XIII – La Treizième Heure is both Mathilde Laurent's favorite and mine, and the question it sets out to solve could be this one: how do you translate the very essence of perfume, its historical and etymological origin, smoke, without resorting to “archeological” materials (as, say, Serge Lutens did with incense in Serge Noire)?
Several materials express smokiness and/or “burnt-ness”: vanilla has a smoky facet; so do black tea, eugenol (clove buds, lilies) and licorice; in fact, anything that smells phenolic (coal tar) or cresylic (birch tar, whiskey).
In La Treizième Heure, Mathilde Laurent has bridged the gap between vanilla-smokiness and leather-smokiness with yerba maté, itself a smoky/phenolic note; the black tea effect is topped off by bergamot (familiarly associated with Earl Grey tea).
Bergamot, vanilla and leather? Add hay and balsamic notes, and you’ve got Shalimar, a scent Mathilde Laurent knows inside out since she authored Shalimar Eau Légère (and weighed the materials of vats and vats of the original).
Like Annick Menardo’s Bulgari Black, La Treizième Heure could well be a post-modern spawn of Guerlain’s iconic perfume. But instead of filling out the heart with coumarin and sweetening the base with balsam, Mathilde has pinned her carrousel of smoky-burnt notes onto the dazzlingly complex scent of Monique Rémy’s narcissus absolute. Like coumarin, narcissus absolute presents tobacco-hay facets, along with a “horsy” aroma; but it also gives off an aqueous green smell that gives the smoky Treizième Heure an oddly icy heart (at that point, the combination of coldness and leather conjures the smell of a watch: the wristband and the metallic timepiece— of course, this is Cartier).
As the scent wears on, though, a lactonic jasmine-gardenia effect pierces through the smoke screen. Apparently, it isn’t intentional, though Mathilde confirmed she smelled it on my arm. She suggested it might be my moisturizer: but when I wore La Treizième Heure the next day on un-moisturized skin, the lovely though uninvited gardenia popped up again...
This unexpected shape-shifting somehow suits a scent named after an unlucky number and a non-existent hour, built around a flower intimately tied to the netherworld in Greek mythology… After all, narcissus was born of the metamorphosis of a beautiful youth so in love with his own reflection that he drowned in it. And it was lured by its sweet smell that the goddess Korê fell into Hades’ trap, and was swept by the enamored god into the abode of the dead… La Treizième Heure’s secret name could be Persephone.
I’ll wear it on Fridays.
Mathilde’s comments: “Narcissus fascinates me with its green, aqueous freshness, like the dew on a field at dawn. Yet at the same time, it smells of cut hay and leather. It is a perfume in and of itself. But there isn’t any deliberate floral effect here: it is a work on the “fire spices”, on everything that summons the idea of smoke and combustion, all the derivatives of eugenol. I’ve always been fascinated by smoke: the very origin of perfume is smoke, isn’t it?”
Mathilde Laurent will answer readers' questions on Elisabeth de Feydeau's blog. This is a great initiative and I can't encourage you enough to take advantage of it! Just click on the link.
Image drawn from Andy Julia's "Carmilla" series.