(Pour lire cet article en français, cliquez ici.)
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…”