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January 28, 2011

Cartier Les Heures de Parfum Review : La Treizieme Heure, Mysterieuse, Defendue

Les-heures-de-parfum-cartier

The deterioration of perfume's luxury status has resulted in some new marketing strategies on the part of high-end brands. The most obvious one has been to create niche lines within the main range that are distinguished from their commercial offerings both by the elaborate nature of packaging and the impressive prices: Chanel Les Exclusifs, Hermès Hermessence, Guerlain L'Art et la Matière, Giorgio Armani Privé, Cartier Les Heures de Parfum, and Christian Dior La Collection. Cartier Les Heures de Parfum first launched in 2009 with five fragrances (L’Heure Promise, L’Heure Brilliante, L'Heure Folle, L’Heure Mystérieuse, La Treiziéme Heure,) and this year, the collection was expanded to include three more (L’Heure Defendue, L’Heure Fougueuse, L'Heure Diaphane.) As I have been testing my way through Dior La Collection, I decided to revisit Les Heures de Parfum as well.

The fragrances for Les Heures de Parfum were created by Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent, whose work for Guerlain (Attrape-Coeur, Shalimar Eau Légère) has been very memorable in its combination of baroque plushness and laconic modern style. Les Heures de Parfum, on the whole, exemplifies the latter. While Dior and Chanel have taken distinctly traditional routes to build their collections, Cartier has largely explored modern niche trends. In some what this is not surprising. While Chanel and Dior have a very strong fragrance heritage, Cartier’s experience with fragrance is relatively recent; its first fragrance, Must de Cartier, was launched only in 1981. If one criticism may be levied against the collection, it is very heavily skewed towards presenting little fragrance etudes that do not develop into fuller stories. Given the luxurious pricing*, I am left wanting something more complex. Fragrances like X L'Heure Folle and XII L’Heure Mystérieuse are actually among the most unusual scents I have tried lately, but they strike me more as original accords that I long to smell as a part of a more complex structure. On the other hand, the vivid verdancy of VI L’Heure Brilliante and the ashy jasmine of IV L’Heure Fougueuse tell very interesting stories with enough complexity and twists to the plot to maintain one's interest. While I am tempted to purchase only one of the eight, I still find that it is a collection worth exploring for its interesting ideas.

Since I have not yet reviewed any fragrances from the collection, I decided to start with the darkest of the eight and work my way to the lightest ones.

XIII La Treiziéme Heure

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

Dark and smoky, La Treiziéme Heure is not subtle in its message. It plunges straight into the heart of darkness with its accord of dry leather, woods, and patchouli. The phenolic birch tar note, reminiscent of the irresistible burnt rubber in Bulgari Black, is set center stage in La Treiziéme Heure. I like the dry, green note of yerba mate (shrub native to South America, the leaves of which are used as tea,) which along with clove provides a great contrast to the heavy, dark notes in this composition. It is fascinating to explore the interplay of dark and smoky, which is quite nuanced, and I would have loved a more complex fragrance built around this idea. As it is, I find La Treiziéme Heure to be too blunt and anti-climatic. 

(notes: bergamot, narcissus, maté, birch, leather, patchouli, vanilla)

XII L’Heure Mystérieuse

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

The mystery of L’Heure Mystérieuse is woven out of incense, and it is quite beguiling. The green herbal opening with a hint of burnt orange gives the composition a surprisingly classical aura, but soon it enters the terrain of modern niche. In contrast to the mainstream embrace of fresh floral and crisp fruity notes, niche is all about incense, smoke and animalic notes. L’Heure Mystérieuse explores incense both as a fresh, peppery note as well as a dark, burnt accord. A hint of sweetness recalling Indian sandalwood incense sticks is a memorable touch. Although I enjoy L’Heure Mystérieuse, it does not have much sillage, staying heavy and close to the skin. Undoubtedly interesting, but for me, it has a difficult time competing with other incense dominated fragrances like L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d'Enfer and Armani Privé Bois d'Encens.

(notes: juniperberry, jasmine, coriander, patchouli, elemi, frankincense)

VII L’Heure Deféndue

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

Chocolate and patchouli may be an au courant combination given the new generation of gourmand fragrances (from Thierry Mugler Angel to Guerlain Iris Ganache,) but L’Heure Deféndue has a surprisingly retro aura. The balsamic notes layered with dark amber, dried fruit and vanilla have an abstract gourmand quality, while the dryness of patchouli and woody musk (Cashmeran) tempers the creamy sweetness of cocoa. To me, this is the least interesting of three fragrances I have reviewed here, because it is in the same genre as Serge Lutens Borneo 1834, minus the strong character and surprising contrasts.

(notes: amber, sandalwood, tolu balsam, coco wood, patchouli, musk, vanilla)

Les Heures de Parfum are available at Cartier boutiques and Saks Fifth Avenue in the US.

Reviews of the entire Les Heures de Parfum collection: I L’Heure Promise :: IV L’Heure Fougueuse :: VI L’Heure Brilliante :: VII L’Heure Deféndue :: VIII L'Heure Diaphane :: X L'Heure Folle :: XXII L’Heure Mystérieuse :: XXIII La Treiziéme Heure

*Les Heures de Parfum are among the most expensive niche collections, priced at $255 for 75 ml. To compare, Dior La Collection--$225.00 for 250ml, Chanel Les Exclusifs--$110 for 75ml/$210 for 200 ml, Hermessence--$235.00 for 100ml.

Samples: my own acquisitions, except for L’Heure Deféndue, which was a 4ml sample from Cartier.

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