In February I wrote an article for The Perfume Magazine about the increasing popularity of leather notes used in perfumery. A fragrance I discovered by writing this article was Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque. One of the things I enjoy about perfume blogging is that it forces me to discover new fragrances as I search for content to write about. Realistically there are hundreds of perfumes out there and it is hard to pinpoint favourites within a short visit to a perfumery or department store. This is even truer with a brand like Serge Lutens whose highly complex perfumes need time to settle on the mind before deciding on a favourite. I had smelt Cuir Mauresque in Serge Lutens’ Paris boutique last year. How could I not take notice of a name like Moorish Leather, hand written in pencil on Serge Lutens monogrammed perfumed blotters? But alas I did. Of the scents I chose to write about, I only had two in my collection so I relied on paper blotters, scented with the other three leather perfumes I decided to review. These blotters were placed between the pages of my diary. I began returning to my local Serge Lutens stockist, spraying more pieces of paper with Cuir Mauresque until the scent had impregnated my leather cardholder, wallet, Moleskine diary and the pockets of my work briefcase. It is not too often I become so obsessed with a scent, so I quickly realized a purchase was unavoidable. There are many great leather scents available today. The classics such as Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, or Lancome’s Cuir take you back to an austere era in women’s perfume where even the most feminine of fragrances would win an arm wrestle against some of today’s popular alpha male scents (I currently enjoy wearing women’s fragrances from the 1920s-30s which are infinitely more masculine than some of today’s men’s perfumes). In contemporary perfume, Leather is tolerated in low doses by mainstream fragrances such as Dior Homme and it is celebrated as high end in lines such as Tom Ford’s Private Collection or Christian Dior’s Collection Privee. In the niche world everyone is launching a leather scent but the truth is leather is not new to perfume and Cuir Mauresque is no infant at 16 years of age. This puts it in an interesting place as many reviewers are discussing Cuir Mauresque within the context of all the new leathers that are being launched. While many of the new leathers present themselves as deluxe, there is a crudeness to Cuir Mauresque that reminds me of humid market streets and cheap incense- not exactly something I aspire to smell like, but I am attracted all the same. I can only imagine the reception a fragrance like this would have received in 1996 and it highlights the level of innovation and fearlessness Serge Lutens had at a time when the concept of niche perfume did not even exist.
In addition to leather, Cuir Mauresque is a rich offering of citrus rind, spices, burnt resins and expressive florals. The story begins with mandarin, a note that freshens the buttery floral described by most as orange blossom but in truth it is something much more complex- a bouquet of varied white blooms. Tuberose, jasmine, ylang ylang are all flowers that come to mind when I try to decipher its makeup. It is this shape shifting floral accord that makes Cuir Mauresque so vibrant and more interesting than some other leathers on the perfume counter. As the floral heart settles it becomes filled with powder and butter. Spices such as nutmeg, clove and cumin come into the foreground and you know you are experiencing Eastern leather. The base is described as incense, myrrh, amber, civet and musk. There is an additional note of burnt styrax. Styrax is a plant resin that by itself smells sugary sweet, like treacle with a resinous amber tone. Cuir Mauresque is the only perfume I have seen to use a burnt variety of the resin. I can only assume this adds to the smoky tar-like scent creating the illusion of tanned leather. Wonderfully lasting and highly diffusive, like many Lutens, only a small amount is needed. I wear a few drops on my wrist and neck.
Described as a fragrance for both men and women, Cuir Mauresque is a perfume for lovers of the exotic. It is a perfume that will inspire travel to the East. The prominent white floral notes may deter some men who prefer a classic masculine oriental, which is tempered with green herbs or earthier tones of vetiver and amber woods. Serge Lutens has been quoted saying Cuir Mauresque is one creation he enjoys wearing for an evening out in Marrakech, where he now resides. In general I find orientals work better for men with darker features- I cannot explain why, but sweet orientals and blonde men make less sense to me. Fans of sugary florals may like to explore this candied leather.
Knize Ten, Chanel Cuir De Russie, Lanvin Scandal, Lancome Cuir de Lancome, Christian Dior Dior Homme Intense, Christian Dior Dune Pour Homme, Prada No 9 Cuir Styrax.
Perfumer: Christopher Sheldrake (Givaudan- Quest)
Bottle designer: Serge Lutens
Release date: 1996
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry Woods