Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mathilde Laurent Responds to Perfume Shrine's Questions (& a little on Cartier Les Heures du Parfum)

Most of you are familiar with Mathilde Laurent through her early work at Guerlain, when as a young graduate of ISIPCA, under the aegis of Jean Paul Guerlain she created her modern epics, faithful to the patrimony of papa Jacques: Her Guet Apens (later re-issued as Attrape Coeur, the whole entangled story can be read on this link) is one of the most celebrated "new Guerlains" among cognoscenti, in the degree that it reflects a true Guerlain character, yet is resolutely of its own era.

Her Shalimar Eau Légère, reviewed and cherised on these pages, is another one which takes the best of tradition and injects it with the saturated hues and bold lines of a contemporary Francis Bacon painting. Like her artistic idol Camille Claudel ~as divulged to Marian Bendeth on a Basenotes project last year~ Mathilde appreciates modernity coupled with sensitivity and creativity.
Pamplelune with its sunny grapefruit side is, surprisingly enough for its daring sulfurous mien, still a Guerlain best-seller and one of two Aqua Allegorias (a sub-line in the Guerlain portfolio with lighter, less complex scents) which has remained in production ever since introduction of the line, the other being Herba Fresca with its surprising take on mint. (Her other creations in the Aqua Allegoria line included Ylang et Vanille and Rosa Magnifica) At some point, Mathilde Laurent left Guerlain to spread her wings unto greener pastures, including a brief stint at jeweler André Gas in 2006 (for the Polynesian tropical scent Ensoleille-Moi) and the current in-house perfumer position at the venerable Cartier headquarters, where she is composing bespoke scents (Sources place the price for juice to last 3-5 years up to 60,000 euros or $75,500). Her masculine, (again) mint-ladden Roadster for the mainstream jewellery house release last year has graced our pages and was considered a successful entry, poised most wisely between commerciability and artistic merit. Mathilde's talent is undisputed, her desire and ambition to compliment the art of perfumery with a decisive and landmarking contribution nevertheless is laudable. For her "perfume is a message, an expression of oneself" and a perfumer is "a sillagiste!"

I took the invitation that Elisa de Feydeau kindly opened for her francophone readers and asked Mathilde a couple of questions which she was most gracious to reply to. For the benefit of our English-speaking readers, here are her answers.

My first question had to do with something I had read in Perfumes, the Guide, a quote by Luca Turin in his Pamplelune review, in which he equated Laurent's turning to bespoke perfumery to "the saddest waste of human talent since Rimbaud decided to study engineering" (If this isn't praise, I don't know what is!). I was wondering whether the foreboding feeling created by this remark in my mind had come to a reversal through the new line Les Heures du Parfum for Cartier (a high-end project more on which below) and whether she was hopeful that the new line would open a dialogue between herself and perfume lovers; those Others beyond the scope of the mega-rich who have the means to order their very own perfume. After all, as revealed by Jean Claude Ellena to us before, custom perfumery runs the risk of inadvertdly "deceiving" the customer.

Mathilde Laurent herself had explained the bespoke process in the past in very clear terms: "Together (with the client), we explore scents associated with meaningful life experiences, from pleasant childhood recollections to a present image the client wishes to project. We transpose the Cartier style, a perfectly studied simplicity, into the scent. Just a few carefully selected high-grade ingredients are blended, so that each essence remains distinctive, not lost in a hazy combination." In the pursuit of good materials, she's relentless: "I look for the truly exceptional, the atypical, the never-before-seen" (The floral extracts used cost about $5,000 per kilogram, or $142 per ounce). "The provenance of the flower, its rarity where it was bred, the manner of extracting its essence, the climatic conditions that year, all are taken into account."
In hindsight Mathilde appreciates Luca Turin's accolades enormously: "He was among the first to support me and encourage me". She terms the bespoke service "a step, a detour in order to get someplace else". "I could never imagine not creating for The Others", she reveals, although she's quick to point out that "bespoke perfumery is for me a wonderful means to be close to those who love and wear perfume and to push the envelope regarding experimentation on new accords, to test and increase one's creativity and one's technique. Bespoke perfumery acts as a complimentary course for me, it nourishes my work on other projects. I hope that Cartier's Les Heures du Parfum will generate a dialogue with people wearing them, since for me perfume is a message that the skin diffuses, I am always interested in expression, perfume is always destined for the Other".

Another issue that is burning perfume lovers and the industry itself with the intensity of a surgical laser is the pressing issue of restrictions on perfumery ingredients. (You can read a recap and personal thoughts with a minimum of emotional sidekicks on this link and on that one). Mathilde Laurent proved to me to be both practical and wise: "Regarding the perfumery materials which are restricted from our palette, I pretend they never existed. Nevertheless, I continue to search for the effect they present, even though it might be considered a tad Utopian; to substitute with other ingredients and combinations. One must always start from scratch and search, search...Having "come of age" at Guerlain however {she started apprenticeship there at the tender age of 23, going to exotic places and learning about ingredients with the very best} I have intimately known all of those precious materials before they were rationed and their effect has most definitely marked me. I do keep them in memory, always!" Hopefully, with creative minds such as Mathilde's, even the parsimonious palette of essences that is left to perfumers can take a new shape and be utilized in a novel syntax that have been left unatttured till now. The future is here and it is brave!
As to her own pleasure, Mathilde has left herself to be seduced by her latest creation for Cartier XIII La Treizième Heure, a smoky leathery composition, even though she declares she never wears perfume on her free time (Her other rare ~she stresses~ indulgunce is Guet Apens). After all, she hopes to instigate a discourse, not a monologue, and I hope she will always succeed in doing that!

Les Heures du Parfum by Cartier are set to be 13 fragrances in the "neo-niche" mold of luxury brands such as Chanel Les Exclusifs, Hermessences, boutique Guerlain scents, Armani Prive, Van Cleef & Arpels etc. (material-oriented compositions, uniform bottles, limited distribution). Cartier touts them as 'one really haute collection of fragrances for connoisseurs' to commemorate . The scents take on Latin numbers instead of names to reflect the digits on the famous Cartier watches, plus a lucky number thirteen in honour of the number of la maison Cartier's first address at 13 Rue de la Paix in Paris. They are to be spaced out in a period of a few years. The first five are coming out this November on the 10th in 35 Cartier boutiques all around the world. Eau de Parfum in 75 ml flacons for 250 dollars (Chayaruchama told me they're already at Saks in New York City, so New Yorkers take note and report back!).

Fragrance Notes for Les Heures du Parfum according to Grain de Musc (who got them straight from the horse's mouth and is enthused):

I – L’Heure Promise (The promised hour): a green iris with petitgrain, fresh herbs, sandalwood and musk.
VI – L’Heure Brillante (The shining hour): a bright aldehydic citrus cocktail with lemon, lime and a gin accord. X – L’Heure Folle (The crazy hour): an aldehydic fruity green with redcurrant, pink pepper, grenadine (pomegranate syrup), blueberry, blackcurrant, blackberry, violet, leafy notes, ivy, boxwood, shiso, polygonum (=knotweed)
XII – L’Heure Mystérieuse (The mysterious hour): a woody floral with jasmine, patchouli, elemi, coriander, incense, olibanum, juniper.
XIII -La Treizième Heure (The 13th hour): a sweet leather with maté tea, birch tar, narcissus, bergamot, patchouli and vanilla.

Portrait of Mathilde Laurent via Basenotes, images4.hiboox.com and luxuryculture, Cartier bottles via punmiris.com


  1. I'm really looking forward to sampling these! I read the reviews on Grain de Musc and really look forward to your take on these.

  2. They ARE at Sak's NYC...
    That's where I got my 13ieme Heure.
    I wanted Mysterieuse, too[ it was friends and family 10% discount]- but no could do.

  3. What a lovely insight!
    I do adore her practical approach-and, to be honest-what else can you do?
    I am mostly interested in 12 but 13is worth a tester strip at least, although normally leathers make me nervous. The addition of vanilla and patchouli could make it one great leather along the lines of Tabac Blonde.

  4. Alexandra16:58

    I`m not sure now. Does restrictions apply on bespoke perfumery as well? How can EU control that?

  5. D,

    I will try to sample them, they look very interesting, I agree.
    No one has rained samples upon me yet, so it will have to be a grind--my-teeth-charade ("No, I am not buying anything THIS time, thanks") and go to the Cartier boutique, but I will eventually do it. :-)

  6. Thanks dear Ida!
    I just confirmed the data :-)

    The Treizieme looks like it's got promise, who can deny it! Noting down your predeliction pour la Douzieme aussi!!

  7. Hi N!

    Yeah, I very much liked that stance on the ingredients too. Instead of bringing on a catastrophe with trumpets from the rooftops, trying to recreate things in alternative ways. After all, like one perfumer friend likes to say the industry "got asleep on the wheel" with those...

    HOpefully they will all be wonderful, I am also curious about the iris one (No, I'm not bored on iris yet)

  8. Alexandra,

    my understanding (and the great problem, really) is that the rationing of ingredients for mass market perfumes results in lowered demand of those ingredients, which in effect means that the producers of those materials are essentially left without a sufficient market for their wares. The lessening ~and increasing lessening~ of their production means that they risk getting out of business altogether at some point!! (No one cultivates a huge farm for just mere drops of essence for one artisanal perfumer who only needs 1 kilo a year).
    So even if there were a desire to utilize "forbidden" ingedients, some perfumers would find themselves unable to procure them!!

    You see, nothing is simple in this life...which is why I was very sceptical with the whole "just stick a label for heaven's sake" tirade. It's not the perfect solution and I really don't know what would be.

  9. Perfumeshrine, XII La Treizieme Heure is indeed exceptional. I couldn't resist this intoxicating perfume hour and bought it on the spot! Reading the notes of this fragrance (tea, pathchouli, narcissus, leather, birch tar) doesn't even come close to the real thing. XIII is an eau de parfum, the longevity very impressive (I can still smell the delicious sillage wafting from my cleavage since this afternoon).

  10. Uella,

    thanks so much on reporting back!! It pleases me enormously to hear that the composition is even more promising than the written notes. It looks like Cartier did a smart move to issue their "neo-niche" lineup and who better to do that than Mathilde? Can't wait to sample these!

  11. Alexandra18:34

    Attrape coeur and Mitsouko are only 2 Guerlains that I really like. I also had Vol de Nuit Evasion for a while (bad lasting power so I gave it away).
    I was very surprised when a bottle of old,discontinued Alain Delon Le Temps D`Aimer arrived today. It is very similar to Attrape coeur (except for the sharp citrus aldehidic start). Very similar! It was created in 1981, 18 years before Guet Apens, and I don`t know who was the nose.

  12. A,

    how very intriguing! Thanks for chimming in!
    Well, it couldn't be ML behind it since she was so very young then (began her career in the 90s), but the "bare bones" of such a composition is really something basic (a dark amber) and I guess the flesh is what makes the nuances stand out. The Delon line is generally well-crafted, so I am not surprised.
    And VdNE is really the EDT version of AC, so I am also not surprised you liked it but found it lacking in lasting power.


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