My favorite perfume discoveries are the ones that happen in the middle of doh-dee-doh-ing. The other day, I was noodling around in Saks 5th Avenue, with nothing bigger in mind than scoring a few more free samples of By Kilian Back to Black. (How many tiny vials of B2B can I reasonably cadge from sales assistants before I go from “engagingly interested” to “peskily tragic”? I’ll let you know.)
So there I was, lurking around the By Kilian perfume casks, when I spied a perfume display that looked like a set of red-leather bound encyclopedias. Or more accurately given their small size, like those Reader’s Digest anthologies of abridged potboilers. It was Cartier’s new high end line, complete with a primo price point: Les Heures du Parfum.
What? This was news to me. And since I’d never smelled any Cartier fragrances before, I had no context to work from. But just looking at the hokey “Masterpiece Theatre” packaging, I figured they’d be a bunch of bombastic cheese, like Clive Christian’s perfumes.
Well, you should never judge a perfume by its Reader’s Digest abridged potboiler anthology cover. As I sniffed blotters sprayed with each of the five Heures du Parfums, I began exclaiming loudly to no one, “I LOVE this. Oh, and I love THIS! And I LOVE this one!”
As shoppers carefully edged away from me, I sniffed and exclaimed some more, grabbed samples and beat it home. I was astonished that an entire, brand-new line was blowing my tiny little mind. The astonishment abated somewhat when I learned that the perfumer behind Les Heures du Parfums is Cartier’s in-house nose, Mathilde Laurent. Laurent had done me right with her Attrape-Coeur for Guerlain, so I hunkered right down to get to know her Cartiers a little better.
I L’Heure Promise is all about the iris, with its curiously arid, leather-carrot character. Pettigrain’s cloth-y citrus, along with a hot cotton musk, emphasize the dryness of the iris. The initial starchiness of this eau de toilette gradually relaxes into a lingering sandalwood. Mmmm...I love sandalwood. It lends a nuzzly, slept-in smell to anything it touches.
The effect of L’Heure Promise on the skin is that of squillion dollar soap: discreet and expensively clean. A classy rich guy, too classy and rich for Gendarme, would enjoy wearing this. And though I don’t fit my own profiling system, I too would enjoy “rocking” this, as the soccer moms say.
VI L’Heure Brillante is the line’s straight-ahead cologne: fizzy, lemony, gin-and-tonic-y. This drink is served extra dry, without the neroli sweetness of say, Chanel Les Exclusifs Eau de Cologne or Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino. Remember, it’s always cocktail hour somewhere in the world, so bottoms up!
X L’Heure Folle is a zesty free-for-all of berries high in anti-oxidants. On my skin, redcurrant predominated, but according to the ingredient list, blueberry, blackcurrant and blackberry are also bopping at the berry sock hop. This tart eau de toilette pumps up its punch with an aromatic quality that hovers between pepper and mint. I found L’Heure Folle a tad unrelenting with its capital “R” Redcurrant, but I will admit that fruity is not my favorite flavor of perfume.
XII L’Heure Mystérieuse’s official notes include jasmine, patchouli, elemi gum, coriander, frankincense and juniper. I already have a Baby Jesus manger-load of frankincense perfumes in my private stash, but one sniff of L’Heure Mystérieuse had me sold on my new BFF incense.
This eau de parfum lifts off with a smoldering croon of cocoa powder and incense. Spikes of elemi gum (a resin with lemon/pine qualities) and juniper berry (with its piney/gin note) punctuate the smolder. The cocoa turns into a borderline bitter, twangy smell that I can’t figure out - sort of a musty, murky closeness that I find appealing. It’s a patchouli/resin fender-bender.
The dry down puts me in mind of a lyric from America’s war-mongering national anthem, a tender image: “the twilight’s last gleaming”. As the long fade rolls out, there’s a soft, almost ambered burr to the proceedings. It forgoes the spiky aromatics for a more “perfumed” halo around the skin, and ends up on the jasmine, of all things.
And on to the next! Are you entranced by the weird, mushroomy myrrh of Etro Messe de Minuit or Annick Goutal Myrrh Ardente The sweet’n’sour smoke of Guerlain Bois d’Armenie? The birch tar and vanilla hellfire of Le Labo Patchouli 24? If so, then get thee to XIII La Treizième Heure!
La Treizième Heure is the best parts of all of the above, in one smoothly smoky package. But it doesn’t have the root beer syrupiness of Myrrh Ardente, nor does it give you the black lung disease of Patchouli 24, as stimulating as those perfumes are.
(For all of my myrrh talk, I should clarify that there is actually no myrrh listed for XIII. But it does have a moreish off-note that puts me mind of myrrh’s sweet-meets-rank resin.)
Spoiler alert! If you work high/low the way I do, the smokiness of XIII conjures another, less salubrious association: Slim Jim Spicy Smoked Snack Sticks. You heard right, Cousin Bubba - beef jerky! Once I got beef jerky into my head, I couldn’t take La Treizième Heure seriously anymore. At least, not $255 seriously. Because that’s what these babies go for. Primo price point, remember?
Regardless of my personal relationship to Slim Jims, I adore the quality and the distinctive personality of each of these “perfume hours”. They’re all nuanced, they all tell a story on the skin, and they all wear transparently, yet persistently. The initial five “hours” will eventually extend to 13, with two new perfumes released yearly. I’m counting les heures!
For more on these gorgeous perfumes, read Denyse Beaulieu's insightful and evocative 4-part review of Les Heures du Parfum on her blog Grain de Musc, along with her fascinating interview with their creator, Mathilde Laurent.