The idea of a fragrance inspired by flight has two iconic precedents, both from the 1930s. Caron’s marvellous orange chypre En Avion was dedicated to the first women pilots such as Hélène Boucher and Amelia Earhart, while Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit paid homage to the writer and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. These are fitting associations because flight is key to understanding fragrance – perfume takes off in the air the moment the liquid touches the skin. Perfumers control the effects of their compositions by using materials of different volatilities – citrus and green notes soar in an instant; musks and woods are slower to become airborne.
But the science of olfaction aside, another reason perfumers, like many other artists, are attracted by the idea of flight is the combination of courage, daring and genius. It might seem impossible to capture such an abstract concept in a blend of aromatics, but it is precisely that which makes the task so appealing. Certainly, for perfumer Mathilde Laurent, the in-house nose at Cartier, this intellectual challenge was the highlight of months of work on new perfume L’Envol de Cartier (£64 for 50ml EDP).
“L’Envol makes reference to the genius and creativity of a man who is very much part of Cartier’s history, Alberto Santos-Dumont, one of the first men to fly,” explains Laurent. Santos-Dumont, who was born in Brazil in 1873 but spent much time living in Paris, was an aviation pioneer who designed and flew hot-air balloons. He also inspired the first Cartier wristwatch for men when he vented his frustration at having to use a pocket watch while flying to his friend Louis Cartier. In 1904 Cartier created an elegant wristwatch on a leather strap, which subsequently accompanied Santos-Dumont on all his journeys.
For her perfume, Laurent decided to look not only into the story of Santos-Dumont but also at how imagination and creativity push people to break barriers. Indeed, L’Envol is her personal quest, part of her goal to continue reinventing herself as a perfumer.
The most intriguing aspect of L’Envol is its ability to combine elegance with the spirit of adventure. It opens on a bright accord reminiscent of fine tobacco and leather, a bold but polished combination softened by the sweetness of honey. The prelude is so inviting and comfortable that when the smoky, dark layers begin to appear in quick succession, the transformation is surprising. A little while later, it becomes essential. As I return to L’Envol over the coming weeks, I start to crave the moment when the perfume goes into a long tailslide and then recovers to glide on a cloud of musk and patchouli.
While L’Envol is a fragrance designed for men, Laurent notes that it is not a caricature of masculinity. It’s there for anyone who wishes to experience it. “A beautiful perfume has to be designed to produce an effect on the person wearing it, to help, encourage and accompany that person,” says Laurent. “An intimate bond is always created between the person and their fragrance, which is something like an active substance.”
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.comsince 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.