Between four walls, with a computer or smartphone in front of us, we rethink shopping, habits and consumption. In an interview with Vogue, Mathilde Laurent, perfumer at Cartier, discusses how perfumes continue to have a place in the beauty routine, and how we will continue to buy them - even without smelling them.
At the time of this interview, much of the world is still in confinement at home. Do you, Mathilde perfume yourself just to be at home?
I don't actually wear perfume any more than when I go to work at the office. The reason for that is that I need to keep my nose very fresh to be able to smell all the bottles and samples I have to smell, because I continue to work on fragrances I was creating before this confinement. So, I no longer “could” wear perfume both outside the home and in confinement. I wear it on weekends, when I'm not working.
Perfume is often associated with a message that is passed on to others. Now that we're more alone, are we finally going to wear the fragrances we really enjoy?
Yes, I hope so. Because to me perfume for me was never made for other people. In fact, I have always considered scent as something we choose with our own art and our own taste, and for our pleasure. For me it's a marketing vision to consider that perfume is meant to say something to others, or seduce them. For me, perfume is a personal pleasure that is shared with people. And, therefore, it is not because we’re meeting people during the day that we should wear perfume. My view is that perfume should not be worn for a social or hygienic reason, or to be accepted in a social idea. We must wear perfume because we like it, as if it were jewelry.
In these new circumstances, how has the work as a perfumer changed?
I don't think it's very different, it's the same thought, but there is a different dynamic, of course. I usually work daily with my assistant, the person who prepares all my creations, and who has worked with me for 15 years, when I joined Cartier. She brings me the result of the preparation, I smell it, I give her an idea, she prepares, and she brings it back to me, and throughout the day we are thinking, preparing, together, and it is a very close job. At the moment, as we cannot do this, I have to make my samples, my ideas, using robots, and the preparation is made in a factory [...] We are very happy to have robots and in some cases it is good that the robots are able to replace people, although they don't really replace them, but I prefer to work with my friend, who is much faster and more communicative with my ideas. These robots are great for preparing recipes [for perfumery], but they don't help me.
Cartier's new Haute Perfume collection, Les Épures de Parfum, is made up of three fragrances dedicated to natural elements. In these uncertain times, is it a way to bring us the comfort of nature that today, being more isolated, we are unable to reach?
Exactly. That is exactly what I wanted to say, I think that in this moment of confinement, nothing is more important than nature, and this is what we all miss. We all want five minutes in a garden, in the countryside, or on a beach. I think this crisis has something wonderful about making us look at nature and realizing that humans thought that nature could be used, appropriated, exploited, and that nature would not respond. And now we see that it’s not quite the case [...] Our physical and mental balance is in nature, it’s not just a pleasure, it’s a necessity. When I started this collection more than a year ago, I always had this feeling that nature was a necessity for me, for humanity. But the most recent era has forgotten that, and when you study perfumery and think constantly about the connection between humans, perfume and nature, you realize that nature is really a necessity. I think it is even one of the reasons for choosing this job, because my vocation comes from a garden, from nature, from Corsica. I chose this métier to explore nature and to paint, I mean from a smell point of view, nature in my creations. In the last year, I had the feeling that perfumery had lost this connection with nature and with the raw, naked nature, the nature of our origins. And that is why I wanted to create a new style of perfume, a perfume that was really removed from nature, simple, genuine, to offer this primary and original pleasure of nature, without sophistication, without seduction, without orientation, without everything that has become very abstract, I would say. I wanted to offer this view of nature as the center of our needs, our balance and our life on earth.
The olfactory nature of perfumes raises some challenges to its online sale. Do you believe that perfumery e-commerce will evolve, since we can't “smell the Internet"?
I love this question. I've noticed, and this is very interesting, that the new generations are very bold when choosing perfumes online, without necessarily having to smell them. At first, I was fascinated, but now I find it very interesting because maybe they have a maturity that we didn't have when we were their age. I think a level has been reached that allows them think “well, maybe this is not going to be the perfume of my life, but in any case, it's going to be a perfume." Today there are many perfumes that smell like others, are easy perfumes, and I think this new generation is better able to think that they will keep a perfume for one month instead of years [...] I think that [this generation] looks at this type of purchase in a lighter way and not as a problem: “You like it, great, you don't like it, give it to someone as a gift or resell it.” It's not a problem. And I think it's a good way of discovering, I think they're more open to olfactory discoveries. E-commerce is also great to have the perfume you want without having to go to a store, it is very convenient in that sense.
Selling is easier when it’s the case of a second purchase. Do you think that this moment will create a need for more knowledge among consumers, thus making them able to recognize notes or aromas in the perfumes they like?
Yes, even though I confess that it is very difficult to know how to identify the ingredients of the perfume because it is very rare to smell them one by one. If [a consumer] has never been to a perfumery workshop or something, it will be difficult to make that distinction. [...] I think people will always want to discover Cartier perfumes, which is why it is always better to start with small bottles. They can be ordered before smelling them, but our creations are really private and not easy to choose. They are like a Haute Couture piece, you have to try it... that’s why we sell online to anyone who wants to buy their fragrance or discover it, but knowing that they are going to buy something that is very “Cartier style”.
*Originally published on Vogue Portugal's The Madness Issue.