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The tiny, earthshaking thrill of a stolen kiss implies a transgression of personal or social boundaries; a fleeting taste of the forbidden. But it is volé part of the baiser that has fascinated me here: a purloined letter hidden in plain view, disclosing the imaginary genealogy of the new Cartier and its secret muse…
The name “Baiser Volé” creates a link with Cartier’s 2003 Le Baiser du Dragon. It may also have sprung from the idea that inspired Mathilde Laurent when she was composing the fragrance: armfuls of lilies rubbed against a woman’s skin – between des lys en brassées, “armfuls of lilies”, and des lys embrassés, “lilies embraced” or “kissed”, there is barely the distance of a sigh.
In France, the expression baisers volés immediately conjures the lyrics of Que reste-t-il de nos amours (known in English as I Wish You Love), performed for six decades by one of France’s most beloved entertainers, Charles Trenet. It is this song that provides both the credits music and the title of François Truffaut’s 1968 Baisers volés.
As I was channel-surfing one afternoon I stumbled on Stolen Kisses, in which Antoine Doinel, Truffaut’s alter ego played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, is hired by a detective agency to find out whether the glamorous and mysterious Fabienne Tabard (Delphine Seyrig) has a lover, as her husband suspects. Antoine falls in love with Mme Tabard, and sends his declaration in a telegram. The next day, she appears in his room: “You wrote to me yesterday, and the answer is… me.”
If you’ve taken four minutes to watch this scene, you might have been struck, as I was that afternoon, by the fact that Mme Tabard refers to the two main notes of Baiser Volé, lilies and cosmetics. The first reference pops up as she mentions Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley, the story of an impossible love between a very young man and a married woman, who is explicitly compared in the book to a lily, both for her candid virtue and for her fragrant, white-skinned, full-fleshed beauty... The only carnal contact between these two impossibly chaste lovers is a stolen kiss that lands on Mme de Mortsauf’s shoulders. Coincidentally, the supremely elegant, raspy-voiced Delphine Seyrig would go on to play Mme de Mortsauf in a made-for-TV adaptation of the Balzac novel.
Convinced that this key scene of Stolen Kisses was the secret inspiration for the fragrance, I resolved to ask Mathilde Laurent about it directly. She replied that though of course she’d seen the film, she didn’t remember that particular scene and that besides, the name Baiser Volé had been found quite late into the two-year development. However, she added, it just so happened that she had been thinking of Delphine Seyrig, but in her role as the flighty, coquette Lilac Fairy in Jacques Demy’s musical-comedy adaptation of Perrault’s fairy tale Donkeyskin.
Mathilde even wrote a fairy-tale-style poem for the launch to turn the fairy’s lilacs into lilies… So that in the end, it was indeed Delphine Seyrig who wove a fragrant thread binding Perrault, Balzac, Trenet and Truffaut to that armful of lilies.
But if Baiser Volé has Seyrig as its secret muse, the fragrance itself is not quite as sexily raspy as the cult French actress’s voice. Though it’s probably a ballsy move to launch a lily soliflore in the mainstream, Cartier shied away from the spectacular asperities of the flower.
The lily is a paradox: though its scent is indecently heady, it has come, in the Catholic culture, to symbolize not Mary Magdalene’s sexy adulteress but the Virgin Mary. Baiser Volé attempts to resolve this Virgin/Whore dichotomy by wrapping the lily in a lush, powdery rose-musk cosmetic accord, much like Seyrig’s well-bred French bourgeoise tucks her adulterous secrets and smouldering sensuality under an impeccable demeanour and a proper Chanel suit.
As a result, Baiser Volé could be defined by the excesses it will not admit to. Though it becomes rather peppery in the heart notes, it is neither overtly clove-y/spicy nor smoky/cresolic. It is extremely powerful and long-lasting, but not indolic, and not as heady as, say, Donna Karan Gold. It features vanilla, but plays neither on the cool, watery features of the pod like Hermessence Vanille Galante (which is in many ways a lily), nor on its sweet, balsamic effects like Serge Lutens Un Lys.
The lily itself is most prominent in the opening sequence, when galbanum infuses the scent with split-stem, cool-petal greenness. But the flowers in Baiser Volé have indeed been kissed and rubbed on skin, and some of Fabienne Tabard’s lipstick and powder have rubbed off on them in turn.
There is a true, arrestingly realistic lily aspiring to break out from Baiser Volé, just as Balzac’s and Truffaut’s sensuous upper-class heroines long to break out of their marriages. And like the social boundaries that keep them from straying past a stolen kiss, the mainstream codes keep Baiser Volé’s lily from blooming as fiercely as Mathilde Laurent’s talent and fearlessness could have led us to hope.
As it is, there’s enough vigour in Baiser Volé to make it a lovely, adult commercial proposition, and one that seems to attract male compliments. But I wouldn’t have minded it scrubbing off the makeup and stepping out of its evening gown to show its beauty in all its rawness. After all, “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…”
I like this one, but not enough to purchase a bottle. I get a bit of ashtray in the mid notes - wondering if there's galbanum in it...or perhaps that's the "spices."RépondreSupprimer
Karin, you're spot on, it's the combination of galbanum and jasmine that sometimes gives off a bit of an ashtray note (I get it from many 70s green floral chypres).RépondreSupprimer
I would use my mini of BV for occasions that call for femininity, but not full-out diva mode.
I enjoyed this one, it's one of the best mainstream launches of the past few years. I like Laurent's work in the Heures better, however, I think she was given a freer rein on those, some are quite unique!Sadly, they are mostly impossible to find outside of a couple of major metro areas.RépondreSupprimer
Marla, I like it too though it's not the lily I was dreaming of -- I find the rose-musk drydown a bit metallic. It's still head and shoulders (or petals and pistils) above most of the mainstream offer, though. But I'm waiting for Mathilde to really cut loose on a floral in the Heures...(just wishful thinking, NOT insider info!)RépondreSupprimer
I actually love this and have almost finished the bottle. I wasn't sure it would work for me but it has brought me a lot of positive comments.RépondreSupprimer
Dleep, wow, that's certainly a ringing endorsement! From the times I've worn it I agree it attracts a lot of compliments, not least because it's actually got huge volume, and also because it's definitely not one of those weirdoes people can't even *identify* as perfume... All of it is pretty.RépondreSupprimer
Lily is my favourite floral note and I found this very "affecting" for reasons I couldn't articulate but you just have with the whore/nymph deconstruction! It is the juxtaposition of lily with that powdery rosy musk accord that treads that fine line and hints at hidden raunch. I have read a couple of reviews that spoke of the structure "falling apart" at some point though my nose is far too blunt an instrument to have detected such a thing, and I must say I enjoyed this throughout and may have to seek more of it!RépondreSupprimer
PS I used to love Jean-Pierre Leaud in Truffaut films, but he must be knocking on now...
Vanessa, I think even back in the 80s, which was the last time I saw him in person, Léaud was already, well... a little wonky.RépondreSupprimer
My small gripe at BV is that the cosmetic accord seems like a bit of an add-on to the original idea. You could envision the head of development saying "this needs lipstick!".
Thank you for the lovely review! I bought a FB of this (in haste at the duty-free shop at the airport) and haven't regretted it. I like that it's a lily-scent that is still not so heavy, since those tends to be migraine inducing for me. I'm glad to have found a lily that I can actually wear!RépondreSupprimer
Eva, you're right, lilies can be an olfactorily (is that even a word?) invasive species... Though I do like to have some in my living room, so clearly they're not headache-inducing for me. Mind you, I buy them in the summer when all the windows stay open!RépondreSupprimer
I love this scent! I was surprised at how much I liked it. I would wear this as a default wallpaper scent throughout spring and summer, when other, more insistent fragrances are inappropriate.RépondreSupprimer
Love the Lilac Fairy references, too - I totally 'get' how my beloved Mme. Mathilde would use her as the muse for this.
Great review, D, as always!
Musette, I don't suppose Jacques Demy's movies are much know in the US but here in France they are cult material. And the Lilac Fairy is an absolutely delightful character!RépondreSupprimer
After I read your wonderfully entertaining review (who else does film theory and perfume in one exquisite bundle?) I emailed Cartier and blagued a sample citing the problems of living in the outer reaches. They sent it really swiftly with a lovely note. This definately goes onto my list of beautiful perfumes I could wear at work - a very valuable category given how much time I spend there!!RépondreSupprimer
Maureen, kudos to the Cartier customer service then! You're absolutely right, this is perfect for work and can segue into the evening seamlessly -- again like an elegant French bourgeoise!RépondreSupprimer
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