lundi 3 février 2014

La Panthère by Mathilde Laurent for Cartier: flower-cat chimera

Our fascination with big cats may go back to the time when they’d come and snatch one of our remote ancestors from the mouth of the cave both species shared, Bruce Chatwin once wrote in The Songlines Now it turns out we’ve got a panther lurking in our gardenia bush. Mathilde Laurent being a rather fearless creature, she went in and tamed it.

 The panther theme – already used for a 1986 fragrance – was an obvious one to go for given that it’s Cartier’s totemic creature. Not only has it been featured in many pieces, but “La Panthère” was the nickname of Jeanne Toussaint, Louis Cartier’s mistress/muse – a former “cocotte” who went on to reinvent precious jewelry in the Jazz Age, much like her close friend Coco Chanel did for fashion. 

 According to the philosopher Theophrastus, the panther is the only animal that doesn’t stink: she uses the perfume she exhales to entice her prey. Her exquisite breath is a mortally seductive trap similar to the one that women lay out for men. This leads Aristophanes to call courtesans ‘panthers’”, I wrote back in 2008 in my third post, about Muscs Koublaï Khan

Same legend, same deduction: Mathilde handled enough real Tonkin musk when she was at Guerlain to know that it was indeed the only animal material that didn’t smell feral. She set out to recreate it around musk ketone, apparently the closest molecule to the phantom of perfumery…

As for gardenia -- the quintessential noir blossom, always already on the edge of corruption -- she picked it because she didn’t want to go for a full-on oriental, which would have been overkill for a scent named after the panther. And because she wanted a flower that hadn’t been plucked to death already (she used the same line of reasoning to pick the lily for Baiser Volé). If the note has recently starred in niche scents (Boutonnière by Arquiste, Une Voix Noire by Serge Lutens, Gardez-moi by Jovoy) and peeked out from behind a few mainstream pyramids (most prominently in Jour d’Hermès), it’s still much rarer than the ubiquitous rose-jasmine combo.

Finally, like all perfumers bar none, Mathilde worships Mitsouko and Femme, so she wanted to do a modern fruity chypre: the rhubarb/apple/apricot/strawberry facets of styrallyl acetate, the “gardenia” molecule, would provide that fruity note. (Oddly enough, another old-time chypre, Ma Griffe by Carven, also associates gardenia with a catty attitude, if only through its name, a play on the two meanings of the word in French, « claw » and « signature »).

And it works. Mitsouko brushes by with its tail swishing, though the treatment is more in the style of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People than of Paul Schrader’s 80s remake: you don’t actually see the creature full-on, you just keep getting hints of its presence. Proper oakmoss and the aforementioned musk ketone – which has been used next to forever – add to the classic vibe.

La Panthère crosses the vertical structure of a chypre with a more contemporary “fuzzy” (or, in this case, “furry”) texture. Gardenia provides the axis. The panther musk is curled around it. The floral note is realistic – it was elaborated through a headspace capture of the flower, and features every aspect of it from its slender rhubarb greenness to its hint of mushroom. But it can only be perceived through the musky haze: this isn’t actually a soliflore, but a flower-feline hybrid, a chimera crouched in a mossy patch.

The silkiness of petals and fur is vividly conjured by La Panthère’s purring sillage. This is that rare gem of a mainstream scent that manages a perfect Goldilocks balance (notice the deft use of jewelry metaphors here). Distinctive enough to please connoisseurs, yet not so much that it’ll scare off civilians. Just take care you don’t start clawing the couch.

La Panthère will come out on March 15th. No word yet on a La Panthère Rose flanker (though the Pink Panther was a diamond in Blake Edward’s movie).

Illustrations: Simone Simon in Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, portrait of Jeanne Toussaint by Baron Adolf de Meyer, Simone Simon again, and below, a still from the La Panthère ad directed by Sean Ellis, featuring Erin Wasson.

12 commentaires:

  1. Oooooh! So excited to try this! Love Baiser Vole. Love Mathilde Laurent.

  2. Karin, you're preaching to the choir! Hope you love it...

  3. I think you should write briefs or reviews and then give them to the Perfumers to create the scent. I also loved how you quoted yourself quoting Theophrastus and Aristophanes. Always happy to see another gardenia bloom. I like all the ones mentioned and also Cuir de Gardenia. Making a gardenia shelf in the fridge now.

  4. Any author who begins her review with a Bruce Chatwin quote has my heart immediately.

    Loved the review and can't wait to try La Panthère.

  5. Jordan, I don't remember in which reference book I first read about the legend, but I was tickled to find out that it had served as an inspiration for the scent. I quoted the post because I didn't feel there was a point in rewriting something I'd already developed...

  6. Taffy, glad to find out you're also an admirer of Bruce Chatwin. His way of interweaving travel writing and essays into a first person narrative was an inspiration to me when I wrote the book, though of course I can never pretend to the same level of achievement.

  7. If I could, I would choose the diamond and onyx version of Cartier’s Panthère… But of course, your visuals and description make the perfume quite worthy of a test sniff! I love the smell of white flowers, and gardenia must be my favorite real life floral smell. Gardenia in perfumes is tricky though: it either smells like jasmine and tuberose (no problem with that, I love both) or, if rendered realistic, it has a caricature-like quality that makes it almost unpleasant to my nose. Like those aging celebrities that have gone too heavy handed with Botox and surgery, it is an exaggerated version of their real selves and I feel a bit repulsed.
    But I will try any new gardenia anyway (I liked Jovoy’s interpretation from last year).
    P.s. Is la panthère a chypre according to the same defining criteria applied to NR’s For her?
    Thanks! The first pic for the English post is dangerously beautiful and powerful.

  8. Zazie, this isn't the botox and silicone version of Velvet Gardenia: the effect is subtle. But as I said, it's not really a soliflore either...
    As for chypre, I would say it's more recognizably of the family than the Narciso, especially because of the fruity top notes and the moss and patchouli base. But again, this is a modern interpretation of the genre rather than a retro piece.

  9. My whiskers are twitching in anticipation! nozknoz

  10. Nozknoz, ready to pounce? Tail flicking slowly? This is lovely and I've been wearing it for non-reviewing purposes, though there's *another* gardenia coming down the line that I'm testing too...

  11. What gardenia may I ask?

  12. From the upcoming Explosions trio by L'Artisan. Extremely different, I must say.