Carat by Cartier Early in the Morning // Carat de Cartier au petit matin © Chant Wagner 2018
Carat by Cartier is a new pillar fragrance for women by a French luxury house reputed for its jewelry. In-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent's brief was to work on the concept of translating cut diamonds into a fragrance. She chose to illustrate their fiery lights - and in particular, the way in which the spectrum of light of a diamond is diffracted in space. We wrote previously that...
"While this is not in and of itself a completely new idea in perfumery, the house perfumer by unveiling her creative process reveals the original pathway she chose to take.
She decided that the light motif would be illustrated by deconstructing it into the seven colors of the spectrum.
Carat eau de parfum is said to feature a floral bouquet in which each of the seven colors has a corresponding floral note: violet for violet; iris for indigo; hyacinth for blue; ylang for green; daffodil for yellow; honeysuckle for orange; tulip for red."
The nose explained that,
"Carat is for me a perfumistic ode to light"
"Carat est pour moi une ode parfumistique à la lumière"
Princess Bisbesco (left) and jewelry designer Jeanne Toussaint (right). Source: Wikipedia
The motivation for this brief is the artistic history of the house and its brand image - as always for the latter part. Laurent manages to pay homage to two women, princess Bibesco and Jeanne Toussaint, thus calling attention indirectly to her gendered status as an in-house woman perfumer sensitive to that aspect of social history.
Courtesy of Cartier Parfums © Iris Velghe
How Does it Smell Like?
Internally you spontaneously go "wow, wow, wow," such are the seemingly interstellar proportions of the green fruity explosion that Carat by Cartier delivers from the get-go; your mind can, at first, hardly wrap around it, so powerful and unexpected it is. The verdancy effect is mind-boggling the first time you smell the perfume as initial sensations are the strongest. This creates an atmosphere at once brutally primeval and eminently sophisticated. To give you a visual equivalent, you could say that it feels something like a diamond of green energy bursting up in your face as it just shooted out of an emerald jungle - while at the same time the effect is clearly mastered. In a way, you cannot help but think that the perfumer wanted, unconsciously perhaps, to recreate some of the raw energy that led to the creation of a diamond in the rough in the bowels of the earth.
Next, a milky sensation follows, offering unusual fruity-floral tones. If fruity-floralcy is deemed the default accord of perfume merchants as opposed to perfume creatives, Mathilde Laurent has managed to override the stereotype. How to define that reworked fruity-floral trope? In your mind's eye, it smells futuristic, unripe, astringent and abstract, all at once. It also smells convincing. Furthermore, it smells original.
There is this uneasy edge in the potion that you may have discovered in a blade of grass when it cuts your finger open, or you feel it almost could. It is the unripe sappy smell you associate with the silken touch of fresh grass ready to break. There is also a mustard-y quality to the astringency that your nose can detect. At this point, you're reminded of the largely unknown fragrance Fo-Ti-Tieng by Marilyn Miglin for its prickly, mustard-like nuance, a precursor in a series of trigeminal scents. In the mix of unfamiliar sensations, there is also a touch of stink meant, as it should, to highlight the beauty of the accords, smelling of something ranging from the scent of cheese to Asafoetida spice.
From this olfactive ride emerges a more coherent idea. Carat makes you think of a new-generation violet perfume, but you're not 100% sure. At times, the discreet violet, made even more discreet than usual, seems to make its presence felt but the sensation is fleeting and ambiguous, hard to pin down.
What is certain is that the floral bouquet rounded off by white vanilla is very enduring. It feels to you both familiar and novel. "Enduring" turns out to be something of a metaphor. In the background, you can edu-guess that there is a great perfumery classic referenced however, but it is set very deep inside the formula of the perfume. So deep in fact, that it takes you an inordinate time to identify it. And then and so, for now, you go back to the scent of violet.
Later, it smells less elusively of green violet. And then you finally do get it. Of course, the scent of violet which seems to float towards you as if through the ages is none other than that of the loveliest of violet lovelies, Violetta di Parma by Borsari, created originally by and for the Duchess of Parma Marie Louise (1791-1847) Archiduchess of Austria, best-known for having been the second spouse of Napoleon Bonaparte. Perfume lovers know that she was also famous for her passion for violets; she left to us this idea of a fresh, romantic, foresty violet scent that Borsari 1870 has preserved to this day.
The fragrance was originally said to have been developed by Marie Louise together with the monks of the Convento dell'Annunciata in Parma. How infinitely touching to find a trace of it so subtle, yet so persistent in this new perfume by Cartier. Perfumers love olfactory quotes because one of the most important ingredients in their palette is memory, not just theirs, but collective memory. Memory and the familiar are doorways to making a fragrance be part of your life instead of just being a beautiful fragrance.
As the realization dawns upon you, you are suddenly enveloped in a green floral aura of centuries-old violets, appearing like an olfactive photograph of both the past and the future.
What is different in Carat from the Borsari version is that there is a very contemporary, even futuristic aspect to the composition, especially in its initial stages, while the base is vanillic and white rather than just fresh. This is what the perfumer wanted to achieve in the end, to resorb the complexity of the composition into "pure white light." Olfactorily speaking, this radiant diamantine light smells like a semi-transparent, crystalline white bouquet of violets hard to place, yet easy to wear.