Perfume Review: Cuir de Lancôme (La Collection)

Transcript of conversation conducted while watching Men’s Moguls Skiing and Pairs Skating (Short Program) on Valentine’s Day Night:    

The CEO: Hey, you smell really nice.    

Me: Oh, thanks!    

The CEO: Is that what I gave you for Valentine’s Day?    

Me: Yes, it is.    

The CEO: Well, good for me then. I have excellent taste.    

It was rather sweet of him – and he even let me pick out my own gift!    

Cuir, composed by Celine Becker and Pauline Zanoni and released as part of La Collection in 2007, is a floral leather scent. There was another scent by this name, released first under the name Révolte and later as Cuir – one of those vintage things that smell like cold stone and Rappacini’s garden and grave dirt, for you freaksters out there who love vintage leathers. Um, I mean freakster in the nicest possible way, of course.   

Cuir (La Collection) was a disappointment to those who were expecting a re-release of the original. Probably the disappointed horde were all fans of vintage Bandit and Tabac Blond and Knize Ten and Cabochard, looking for The Leather Chypre to Rule Them All and In the Darkness Bind Them… Ahem. Sorry. We did a LoTR marathon recently, while stuck in the house due to snow… the days are starting to run together, actually.    

Cuir LC is not that fragrance. Which is good for the rest of us who are leather-shy. I must admit that while some of my favorite scents have leather accents (SSS Tabac Aurea, JhaG Citizen Queen, vintage Chanel No. 19), there are few leather scents that I really, really like. I suppose to be honest, there’s just one other: Jolie Madame – and even she is at least half “armful of violets,” with the remaining half being “lady’s handbag.” Technically, Cuir does not even list leather as a note; presumably the role of Leather is being played by Saffron and Birch.     

Here are the notes for Cuir:    

Topnotes: mandarin, saffron, bergamot    

Heart notes: patchouli, hawthorne, jasmine, ylang    

Basenotes: orris root, birch, styrax    

It is difficult to imagine what Cuir really smells like when simply looking at that list of notes. It’s not a misleading list, exactly, but you don’t get a sense of its character by reading the notes. On me, Cuir is quite smoky, with a dry woodsy character that surprised me. I would have sworn that I smell a lot of vetiver under that birch tar. I am making the assumption here that it’s the birch tar accounting for the smokiness, and of course I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.    

Here’s Luca Turin in P:TG, on Cuir:    

“…this is a very unusual and beautiful leather, devoid of the weight of ambery, smoky, and animalic notes that make most others sink on drydown. Instead, this one maintains a light, airy, woody, almost vetiver-like translucency all the way through and feels… like rich suede… feels as comfortable as the real thing. Excellent.”     

Well, I do agree with Dr. Turin that Cuir is beautiful, but I disagree on the “devoid of smoke” definition, since I get a lot of smoke from Cuir, the lovely smell of an outdoor fire juuuust about to catch – that smokiness that tells you that the wood is about to burst into flame. I find this surprisingly pleasant. In fact, Cuir often seems to me like two fragrances in one: the sillage, and the air a good foot from perfumed skin, is very smoky-woody, while close to the skin, Cuir is primarily a cool, powdery floral. I keep thinking I’m smelling a dry vetiver – I’m not generally a big vetiver fan, but when it’s right, it’s right – combined with a very restrained jasmine and a good slug of powdery iris. I hear that hawthorne can smell like sweaty feet, but I’m not getting any of that – just a soft, blended floral with a smoked-woods and well-processed leather goods background. Unusually for me, I do not actually smell any patchouli, when usually I can pick that note up at ppm levels. The effect of Cuir is rather like opening one’s mother’s good leather handbag, and getting a whiff of her face powder and/or her perfumed handkerchief. This description probably doesn’t mean anything to you unless you’re at least forty years old and your mother wore Chanel, but such is the case for me.    

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know how I feel about Cuir de Russie: to me, it smells like mummy dust and cattle working pens, instead of the “pink suede” or “leather luxury” or “the seats of a very fancy automobile” that some of you describe it as. (You lucky chumps. Someday I’ll get even.) But this! Cuir is cool and elegant and warmly smiling, both reserved and friendly. It’s actually, I find, far more wearable than Jolie Madame, which is one of my Do NOT Mess With Me invisible-armor scents.     

I spritz Cuir with a bit more abandon than my usual careful wrist-and-throat application. With one spritz on each wrist, one on the cleavage (under my sweater – it is darn cold outside, you think I’m going about with cleavage on display? Nuh-UH), one on throat, and possibly a spritz to the back of my neck, it lasts several hours. The sillage is rather quiet; even with 4-5 spritzes, it doesn’t violate my three-foot rule.    

I think a man could wear Cuir; it’s very woody, the florals are quiet and dry, and it’s not radiant enough to scare the guy in the next cubicle. In fact, I’m going to attempt to lure The CEO to wear it at some point. I’ll report how that goes. (Don’t hold your breath, though.)    

Cuir seems to have gone straight to the discounters after a brief tenure at Lancôme counters, where the SA’s seemingly hid all the La Collection scents while pushing Miracle and Magnifique. I could make disparaging, what’s-the-world-coming-to comments, but you’ve heard them before, so I won’t. I doubt it’ll be back in production because it actually has brains, unlike a myriad of mainstream scents currently being flogged in, say, Macy’s. My 1.7-oz bottle cost about $35, so there is absolutely no excuse for not buying a bottle if you love it. (Samples are available at The Perfumed Court and The Posh Peasant, and I’m not affiliated with either one.)    

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10 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Cuir de Lancôme (La Collection)”

  1. Great summary of Cuir! And I loved your description of Jolie Madame, which hit it on the head:

    ‘Jolie Madame – and even she is at least half “armful of violets,” with the remaining half being “lady’s handbag.”’

    I don’t wear this because it is too much of an “invisible armour” scent and scares even me as wearer. : – )

  2. Ha! Simultaneous reviews! What are the odds?

    I giggle at “The Leather Chypre to Rule Them All and In the Darkness Bind Them”. And “the role of Leather”. Very entertaining review. 🙂

    I’m feeling slightly Twilight Zone. I’ve always assumed that when I go off on flights of fancy about a scent, that’s purely subjective, and no one else would see the scent the same way. I figure that the notes information is the real stuff. I just enjoy the flights of fancy more, so that’s what I focus on. 🙂

    I’m fascinated that here it seems to be the _notes_ that are subjective – I don’t get smoke or florals, and I get a ton of leather, for example – but we seem to agree surprisingly closely on the mood – the flight of fancy. What’s with that?

  3. I’m with CF:
    1)Terrific review– I’m sold. If not on a bottle, at least on a sniff. I’m quite leather shy, but this let me know I have to try it.
    2) “…To Rule Then All and In the Darkness Bind Them>” Hah!! That is how we get though, isn’t it?
    3) Yes!! To flights of fancy. Any darn fool can read the scent notes! It’s where it takes you that’s the point.

  4. Flitter, glad you liked the review. Jolie Mme is sort of schizophrenic, isn’t she? (Why do I feel the need to anthropomorphize certain fragrances?) Question for you – what do you wear as invisible armor, or do you have a need for such a thing? There are people who swear by Mitsouko, but I’m not one of them…

    CF – those big bitter leather chypres really strike me as being sinister. Can’t wear a one of them, not even Tabac Blond (although I haven’t tried the vtg parfum, maybe that would be the difference – it was the only one that had possibilities). It IS really interesting that it struck us similarly, as being so ladylike. I still think that – but I also think that it would be great on a man, and without being all gender-bendy. I’m still working on The CEO about it. He usually wears Acqua di Gio, but he did spritz on some Alahine once, and it was utterly fabulous on him, more aromatic and woody. I’m still trying to talk him into using that sample of Czech & Speake No. 88, too. Or Gres Cabaret, which has enough musk and patchouli to be man-worthy.

    I have a (relatively) new threshold for buying bottles or largeish decants: only if it engages my imagination or my emotions will I shell out. “Classic” won’t do, “groundbreaking” won’t do, “just pretty” won’t do. (Well, okay, I have several “just pretty” ones, but I’m stocked up and I’m not buying more.)

    LCN, did you buy a bottle unsniffed??? I do really hope you like it. It’s definitely not floofy – if it were an old-school movie star it might be, oh, Ruth Hussey – you know, the tough camera gal from The Philadelphia Story. She’s got great shoes and a great smile, and you know she’d clock somebody with that big camera for you if necessary.

  5. I do agree about only shelling out if a scent engages the emotions or imagination. That is why I cannot get excited about citrus scents, and while light florals remain forever mired in “pretty”.

    My invisible armour scents would be Cuir de Russie, 31 Rue Cambon and Cristalle.

    Oh, I am also not a fan of the big bitter leather chypres, and have the misfortune to have been born in the birth year of Cabochard, but I do quite like Tabac Blond parfum, of which I have the teensiest of samples from a swap.

  6. Flitter, I don’t care much for citrus scents either – they’re just so… wallpapery? I don’t mind a pretty, floofy floral, but I just don’t need any more of them! That’s a nice set of invisible armor scents – I do love 31 RC.

  7. Well, you nailed that one perfectly! CdL is my favorite leather scent. Stays nice on the skin for hours no turning into a saddle in the tack room at the stroke of midnight type transformation like some other leathers. J likes it too, and she’s a pretty picky perfumista for a teenager! 🙂

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