Ever since Louis-François Cartier registered his hallmark in Paris in 1847, Cartier has been the elite’s favourite jeweller. As the recent extroardinary, breathtaking exhibition at Paris’s Grand Palais showed, in the most dazzling way, Cartier’s jewels have been worn, loved and desired by a royal and aristocratic clientele since its debut. (We were utterly wowed, at a private showing of the exhibition.)
The very first VIP client was Princess Mathilde, Napoleon‘s stylish niece, who bought brooches and cameos. The Empress Engénie followed. But by the start of the 20th Century, Cartier was renowned for its stunningly intricate designs – often light and lacy – conjuring up garlands, bows, flowers out of platinum and precious stones.
Queen Alexandra. Queen Mary. America’s foremost heiresses, including Consuelo Vanderbilt and Marjorie Merriweather Post. They all flocked to Cartier, which Edward VII described as ‘the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’ (not surprisingly, since Cartier crafted all 27 tiaras worn at Edward’s coronation).
Cartier began as a family business: Louis-François’s son Alfred was the gemstone genius. Later, Alfred took over from his father, and continued to sell jewellery – adding statuettes, silverware, porcelain and fans. But it was the founder’s trio of grandsons – Pierre, Jacques and Louis – who led the house into a stunningly stylish new era. Embracing Art Deco and the Jazz Age, with its finger on the pulse, Cartier added its own flourish to the Roaring Twenties with bold combinations of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds, sometimes carved to look like scarabs, dragons, tigers and lotus flowers. High society loved every last carat.
But working alongside the Cartier men, a daringly modern woman – Jeanne Toussaint – made her mark, in the 1930s. ‘Muse’ (and mistress) to Louis Cartier, she sent the designers to the zoo, to observe the big cats – capturing their feline power in collections of panther and tiger jewellery. (The Duchess of Windsor commissioned a 3-D panther brooch, in 1948, with a 116.75 carat cabochon emerald at its heart.) ‘Every bit as stylish and sleek as her customers,’ as Vogue puts it, Toussaint earned the nickname ‘The Panther’ – and from that time onwards, the panther has been the symbol of Cartier itself.
Like its jewels, Cartier‘s lustre never dulled. Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor a flawless 69.42 carat pear-shaped stone, from Cartier. Prince Rainier of Monaco chose Cartier to create the 10.47 emerald cut engagement ring, for his proposal to Grace Kelly. But in the 70s, Cartier became just a touch more accessible, with the introduction of Must de Cartier: lighters, jewellery, luggage and gifts, for those who were turning their back on luxury conventions and making revolution, in the street.
And then, of course, came fragrances. Being Cartier, not just any fragrances: perfumes designed to ‘adorn the skin like invisible and intimate precious gems.’ So of course, they must be created with true olfactory craftsmanship, from rare and luxurious ingredients. And the bottles, by definition, must catch the eye.
Cartier‘s scented debut was in 1981 with Must de Cartier, a green Oriental which broke with olfactory convention: a play between sophisticated galbanum and sensuous, sweet vanilla and jasmine. Spontaneous, luxurious, seductive and wild, it became an equally wild success. Eau de Cartier, a ‘shareable’ Cologne-style fragrance, launched in 2001: cool, pure and sensual, it blends cedarwood with violet, ‘a shower of sensations from cool to hot’.
Since then, we’ve had Baiser Volé, Cartier‘s tribute to the majestic lily. ‘In this perfume, I wanted to recreate the scent of armfuls of flowers on the neck,’ explained Mathilde Laurent (below). Délices de Cartier, meanwhile, is sweet-toothed excess: a note of Morello cherry is wrapped in a jasmine accord, showcased in a stunning blown glass bottle, streaked with red, inspired by a brooch from the 1920s.
With the arrival in 2005 of in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent, one of the most exciting ‘noses’ on the planet, Cartier has entered a new era in fragrance. Mathilde established the Maison de Cartier in the world of ‘haute parfumerie’ with Les Heures de Parfum, 13 fragrances which take us round the clock with their different moods – and which earned her two awards in the French Fragrance Foundation Awards.
When asked how to characterise Cartier style, by the perfume website Cafleurebon, Mathilde Laurent explained: ‘It is the same as in jewellery. We use wonderful ingredients and very few ingredients. When you have a wonderful diamond or stone, you don’t need to put many, many small stones of many colours – because you have a wonderful piece of jewellery already…’
Launched in spring 2014, Mathilde Laurent’s creation of Cartier La Panthère has been widely acclaimed: a truly modern interpretation of the so-sophisticated chypre fragrance family, with gardenia at its heart. ‘This raw yet warm, feral yet fruity floral chypre has me in a daze,’ commented Katie Chutzpah, Jasmine Award-winning blogger, calling it ‘a slinky beast’.
She continues: ‘Gardenias explode and are tamed with the crack of the whip, while chypre-like mossiness and musk combine to make this concoction quite the temptress…’ And what a bottle: a masterpiece of craftsmanship (as we’d expect), the inside of the flacon etched with a panther, through which the amber the seems to purr. And the perfume world is most definitely on tenterhooks to see – or rather, smell – what Mathilde Laurent has next up her designer sleeve.
At the time of the launch of Cartier‘s scented debut, Must de Cartier, Alain-Dominique Perrin (President of Cartier) simply said: ‘Perfumes, like jewels, speak to us of love. They provide the link to enchantment, style, elegance and a particular lifestyle.’
And 40 years on, we defy anyone to put it better.
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