Cartier’s New Collection of Fragrance Objects Speaks to the Return of Glamour

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In-house perfumer at Cartier Mathilde Laurent | Photo: Courtesy of Baptiste Lignel | Cartier

Fashion’s cyclical nature means we’re in for a wild ride in 2021. After a year of sweating the future in sweatpants, a distinct return to glamour is upon us. This notion is confirmed by searches for things like sparkly bras, pearl and feather headbands, metallics and other objects of indulgence, which have risen significantly since January according to Lyst. Capitalizing on this moment, Cartier has introduced its new collection ‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’, which revives the tradition of vanity cases first seen from the brand in the 1920s. 

A century ago, the world was gripped by excess. Dubbed the Roaring 20s, a whole generation of young people sought to capture le joie de vivre in rejection of the deprivation associated with war. It was also a huge era of growth for the house of Cartier leading to the establishment of English Art Works in 1921, whose ornate Art Deco creations and globetrotting artifacts attracted the attention of European high society. Jacques Cartier sought, not to simply create jewelry adornment, but a whole universe of objects that amplified and accessorized the lives of the well-heeled. 

‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’ provides glamorous fragrance cases that are refillable and built to last – to be passed on from generation to generation. So far, nine fragrances from Cartier – ‘Baiser Volé’, ‘La Panthère’, ‘Déclaration’, ‘Pasha Edition Noire’, ‘Oud & Santal’, ‘L’Heure Mystérieuse’, ‘l’Heure Diaphane’, ‘Pur Kinkan’, and ‘Pur Magnolia’ – are ready and waiting to be tucked into these precious cases and carried in purses, pockets, and briefcases alike. 

In an exclusive interview with Cartier’s brilliant in-house perfumer, Mathilde Laurent, we discussed the revival of these decadent ‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’ objects, how they were crafted, and why now is the perfect time to Cartier to introduce them.

Cartier Les Nécessaires à Parfum
Photo: Courtesy of Cartier

‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’ are objects that revive the grand tradition of vanity cases. When were vanity cases at the height of fashion in society, and why are you choosing to revive them in 2021?
‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’ are inspired by Cartier’s early 20th century vanity cases. For some time, I’ve wanted people to be able to purchase a small quantity of any Cartier perfume in a unique bottle, to be able to try them, play with them, and have fun. This was also the inspiration for ‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’. And I love the object that was created: it’s a nod to a vanity case, and very beautiful, very sophisticated, very Cartier. This simple and sublime object can be used and refilled with nine of our perfumes – and our idea is to enrich this list by bringing back some of our older perfumes.

There are some gorgeous historical objects that were used as a source of inspiration to create Les Nécessaires à Parfum. What inspiration did they offer?
‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’ refers to ‘les nécessaires à beauté’, or vanity cases, that were widespread in 20th century society. They are cult objects that revive the grand tradition of Cartier vanity cases. But more than a historical object, it was mainly the historical pattern and artistic movement that inspired us on the creation of ‘Les Nécessaires’.

Every piece has its own inspiration. For the golden and silver cases, they are inspired by the goldsmith decor adorning Cartier vanity and cigarette cases. The blue dots case is inspired by the Art Deco movement, whose stylistic codes remained an important part of Cartier’s vocabulary. And the ‘Moucharabieh’ case is inspired by geometric patterns, lines, and Arabesque elements from Islamic art, which deeply infuse Cartier’s style. The green mashrabiya-patterned ‘Nécessaire à Parfum’ honors the creative ties between Cartier and the Orient.

Can you talk us through the design process of Les Nécessaires à Parfum and their function?
The idea was really to bring freedom in the gesture of perfuming. ‘Les Necessaires’ are both nomadic and luxurious. They introduce a simple, original, and modern gesture that consists of storing the maison’s fragrances in 30-milliliter glass refills.

More than seven steps are necessary for the creation of a ‘Nécessaire à Parfum’, from engraving the metal to its lacquer filling, all carried out by hand, color by color, trough by trough, and finished with the most precise polishing. 

Do you see Les Nécessaires à Parfum becoming a part of our daily routines? Something we always stash in our handbags or pack in our suitcases?
I thought of this precious object to be a part of our daily life indeed. It is an object that you can carry around and its beauty can accompany you through all the steps of your day, but also of your life. Because you can keep the precious, decorative metal and enamel case for 50 or 100 years or more. It’s a gift you’ll be able to hand down, which is something so important to Cartier. The other key aspect is that the glass bottle containing the perfume is recyclable and refillable. ‘Les Nécessaires’ represents a responsible way of thinking about, and living with, perfumes. 

You don’t just create fragrances, but you create olfactory jewels. How do you capture the exquisite jewelry craftsmanship (something physical) of Cartier and translate it into fragrance (something ephemeral)?
I consider Maison Cartier’s perfume as invisible jewelry, as fragrances and jewelry are both “parures”, meaning that you wear them to wear beauty and the power it confers to you. You can’t see it, but you will never forget it. 

‘Les Nécessaires’ is more linked to the accessories universe. Indeed, regular perfume bottles can be very heavy and indiscreet, whereas ‘Les Nécessaires à Parfum’ can easily slip into your pocket or your handbag, allowing you to take your Cartier invisible jewelry everywhere. They are designed to become an object in your life – for life. 

Jacques Cartier said: ‘We do not just offer high-end luxury jewelry. I would say, monsieur, that we are equally qualified to embellish a woman’s neckline with a dazzling necklace as we are to fill her bag with a compact, a mirror, a small comb, and even visiting cards, all distinguished by the same originality and art.’

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