The next best thing to covering yourself in Cartier diamonds? Drenching yourself in Cartier’s stunning new scent, ‘Carat’. A real labor of love, it was created by in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent, who was inspired by the mesmerizing prism of light reflected off diamonds. “I wanted to create a fragrance that sparkles, alive with all the fire of a diamond,” she explains. “It occurred to me to apply to the fragrance the principle of diffraction – the dispersed light that appears as colorful flashes of the rainbow in a diamond. And so, I chose seven beautiful fresh flowers that come together to form a new flower, abstract but alive, like the light of a diamond.”
Savoir Flair was one of the first to discover this new olfactory creation as we sat down with Laurent in Paris to find out just what it takes to create a perfume that captures the essence of the world’s most sought-after jewel.
Where do you find inspiration creating your fragrances?
It’s actually always the same. My inspiration comes from the house and the history of perfumery. I’m very attached to the history of perfume, which not many people really know about or consider. For us perfumers, it has been there since antiquity, since the primal times, and it inspires me a lot. I always want to pay tribute to that history, and I believe there’s no creation without it. You know, all the great contemporary artists of today know everything about the history of art – this is how they transform their work. So I’d say the history of the maison and the history of art are my sources to find something new and something to say for Cartier.
Was the process different when creating ‘Carat’?
I’d say it was the same because the diamond – and that first idea of the diamond – was really something taken from the Maison Cartier. Then there was this idea of olfactory diffraction, of a rainbow of flowers and olfactory art. The process was the same, and it should always be the same because when you are an in-house perfumer, it’s your duty to put yourself in the house and history of the art that you try to serve.
As an in-house perfumer, do you want your scents to have a signature that ties them together, or do you want them to be different to one another?
Both, in fact. I try to make all my perfumes very different, so that nobody feels I always do the same with only a hint of difference. But, at the end, I also try to make them all very Cartier – very elegant and creative. I think the duty of an in-house perfumer is to create an olfactory style that is the translation of the house style. Of course, each perfume has to be different; it has to be a real creation each time. This is something that animates me, something I think about when I create a new perfume.
‘Carat’ was inspired by Cartier’s diamonds. Where did that idea come from?
It was really the idea of the team – between me, our Managing Director of Cartier Fragrances, and our Marketing Director. We wanted to create a new feminine fragrance, but what should it be? What could it be? It has to be Cartier, it has to be olfactory – but what new story do we want to tell? It comes down to the same question each time: what haven’t we already said? ‘La Panthere’ was a Cartier icon, and we wanted another iconic subject to dive into – and that was the subject of diamonds. We wanted to speak of this icon, of what it means to be a jeweler.
Scent has an amazing ability to change your mood, to evoke a feeling. Do you think jewelry and fragrance are actually quite similar in that sense?
I think it’s more than that. For me, jewelry and fragrance are exactly the same, but the only difference is that a perfume is not visible. We speak at Cartier of “invisible jewelry”, which is what a fragrance is for us. It is jewelry – you just can’t see it! There are many, many links between scent and jewelry that no one could imagine except a perfumer and a jeweler.
I know Jacqueline Karachi, our Creative Director of High Jewelry, very well. And when she buys stones, she tries them on the skin. A stone is really made to be worn on the skin, and to mix and match with the skin of the person who wears it – exactly like a perfume! I’m not the first one to say this. A very famous 19th century writer by the name of Huysmans said that the perfumer and the jeweler do the same thing. They pick something from nature, they cut it, and they put it in a composition to show its beauty. That’s exactly it. It’s so simple, and it’s so true. We try to show that perfume is all around you, on the body – like jewelry – radiating like light.
For me, jewelry and fragrance are exactly the same, but the only difference is that a perfume is not visible.
What feeling does ‘Carat’ evoke for you?
It’s pure joy. When you smell ‘Carat’, you feel like a ray of sunshine has entered your home – it’s as simple as that. It’s a new day, a new hope. It’s marvelous, as it was so dark just the second before. We know that perfume has this power to change feelings and the color of one’s soul, and this is what I wanted from ‘Carat’ – to give color to the soul. Light is made of the seven colors of the rainbow, so I mixed seven colors of flowers to create a big, marvelous, abstract white flower. It’s a perfume made of colors.
Diamonds have an amazing rainbow effect when you shine a light through them. Is that why you chose to create the feeling of light?
It was exactly this idea! At first, when we decided on the diamond and this icon of jewelry, I really couldn’t see how I could make it into a fragrance, but then I thought to myself: “What do you love about diamonds?” I remember the first time I wore diamonds; it was the colors sparkling in my eyes that fascinated me so much, so I chose that as the most important aspect to work on when trying to create a fragrance about diamonds.
This is how the idea of having seven colored flowers in a big white flower came about. It’s the diffraction and refraction of light – like on the cover of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album. Everyone knows that image! The light enters, and it bursts into seven different colors. I did the inverse. I took seven colored flowers and, with the prism of the diamond, it creates a wonderful, white flower that’s more abstract in nature.
Did you face any challenges when creating ‘Carat’?
You know, the job of a perfumer gets really hard. The day-to-day work is difficult. Having an idea is wonderful, and smelling your creation on someone else is an incredible feeling. It gives you goosebumps and I’m so thankful for it, but it can be a struggle. You have to motivate yourself, alone. You have to stay confident when you find nothing is good, and nothing works as you wanted. You have to be prepared to face this as it can be discouraging.
Sometimes, you work on something for 15 days, only to find that someone prefers a former reference from two weeks ago. You can work and work and work and find nothing, so you have to be patient. And it’s the same for each fragrance. You have awful moments when you think you’ll never manage, you think it’s impossible. It’s the same with all creative work. I think it’s very rare for perfumers to express this – they don’t like to be transparent. I don’t know why people don’t dare to show the job as it is. I find it more interesting when it’s real art than when it’s just for show.
How long did the perfume take to create?
It was about one year. This is the minimum. ‘L’Envol’ was two years, ‘Panthere’ was almost three. It’s the duty of an in-house perfumer to follow the speed of the team, so you have to be faster sometimes! I was quite under pressure, and it wasn’t always comfortable. It was a real challenge.
Describe ‘Carat’ in three words.
I usually need 50! What I’d like to underline is the freshness of the fragrance when you spray it. It’s a living flower, so I would say: fresh, white, living.
What is your favorite smell in the whole world?
I always say I have no favorite smell because, if you’re a perfumer, you should treat all smells as tools of creation and inspiration. You should never have a favorite because if you start to favor one, you’re going to have a favorite perfume and start creating the same scents every time. Some perfumers have an accord that they always put in all their fragrances, but to me, that’s not how you renew yourself. You can’t create if you’re always doing what you know. I don’t have a favorite ingredient, but I’ll reveal something to you. My favorite smell is one that I can’t actually smell – that of my daughters, my family, and my husband. It’s not really a smell, it’s a feeling.
If this perfume was measured in actual carats, how many carats would it be?
Oh, that’s interesting! We should evaluate the weight of the bottle and translate it into carats, because a carat has a weight in grams. I think it’s going to be huge; imagine a diamond as big as the bottle in your hand. One milliliter of water is one gram, but the 50ml bottle is more than 50 grams, because of the bottle itself. Let’s weigh it! [Mathilde leaves her office to the laboratory, ensuing in ten minutes of measuring and Googling].
The 50ml bottle weighs 236grams. Multiply that by five, and that gives us 1,180 carats! I had to study a lot of mathematics to be a perfumer, as well as chemistry and physics. That’s where I originally studied diamonds! You study crystallography, and chemically speaking, diamonds are crystals. What’s wonderful about diamonds is that they’re something really scientific, something really rare. They’re very special, and they have an incredible power of fascination.
In my many years of interviewing perfumers, you are only the second female I have had the pleasuring of meeting? Why do you think female perfumers are so rare?
Alors, I have a very true and honest answer. There are a lot of women perfumers in the world – maybe even more than men, especially in France. But my honest theory is that people still trust a man more than a woman. It’s been that way for many years, and I think it’s partly because beauty editors and beauty press such as yourself were always women – there were no men. So I think there was something very romantic for women to meet these male perfumers. It was very funny at the beginning of my career, as I’d have journalists saying to me, “Oh, I met Jean-Claude Ellena [legendary French perfumer, now retired] last week”, and they’re gushing over him. They had to tell me that, as if they had met God! And they didn’t even realize that I was a perfumer too. I found it funny though, I don’t get vexed by it. I laughed a lot with Jean-Claude about it, he’s like my brother.
There’s an attitude we need change in the industry; we have to push women and female perfumers to the top and we have to trust women.
So I really think that the press and the media have a responsibility to play in this, as there are many women perfumers, like Anne Flipo, who are really interesting, but generally the press is less interested in them. There’s an attitude we need change in the industry; we have to push women and female perfumers to the top and we have to trust women. That model of the old French man perfumer is like a myth, and people want to see it – but that mentality has to change. If all these big companies feel that people want to see women, they will go that way – but they have to be asked to show them. If people always ask for men, that won’t happen. We all have to change our mentality. It’s my duty to be professional, and I don’t understand why I should lie. It’s the only way to make perfumery more modern.