Elisa on breaking with the niche formula and on the masculine retro glamour.
There is a prevailing trend in niche perfumery toward unisex scents. Often, the “unisex” quality is communicated through a combination of (supposedly masculine) woody notes, such as sandalwood, cedar, and patchouli, and (supposedly feminine) sweet notes, such as vanilla and benzoin, to the point that when mainstream scents hit on this combination, we say they “smell like niche.” I love sweet woody scents, but this formula is starting to look like a niche cliché – mix up booze, tobacco, resins, a touch of leather and some vanilla until it’s the color of cocktails in a cigar bar. Does it smell good? Then ship it!
Parfums Retro is a new niche outfit that seems to be taking a different approach. Their first three scents are all clearly targeted at the men’s side of the aisle. And yet, Grand Cuir (a sample of which I received as part of an Olfactif gift box) doesn’t smell like the typical men’s offerings at department stores, radiating powerful synthetics like sexual-chemical warfare. Instead, it truly smells retro: reminiscent of the dry, bitter leathers from the first half of the 20th century, when women comfortably wore perfumes like Lanvin Scandal and pre-reformulation Caron Tabac Blond.
Grand Cuir has a very classical three-part structure: It begins with an eye-opening burst of freshness – a sharp, cologne-like top section of lemony citrus and herbs that is rarely seen contrasted against the darkness of tarry leather. Before long, that business evaporates away and you smell the refined, masculine florals: orange blossom, lavender and geranium evoking a tray of dainty guest-room soap.
The leather is everpresent and eventually, pretty much all your smell. The accord is very smooth – there’s no barnyard funk or barbecue smokiness, just rich aged leather like worn-in gloves. Though it never gets sweet, it does feel softer with time. (Longevity is good: I applied a few spritzes at night and could still smell it on my skin in the morning.)
What’s refreshing is that they didn’t resort to the more familiar structures of leather chypre (as in Cabotine Cabochard, Balmain Jolie Madame, Estee Lauder Azuree et al) or leather amber (as in sweet leathers like Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, Bulgari Black, or Cuir de Lancome). Instead, we get a very clean, dry, and comfortable version of leather. It’s covering some of the same territory as Cuir Plein Fleure by Heeley, but lacking the aggressive, almost cheap violet-leaf soap note of the latter, which reminded me way too much of Irish Spring. All in all, really impressive stuff, and a great value by niche standards.
Parfums Retro Grand Cuir includes notes of cistus labdanum, birch tar, clary sage, orange flower, lavender, carnation, rose, violet leaf, geranium, cinnamon leaf oil, tarragon, pine moss, sandalwood, patchouli, musk, and rosewood. It’s available at Lucky Scent for $155 / 100 ml.
Sample: PR sample