I’m a huge fragrance person. Huge to the point that, despite findings that fragranced skin care can irritate your skin, I truly don’t care. I like smelling like smells I like (say that five times as fast as you can), and if it means that I’ll be drenching my skin in layers of highly fragranced body lotions, oils, and then a final spritz (well, spritzes, plural) of perfume, so be it. I want to be the type of woman who has a signature scent that lingers on all of my clothes. That, to me, is the epitome of chic.
To that point, I admit to being a hoarder when it comes to perfume. I started accumulating men’s fragrances after dabbling in the category—because hoarders don’t discriminate—I found that there’s a certain sexiness to wearing supermusky, traditionally masculine scents. This isn’t a new idea; women have been wearing mens and unisex fragrances for years. And when I recently sat down with the überchic (and very French) in-house perfumer for Cartier, Mathilde Laurent, she had an interesting perspective on the topic. It’s worth noting that Laurent is one of a small handful of leading female noses in the world.
“For me, it’s a great joy to smell a fragrance I did for men, worn by a woman. A perfume should never be reserved for one sex because smells have no sex,” she told me at the New York City launch of Cartier’s new eau de parfum, L’Envol, which is technically for men but something I’d wear in a heartbeat. (It will be available for purchase in September.) Though we were sitting at a table with the marketing team, Laurent’s role is the art of the juice itself, and she wasn’t afraid to say that the separation of categories is just a ploy. It’s not uncommon for a company to use clichés—it’s a business after all—but she said Cartier works to avoid them. “It’s an old habit to put a naked woman or man on the advertising to tell you, ‘It’s for you!’ We have come to a kind of caricature of being a woman or man in perfume, but like our society, there’s no reason to separate,” she said.
Laurent compared the act of a woman reaching for a men’s fragrance to wearing a Saint Laurent Le Smoking suit. “It’s exactly the same. It’s a kind of femininity that doesn’t exist in the field of perfumery. I understand very well that some women don’t recognize themselves in that fruity, vanilla scent. It’s fun to dress like a man and smell like a man—it’s a playful game,” she said.
And as for the “French” way of wearing fragrance, to echo this statement, it’s all about individuality. From her perspective, in order to smell as chic as a French woman, disregard best-sellers and find what you love. She says French women care less about the trends and more about that things you don’t know about yet but will eventually. When I asked what she thinks about the French stereotype of going overkill on perfume application, which, based on all of the above, I’m guilty of, she actually hates it. “In France, at the moment, it can be overwhelming. I think it’s a real problem. Even if it’s a wonderful fragrance, if you put too much on, it will be too much, and it won’t be chic,” she said. Her tip for applying the right amount? On the first day of wearing a fragrance, start with two sprays. Add a third on the second day if you want a little more drama, but don’t up the dosage after your nose becomes saturated with the scent over time. Remember that your nose gets used to the scent, but it’s still there.
Laurent has inspired me to continue in my quest to find my favorite men’s fragrance. Right now, I love wearing Dior Homme Cologne and Chanel Bleu de Chanel, and I plan on adding this new Cartier to my lineup. I must admit, the exquisite bottle (below) is part of the allure. And on another note, there’s the thought that a scent can add something to your personality that you’re otherwise lacking. A sense of playfulness (fruity?), sex appeal (musk?), energy (spice?). That’s a story for another day, but maybe, for me, it’s a man—a nod to my singleness. In the interim, at least I have my cologne.
For more on what a fragrance says about you: