'The Perfumed Cloud': inside Cartier's fascinating new installation at Louvre Abu Dhabi
We talk to the luxury brand's head of heritage and style, Pierre Rainero, about the maison’s aromatic artwork
A new piece of art is coming to Louvre Abu Dhabi at the end of this month as part of the exhibition 10,000 Years of Luxury, which kick-starts on Wednesday, October 30. This is neither a painting nor a priceless jewel (although plenty of both will be on show). Instead, it is a glass chamber constructed outside the museum’s main building. The room-sized box contains nothing but a spiral staircase that ascends into a pall of mist, which hangs midway through the space – curiously caught between the floor and the roof.
USO: The Perfumed Cloud is an installation by Cartier about fragrance and humanity’s long relationship with it. As metaphors go, it is rather poetic, with the viewer climbing a staircase to become, literally, lost in the clouds.
First shown at a 2017 art fair outside the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the structure is being specially recreated for this region by Transsolar KlimaEngineering and works by cushioning water vapour between air pockets of varying temperatures. The upper reaches are then infused with fragrance: L’Envol by Cartier for men, with notes of citrus, gaiac wood and ambrosia.
Cartier’s head of heritage and style, Pierre Rainero, tells us how this charmingly avant-garde project came to be. “Mathilde came up with the idea,” he says, referring to Mathilde Laurent, Cartier’s in-house expert perfumer, who “was in touch with a company that could make it possible.
“L’Envol in French means you go into the sky; ‘vol’ is the flight, so ‘envol’ is the beginning of the flight. It is linked to the notion of escaping, and elevating yourself. The Perfumed Cloud is a contemporary way of experiencing fragrance, yet it goes to the deepest dimension because it is in line with gods. The etymology of perfume is from the Latin ‘per fume’, which means ‘through smoke’ – because during offerings to the gods, burning woods were used. So the image of going through the sky is going back to the roots and a link to an essential part of life.”
A combination of daring design, expert construction and deep philosophy lies behind many of Cartier’s creations, including the high jewellery beloved by royals such as King Edward VII of Britain, King Chulalongkorn of Siam (now Thailand) and Fuad I, king of Egypt. “Every single object we create is the result of many different talents working with the same objective,” says Rainero. “Louis Cartier called the designers ‘the inventors’, we call them ‘the creators’ and they are the origin. We consider ourselves a maison, which means all the talents are under the same roof.
“Cartier style is like a living language. There is grammar, vocabulary … and like any language, the grammar can evolve. Beauty is subjective and we have our own vision, but what makes Cartier desirable is not only the beauty, but the desire to wear it, and live with it today. At the start of every project, the first question we ask ourselves is: ‘Yes, it is beautiful, but is it now?’”
There is a huge pressure on our shoulders to create something beautiful. It has to feel like Cartier
Pierre Rainero, head of heritage and style, Cartier
With more than 20 years’ experience with Cartier, Rainero has an unrivalled knowledge of the company and its history, first as creative director and now as head of heritage and style. Yet, despite the rather romantic-sounding title, his role carries a significant responsibility to the maison’s legacy. “There is a huge pressure on our shoulders to create something beautiful,” he says. “It has to feel like Cartier. My role is to have an opinion on what style should be now and in the future – and I feel the weight of it. It is linked to knowledge of how the Cartier style has been imagined, conceived and the philosophy of it, and how it should live in the years to come. That was the vision of Louis Cartier.
“As well as creating something different, he knew that it had to be able to evolve. That is why we are lucky, because our role isn’t to force our identity on to current times, but that our identity is built on that principle.”
While The Perfumed Cloud will be outside Louvre Abu Dhabi, within it lie treasures from Cartier’s past. “Jewellery is one of the oldest forms of ornament in all civilisations and it was linked to the gods, which is why there is a difference between real and fake jewellery in myths,” Rainero says. “You could not lie to the gods; it had to be precious.
“And everyone feels that, which is why jewellery is important and marks occasions such as births, engagements, weddings, first children and all the anniversaries, because the preciousness of jewellery is deep. It is natural to use jewellery to mark something that is important to you.
“We are a jeweller, so our main clients are women, and women wear precious objects to express themselves and play with social codes. It used to be that there were certain types of jewellery that couldn’t be worn after 5pm, but now that has changed totally. And Cartier helped, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, and pushed the boundaries and allowed women to express themselves in a different way – it was daring.”
As The Perfumed Cloud demonstrates, that daring yet decorative spirit continues to this day.
USO: The Perfumed Cloud will be part of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s 10,000 Years of Luxury from Wednesday, October 30. The exhibition runs until February 18 next year
Updated: October 24, 2019 04:44 PM