“I love oud,” says Mathilde Laurent, Cartier’s in-house perfumer. “It is an incredible smell; something very fascinating, very sensual, very deep and very beautiful.”
Plenty of big-name perfume brands have dabbled with oud in recent years, but few have done so with as much relish as Laurent. Last year, Cartier launched Les Heures Voyageuses, a range of six fragrances devoted to oud. For the collection, Laurent experimented with the whole spectrum of legendary Oriental ingredients, blending oud with familiar notes such as rose, sandalwood, jasmine and ginger.
This year, to coincide with Ramadan, Cartier has unveiled limited-edition, travel-size versions of three of the most popular scents from the Les Heures Voyageuses collection.
Oud & Oud, Oud & Santal and Oud & Musc are now presented in an all-new bottle that artfully references both Middle Eastern motifs and Cartier’s storied legacy. What at first appears to be a straightforward mashrabiya pattern is, in fact, a representation of a geometric Cartier brooch design from 1909.
We speak to Laurent about her fascination with oud – and why she thinks this ingredient, so loved in this part of the world, is essential to the future of Europe’s increasingly “vanilla” perfume industry.
What inspired you to create Les Heures Voyageuses?
I was really touched by oud and had seen many brands creating perfumes around oud, but I was amazed to see that they were not respecting the true nature of oud. So when we decided to create this collection, I really wanted to commit to the ingredient and show its real animalic aspects.
Why was it important for you to work with oud?
Oud represents an aspect of perfumery that is very important for me – those animalic and leathery notes. Those notes have always been in perfumery, but nowadays, in Europe, the US and let’s say northern countries, they have disappeared. I think it’s a real pity and causes real damage to perfumery. We were losing this hot, sensual, oriental aspect of perfumery. With oud, we are finding it again, which is a real gift.
Do you think Western tastes are open to oud?
Oh, I’m sure of it. Because it’s in our history, even if we had forgotten it for a few decades. I think it is something very instinctive. People are very ready; the problem is that, for the moment, too many brands consider oud to be a specific product for Middle Eastern countries, and I think that’s a marketing mistake.
Is oud difficult to work with?
It has a lot of personality, and it is not, for the moment, very well known. So you have to manage it carefully. But it’s not too tricky. Once it is better known and used more, it will become a common ingredient.
Is there anything about oud that surprised you?
What surprises me is that it is so animalic; it really has that smell of fur. And I was surprised when I came to Dubai because the best ouds are the most animalic. In Europe, we have lost the idea of such notes in perfumery, and it is so sad because it is something so precious and delicate and sensual. I was very surprised and happy that there is still a region of the world where people like such notes. For me, it was something that gave me a lot of hope and optimism. It is a sign that maybe we will not all smell of sweets and fruits for the rest of our lives. That we are not condemned to fruits and vanilla forever.
Is that a problem in Europe? Has everything become too “vanilla”?
Sure. It is a problem when an art is turned into caricature. Nowadays, perfumery is a kind of caricature of itself. Vanilla is not the only ingredient that exists; nor is caramel. I think oud has brought something healthy to this industry because it has changed the idea of perfumery. It gives a variation of smells and that is very important.
Will you continue to experiment with oud?
With Oud Radieux, I tried to create a very different oud fragrance. It is very fresh, with elements of bergamot. I wanted to present oud in a fresh way, and I’m so happy with it. I think there are many new things to invent, so I will be happy to play again with oud.
• The 45ml Oud & Oud, Oud & Santal and Oud & Musc bottles are priced at Dh950 and available from Cartier boutiques and selected points of sale across the UAE