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Mathilde Laurent: Finding Inspiration Everywhere

When Laurent began her job as in-house Cartier perfumer last December, she became one of a handful of "noses" hired to work exclusively for a brand.

PARIS — Mathilde Laurent has a perfumer’s dream job — making custom fragrances for Cartier.

“My inspiration comes from anything,” she explained. “Everything a person says, a land, a country, where a person lives, a flower. Even pictures can inspire me.”

The latter, particularly, comes as no surprise. This petite 35-year-old Parisian thought seriously of becoming a photographer before entering the fabled Isipca fragrance school in Versailles, France. Afterward, she worked under the legendary Jean Paul Guerlain for 11 years.

When Laurent began her job as in-house Cartier perfumer last December, she became one of a handful of “noses” hired to work exclusively for a brand.

From Laurent’s wood-paneled room with some 200 scent bottles in Cartier’s newly renovated flagship on the Rue de la Paix here, she meets with individuals to sniff out their likes and dislikes.

“I ask extremely easy questions,” she said.

Following just a couple of one-on-one sessions, Laurent proposes three olfactive directions a fragrance might take. Then, at least nine months and 60,000 euros ($73,660) later, a client walks away with an array of crystal flacons that can be held in a signature red Cartier box, plus 1.5 liters, or three to five years’ worth, of their own made-to-measure scent.

“I can do things that are extremely personal for people without their recounting their lives,” said Laurent, adding it’s very intimate.

So, too, is the moment when she passes someone on the street wearing one of her fragrances.

“The first time that happened to me as a young perfumer, it was unforgettable,” she said. “It’s like you understand your creation is real, that it exists in the world without you. At least someone was touched by it and decoded the message you put inside that perfume. It is like someone speaks the same language as you, and that language is unique.”

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.