In Cuir Velours, a scent is constructed in a manner of sculpture. It demonstrates a process: from material, construction through manipulation, and then finally, a completed ready-to-sell perfume.
Cuir Velours bothers me more than it should. For instance, it’s an easy perfume. It takes a synthetic material chunk and carves it down into an apparently coherent artwork. A perfume is not planar. Planar is singular, two-dimensional. Take Ethyl Vanillin, a sleek, singular vanilla molecule in a corset. Alone, it demonstrates a material; something a part of the perfumer’s accessible palette. It gives us an introduction and in isolation, it lacks anything worthy of venerability. Methyl Dihydrojasmonate, once again, beautiful. In isolation it’s a cascade rush of solar illuminated water. A romantic, fantasy image of how water smells (and by extension, tastes) like on television. Appealing, sure, but alone these molecules are not worthy of much magnificent praise. They are tools – the white tints and black shades of the immense gamut of ever expanding ingredients.
One takes a functional synthetic and uses that to expand upon something else. Methyl Dihydrojasmonate will forever be linked to Roudniska and his Eau Sauvage and his ability to suspend the tenacity of citrus for substantially longer; in olfactory time. It takes a fresh structure: classical, timeless, enduring – featuring a wealth of accords. A rush of bergamot and lemon. A archetypical arpeggio of herbs – beautiful, herbal rosemary with the freshness of winter air comes to mind immediately. But the Methyl Dihydrojasmonate both creates and expands the pivotal plot elements of Eau Sauvage, adding the impression of fresh masculine virility; the water effect mentioned before.
Cuir Velours seems to rely on a a synthetic device to give us a story – a sharply pointed, illusionary story dictated by the synthetic’s evaporative direction and longevity. Of course, that’s not to say perfumery synthetics are bad things, but they require a depth achievable by a series of other unique necessary elements.
To me, Cuir Velours is a pair of leather shoes (or bag, or a leather jacket…) purchased from within a subculture. An alternative market that insists not of a high position within the structure of this society, but instead creates its own hierarchy instead. From an outlooker, in this instance an objective reviewer, it’s a glaring, odious style. It distinguishes itself for the sake of distinguishing itself – that should happen naturally, as a product of skill.
JTD captures this paradigm within the Naomi Goodsir line and describes it as a “malady” (2014)¹. The brand image of Naomi Goodsir captures a dusky darkness, expansive pictures of gothic shadow. Cuir Velours shifts the leather forcibly into an uncomfortable darkness through dryness. Above this dry leather is a contradicting plushness via floral, fruity aspects.
© 2016 Liam Sardea
Norlimbanol (Firmenich) is a plausible induction of what part of this synthetic chunk could be, described as “the smell of extreme dryness, absolute desiccation” (Burr, 2006)². I am certain that Suederal (IFF) is contained in this synthetic chunk – which is a potent leather, suede synthetic blend.
Of course, one might argue that all leathers are synthetically derived, but I feel the manner that this particular fragrance is sculpted is rather weak. The paradigmatic smoke (incense, tobacco, cistus) accord should also be considered here. When does a paradigm become dull repetition? I can’t help but feel that the smoke paradigm has been overused, not only that, but that it doesn’t seem to be a ‘one size fits all’ feature. It works in Bois d’Ascese. Its magnificent competency is a rush of smoke paralleled closely with frankincense’s purifying salubriousness. The smoke in Cuir Velours is less rush and more nutritionally sparse: a hollow, lifeless sphere of smoky leather. These notes of incense, tobacco, and cistus are pleasing notes. JTD captures it fluidly once again in his Bois d’Ascese review:
Bois d’Ascese falls prey to the Amber Trap. Take a ‘ready-made’ botanical such as frankincense or labdanum (or rose, or vetiver…). Then build a fragrance around the central component by applying olfactory make-up. Enhance it. Detail it. Build a Greek chorus around it for christ’s sake. Just make sure it’s dead center and don’t stray off course. This style of sola-nota perfumery is conservative by definition. It’s what has lead every niche house to have an unmistakeable Amber which very often is nearly indistinguishable from any other house’s Amber
I can’t argue with the fragrance. It’s lovely and smells wonderful. But to say that the perfumer has made frankincense beautiful is like saying that the make-up artist made Cary Grant handsome. I know that it puts perfumer Julien Rasquinet and designer Naomi Goodsir in the spotlight, but releasing a frankincense perfume in the niche perfumery market is not far conceptually from making a fresh aquatic for the mainstream men’s perfume market.³
Granted, there are intriguing accompaniments. A lipstick smelling, bready carrot seed (iris was initially suspected here, there is no iris here) note with a vintage vibe – which in theory would have been beautifully merged with this fragrant idea of leather, but instead fails to lift this static block. A spiced rum extreme in its softness and spice is found amongst sunny immortelle flower.
Cuir Velours plays strongly with the fruity leather style (a la Daim Blonde), but what is beautiful about that style is blurred beyond recognition with this unvarying block.
My experience on skin and on a blotter with this scent demonstrates static qualities pushed by this synthetic leather and dryness accord. I see it time and time again. For instance, James Heeley’s Cuir Pleine Fleur faces a very similar synthetic conundrum, but the manner in which his Cuir is structured plays it off well with an exercise in fragrant, architectural minimalism. By using yellow pollen florals, honey, hawthorn, and acacia – an unctuous naturalistic slick is achieved over his synthetic suede/leather material. Real cozy plushness is added, unlike in the Goodsir. This immersive yellowness and textural, almond powder feature of heliotrope/heliotropin;”as if a tonka bean had somehow been crossed with a cloud” (Burr, 2006)², develops an Olfactory ‘Eau Chaude’ (shared by the likes of Hammam Bouquet, Apres L’Ondee, and L’Eau D’Hiver), then rendering itself to be a postmodern, futuristic fragrance backed with a reduced variation of French classicism perfumery (once again: Apres L’Ondee, Farnesiana by Caron, and the more modern-yet-classical New York by Nicolai).
Ellena has captured this effect multiple times to great success. In more recent years Cuir d’Ange has quickly become an immaculate variation of this leather theme. His L’Eau D’Hiver takes the blue Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue muskiness and drowns it in tepid water, achieving a sort of moderate exaggeration and a hint of gluttony. But within this framework of stylised plushness that Ellena works within (perhaps he confines himself to … wisely so), his works cannot actually be rendered aggressive: instead, merely progressively warmer onto considerably warmer, and warmer, and warmer. The Goodsir work demonstrates the opposite effect of a rather heavy handed aggression.
Ellena’s Cuir d’Ange evidently follows suit. Take the Eau Chaude, add diaphanous florals, his trademark cumin bodily spice effect, and a synthetic leather naturally finds itself as an ingredient that exists everywhere and nowhere on the skin. It melts – becoming a true Angel Leather without a hint of malice or misalignment. Comparing Ellena’s Cuir to Rasquinet’s (nose responsible for Cuir Velours) not only demonstrates the synthetic aggression and exaggeration, but also a propensity for it too. Cuir Velours remains to be a rendering with a large hole in the centre. A perfume lost without trajectory.
And, a final perfume worthy of consideration: Dans Tes Bras crafted by Maurice Roucel undergoes the same method of construction as the Goodsir work, instead crafting itself from a huge chunk of Cashmeran (IFF) – but it lifts itself onto superlative levels. What’s the difference? Dans Tes Bras remains firmly in a realm of dystopia. It’s a fragrant idea of comfort: a non-entity.
Cuir Velours by Naomi Goodsir
Subjective rating : 2/5
Objective rating: 2/5
Cuir Pleine Fleur by Heeley
Subjective rating : 4/5
Objective rating: 4/5
Cuir d’Ange by Hermès (Updated Rating)
Subjective rating : 4.5/5
Objective rating: 5/5