Exclusive interview with Cartier’s in-house perfumer, Mathilde Laurent…

Cartier have added an hour – or rather, ‘L’Heure‘ – to their fragrance collection, with this eleventh opus being a cool, milky alchemy of a perfume that celebrates the very best of synthetic molecules – a paean to the power of modern scientific techniques of capturing, re-creating and improving on natural perfumery materals; and of course to the artistry of the perfumer herself.

Cartier say:’ Voluptuous and intimate like the scent of familiarity, L’Heure Perdue owes all to science so clever in posing as natural when in fact it is a feat of alchemy. The fragrance explores the artificial through a precipitate of large synthetic molecules, particularly vanillin. This aldehyde with sensual aromas and a silky aura comes floating out over the 11th opus known only as L’Heure Perdue.’


We were thrilled when Cartier‘s in-house perfumer, Mathilde Laurent, agreed to speak to The Perfume Society, because we wanted to find out what really makes her tick…

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
I have always loved smelling everything around me… I have many memories of scents that have been part of my life, such as my garden in Normandy when I was a child, and those of the maquis shrubland in Corsica which aroused so many emotions in me. There was the taste of plum jam, of tea with lemon, the smell of blue Gitane cigarettes, of oak floorboards, the smells of the forest, crushed figs, of the river and the seaside. The list is endless, and fortunately so, because it is the only thing that allows you to find your way and learn about the ingredients.’

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
‘I have always smelled everything – but I didn’t want to become a perfumer. Smelling was a pleasure for me. I was smelling everything: all the people I met, every house I visited, every piece of fruit or bread I ate… One day someone told me “you have to be a perfumer, you smell everything”. It was the first time I’d heard that, and so it was in my mind but it wasn’t something that interested me a lot. I was fascinated with photography – I wanted to become a photographer. I wanted to do these jobs because, for me, it was an artistic expression – I didn’t know that a sense of smell could lead to becoming a perfume creator. The only public institution was the Institut Supérieur International du Parfum de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire (ISIPCA) in Versailles; and so I studied there and got my degree.’

What are your five favourite smells in the world?
‘Thinking that a perfumer has favourite notes is that same as thinking that a musician always uses the same musical notes for their compositions or that a painter always employs the same colours for his paintings, whatever the subject. The important thing is to find the right notes for the desired fragrances. Of course I have certain obsessions, such as patchouli and oakmoss, but I don’t always include them in a formula. I have a strong tendency to go crazy about a new ingredient! I remember how passionate I was about the “crinière” accord when I created L’Heure Fougueuse, that romantic frolic through a field of soft wheat. I couldn’t stop myself from breathing in its effect of hay, freshness and leather…’

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
‘There’s a lot of digression when creating a perfume; it’s a very painstaking process. The creation of a perfume such as La Panthère can take up to two years… When you work for a Maison, you are not the only one who judges the result – it’s a team effort. My role is to present my creation when it exactly corresponds to what I imagined.
In general, it takes between six months to a year. Certain notes are polite enough to slip into place easily, others refuse to yield! When I work on a perfume with a real initial accord, it’s an intellectual journey. It takes me 100 to 150 tries to achieve a harmony. Whatever the number, what takes time is thinking them up…’

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? If so, in what way…? Is a mood-board helpful?
‘For me perfumery and photography are nearly the same art. For me smells have an image, and the photograph has a smell, so in my mind it’s exactly the same – they are always communicating.
When I create a perfume I always have photographs to represent the perfume I’m creating at that moment. I look for photographs in newspapers or magazines or Internet, and I select the ones that have something of the fragrance I am trying to put in the bottle; so in my office there are many, many photographs of the perfumes I have created – I can’t live without photographs around me.’

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
‘First of all, you have to educate your nose, to smell everything around you. Then, the thing that makes you truly appreciate a fragrance is the scent-memory attached.’

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
‘To educate your sense of smell, you should smell everything – all the time…’

l'Heure Perdue

Cartier L’Heure Perdue £215 for 75ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Harrods

Written by Suzy Nightingale

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