Some fragrances have an uncanny rightness to them – in French, I would use the word “justesse”, which conveys at once a sense of accuracy and of suitability. Perhaps it is purely a matter personal feeling; perhaps not. At least, it was Mathilde Laurent’s deliberate intention to build L’Heure Fougueuse (number IV in Cartier’s Les Heures de Parfum collection), around an olfactory archetype, just as she’d done in La Treizième Heure.
The latter was a work on smoke, possibly one of the oldest smells known to mankind. The former is a tribute to mankind’s noblest conquest, the horse. L’Heure Fougueuse, which mean the fiery, impetuous or spirited hour, is a setting for a base Mathilde Laurent calls “l’accord crinière”, the “mane accord”: a simple formula as sure-handedly traced as a Paleolithic cave painting.
You’d be forgiven, though, if you didn’t get a whiff from the stables when you first smell L’Heure Fougueuse. The bergamot and maté top notes give off a distinct tea effect, whose tannic raspiness is compounded by the bitterness of Evernyl (the main component of oak moss, synthesized). Maté is, of course, a type of tea with herbaceous, tobacco and hay facets (the stables aren’t that far after all), which Mathilde now uses as a substitute to oak moss in chypre structures. The tea illusion is reinforced by the use of the fresh, powerfully radiant Karismal, a material related to Hedione, itself a natural component of jasmine and tea (it was used by Jean-Claude Ellena, along with ionones, to conjure jasmine tea in Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert). The citrus and floral facets of Karismal combine with vanillin to create a tender, transparent, magnolia effect that softens the almost tactile tannic raspiness.
Karismal and maté were both prominent in the formula of La Treizième Heure, and you could also read L’Heure Fougueuse as a tamer, daytime alternative to it. But whereas XIII pulls its leather accord towards the burnt spectrum, this Fourth Hour (for the horse's four legs) plays on the soft warmth of “living” leather.
The horsy accord kicks in as a whiff of something funky and a little hay-like with the saddle thrown in – that horse-sweat facet you get from narcissus absolute or some qualities of jasmine --, as though carried by the wind. But it's hard to tell whether this slight animalic funk is given off by the mount or the rider: its slightly cuminic tinge conjures human sweat – not the pungent blast you catch in the subway during summer evening rush hours, but rather that faint reminiscence of a human presence unlaundered vintage clothing gives off when you iron it.
And this is where L’Heure Fougueuse achieves its “rightness”: the sensation of being haloed in a scent that somehow manages to slip under any specific male or female persona to convey a feeling of humanness in all its animal glory – as I wrote in my preview of the new Heures de Parfum, the first times I wore L’Heure Fougueuse, I kept instinctively swiveling my head to find out whose smell was so compelling (rather than who was wearing such a lovely fragrance)…
By conjuring this non-gendered aura, but also through its fresh chypre structure, L’Heure Fougueuse also achieves one of Mathilde Laurent’s stated goals: to pay tribute to Edmond Roudnitska’s Eau Sauvage, the ultimate his-and-hers fragrance – though it was marketed to men, Mr. Roudnitska admitted he’d hoped all along women would filch it, and they did in droves… And thus, the impetuousness of “Fougueuse” answers the wildness of “Sauvage”, despite the fact that neither is a particularly fiery scent. On the contrary, what draws them together is their impeccable sense of balance.
If it weren’t for its rather punishing price point – which means I must make do with the decant provided by Cartier for this review --, L’Heure Fougueuse would be the fragrance I turn to when I just want to be myself: the chord it strikes somehow makes me feel more centered, and oddly free of any need for adornment. It doesn’t speak for me, and it doesn’t even speak of me: it feels like home without recalling any home in particular. Perhaps in another, mythical life, I was a centaur.
Which may well mean that Mathilde Laurent has succeeded in transcribing an olfactory archetype, something that is literally encoded in our genes.
The three new Heures de Parfum will be available in November.
For another take on IV – L’Heure Fougueuse, those of you who read French can click here for Ambre Gris’ review – as we discovered the fragrances at the same time, we decided to post on them simultaneously, without comparing notes.
Stay tuned Thursday for a review of VII – L’Heure Défendue.
Picture: The “Chinese Horses” of the Lascaux Grotto (Upper Paleolithic era).