Grand Cuir (Parfums Retro)

My sample of Grand Cuir is courtesy of Jeffrey Dame. Two fragrances come to mind whenever I smell Grand Cuir, and it's, well, curious. The first is humble old English Leather by Dana, a cheap citrus chypre with a dry, woody-floral base. The second is none other than Mitsouko. I'll explain.

First, a little background info: Jeffrey Dame and Hugh Spencer founded the house of Parfums Retro, and Grand Cuir is its first offering. Mr. Dame has informed me that a sandalwood scent will follow it up next year, which is something I look forward to, as GC is quite nice. Its top accord of citrus - namely bergamot, lemon, and an astringent (non-sweet) lime immediately calls to mind the current version of English Leather, with its similarly piercing citrus notes. But Grand Cuir is far more sophisticated than this, and its bergamot eventually dominates, bringing the classical chypre fashion, via Mitsouko, to mind. A splash of oakmoss further bolsters the allusion, and although it's a very IFRA-compliant accord, you'd think there was nothing holding Hugh Spencer back. Subtle hints of pine needles and sage add their own green complexities, and elevate the experience into something very pleasant indeed.

As the hours pass, GC's floral heart unravels, revealing an incredibly dry, austere pyramid. What I like about GC, which is also what I hate about Mitsouko, is that its freshness smells fresh, and never slips into Mitsy's flaky old-paint effect. Spencer uses the lemony freshness of geranium to introduce a dry rose and carnation element, and here an amazing feat is accomplished: I am given an olfactory impression of animalic leather. That almost never happens! If I didn't know better, I'd say there's some castoreum and/or civet neatly tucked between the organic compounds, but I think this is really an achievement based on a skillful balance of woody materials, including vetiver and an inkling of sandalwood. Everything is smooth, congruent, relaxed, and rendered in an impressively effective manner. This fragrance is a pleasant surprise.

Grand Cuir is a beautiful perfume, and it's beautiful because the ingredient quality is very good, but more importantly, the ingredients are used in an even-handed way. There are no "synthetic" accords, just one languorous, incredibly stark leather. If the brief read "Make us a beautifully stark leather," then it's a mission accomplished.