jeudi 8 octobre 2009

Les Heures du Parfum by Cartier: Through the Looking Glass with Mathilde Laurent (Part II)

I spent several days with Les Heures du Parfum before even beginning to form an opinion. The five scents escape classification. They are cerebral, strictly non-gendered and non-floral; though one alludes to a perfume family – citrus – none could be said to belong to the classic genres. Each scent is the careful deconstruction and re-assembly of an olfactory idea: this is especially perceptible when smelled in slow motion on a strip. Mathilde Laurent calls this “un éclatement de la matière”, “a breaking-up of matter”, and compares the effect to looking at a painting by Sisley: stick your nose on it and you’ll just see tiny brushstrokes. Back up and you’ll get the picture.

But perfumers often quote artists who are actually a lot less modern than them – I am thinking in particularly of Jean-Claude Ellena referring to Cézanne’s watercolors. When I point this out to Mathilde, she agrees. To me, what she is doing in Les Heures du Parfum brings to mind the late French Pop artist Alain Jacquet. For instance, in his best-known work – a variation on Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe – he photographs the scene, re-enacted by real people, prints out the resulting photograph like a movie poster, then amplifies the dotted pattern effect of the photomechanical print, thus revealing the irregular shapes of the dots. The perception of the picture depends on the distance at which the viewer is placed: zoom in, and the picture dissolves in an abstract shimmer of irregular, variously colored dots. Zoom out, and you perceive the image.

There is a similar play on distance – in the field of olfaction, as we say the field of vision – in Les Heures. Take VI – L’Heure Brillante (“the Bright Hour”). At first, it comes off as a very green citrus: amiable, bright and pleasant, as citrus scents tend to be. Follow its evolution and it becomes a carousel of things that say “green” and “citrus” in every possible pitch: lime, petitgrain, verbena, citronella, cut grass… Galbanum pops up, then green bean. Two bits of an unripe fig – the top note and the “coconut” note – are struggling to join up but don’t, because the milky note need to make a fig has been left out. There’s even a drop of gin in there, and after a while, you can make out some iris and orange blossom. The whole set is precision-assembled so that you never lose sight of the idea of “green lemon-ness”

Mathilde’s comment: “I wanted to create a wet, raspy effect. I took every material that could evoke lemon in every state – when you grate it, zest it, press it, drink it… All the things you smell are part of the smell of green lemon. It’s all there in the bottle, every facet.”

X – L’Heure Folle (“the Mad Hour”) presents itself as a red, white and blue fruit cocktail. It should logically send me screaming for cover and in fact, it was the last one I tried on my skin. And I found that I could live with it; that I even liked it quite a lot.

L’Heure Folle isn’t the usual shampoo fruity; nor is it one of those pastry-shop berries going for Lolita sexiness by smothering themselves in patchouli, amber and ethyl maltol.

No, this is a raspberry on the bush, complete with leaves, brambles, soil; the unripe and the overripe that’s fallen on the ground, with a winey whiff of bruised apple, riding on a burst of aldehydes. Stunningly realistic and fresh, yet abstract.

Mathilde’s comment: “I hate fruity perfumes. I find them anti-sexy. But I like to work on things I don’t like, to bring out a different aspect of it. For my version of the tutti-frutti, I went for leaves, everything that’s green and on a bush. I wanted fruit that hurt the teeth a little. This is the memory of berries. It’s nature as I love it. I only eat raspberries straight off the bush in my grand-father’s garden, including the unripe ones. In a way, L’Heure Folle is a successor of Mûre et Musc.”

For Part I of "Through the Looking Glass", click here.

In the next post: Reviews of I – L’Heure Promise, XII – L’Heure Mystérieuse and XIII.

Image: "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe" by Alain Jacquet (1964).

8 commentaires:

  1. That thumping sound you hear is me banging my head against my desk in frustration because I can't smell these RIGHT NOW. Did you say when these are being released here? And who will have them?

  2. The line sounds very interesting. It seems that a great care has been put in the conceivement and development of every juice.
    Are they also a joy to wear?
    Can't wait for part three...
    As the clock ticks, the most interesting hours approach...

  3. Amy: they're coming out in November and they'll be in 35 Cartier boutiques around the world, but I think they'll be in some US high-end dept store.. Not sure which.

  4. Zazie, it is, and they are, but they're actually not joyful, more intellectual in their sensuousness.

  5. How does L’Heure Brillante compare to, say, Eau de Cologne by Chanel (my baseline lemon scent)? Any word on lasting power (I'm not hoping for miracles...)

  6. Billy, I love the Chanel EDC too (it's the only cologne I wear), but this isn't edc, more a real perfume, and it's significantly greener, less gauzy soft. Also, it has fairly good lasting power for a citrus scent.

  7. What a fabulous series! Thank you for all the time and thoughtful writing you've put into it. I've really enjoyed these first two installments and am looking forward to the rest.

  8. Angela, thank *you*.

    It's been exciting meeting Mathilde and we plan to meet again soon.

    It's actually the first time I get the "Clement Greenberg meeting Jackson Pollock" feeling from an encounter with a perfumer: i.e. the first time I've felt like a proper "art" critic discussing an artist's work with her. And my art critic friends are really encouraging me to pursue this line: they call it "the extension of the field of criticism".

    Now I hope I haven't put off too many people by making these seem overly intellectual. Over on the French side, they're freaking out a bit.
    I mean, they smell good too!