When I first read about the “Heures de Parfum” Collection from Cartier, I mentally shrugged and said to myself, “Well, if I run across them, I’ll try, and if not, oh well.”
That’s still my feeling about the line. But a kind friend sent me a sample of XIII: La Treizieme Heure (as always, please forgive the lack of diacritical marks, as they’re not available on the software I use for blogging), and although it was composed by Mathilde Laurent and had gotten terrific reviews, it didn’t seem very much like me. Leather, smoke, patchouli and vanilla? Uhhhhh, no thanks, not my thang.
I wuz wronnnng.
The official notes list reads Not Very Me: leather, maté, birch, narcissus, bergamot, patchouli and vanilla. (Well, except for the narcissus, that’s Very Me.) The description of the scent didn’t move me either, seeming both pretentious and sort of faux-dangereuse: Mathilde Laurent called XIII La Treizième Heure “olfactive trickery, like a crime with premeditation.” I don’t even get what that means. Still less do I understand another quote from Ms. Laurent about this fragrance: “By smoke, I mean perfume. Smoke like a fascination, to be worn like a trap with intent.”
I’m not much for smoky notes. Cuir de Lancome is about as smoky as I tolerate well; SSS Winter Woods, for example, was very smoky on me and prompted a customer at the auto parts store where I used to work to ask where the wood stove was. (Eep.) Even Shalimar can be unbearably smoky on my skin, and another famously birch tar-and-leather fragrance, Cuir de Russie, is horrrrrrible, just horrible, on me (it smells like our cattle working pens). But this? I like it. Really.
Yeah, I was surprised too.
Sometimes when I test fragrances new to me, I check the notes and read reviews of them. This is because I am an unapologetic geek. I try not to do that for scents that I am planning to write formal reviews for, but if I’m in that “wonder if this will suit me?” mode, I usually do it. I didn’t do it for XIII, because I merely grabbed a vial on my way out the door the other day. I’d been testing hay notes again recently (Bois Blond, SMN Fieno, that really expensive LE L’Artisan Fleur de Narcisse) and La Treizieme Heure was in a baggie with those, probably because someone somewhere said it smelled like hay – or because, perhaps, I’d confused it with La Heure Fougeuse, which is the horsey one, I think.
For the record, none of them smell like hay to me. And I am not sure yet, but I think I really dislike Bois Blond.
So. I was a little surprised at the bonfire that wafted off my skin in the beginning of this test. My son Gaze (age 13, the kid who’s most interested in smells in my house) walked by and said, “Hey, you smell like fall. You know, woodsmoke? No, wait… it’s more like smoked sausage. By the way, what’s for dinner?” Yep. Smoke smoke smoke. Which should have felt very strange in June, but instead was rather fascinating.
Digression: At this point I feel compelled to talk about my late grandparents’ house. It was an enormous monstrosity of a farmhouse built in 1860, the “summer home” of some wealthy people who also owned a beautiful brick house elsewhere. (The brick house is now gorgeously restored and thriving as a bed and breakfast. Check out Rockwood Manor here.) My grandparents bought Mountain Home in 1950, mostly for the 100-acre farm surrounding it, and most of my childhood holidays were spent there. I loved that house so much. I think the whole family was sad when my grandfather died and my grandmother stated firmly that she couldn’t bear another winter cooped up in that house when it snowed, with no way to get to town, and it was sold. My sister and I often talk about how frequently we still dream about that house, with its 12-foot ceilings, its transom windows, its double staircases, and how it felt both comfortable and exciting. The vegetable garden was fully half an acre (weeding it was no fun at all), and the orchard was full of Early Transparent apple trees. The outbuildings included a storage shed where Pawpaw kept his Ford tractor, a dairy barn, a hay barn, and… a smokehouse.
We grandkids loved to go into the smokehouse in the summer. It was made of stone, sat squarely behind the house, and it was cool and dark and musty and smoky, a wonderful place to be. La Treizieme Heure shot me straight back there to the smokehouse, and how enjoyable that was!
After the smokehouse start, the fragrance dove into a beautiful, almost transparent white floral with green overtones, a real surprise for something with such a heavy, wintery opening. My testing notes say “narcissus? gardenia? jasmine-ylang?” because I couldn’t quite place it, but it is definitely a soft floral accord. I would not quite say that the florals are out of place in the fragrance, but this scent is definitely a morpher, with distinct stages. The white floral segued into a quiet tobacco-vanilla drydown, clear and lovely, no powder at all.
I was reminded a little of Bvlgari Black while testing. Black is sort of a circular fragrance, however, rotating among smoky tea, new-sneakers rubber, and powdery vanilla. I like Black, but to be honest my favorite part of it is the new-sneakers rubber bit – you remember how exciting it was as a kid to get new shoes? – and I would like Black far better without the powder in the vanilla. (Apparently I like my powder via aldehydes, not amber/vanilla.)
I really enjoy the trip from smokehouse to garden to cupcake via the “Thirteenth Hour.” It has about average lasting power on me for an eau de parfum, four to five hours with mild sillage (I dabbed from a vial; it may be more radiant if sprayed). However, since it’s one of those exclusive Cartier things, available at Cartier boutiques and Saks Fifth Avenue, it’s pretty pricey at $260 for 75ml. That’s almost Amouage-level prices, and in fact more expensive than the last bottle of Amouage I bought (a 100ml tester bottle of Memoir Woman for $200). So I think I’ll skip buying this one, but if a decant should land in my mailbox some day, I’d certainly enjoy wearing it.
Other reviews: Grain de Musc, Katie Puckrik Smells, Kevin at Now Smell This (I should probably mention that I LOVE Kevin’s writing, but we hardly ever agree in terms of likes and dislikes), Patty at Perfume Posse (brief), Mark at Ca Fleure Bon, Bois de Jasmin (brief).