A couple of months ago I ordered a bottle of a perfume I’d fallen deeply in love with — Must de Cartier — which I purchased through the Cartier website in order to get the older-style refill bottle. I’m really glad I did so! Their service was fast, the packaging was elegant, and they sent me spray samples of a couple of their most recent perfumes, which I wouldn’t have had occasion to try otherwise. Cartier La Panthère Édition Soir is one of those samples: launched last year, it is a flanker to La Panthère (2014), which I can’t compare it to, being unfamiliar with both it and the original (now discontinued) Cartier Panthère — the one without the “La” in the name – which so many people loved and which today can only be hunted down on auction sites like eBay. From what I’ve read, vintage Cartier Panthère was one of those animalic and audacious scents of the 80s that more closely matched up to the concept of a panther. Whereas this latest twist on the perfume legacy, La Panthère Édition Soir, doesn’t live up to its name at all (or at least not to my mind), though I still quite like it. I think of panthers as being showy and fierce, and I think of “edition soir” as referring to something dark and risque, conjuring up nighttime prowlings out on the town or leading to the boudoir, yet this perfume is sweetly kittenish with nothing dark about it. Instead it is sexy in a quiet and classy way; its left-of-center gardenia note, enhanced by the scent of something peachy or apricot-like, being reminiscent of a woman’s creamy skin. Once one has put aside any notions of there being a growl attendant with a scent of this name, then La Panthère Édition Soir delivers up some delightful feminine froth. To me, its gentle nectar has a filmy quality that reminds me of lingerie — of something that sits sweetly on the skin, hidden beneath a business suit perhaps, to remind a woman of the underbelly side of herself: the side that is is infinitely soft, curvy, and yielding. A tasteful matching bra-and-panty from La Perla, in a soft color like peach, comes to mind when I smell this perfume . So does a scene from a book — Rich in Love by Josephine Humphreys, one of my favorite novels — which begins:
We went into Sweet Nothings, where underwear floated in the air. Bikini pants and bras and camisoles hovered just above my head, and Billy’s eyes were on a level with the garter belts. He batted at a slip that touched his hair, then tangled with a length of monofilament holding up a Christian Dior teddy. The plastic popped, dropping the little silk suit to the floor. A salesgirl picked it up.
“Can I help you, sir?”
He looked lost.†
This is a scene in which Lucille, the novel’s protagonist — a girl in her late teens, on the cusp of womanhood — takes her brother-in-law shopping for a nightgown for his pregnant wife, Lucille’s sister.
“We want a nightgown,” I said.
“Did you have a color or a style in mind?” the girl said.
“We want something beautiful,” I said. “Something white. I’ll just look through these, thanks.” I slid the hangers one by one along the rack, looking at every gown. They were all either too glamorous or too matronly.
“Here you go,” Billy said, holding up a pink negligee with fur on it.
“No fur,” I said.
“No fur,” he said to the salesgirl.
“This one,” I said, coming to a white silk. It stopped me cold, its plain bodice cut like a slip, with thin rolled straps. It was soft and wispy, and just the thing to make Rae feel beautiful again.†
The only problem is that Lucille has forgotten her sister’s new girth. Since the gown won’t fit Rae, Billy suggests that she get it for herself — and because Lucille is modest and somewhat tomboyish, his suggestion surprises her. Under normal circumstances she would likely reject it, but the beauty of the gown has already worked its magic on her, and she follows the salesgirl to the dressing room.
I hated dressing rooms because I didn’t like to watch myself undress; it was unnerving. In addition, I didn’t really like the look of myself once I got undressed, awkwardly standing there in the cubicle. So turning my back to the mirror, I took off my shirt and bra, then slipped the nightgown over my head. Then under the gown I unzipped my jeans and let them drop in a stiff heap to the floor. I turned around and faced the mirror.
The sight was almost too much for me. I stood there ogling myself. I even wiggled my hips some, regretting it immediately, but then I did it again. I stood sideways to my own reflection and tried to keep from smiling.†
This scene, in many ways, strikes me as a perfect analogy for the kind of feeling I get when wearing La Panthère Édition Soir. It has an understated beauty that is elegant and simple, yet, in the way that understated things often do, has the effect of amplifying one’s sense of one’s own pulchritude. Like the lingerie that Lucille had in mind when she went looking through the racks for the nightgown, La Panthère Édition Soir has no fur — no strong animalics: it is a perfume of pure cosmetic silkiness, with its liberal dose of musk and oakmoss enhancing the fruited gardenia heart of this fragrance in a way that speaks of glide, of “sweet nothing” sheerness, and of cool dewiness. Its oakmoss coolness recalls the silk fabric of lingerie; the warmth of a note that smells like apricot, combined with the creaminess of its white-floral accord, recalls skin. La Panthère Édition Soir is a little sweet when first applied, but quietly so, and over its many hours of wear, the oakmoss and some woody notes deepen the scent, making it smell just mossy enough that the scent steers womanly rather than girlish. The floral heart, which smells like it is composed around an iris note as well as gardenia, becomes more cosmetic smelling in the late dry-down, too, albeit the transition happens slowly. One might be tempted to describe this as a linear perfume, and perhaps it is, but a warming effect takes place, like body heat taking up residence in the sheer lingerie.
Bottom line (no pun intended): La Panthère Édition Soir is more of a daytime, pretty kitty than a panther running fiercely into the night, and that’s fine by me. This quietly luminous perfume might not live up to its name, but it more than gets by on its own merits.
La Panthère Édition Soir eau de parfum can be purchased from the Cartier website and fine department stores like Macys, where a 1.6 oz bottle is $112. (Btw, I have no affiliation with Cartier or Macys, I’m just someone who loves to review perfume!)
†Rich in Love, copyright © 1987 by Josephine Humphreys (Viking Penguin Inc., New York, 1987, pp. 225-226)