Tuesday, 6 December 2011
Crystalline Refraction – ‘Baiser Volé’ by Cartier: A Lily Through the Prism of Mathilde Laurent
Anyone that knows me is aware of my passion for the lily. Lilium, giglio, lirio, lilya, lilie, krinos. The singular bloom that burns white on white in the fevered mind, Madonna and whore, shimmering in the imagination. Like luminous Rita Hayworth forever trapped in Gilda, fleshily beautiful, luscious and sensual.
I have loved lilies all my life, the whiteness, their carnal murmurings, clarity and divisive intent. I love the boudoir leanings and funereal chill, the heady indolic descent into decay and unsettling sweet morgue atmospherics. When you read those questionnaires about what kind of animal would you be etc. If asked about flowers, I would be a Casablanca lily, wrapped up in the snowiest white, like the glorious Tilda in a column of glittering icy fur.
I have posted previously on my love of Penhaligon’s beautifully hissy Lily & Spice with its chilly laundry rendering of Madonna lily, smooth creamy vanilla and weird saffron slide into pepper and addictive rooty benzoin base. I am still in love with it, layering with L’Artisan’s boozy Vanille Absolument (post on that in the new year…..)
But good lily soliflores are still rare, so I get excited by the appearance of new ones. The combination of Mathilde Laurent, the White Witch of perfumery and the snowy challenge of Casablanca lilies was tantalising news. I couldn’t wait to sample it, wear it, breathe it. And the name…..Baiser Volé….stolen kiss… conjuring up images of sleeping beauties on marble biers or thieves in the night, hovering in darkness, just brushing the lips of obsessional loves lost in dreams.
The bottle is a nod to Cartier’s luxurious pedigree and their iconic lighters, with an elegant flip top zippo style lid and perfect in-the-hand ergonomics. I imagined Lauren Hutton snapping it open to light a Vogue cigarette on safari with Peter Beard while he wonders if she will fit inside a crocodile.
Baiser Volé’s appearance took me by surprise. I was walking through a quiet store and smelt waves of soft, apricot toned lily and vanilla. It was just gorgeous, creamy and foamy, with bursts of light and a hazy corona. I realized the sales assistant has just billowed the scent into the air, I could see motes of it flickering across the lights.
The top clicked open softly. I was reminded of my lovely Must de Cartier bottles. Suddenly I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it. Would it disappoint? I was incredibly nervous. It was really odd. I shook a little. I remembered a picture I has seen recently of Mathilde Laurent looking magnificently spiky in her atelier, trademark hair, swept into a stunning two-tone whip of grey and white and I thought: It will be remarkable. And I sprayed.
My initial impressions were of dawn breaking over a dewy garden, rays slowly radiating in golden warm lengths towards the eye. This solar surrender: the beginning of the lily’s portrait is very clever; a subtle scene setting corolla. It was like waiting with a camera for hours, just for the right light and as the liquid’s radiance floods the aperture, letting the lens burn with beauty.
Writing this I am reminded of a documentary on the Grooved Ware People who built Skara Brae, the haunting Neolithic site on Orkney. There were discussions on sun worship and the importance of building burial tumulii in alignment with the rising of the sun or in certain sites with the alignment of a chosen solstice. This meant that the buildings had apertures of stone that allowed the light to burn through only once a year. This sacred outpouring of momentous light played out now as then dazzled and moved me.
Now I’m not saying that perfume can humble and awe in the same way, although sometimes my brain spins off in some very strange directions….But this image of light flooding and the feel of something elemental implied by the emotion provoked is how I felt as I inhaled the green, whipped vanilla bathhouse top of Baiser Volé. Then creamy skin and a peek of blurred flirtatiousness.
Mathilde Laurent has constructed an entire flower from the stem up. A stem in water, in a crystal vase shot through with pure morning light. The laser sharp quality of the lily tones lifting off my skin are just lovely. The strange saline sniff of leaves and stems mingle with a cool, succulent note that smells like desire feels. I find an aloof eroticism in the lily, a buttoned up and held down hunger straining to lick lips and caress skin. But to look at it the lily seems controlled and cold, watching from a distance. To many it symbolises purity, having been offered to Mary by the Archangel on the eve of the Conception. This light, this glowing motif of pristine motherhood and chasteness has swung between two worlds over time: a white world of purity and soft safe love and a world of corrupted whorehouse carnality, skin toned and ripe for the taking.
Both worlds flow over and across each other in most lily soliflores. It is the nature of the bloom. Malle’s Lys Méditérrannée was more transvestite nun singing Gainsbourg cover versions, but at heart she was still a nun. Donna Karan’s Gold was rich and golden, opulent perhaps, but pure, saving herself for the love of her life. It was a beautifully constructed scent, layers of white, shot through with glittering strands of ormolu.
Baiser Volé is the temptation to stray, the whisper at your neck. As the luscious top notes smooth upwards paradoxically out of the water, rolling up to the leaves and the shoulders and clavicles of rolling white floral petal undulation, my senses shifted again. The molecules seemed to flow around me, atomic and super charged, shimmering with a gentle peach-coloured sweet camphor scent. Hints of galangal, coconut and gingerbread mixed with the deeply comforting opening hit of fabric softeners and cool green tea.
I loved the sensation of it on my skin, the joy of it. It made me feel alive. There is no real drydown, just a feeling that the elements have coalesced into something real. It is clever and beautiful fragrance work. A portrait of a sometimes skittish and withdrawn flower. The rendering is near perfect. It is not a floral. That would be far too easy. It is something else. Perhaps like a Gerhard Richter painting, so real as to be near perfect, but still after all a construct.
Baiser Volé is an astonishing rendition of a Casablanca Lily, so perfect as to be almost real. But like a Richter, you have to look incredibly hard to see the work. The homage is dazzling in its execution and the rendering by Laurent demands your skin and thunderous applause.