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.)