Health & Grooming | The Bespokesperson

The bespoke perfumer who turns memories into scent

Cartier’s Mathilde Laurent creates exquisite custom-made perfumes

The bespoke perfumer who turns memories into scent

January 11 2012
Vivienne Becker

As the in-house “nose” for Cartier, Mathilde Laurent (pictured) has been busy working on the house’s exclusive haute parfumerie collection, Les Heures. But Laurent also has another, more low-profile role: matching and hatching bespoke perfume to suit and scent the private clients who make their way to her fragrant Salon des Parfums in Cartier’s hallowed flagship at 13 Rue de la Paix in Paris.

Bespoke perfume, explains Laurent, is part of Cartier’s long tradition of private orders: an “olfactory jewel”, conceived and made with the same passion, pursuit of perfection and the finest ingredients, intensely personalised to “crystallise” the client’s emotions, capture memories and distil the essence of a persona. The process takes some 12 months, and Laurent can only create two or three bespoke perfumes each year. “It is like writing a book; it takes months to gather inspiration, find the concept, research the ingredients and then get the idea into a bottle.”

The first meeting lasts up to three hours, during which the client is plied with favourite food and drink to awaken the senses and help find the right words to describe favourite or remembered smells: “It is a promenade through their olfactory life.” Initial ideas are followed by a lengthy period of scientific research, during which Laurent will experiment and compile her list of some 30-50 ingredients. “When I start to write down the first ingredients on my list, I don’t know what the others will be. It is a question of balance, it’s a complicated and fragile process.”

After about three months, she presents these ideas to the client, with a “sketch” and two or three different choices. After going back and forth a few times, and considering the person living with the perfume wearer, and the way the fragrance “lives” and changes on the skin, followed by thorough toxicology and dermatology tests, the bespoke perfume is presented to the client in a specially crafted Baccarat crystal and gold bottle, or perhaps in a custom-created bottle conceived by Cartier’s jewellery designers. The secret formula is then archived for repeat orders – or to be handed down through generations.

Cartier bespoke perfume, from €30,000.