Creative Direction led by Mathilde Laurent, a fragrance feast disguised as performance art was displayed courtesy of Maison Cartier.
by SunHee Grinnell
Is it a luncheon or performance art? That was the question as I took my seat at New York City’s Carpenters Workshop Gallery in mid December. The event, which was led by the longtime (12 years to be exact) perfumer of Maison Cartier Mathilde Laurent, began when Olivier Darné, a Paris based artist and an urban bee-keeper who is known for pollinating the city by placing sculptures and bees on Paris sidewalks, poured hot honey wax over a damp tablecloth, organically creating placemats. This was a running theme, with wax plates, wax wine cups, and even wax butter holders in the shape of mini-cones dispersed across the long table.
The eleven-course meal (I sadly only made it to the sixth!) was carefully executed by Alexandre Gauthier, a Michelin star chef praised for his deep-rooted respect for technical accuracy and French cuisine. The dishes were to die for, not only in their exquisite presentation but also in flavor. For example: the “land air” encounter, as Gauthier calls it, was sea urchin on mini-brioche with pollen butter and torched foam. It was a symphony of true modern decadence, a way of experiencing a meal that’s influenced by art and the senses.
This is where Mathilde Laurent comes in to explain to us mere spectators the meaning of such experimentation. The goal, she said, is to elevate perfumery to its highest level of experience and to find a worthy meaning of expression in perfume making – to possibly create an emotional experience for the participant. Exploration, art, and creativity have always been the underlying motto for Maison Cartier, Laurent says, “I wanted it to create kind of a shock – something a little amazing, something that makes you a little bit afraid of the unknown, but in the end it’ll be a great memory." She continues: "To create something you’re not used to and it’s a little bit strange but when you discover it, you get addicted to it. It’s a virtuous shock when one can take a risk to explore and that it becomes something pleasurable.” This is what we know as sense-memory, which is inherent to what fragrance is all about.
This artful collaboration between Laurent and Darné began with honey, which is one of the key fragrance notes in Cartier’s L’Envol. It was important to all artists involved that everything from the fragrance to the meal is linked by the process of layering— the layering of wax, the layering of notes, and the layering of ingredients. The experience linked fragrance, art, and gastronomy – call it mixology, but it became performance art. As they say in French, c’est incroyable et manifique!