Monday, July 25, 2011

Cartier Baiser Vole: fragrance review

“There is no lily oil or lily absolute,” says perfumer Mathilde Laurent, who wanted to introduce a floral scent in Cartier’s fragrance collection, a propos Baiser Volé, the jewellery brand's latest feminine fragrance launch. The name means "Stolen Kiss" reminiscing such romantic images as Fragonard's painting or Truffaut's film. “But I didn’t want it to be the 1,001st floral floriental, and I didn’t want to add a new floral composition.” Instead, Laurent likened wearing Baiser Volé to having on a necklace of lilies!

In Baiser Volé, in-house Cartier perfumer Mathilde Laurent explores the nature of lily three-ways (the leaves, the petals and the pistil) in a fresh powdery floral context and ends up with a surreal lily that isn't really about flowers, nor does it smell particularly spot-on "floral", but about the flowery nature of woman herself: opening up, "blooming", receiving, being at once pure and a little bit disorienting.

Laurent began by asking what smell men found enticing in a womanly way, to which the (fit to print, at least) prominent reply seemed to be "the lily". Colour me sceptical; isn't lily a symbol for purity and the need for cleansing? Maybe men are really leaning more onto the Madonna rather than the whore juxtaposition? Maybe they're asking them from a pre-arranged multiple-choice sheet?
At any rate, thus equiped, Laurent embarked on her 2-year long quest into fitting this stunning flower into a composition that would light up the room just lilies they do, without it being cliché, or surupy sweet, or headache-inducing cloying. If you are looking for the most realistic lily scent recreation, you might stop reading right now or read our article on Lily scent and lily flower types in perfumery; Baiser Volé doesn't even aim at that. But if you like fresh powdery scents, you might want to at least sample; it's very likeable.

The vegetal quality of the fragrance presents itself in an odd game of salicylates, solar notes which boom on the skin, a balance of bitter and sweet with a hint of citrus: The treatment, air-spun, meringue-like, delicate, is not unlike the one that perfumer Jean Claude Ellena reserved for the lightening up of vanilla through ylang ylang & lily notes in his fluffy Vanille Galante for the Hermessences. The vanilla and musks laced drydown in Baiser Volé recalls the sweetness of Un Lys by Serge Lutens, but the context is less poetic, more powdery, in a cosmetic-power-infused, slightly bittersweet way with a small subfacet of spice ~only minimal, a tad clovey; and a hint of violet ionones. It's safe to deduce that Baiser Volé transposes these niche sensibilities, pure, unadulterated exploration of perfumery raw materials's facets, in sleight-of-hand executions, into the mainstream. Compared with other lily fragrances, Baiser Volé stands alone and lacks the gaiac smokiness of real lilies which is reported to give them their "ham" brine-y facet. Cartier's interpretation is nowhere near the dense, ambery tinged radiant ambience of Donna Karan's Gold. Or the faux chypre structure of Ineke's Gilded Lily. Or the spicy corolla of Lily & Spice by Penhaligon's. And whereas Lys Mediterranée is a raspy, roughened salty-savoury lily that appeals to a certain Med sensibility with its hoarsey voice, while remaining irresolutely lily-like, Baiser Volé is smoother, more pliable, less floral, more traditionally womanly in its vanillic powdery kiss, and oddly at once old-fashioned and "clean".

On the other hand, and this is really interesting, Laurent takes no prisoners into embracing the latest trend of reinventing powdery florals for a generation that was afraid of anything powdery signifying "old lady perfume": From Esprit d'Oscar to Love,Chloé, the pink satin feel of ballerina shoes is taking on the sheen of flou through dusty, dry notes reminiscent of violets, talcum powder and sweet musks (if you're thinking of Lovely, by Sarah Jessica Parker, with an added dose of powderiness, you're not too far off); especially since this is a medium sillage fragrance, projecting politely while lasting power is good. Maybe it's code for "classy" or "different" in the milieu of hundreds of sweet things on the market. Maybe the generation who loved Flower by Kenzo and Cashmere Mist by Donna Karan have moved onto other things by now, leaving a void to be filled with new consuemers. The freshly powdery effect needs a true best-seller to shoot off as the new "craziness" in perfume (after "pink chypres" , fruitchoulis, and ethylmaltol-based ~aka cotton-candy smelling~ gourmands) and it remains to be seen just which fragrance that might be: Even though the concept and smell might be right for Cartier, I think we're dealing with a confusing name for Anglos: kissing the rodent seems to be many people's gut response, which might shoot the project in the foot (who can forget Rochas Poupée?).

Mathilde Laurent has been at jewellers Cartier since 2005 and she had been busy concocting Les Heures du Parfum, a series of niche-smelling fragrances sold exclusively at Cartier boutiques. Baiser Volé is the brand's first major feminine fragrance launch since Le Baiser du Dragon oriental in 2003 (Cartier de Lune of early 2011 not withstanding) and contrasted with the best-selling masculine claration, which garners more than 60% of all Cartier's fragrance sales, this Baiser is set to be a serious bet on the part of the company; a recent Women's Wear Daily article tagged it as being intended as the scent pillar in the brand's feminine portfolio.It's definitely geared towards "a younger consumer", though like Robin I am at a loss on just how old the Cartier demographic really is to begin with.

The bottle of Baiser Volé is based on a stylised lighter design, for which the house is famous: In the 1970s there was no chicer way to light up (even today Cartier-embossed cigarettes are still produced in a small quantity in Europe), giving rise to the Les Must de Cartier, a boutique line from which Must perfume arose. Cartier Baiser Volé is available in Eau de Parfum (priced between $75-$145), also presented in matching Shower Gel and Body Lotion ($55 each) and deo spray, and is currently a Nordstrom Anniversary exclusive, but it will be available at major department stores in September 2011.

artwork via lunarki blog


  1. dleep17:09

    Sniffed this at Nordie's a few weeks ago. Love it and wish it wasn't so pricey.

  2. Anonymous13:53

    So I assume you like it since you wrote such a lengthy review of it, right? lol, I ask because I often buy unsniffed based on your recs and wouldn't want to be mistaken.
    Great description, thanks, so it's not exactly floral, not exactly a woody, but it's powdery, hey, that's interesting.


  3. I don't think most Anglos (or at least Americans) have ever heard of the rodent vole, so Cartier is probably safe in that regard. I sniffed this one last week and thought it was the nicest mainstream fragrance I've sampled in quite a while. Not exciting, maybe, but pretty.

  4. Dleep,

    an interesting observation: This is considered "pricey"! I heard this from others as well.

    Oddly enough, almost all perfumes from almost all brands (high end, designer stuff etc) are in the 70$ range ball-park here. I wonder whether that will play a role on how well the scent will be commercially received stateside and in Europe; it would be fascinating to watch.

    It's very pretty, I concur!

  5. Aline,

    LOL, thank you! I mean that it's not a woody floral in the ways that woody florals have been advertised: it's more powdery than either. I recall you did well with powdery, isn't it? I think you might like it actually, though I always caution against unsniffed purchases.

  6. Amy,

    that's good to know! I heard some people complain about the term and I immediately thought of Poupee. ;-P

    It's very very pretty and well-crafted, agreed, and I think many would like it. It's in the ilk of Love,Chloe, only it's smoother, less synthetic-feeling if you will.

  7. I will definitely give this one a try because I like powdery, and it is nice to have a clean, easy scent to spray on. I disagree about Americans not knowing about voles as they are quite common in the southeastern US. Maybe they aren't so prevalent in other areas?I am doing battle with them in my yard right now!

  8. Anonymous20:42

    A Cartier perfume inspired by Delphine Seyrig playing an adulterous parisian bourgeoise in Baisers Voles by Francois Truffaut would have been more interesting ;-))

    "Je ne suis pas une apparition, Je suis une femme!"


  9. Kathy,

    good to know that it's a true thing (the association I mean for Americans) and it's regional centered on top of that. The US is such a vast country, I'm always amazed there's something that could be perceived by all in the same way.

    Having said that, this new Cartier is one of the more likeable mainstream releases in the last years. A bit of optimism.

  10. Emma,

    thanks for sharing your thoughts! I assume you have tried it?

    In my humble opinion, the concept of "femme" has gone to the barracks and never come back. Who today stands as a "femme" role model for girls, before we begin asking of it to be represented in perfumes? I am scratching my head to think of one and can't really find one. There's so much emphasis on youth and youth-denoting characteristics in today's culture that the natural maturity (and I don't mean in biological years) that is necessitated for one to be a "woman" is forgotten and eventually perishes. People continue to act like children till a quite advanced age, I notice! This is not always a good thing, even though it can be cute occasionally. Growing up means taking responsibility and how functional can a society be when no one takes reponsibility for anything? Anyway, not to make it a diatribe, you will tell me if you agree or not; you have a way of presenting an interesting viewpoint.

    But I do wish that Truffaut's universe was serving as an inspiration for perfumery! I fear that rather few people are interested in Truffaut to begin with and less so for an international release that despite Laurent's name on it it's still aimed for wider audiences than us fanatics. ;-)

  11. Anonymous14:30

    You're absolutely right, I see it all the time. Female models are all russian eatern european teenage girls, when they reach 20 something they seek to marry well and the unlucky ones end up on escort websites. On the other hand it's not uncommon to see agencies hire male models in their 30s and even in their 40s.
    Women and not just men don't want to see mature women in the media. There is a fear about that, probably because older women are traditionally considered worthless at all levels by society.
    Many men in their 40s have often told me they get hit on by 25 yr old girls all the time, beautiful young women who have no problem whatsoever dating a man who's twice their age if he's attractive and well-off.


  12. Emma,

    true, and simple observation confirms your sayings, alas. There is so much pressure on exchnaging youth and beauty with something more "tangible" and "lasting" while one has it going for them still...And in so many cases, that doesn't happen.

    But beyond just youthful beauty (not an unreasonable "ideal", as something to admire if not necessarily aspire to at any age), I think it's the divesting of mature ways that has transformed the society completely in the last couple/triple of decades.
    Traditionally women were viewed as more valuable as breeding stock and therefore younger than their husbands was considered absolutely normal. It was also considered normal to expect a wealthier companion in a man, because they expected to be supported by them and for them to be the "carrier" in the family, things that changed with the feminine "revolution".
    But the thing is...those young women didn't emulate their daughters! Or their younger sisters. They aspired to appear mature! Grown up, while still young in years.
    When I see pictures from the 1960s, an era I didn't live in myself, I'm impressed how there is a streamlined look to everyone: they look composed, grown up, put together, like they know what they're doing. You know?

  13. Of course the North Americans who have to deal with those pesky voles have heard of them. I'd still guess that it's less than 10% of the women who might consider buying this perfume. It's not like naming it Baiser Skunkeé, anyway.

  14. A,

    cute turn of phrase that'd be! :D

  15. Capucine20:42

    Although Cartier had already begun the path to the "new bright, clean" perfumery before the release of De Lune, I agree that is one big bet to rely on Baiser Vole (which I find actually delicious, by the way).
    Why? Simple: it is a very expensive perfume, lily is usually not a favourite among the category of white flowers, and "green" (not to mention the powdery) either!
    Hopefully this will be really appreciated.

  16. Anonymous03:24

    Yes it is vegital and an amazing flowerly fragrance. I have loved two bottles of Eau de Cartier, a wonderful perfume. I was looking for something new so tried Cartier Baise Vole a few weeks ago...I always test fragrances first and found to my disappointment the after fragrance (after say 5 minutes) was nothing like the original just after spraying it just was a rather smelly odor..which I had to take off with dawn dishwasher detergent. I think it is the fixative which was used..does not smell like a good french perfume. I tried this perfume again today on my wrist to see if I had been mistaken about the fragrance changing to something unpleasant..unfortunately found that I had to wash it off again. (loved it at first, but the fragrance fades quickly and becomes something quite different) disappointing! So I am still looking for an amazing new French perfume! (so disappointed that this Cartier does not stay nice on the wrist)

  17. Capucine,

    good reasoning, thanks! I do hope that this launch stays the course, as it's a very well crafted mainstream. Not as avant-garde as one might expect but we need to think that it tries to appeal to more people than an exclusive release. It's doubtful though if the public is already ripe for that sort of thing. I can hear them in my mind protesting on some or other of the aspects you point out.
    I do like it myself!

  18. Anon,

    thanks for commenting! Eau de Cartier is a lovely choice, I think they nailed it with that one. It's so easy to wear anywhere, anytime. And it's elegant, subtle, fresh but not harsh.

    Now, Baiser Vole. Well, as you say the initial hit of lily floral note is amazing. I can see how the powder in the drydown phase might create a negative feeling, as the lily isn't retained. Might be a version of musks you object to, these can give a "too mainstream", too "common" scent sometimes (common through overexposure to them).
    There is a way to extend the top notes of something you love though: spray your clothes! (or any piece of fabric). They retain the top notes for a long, long time and the final stage is subtler and less "in your face".
    Good luck on finding a new favourite at any rate!

  19. Anonymous14:22

    Heady perfume reminiscent of lilies ... wonderful.

  20. Anonymous23:19

    I found this scent on the cruise ship last month and really liked it but wasn't ready to commit to it since I wear perfume so rarely now. As an older lady (what is their target "younger" demographic for this anyway?) with four kids, I found the scent to be soft and lingering, the powdery effect some people have referred to here ... very attractive when you don't want your perfume to scream. going to have to pay the full ticket for it now.


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