Suzanne's Perfume Journal

The only problem is that Lucille has forgotten her sister’s new girth. Since the gown won’t fit Rae, Billy suggests that she get it for herself — and because Lucille is modest and somewhat tomboyish, his suggestion surprises her. Under normal circumstances she would likely reject it, but the beauty of the gown has already worked its magic on her, and she follows the salesgirl to the dressing room.

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Rich in Love, copyright © 1987 by Josephine Humphreys (Viking Penguin Inc., New York, 1987, pp. 225-226)

The Sweet Nothingness of Cartier La Panthère Édition Soir perfume

A few weeks back I was pawing through my perfume samples, searching for something I hoped would truly grab me, and found it in a sample of Must de Cartier I’d been holding onto for six years. A blogging friend once professed her love for Must and sent me samples of it in its various concentrations (including the flanker scents Must I and Must II), and though I remember liking it, I didn’t fall for it, hard and headlong, the way I have now. This remaining sample (the others are long gone) had me scratching my head as to exactly what I was smelling: the original edt (eau de toilette), which launched in the early 80s, or the supposedly reformulated version of recent years, which perfume reviewers often claim is nowhere as good as the vintage 80s juice. To figure it out, I recently went to the two biggest perfume decanting sites on the Internet, where I ordered samples of the original 1980s version of Must in both the eau de toilette concentration and the original parfum concentration. While awaiting their arrival I tried to focus on something else to write about, which proved futile: “The heart wants what it wants,” as the song goes. I spent my time reading other people’s reviews and comments about Must and emailed my friend photos of the carded sample, which she is skeptical of having sent (maybe I acquired this one elsewhere?), as she’s a collector of vintage Must, and the carded sample is indeed a more recent version, she noted, judging by the way the C in Cartier is printed on the card in a large and curving text.

Now that I have the decanted samples I ordered in hand—I’ve been wearing them non-stop for over a week—I can say one thing for certain: this stuff smells damn good regardless of age or concentration. After doing side-by-side tests on both my wrists and my husband’s, the two edt samples (the “modern” one from 2010 and the 1980s version) smell identical. Not just to me but to my husband, who has a pretty good nose. And having also conducted a side-by-side of the edt versus the parfum, the only significant difference is that the parfum version is richer, longer lasting, and, by extension, more animalic than the edt. The latter (the amplified animalics) is only to a minor degree. Contrary to what I’ve read about Must elsewhere on the Internet, the parfum is not a whole other animal from the edt, in my opinion. Both are sexy in that understated, classic French way that is hard to describe but easy to recognize, and both are every bit as beautiful as they are sexy. Given that every sample I have of Must is nearly identical, it would seem to bode well for a purchase of a current bottle ... and yet, as reformulations in perfumery have been rather sweeping in recent years (due to IFRA regulations), I do wonder: Is my 2010 sample of Must de Cartier edt representative of the perfume being produced in 2016? That question I can’t answer because I don’t live near a fine department store, such as Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus or Saks, where one can test it. Thus, I decided to write my review based on the original 1980s parfum concentration (Must was launched in 1981) and be done with it.**

Must de Cartier vintage parfum is a multi-layered floral-oriental fragrance that unfolds on the skin, not in pyramidal fashion, but in two parts. Being the perfume of a company famous for its exquisite watches is a telling detail, as Must is a fragrance through which time is measured by these two very distinct stages, both of which seem equally weighted during this fragrance’s long wear-time on the skin. Day and Night, it says in its unique and unhurried way, with daytime arriving first, on a mantle of green galbanum that smells herbal and full of taut citrus notes that are more aldehydic than sunny, making it sparkle like an emerald and smell as expensive as a rare piece of Park Avenue lawn. Attendant with Must’s crystalline greenery is a patchouli note (either real or a product of my imagination, since it isn't listed among Must's notes) that is part chocolaty, part camphorous; a narcissus note that lends a feral quality with its cat-pee scent; and the furry, dirty smell of civet and jasmine. These dark elements are accents: they in no way undermine the brilliant greens but instead shape them, lending a particular character to the perfume—one that is feline, mysterious and sensual—as well as a sense of context. Without these accents, the grassy and herbal smell of Must might send up a bucolic picture in one’s mind. Their inclusion marks Must as an urbane scent, for these are neither dewy greens nor woodsy ones; they are the sharper, more sophisticated greens that make one think of the privileged person who begins their day on the manicured grounds of a country estate, but who is in the city by afternoon or evening.

When first jotting notes about Must de Cartier in my notebook, before I’d ever researched it, I wrote: “The middle stage of this perfume, if indeed there is one, is what I need to sniff for, because I already know, from previous wearings, what the drydown is like. It is the surprise of creamy vanilla and sandalwood emerging through the sharpness, like a sleek woman suddenly showing you her impressive backside, a backside that is curvy and firm and delicious, but with a compactness such that you weren’t previously aware such a backside could exist on this fine frame. It is a thing she kept hidden until now.”

“We want a nightgown,” I said.
….

“Did you have a color or a style in mind?” the girl said.

“We want something beautiful,” I said. “Something white. I’ll just look through these, thanks.” I slid the hangers one by one along the rack, looking at every gown. They were all either too glamorous or too matronly.

“Here you go,” Billy said, holding up a pink negligee with fur on it.

“No fur,” I said.

“No fur,” he said to the salesgirl.

“This one,” I said, coming to a white silk. It stopped me cold, its plain bodice cut like a slip, with thin rolled straps. It was soft and wispy, and just the thing to make Rae feel beautiful again.

In this scene, Lucille, the novel’s protagonist — a girl in her late teens, on the cusp of womanhood — takes her brother-in-law shopping for a nightgown for his pregnant wife (Lucille’s sister) Rae, who' s been feeling miserable.

This scene, in many ways, strikes me as a perfect analogy for the kind of feeling I get when wearing La Panthère Édition Soir. It has an understated beauty that is elegant and simple, yet, in the way that understated things often do, has the effect of amplifying one’s sense of one’s pulchritude. Like the lingerie that Lucille had in mind when she went looking through the racks for the nightgown, La Panthère Édition Soir has no fur — no strong animalics: it is a perfume of pure cosmetic silkiness, with its liberal dose of musk and oakmoss enhancing the fruited gardenia heart of this fragrance in a way that speaks of glide, of “sweet nothing” sheerness, and of cool dewiness. Its oakmoss coolness recalls the silk fabric of lingerie; the warmth of a note that smells like apricot, combined with the creaminess of its white-floral accord, recalls skin. La Panthère Édition Soir is a little sweet when first applied, but quietly so, and over its many hours of wear, the oakmoss and some woody notes deepen the scent, making it smell just mossy enough that the scent steers womanly rather than girlish. The floral heart, which smells like it is composed around an iris note, as well as gardenia, becomes more cosmetic smelling in the late dry-down, although the transition happens slowly. One might be tempted to describe this as a linear perfume, and perhaps it is, but a warming effect takes place, like body heat taking up residence in the sheer lingerie.

Bottom line (no pun intended): La Panthère Édition Soir is more of a daytime, pretty kitty than a panther running fiercely into the night, and that’s fine by me. This quietly luminous perfume might not live up to its name, but it more than succeeds on its own merits. 

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The Shimmering Beauty of Daytime, The Warm Sensuality of Night:
Must de Cartier vintage parfum

A couple of months ago I ordered a bottle of a perfume I’d fallen deeply in love with — Must de Cartier — which I purchased through the Cartier website in order to get the older-style refill bottle. I’m really glad I did so! Their service was fast, the packaging was elegant, and they sent me spray samples of a couple of their most recent perfumes, which I wouldn’t have had occasion to try otherwise. Cartier La Panthère Édition Soir is one of those samples: launched last year, it is a flanker to La Panthère (2014), which I can’t compare it to, being unfamiliar with both it and the original (now discontinued) Cartier Panthère — the one without the “La” in the name — which so many people loved and which today can only be hunted down on auction sites like eBay. From what I’ve read, vintage Cartier Panthère was one of those animalic and audacious scents of the 80s that more closely matched up to the concept of a panther. Whereas this latest twist on the perfume legacy, La Panthère Édition Soir, doesn’t live up to its name at all (or at least not to my mind, though that's okay because I still quite like it). I think of panthers as being showy and fierce, and I think of “edition soir” as referring to something dark and risque, conjuring up nighttime prowlings out on the town or in the boudoir, yet this perfume is sweetly kittenish with nothing dark about it. Even so, it is sexy in a quiet and classy way: its left-of-center gardenia note, enhanced by the scent of something peachy or apricot-like, being reminiscent of a woman’s creamy skin. Once one has put aside any notions of there being a growl attendant with a scent of this name, then La Panthère Édition Soir delivers up some delightful feminine froth. To me, its gentle nectar has a filmy quality that reminds me of lingerie — of something that sits sweetly on the skin, hidden beneath a business suit perhaps, to remind a woman of the underbelly side of herself: the side that is is infinitely soft, curvy, and yielding. A tasteful matching bra-and-panty from La Perla, in a soft color like peach, comes to mind when I smell this perfume. So does a scene from a book — Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys, one of my favorite novels — which begins:

We went into Sweet Nothings, where underwear floated in the air. Bikini pants and bras and camisoles hovered just above my head, and Billy’s eyes were on a level with the garter belts. He batted at a slip that touched his hair, then tangled with a length of monofilament holding up a Christian Dior teddy. The plastic popped, dropping the little silk suit to the floor. A salesgirl picked it up.

“Can I help you, sir?”

He looked lost.

I hated dressing rooms because I didn’t like to watch myself undress; it was unnerving. In addition, I didn’t really like the look of myself once I got undressed, awkwardly standing there in the cubicle. So turning my back to the mirror, I took off my shirt and bra, then slipped the nightgown over my head. Then under the gown I unzipped my jeans and let them drop in a stiff heap to the floor. I turned around and faced the mirror.

The sight was almost too much for me. I stood there ogling myself. I even wiggled my hips some, regretting it immediately, but then I did it again. I stood sideways to my own reflection and tried to keep from smiling.

La Panthère Édition Soir eau de parfum can be purchased from the Cartier website as well as fine department stores like Nordstrom and Macys, where a 1.6 oz bottle is currently priced at $112.

February 5, 2017:

And a little later, I wrote, “There really isn’t a middle stage to this fragrance,” which, considering the intricacy of this perfume, surprised me. Prior to my research, based solely on the smell of the Must edt sample I fell for and the fact that this perfume comes from Cartier, I had a theme in mind and intended to couple Must’s complex nature, its leisurely unfolding on the skin, with the notion of it representing one of life’s most precious commodities: Time to one's self. I'd even gone to the bother of creating a photo essay conveying the deliciousness of spending a sunny afternoon leafing through magazines, having tea, and paying attention to the niceties of one’s table and one’s perfume. Once I realized there wasn’t a true pyramidal unfolding—that Must's greenness lingers from its opening into its heart (its impressive staying power bolstered by vetiver and iris that ride on galbanum’s wake)—I thought I’d have to completely nix that line of thought.

But while waiting for my other samples to arrive, I read Barbara Herman’s superb review of Must at her blog Yesterday’s Perfume, which describes its backstory and how perfumer Jean-Jacques Diener created Must as a perfume that is (metaphorically at least) two fragrances in one: a daytime and a nighttime scent. So, this notion of time which I can’t help but equate with Cartier actually does figure into this perfume’s concept, only it is time portrayed in two discrete parts, with the second part, Evening, represented by the firm cushion of sandalwood base that this fragrance sits on. Smelling languidly autumnal and seeming to emerge out of nowhere, this base is fascinating for that very reason. What came earlier—Must’s daytime element—strikes me as an overdose of green that achieves a gorgeous sleekness and just enough astringency to obscure the oriental base for a good couple hours. (Two hours, on my scent-eating skin, is a long time for a base to be obscured). Because Must is so compact and feline—its animalics eliciting sensuality in a contained way that eschews theatrics—one can easily forget that it is classified as an oriental. It smells more like a fine-boned chypre at first. Then, like the evening sky in late autumn catching you unaware because you’d grown accustomed to summer's long daylight, Must de Cartier reveals its other side, its moon. Sandalwood, arid yet custard-like, and vanilla, warm and silky, become its focus. This oriental accord is light on the sugar, immune to fluff, and not prone to ostentation, either. Its shapely curviness is in keeping with the rest of the fragrance. Self-assured and elegant, Must neither hides nor flaunts its treasures, but wears them, naturally, like a second skin.

**Addendum: While writing this review, I found myself so drawn to this scent that I purchased what is called a refill, or recharge, bottle of the parfum from the Cartier website (this link shows the bottle), which very much matches my impressions of the original, 1981 version of Must parfum. It should be noted that the refill bottle was originally created for one of the older Cartier parfum bottles (essentially, a metal case that the refill bottle snaps into), so I’m still not sure whether it's the very same parfum sold in the swoon-worthy new bottle.

Cartier Must de Cartier parfum can be purchased from fine department stores (Saks, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus) and online from the Cartier web boutique, where a 50-ml bottle is currently priced at $230 (for the beautiful new bottle) and $206 for the 50-ml refill bottle (not as fancy but still darn nice!). As mentioned above, my review is based on a decant of the vintage parfum concentration of Must that I ordered from surrendertochance.com, but I also ended up purchasing a refill bottle from Cartier, and it is the equal of the vintage, in my opinion.

Lastly, I’d like to credit my friend Ann, who writes for the Perfume Posse, for first introducing me to this perfume, and theperfumedcourt.com, where I purchased vintage samples of Must in the edt concentration.

Photo of actor, singer and model Vanessa Paradis (top of page) is by Ben Hassett for Violetgrey.com; the nude photo of Ms. Paradis (middle of page) is by Karim Sadli for the Vogue Paris Christmas 2015 issue; the image of the vintage Cartier Must perfume ad is from Aromablog.ru.