One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hide and Seek: Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque


One of the nice things about reviewing brand-new scents is that everybody is on the same page: what I'm smelling when I open the bottle is what you're smelling when you do the same. We may interpret the molecules differently, but at least they're the same molecules. Writing about established or vintage scents, though, is problematic: age (of the scent) and reformulation mean that what's in my bottle may be literally nothing like what's in yours.

Cuir Mauresque — the name means "Moorish leather" — was created in 1996. My little decant is probably not of that vintage, but if it was from a bottle sold in 2006, it could still be different from what's being sold today. There's no way to tell.

I suspect that, Serge Lutens scents being what they are, Cuir Mauresque may have been typically daring and off-beat, but it sure isn't now. Mind you, I may have been a little hasty when I once called it "possibly the dullest leather I know of", and that's my fault: I had never had it on my skin, but had only sniffed it from blotters a few times. Now that I've had a chance to wear it, I have to upgrade that to "a competent if not thrilling leather."

It's undeniably a Lutens, opening with his usual spiced-fruit notes (in this case a clove-and-orange pomander) before segueing almost immediately into a smooth warm leather, which is where it mostly stays for quite a long time. Eventually it turns into sweet amber musk. It's very warm, very leathery, and very nice. I don't wear Serge Lutens for nice, though: I wear him for things that nobody else is able to do. I wear him for interesting, baffling, visionary, astonishing.

If you want a strange and fascinating leather scent, you are going to have to look elsewhere: there are plenty of decent leather scents out there, but in particular the majestic Knize Ten is well worth searching out. (Mind you, it was launched in 1924 and might not smell anything like it used to, or even anything like what I have. But if they haven't messed with it too much, it's brilliant, and at $70 for 50 mL they're practically giving it away.) For something more refined but still inimitable, you could also try Chanel's Cuir de Russie, also launched in 1924 (apparently a great year for leather scents).

On the other hand, if you don't have a leather scent in your collection, Cuir Mauresque is a good place to start, because it is completely unisex and inoffensive. It's not a fashionable leather jacket that makes you feel daring and stylish: it's a leather key fob that nobody will even notice.

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