It is easy to forget, so many years on, that the founders of the brands that we now consider to be the very height of luxury were often the explorers, pioneers and risk-takers of their time – men and women with an unquenchable appetite for adventure.
The Cartier brothers epitomise that ethos. From their travels to Russia and New York, to their relationships with tsars, Indian maharajas and Hollywood icons, and their friendship with Alberto Santos-Dumont, the pioneering Brazilian aviator, Pierre, Louis and Jacques, who are credited with transforming Cartier into the iconic brand that it is today, were driven by a spirit of adventure that was seemingly singular to the early years of the 20th century.
It is this spirit that Cartier aims to capture with its newly launched fragrance for men, L’Envol de Cartier. The name, which translates from the French to mean “take off”, speaks of journeys to be made and adventures to be had, but also of self-exploration and personal reinvention.
Santos-Dumont, who was one of the best-known aviators of his time, one of the first men to take flight, and also a crucial figure in the history of Cartier, was a reference point for the new fragrance. In 1904, the Brazilian complained to Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch mid-flight, and tasked his friend with creating a timepiece that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls. The result was one of the world’s first-ever wristwatches, Cartier’s Santos-Dumont.
The fragrance was inspired by mead, the mythical ambrosia favoured by Greek gods as they loitered above the clouds on Mount Olympus. It is something of a revelation, a scent that is new and unexpected, but still inviting and accessible. Its magic lies in its rounded, mellow, woody overtones, and its inherent warmth. “This time, we are coming with our vision of elegance, as we are totally convinced that the world of masculine perfumery is lacking in elegance,” says LÃ©a Vignal Kenedi, general director of fragrances for Cartier Parfums.
“There are beautiful things out there, of course, very fresh, very easy, very sporty, but for the elegant man, we thought we could bring something that is very Cartier, and very unexpected. Something that creates a true emotional jolt.”
To be fair, the house of Cartier has never been anything but bold in its approach to perfumery. One only need look to the decidedly equine L’Heure Fougueuse, which was created to capture the scent of “tanned leather, a gleaming coat and the warmth of hay during a summer storm”. Or the iconic PanthÃ¨re de Cartier, a so-called “feline-floral fragrance” that combined gardenia with a soft, velvety musk, employing animal accords at a time “when animal accords had been forgotten for years in our field”, says Vignal Kenedi. When it comes to fragrances, this is not a company that is afraid to take risks.
“I think it’s because of our creative process and the vision we have about perfume. As a maison de parfum inside Cartier, we have a very important role to play in conveying the emotion and all the dreams that are behind Cartier, as well as the creativity of the maison. We are not talking about basic creativity; I mean the kind of creativity that involves dreaming about things that may initially appear unfeasible.”
Much of this can be credited to the brilliant Mathilde Laurent, Cartier’s in-house perfumer since 2005. “Creating a perfume is like writing on a blank page,” she says, but remains tight-lipped about the exact ingredients that made an appearance on this particular page.
“Mead is just an inspiration because, as we know very well, there is not really any mead in the formula. Regarding the other ingredients, as usual I want to say that they matter little and that I don’t want to talk about them, as they are only ever colours that we are going to throw on a canvas. Regardless of whether we have used red, blue or yellow, the only thing that matters is the impression that emerges and the emotion we can feel when smelling this fragrance, or when looking at that painting. This is the reason why I do not evoke the ingredients in my creations.”
L’Envol is also remarkable in its presentation. The golden-hued fragrance is encased within a glass capsule, which in turn is contained within a transparent dome. As a result, the fluid is suspended in mid-air, further building on the idea of it being a precious entity.
It took 2,000 drawings before the final design was decided upon. The inner capsule can be removed and replaced, which is fitting, given that Cartier was one of the first companies to create refillable bottles with the launch of Must de Cartier in 1981. On the stopper meanwhile, is Cartier’s signature criss-crossed guilloche motif.
“In the end, the fragrances I create are always designed to produce an effect on the person wearing them, to help, encourage and accompany that person. An intimate bond is always created between the person and the power infused by their fragrance, which is something like an active substance,” says Laurent. “I would say that a fragrance is not chosen by reason but by the heart.”
L’Envol de Cartier is available as an eau de parfum, with prices starting at Dh539 for 100ml.
Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, October 6.
Source: art & life