There must have been something in the water at the cusp of the 21st century that led many designers to make late-coming masculine additions to much older feminine lines. I figured it was a phenomenon exclusive to Tom Ford’s adventures with YSL during this time period, but it turns out that Cartier was in on it as well, releasing Must de Cartier pour Homme (2000) almost twenty years after the original Must de Cartier (1981) debuted the house to the perfume world. In similar fashion to what YSL did with Opium pour Homme (1995) and later Rive Gauche pour Homme (2003), Cartier gave their Must de Cartier pour Homme only the most silken-fine tether to the original feminine perfume from which it took its name, modelling the scent with oriental facets but not making it a chypre like the erstwhile powerhouse classic. The late 90’s and early 2000’s were also a period where designers were solidly embracing polite oriental designs in masculine perfume, seemingly almost as a counter to all the aquatics, fresh fougères, ozonic fruity musks, sweet gourmands, and sharp Iso E Super and juniper woody scents being hail-mary’d to teens and young men in shopping malls. If you wanted something mature and stately, but didn’t want to dip into your father’s 70’s/80’s powerhouse animalic leathers or musky floral fougères, you went with a “nü-oriental” of the period. The short pill-shaped bottle designed to mimic the shape of the original release is a neat touch that makes it stand out on a shelf, too.
The opening of Must de Cartier is nice with a sharp metallic aldehyde and bergamot that is smoothed with a green leafy mandarin and coriander note, sweetened just a touch with anise. This has the same olive leaf/flower note that would later appear in Giorgio Armani Code/Black Code (2004), but it isn’t annoyingly powdery or scratchy like it can be in that scent, since there is a ton of smoothness here too. People who weren’t happy with the thickness of Opium pour Homme or Pour L’Homme by Jacques Fath (1998) will be happy with the relative dryness here. There’s also just something -familiar- about this fragrance, like I’ve smelled it a handful of times in other period fragrances from the turn of the millennium, but I cannot put my finger on it. This mysterious “x note” is also in Eau de Cartier Concentrée (2002), Very Sexy for Him by Victoria Secret (1999) and Avon Skin 2 Skin for Men (2003), but to a lesser extent, so maybe it’s the soft lavender treatment. Speaking of that, Must de Cartier pour Homme does have a soap soapy lavender in the heart, with cardamom, ginger, and trace bit of something like clove. The base is a woody musk which Cartier calls sandalwood, but it’s about as “sandalwood” as you can expect by this point with abstract synthetics being the craze then. Tonka smooths the final skin feel, and Must de Cartier pour Homme wears rather discreetly, making it perfect for an office environment where not everyone is going to be your friend or appreciate bold fragrance. Best time of year to use Must de Cartier pour Homme is going to be fall through spring, because it might be just a tad too rich for summer heat.
Sadly, Must de Cartier entered a crowded field and was ignored, partially because young dudebros likely interpreted “Must” to mean “musty”, and partly because by 2000’s, similarly genteel fragrances like Very Valentino (1999) and Vera Wang for Men (2004) were entering the market and the designer shelf space was flooded with options just like it. Furthermore, Cartier had put out a blistering number of men’s releases by the mid 2000’s, with flankers to Pasha de Cartier (1992), Cartier Déclaration (1998), the various unisex Eau de Cartier (2001) releases, and this line, so the house was competing against itself in a market segment where it was already having an uphill battle against the likes of giants such as Dior, Chanel, the aforementioned YSL, and others. Something had to give, and that ended up being the ill-fated Must de Cartier pour Homme and it’s briefly-existing flankers, so by the 2010’s it was gone. Nathalie Feisthauer composed this, and her portfolio shows her to be a go-to for many brands looking for someone who can complete a brief with no fuss, so it’s no surprise something low-key like this came from her. While never quite a hyped “unicorn”, years off the market has taken Must de Cartier pour Homme from hidden discount gem to something that is insulting levels of pricey for what it is (considering the number of listings on eBay), although I understand why this has its fans. Sample before plunging big bucks on a bottle, and if you find this to be a “must” have, I won’t blame you. Thumbs up.