Hermes at 500 grams of iso e super in 1 kilo at let's say EDT 10 percent dilution is only 5 percent iso e in the final product."

    Another thing that supports this in my mind is Poivre Samarcande’s inci-list in the package, which goes like this: “Alcohol, Water, Parfum... etc”. Even though Iso E Super does not have to be listed separately in the ingredient list, it goes inside the word “Parfum”. And if there was 70% of “Parfum” (for example Iso E Super) in the actual juice in the bottle, the inci-list would have to go “Parfum, Alcohol, Water... etc” because the substance that is in the largest quantity in the product has to be listed first. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but that's how it generally goes for any cosmetic etc product in the EU at least.

  23. Hey, thanks for reviewing this scent. It's always nice to see a classic getting some love on the blogs. With the endless new releases, I'm afraid the older gems are in danger of getting lost in the noise.

    I like Essence as much as the original, but I'm an immortelle fiend, and it's a wee bit less sweaty on me. But that's just me. :)

  24. The way you put it now Mikael it does make sense and sounds more hopeful than one would dare wish for. (compound is what you call "base" above) I sincerely hope you're right.

    I am awaiting official corooboration on the Iso-E Super restrictions and re-arrangements and if anything transpires I will be sure to post it for anyone's sake.

  25. Thank you March for saying so :-)
    It's rather confusing trying to keep up with an endless tsunami of new releases, isn't it? You know it as well as I do. "Noise" is a very apt description.

    I quite like Essence, although I am perfectly satisfied with the original It's the BB which I find a little different, more diluted than I am comfortable with. The Essence has a perfect colour hue, doesn't it? (Love that shade)

    For all it's worth and not directed at you but in general, I think that the cumin=sweat equation is a little far-fetched, to me. I cook with cumin, eat cumin, buy cumin all the time and I associate it with meatballs, not sweat per se, LOL! Or else I am parading around with seriously stinky body odour, LOL!!!

  26. Anonymous13:27

    Wild speculation: I wonder whether Americans are relatively uncomfortable with cumin because we don't use it in much native cooking and so "sweat" is the closest association we can come up with, even though it doesn't really smell like sweat? I'm not sure I'm explaining myself very well. We (as a culture, huge generalization!) don't eat highly spiced foods. So: in theory we know what a rose smells like, or leather, but spices like cumin can really stick out. And don't forget the American obsession with smelling clean. :)

    (I'll now skip the urge to defend myself as a lover of highly spiced ethnic foods and my lack of bathing obsession... I kind of like the smell of sweat.)

  27. Helg, that was me hitting the wrong button before I put my name in, sorry!

  28. March,

    that's a pretty good theory you have there!
    It shouldn't be very far off the truth, although as you say there are subdivisions within the US where people are well familiar with spices (I am thinking cajun cuisine etc.)
    Sometimes I think it's also the fact that someone said it once, people picked it up and it stuck and is repeated ad infinitum. I see this happening from time to time with various things in Scentalkinstan, so why not that too? ;-)

    And I agree with you that sometimes there is a pleasant side to sweat ~I assume we both mean the fresh kind, the one a clean body exudes when working out/sunbathing etc.

    Now, another theory as I know you're also a good cook: Perhaps people who appreciate spicy scents or scents with a little less "clean" aspects are also people into food? Food is sensuous and perfume is sensuous and people who enjoy one are more likely to appreciate the other. I know I'm one, so I am taking counts. What do you think?

  29. Yes, there's sweat and then there's sweat ;-) Teenage boys often smell terrible (must be hormonal?) and locker rooms can reek, but there must be some other component at work there (bacteria?) Very different from a good clean workout or postcoital sweat. Sweat is sexy.

    Your food point is interesting from a cause/effect perspective. Do sensualists embrace both food and perfume smells? Does the exposure to a variety of smells in food decrease your perfume inhibitions, or vice versa?

    So.... I think you are correct about food and perfume. It is hard to picture a timid eater being an adventurous perfume fan.

  30. M,

    perhaps teenage boys develop an aversion to soap at some point? They seem reluctant to drag a comb in their hair so I am assuming that all those rituals might seem like a complete waste of time or energy to them or something imposed from their elders, therefore a prime target for opposing (bath time is such a personal time). Then again there is the sudden surge of hormones, true enough!
    Yup, sweat can be sexy, definitely, under the right circumstances.

    Re: perfume and food. There is the self-discipline self-deprivation camp that to me seems to consider perfume a luxury and food more of sustenance than delight (I always think they're missing out on so much, but my opinion is not relevant to them, so OK, what can I do!), therefore they don't pay too much attention to either. They can sustain themselves on boiled meat and lettuce or lack of perfume.
    Or alternatively in their ever increasing search for the wholesome and the "core" substance they come to think of anything that is not essential as frivolous? I am going on a limp here trying to decipher what might be going on in someone's mind ~but perhaps they can appreciate something that smells "clean" as something of a deodoriser much as they think of a glass of milk as preferable to -say- a sauce bernaise with their meat in terms of nutrition value.
    On the other hand so many people who are experimental with their food, seem to be experimental with their perfumes too. If not embracing the very exotic, at least willing to try out for themselves and see! That's always a promise to the path of more nuanced scents.

  31. I bought a bottle of Declaration on the basis of this review and I've not been disappointed. In fact I've never had this kind of immediate and unreserved love for a scent before. I almost want to buy a stock of bottles so I have enough to weather a lifetime of unfortunate reformulations. On me it smells warm, full of cumin and salt and so much like my own skin but amplified and delicious. On my (male) partner it smells sweet! I don't understand the cultural cringe around body odour, especially sweat, the most honest of secretions. If this makes me smell like a hard working immigrant then so much the better- it helps me tap into my roots without having to develop blisters in the process :) Thank you so much for bringing this experience to my attention.

  32. Gorgonzola,

    absolutely thrilled with your comment! Thank you for taking the time to post it.
    And of course I agree with everything you have to say :-) Delicious is the word!!


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