It's hard to write about Must de Cartier without first acknowledging Luca Turin's withering and amusing review in Perfumes: The Guide. Referring to the perfume's unusual marriage of fresh green notes atop a "floriental" base that includes jasmine, vanilla and amber, Turin compared Must to an ill-conceived chocolate truffle with a weird filling (like pineapple cream) that you find in those chocolate sampler boxes:
“Must is the perfume that brought into the world, in expensive liquid form, the full ugliness of the chocolates nobody wants. The basic accord of vanilla, flowers and galbanum is so indigestible that you could use it as an appetite suppressant."
It is indeed an odd fragrance, but in the same way that certain chic people are able to mix stripes with crazy prints, Must de Cartier combines fresh notes with decadent gourmand ones in a daring way that reads as beautiful for some people. For me, it bypassed rational analysis and went straight to my limbic system's Decider, who nodded her head and said, "Yes, please. More."
Top notes: Galbanum, mandarin, neroli; Heart notes: Rose, daffodil, jasmine; Base notes: Vanilla, sandalwood, vetiver, musk tonka bean, civet (from Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances)
Top notes: Bergamot, aldehyde, lemon, rosewood, green notes, peach; Heart notes: Jasmine, orris, carnation, orchid, ylang-ylang, leather, lily; Base notes: Vanilla, amber, benzoin siam, opoponax, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, civet (from Haarman & Reimer)
Perfumer: Jean-Jacques Diener
Must's back story is interesting. When Cartier was sending around perfume briefs to perfumers that described their ideal first fragrance, they had in mind two perfumes: a fresh perfume for daytime, and a more seductive perfume for nighttime, probably in the Oriental family. (All of this historical info comes from the Edwards book.)
They were most interested in the young Givaudan perfumer Jean-Jacques Diener's brief; he decided, essentially, to put two fragrances together. Diener said he was inspired by Shalimar's animalic-vanilla base, but wanted to change the top note from bergamot to galbanum, as he loved the way Aliage's top notes were constructed. (Aliage is a green "sport scent," remember!) He also gave it a civet overdose to make it even more animalic than Shalimar. (Perhaps civet, which I love, has tricked me into loving Must in spite of its apparent wrongness?) Must's "cool/warm accord," according to Edwards, inspired Obsession, Roma by Laura Biagiotti, and Dune, among others.
I had initially smelled Must at Sephora, and it's close to the vintage parfum I've reviewed here (with much less civet, however.) I ordered a vintage EDT on eBay and had to return it; it was awful! Nothing warm, vanillic, or odd about it. It just smelled screechy and chemical-y.
According to Michael Edwards, the early Must EDT was not constructed by Diener. It was supposed to be the "fresh" Cartier fragrance they had originally envisioned, which (rightly) confused the Must-lovers audience, who just expected a less concentrated version of this "chocolate nobody wants." Cartier scrapped it in 1993 and replaced it with Must de Cartier II. (So if you want to try this odd perfume for yourself, either go to Sephora and spray it on — I can't remember the concentration — or get the vintage parfum. You will regret getting a vintage EDT.)
I think Must is a beautiful freak of nature chemistry. The beguiling rush of galbanum and brightness at the beginning soon evolves into the lush floral Oriental that is its true character. This beginning is like an introductory trumpet announcing the celebration to come. It may not be in good taste, but liking it is akin to that strange midnight snack you assemble that you wouldn't want anyone to see you eating late at night. (For me, something like buttered toast with anchovies and red pepper flakes.) You can't help what you like sometimes!
I can only take Must de Cartier's wild ride once in a blue moon. (It goes from galbanum-pineapple to vanilla-amber-civet in a roller coaster lurch that might make your stomach feel funny.) But when I'm in the mood, its strange seductiveness is just what I need. You could call this perfume Opium, or some other drug name, and it would make more sense than Must. Its intoxicating, animalic/gourmand dry down is 80s excess at its unapologetic best.
(I got a lovely sample from the Miniature Perfume Shoppe, where you can try vintage perfume without going broke.)