Mathilde Laurent's La Panthère for Cartier is a curious beast. Several commentators have been coaxed into blissful submission by what they've discerned as a warm, seductive purr emanating from the scent. But others have been less enthralled, claiming that - in sonic terms - the fragrance is a midnight howl from a stray tabby determined to give the neighbourhood no rest whatsoever. My own experience with the perfume bears out this division in opinions, which leads me to conclude - over and above the following review - that it must, at the very least, be an interesting piece of work. Any scent capable of polarising views to the extent that has been achieved by La Panthère is surely worth serious attention.
As the marketing blurb states, Laurent's olfactory representation of this particular feline is gardenia. But you'll be disappointed if you're hoping to find diffusive, white-floral headiness here. Under Laurent's direction, this bloom has become shadowy. It slinks around in moody corners, biding its time, lying close to the damp earth. Even though its personality is necessarily conspicuous, it does what it can to remain unobtrusive, refusing to announce its presence any more than it absolutely has to. You're not sure exactly where it's hiding, but you know it's there, behind the vines, watching you.
So far, so good. But Laurent has made the decision to take the scent into more contentious territory by placing an unusual accord at the top of its construction. Hovering over the gardenia is a curious, rubbery, glue-like note, part metallic and part fruity-gelatinous. It's green too, adding a not-altogether-endearing rasp of rhubarb and bitterness. Think of honey poured into a steel cup and sprinkled with slivers of freshly-cut grass. Needless to say, this opening influences the gardenia mid-section, causing it to become unsettling and perplexing. Indeed, some have gone so far as to say 'unpleasant', complaining that the metallic edge turns into a repellant whiff of blood.
That aside, I'd assert that the drydown is commendable. After the more garish aspects of the fruity-sticky opening have faded away, the soil facets of the gardenia link up with the brown inkiness of mosses and the skin-hugging physicality of musks to produce a distinctive, velvety intimacy, as content and satisfied as the perfume's opening is restive.
Even though I'm personally not (yet) a massive fan of the scent - and Madame Persolaise insists she never wants to smell it again - I have to give Mathilde Laurent top marks for daring to bring something so unconventional to the mainstream, and for shaking up Cartier's feminine line-up. Note that when I say 'unconventional', I don't necessarily mean 'animalic' or 'dirty'. Much has been made of the alleged carnality of La Panthère, but I have to confess that all those facets were lost on me. Yes, the fragrance is strange and it refuses to pander to the lowest common denominator, but it doesn't make me reach for my copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover in the way that, say, Chaldée does.
Then again, there is something predatory about it. The syrupy opening. The funky gardenia in the centre. The satiated musks at the end. They certainly seem intent on telling a lusty story... but is it a bewitching tale told by an elegant beast of prey, or malignant invective spat out by a Venus flytrap? I'll leave you to work that out as you gaze upon the one aspect of this release which everyone seems to agree is beautiful: the bottle.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Cartier in 2014. And speaking of the bottle, ever since Persolaise Junior #3 said it reminds him of the Autobot symbol from Transformers, I haven't been able to look at it in quite the same way... but I still think it's stunning.]