Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque : Perfume Review



Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

If fine leather were to be woven into a wreath with a few stems of jasmine and dusted with sweet spices, the result would capture the essence of Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque (meaning Moorish Leather). Composed by Chris Sheldrake in 1996, it alludes to the ancient Arab tradition of exquisitely perfuming leather with citrus, musk and attars.

The dark resinous top note is caressed by orange blossom, jasmine, and mandarin, an arrangement that creates interplay of shadows cast upon a floral bouquet. Darkness pervades the luminosity and sweetness of orange blossom, with the smoky notes providing a grounding touch. Smooth tangy notes of leather begin to take shape slowly, all the while revealing a new facet, be it a warm breath of amber or a spicy shimmer of cinnamon. This stunning composition would suit both men and women, although its soft and floral element can be increased by layering Cuir Mauresque with a little bit of Fleurs d’Oranger.

Differing from both iris tinged delicacy of Daim Blond and labdanum enriched darkness of Cabochard, Cuir Mauresque combines softness with the purity of leather. It is buttery and rich, marked by the spicy sweetness of clove and mandarin peel. A soft fine leather accord of Cuir Mauresque conjures associations that range from expensive handbags to a horse tack store. I imagine sitting in a luxuriously comfortable leather armchair of my grandmother’s library reading Rabindranath Tagore till the dusk would creep into the room. Of course, it is just my imagination, because my grandmother did not have any leather armchairs, and I usually read while sitting on the floor, with my back resting against a large pile of the Soviet Constitution editions. Nevertheless, the ability of Cuir Mauresque to awaken and extend a memory is what makes it special.

Notes include amber, myrrh, burnt styrax, incense, cinnamon, aloe wood, cedar, civet, nutmeg, clove, cumin, musk, mandarin peel, orange blossom.



  • parislondres: Beautiful review for such a beautiful perfume! As you know, this is one of my favourite autumn fragrances from SL. At present, there is a huge temptation to get Borneo but that must wait. I wish to enjoy the gorgeous orange blossoms notes I get from this perfume.
    Thanks dear V!

    Have a super weekend.

    Hugs! September 23, 2005 at 3:29am Reply

  • Judith: Lovely and witty review–and I love CM too. Thanks! September 23, 2005 at 10:34am Reply

  • Liz: I will have to devote some time to Cuir Mauresque this fall, since I do have a nice-sized decant. In my MUA review I compare it unflatteringly to Tabac Blond, but then sometimes I’d rather be glib than wholly accurate. I do however find it extremely intense, and I’m someone who splashes on Muscs Koublai Khan like it’s Jean Nate, so that’s saying something. September 23, 2005 at 10:38am Reply

  • Liz: Just to clarify: unflattering in the sense that I think Tabac Blond is better. I suddenly was horrified that someone might think I don’t like Tabac Blond. September 23, 2005 at 10:40am Reply

  • Robin: V, must echo Laura & Tania, thanks for the wonderful laugh this morning! I tried CM only briefly but it didn’t suit me…anything more than a whisper of leather is usually too much. September 23, 2005 at 12:49pm Reply

  • Liz smellslikeleaves: Thank you for the beautiful review for one my new favorites! The generous cristaline sent me a sample of this fragrance, and I fell in love with it. Cuir Mauresque is surprisingly sweet (though not too sweet) on me–I think that my skin tends to amplify orange blossom. The rich, buttery leather note is just stunning. The prominent cinnamon and incense notes are also divine. Weirdly enough, I felt like this was a distant, more wearable cousin of Hermes Ambre Narguile…which made me happy, because I was so disappointed when AN did not work for me. I also like this far better than my sample of Chanel Cuir de Russie! (Although I think the Chanel sample is an EdT/EdP rather than parfum…I’ll have to try the parfum before making a proper judgment.) This may very well be my favorite predominantly leather fragrance. I’ll need to pick this one up as well as Tubereuse Criminelle when I get to Paris! September 23, 2005 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Liz: V, my nose makes a probably totally arbitrary distinction between “black” leather (a la Bandit) and “brown” leather (a la Tabac Blond), with Cuir Mauresque being a “brown” leather perfume like Tabac Blond. I find the opening a bit too harsh, but I certainly have to devote a bit more time to it, especially with all this talk of orange blossom, which is by far my favorite floral note. 🙂 September 23, 2005 at 1:15pm Reply

  • Sisonne: Dear V, wonderful review of another scent which I still haven´t tried 😉 As you know, I have a wax sample & I love leather scents, so I have to test it as soon as possible!
    Layering it with Fleur d´Oranger seems to be a great option! I plan to purchase FdO in the future, but my wish-list is so looong…;D I like layering scents, but I shy away from it too often when I´m not sure if the “mixture” works. So I´m really grateful for every suggestion 🙂
    By the way: Today I´m wearing Cèdre…& I´m in love 😀 September 23, 2005 at 1:20pm Reply

  • Laura: Laughing at your description of reading at your grandmother’s house ;D. Well, the Soviet Constitution was good for something! Cuir Mauresque sounds beautiful! September 23, 2005 at 9:32am Reply

  • Tania: I’m also laughing at the fantasy of leather armchairs shattered by the actuality of Soviet constitutions. But Cuir Mauresque sounds beautiful, and I hope to be able to try it one of these days! September 23, 2005 at 9:51am Reply

  • Marina: Ah, your memories of Soviet childhood made tearful and nostalgic 🙂 As for Cuir M., unfortunately it didn’t work for me, one of the very few Lutens scents that didn’t. It was unbearably harsh for a very long time and even though the drydown was lovely, I just don’t want to go through the beginning like that again. Alas! 🙂 September 23, 2005 at 10:07am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, I love the orange blossom note which after the first bit of darkness expires swells up beautifully. Then it is just a fine leather. Dear N, I understand the temptation to get Borneo, which I did not resist very well. 🙂

    Did you ever try layering Cuir Mauresque with Fleurs d’Oranger? September 23, 2005 at 11:18am Reply

  • Judith: I really appreciate your layering suggestions. I, too, am never sure what will work. I just tried a la nuit and santal blanc, and I’m really enjoying the combination; the scents play off each other in such an interesting manner (very bois de jasmin, I guess)! Someone also mentioned (maybe here) that a la nuit layers well with cedre (which would make sense) so I will try that next. It isn’t really fall here, either, but my autumn scents are begging to be used…… September 23, 2005 at 3:23pm Reply

  • Tara: Sadly, this one just does not work for me. I think it is the leather/jasmine/orange blossom combination, it just smells plasticky and nauseating on me. I do like leather, but prefer drier leathers as opposed to sweet ones. I much prefer Doblis and Cuir de Russie, for example. September 23, 2005 at 3:57pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Laura, you are right! It was good for a number of things: paperweights, table rests, means of threatening younger siblings, etc. September 23, 2005 at 12:17pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, Cuir Mauresque is a must try for you, that is what I have to say. It is such a beautiful rich leather, with just enough of floral twist to carry across a sensation of softness.

    Yes, once in a while I have these memories of events that somehow seem too bourgeois to really have taken place. However, French fragrances were a reality. My mother wore L’Air du Temps and Diorissimo (Jai Ose and Fidji are the other ones I remember), while my grandmother wore Lancome Climat. BTW, did you ever get that vintage L’Air du Temps? September 23, 2005 at 12:21pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, yes, the top note is a bit harsh, but as with Tubereuse Criminelle, I grew to love it. Which is your favourite Lutens fragrance? September 23, 2005 at 12:22pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, thank you! I am glad to see another fan. It is such a beautiful fragrance, and it is perfect for the autumnal weather. Well, given where I am now, autumnal weather is another imagined moment. It is a tropical summer here right now. September 23, 2005 at 12:23pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, I can completely understand what you mean about intensity. Although I am not as enamoured with Muscs Koublai Khan as you are, I find it to be in a completely different key as far as intensity goes. I would imagine that Cuir Mauresque might be something a Bandit lover would appreciate. 🙂 September 23, 2005 at 12:25pm Reply

  • parislondres: Dear V – I did layer it once with FdO and it is very interesting.

    Have a super weekend and thank you for the wonderful message. Will catch up soon.

    xoxo September 23, 2005 at 12:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, I love the combination. While Fleurs d’Oranger is a little too sweet on its own, layered with Cuir Mauresque, it takes on an interesting twist.

    Hope that your weekend is great too! 🙂 September 23, 2005 at 12:57pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, at least, those Soviet Constitutions were good for something.

    Yes, Cuir Mauresque is too intense for someone who does not like leather that much. It is a nice fragrance to add a whisper of leather, if you like to experiment. September 23, 2005 at 12:58pm Reply

  • Marina: Vikochka, I have 3 favorites, Bois et Fruits, Rahat Loukoum and Daim Blond. What about you? September 23, 2005 at 1:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marinochka, I think that my favourites change everytime I have to come up with them. Well, here are they right now: Chene, Cuir Mauresque, Iris Silver Mist, Tubereuse Criminelle. September 23, 2005 at 1:11pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, I know what you mean about the sweetness, because while the drydown loses some of it, the heart is rather luscious. I quite like it, as the sweet element of orange blossoms offsets the dark tanginess of leather.

    I am now curious about your comparison with AN, and I shall try it again later for a side-by-side comparison. September 23, 2005 at 1:13pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, so glad that you mentioned this. I thought I was the only one who made that distinction in her mind! Cuir Mauresque is definitely a brown leather for me, with orange blossom, jasmine and mandarin peel lending it a certain luminosity and diluting the darkness. On the other hand, as you note, Bandit is black, with a completely different character. September 23, 2005 at 1:21pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: C, thank you! I am glad that you are enjoying Cedre! I felt that it might be something you like given your tastes.

    Serge Lutens fragrances layer really well. Here are some other suggestion of play with:
    Chene + Chergui
    A La Nuit + Santal de Mysore (or Santal Blanc)
    Fleurs d’Oranger + Vetiver Oriental
    Fleurs de Citronnier + Vetiver Oriental
    Cuir Mauresque + Chergui
    A La Nuit + Sa Majeste de la Rose
    There are many other combinations, but these are the ones I can think off the top of my head. September 23, 2005 at 1:27pm Reply

  • dbeech: Another beautiful review! I always enjoy stopping by and escaping into the fragrant dream world that you are so adept at creating. Please keep the reviews coming. September 23, 2005 at 6:02pm Reply

  • Tania: V: I know what you mean about fabricated fragrance memories. When I first wore Fleurs d’Oranger (with many thanks to generous Bela) the drydown was so pure it left me with an aching nostalgia for an idealized childhood of warm gardens and kindly motherly looks that must have been borrowed from someone else, since my mother was the screeching harridan ideal of the Chinese mother stereotype, and my childhood was spent mostly getting into fights on the pavement.

    Never did get the vintage L’Air du Temps. I had so many others on my list that it simply got crowded out. Besides, it sounds like a youthful floral, and that type has never been my style. I can wait. 🙂 September 23, 2005 at 2:14pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, L’Air du Temps I remember is a dusky floral, with rich wintergreen-like notes. Well, it is not as dark as modern florals. It is in the same vein as some of Caron florals. The modern version seems a little too pale in comparison. I understand however the need to prioritize! September 23, 2005 at 2:30pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, here are some more to try.
    Fumerie Turque + Fleurs d’Oranger
    Fumerie Turque + Un Bois Vanille
    Un Bois Vanille + Chergui
    I do not recall where these came from, but I found them jotted down in my notes. Whoever inspired me should be thanked. These are excellent combinations.

    Cedre and Fleurs d’Oranger also works really well. Another combination I recently discovered was Bois Oriental and Tubereuse Criminelle (or A La Nuit). Or with Santal Blanc to bring out sandalwood.

    I like experimenting a bit, and often the results are quite interesting, especially with fragrances from the same house, made by the same perfumer. September 23, 2005 at 3:48pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, you are back! How was your trip? Did you get to meet Neela?

    I love Cuir de Russie, and now I know that I need to try Doblis. September 23, 2005 at 4:18pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Hello. I’m new around this section of the blogosphere, but I’ve been avidly reading your beautiful reviews and reflecting, as a writer, on the difficult art of writing about perfumes.
    I’ve been a collector of SL fragrances since the very start — a dozen full bottles, thankfully some were gifts… living in Paris does(n’t) help. They have such a disconcerting density and an individuality that makes me compare them to the best haute couture… Muscs Kublaï Khan is so animalic it makes me want to roll around on the carpet like my cat in a ray of sun. I’ve been re-exploring Cuir Mauresque. Am I the only one who senses a relation to Habanita and Tabu? What do you think? September 23, 2005 at 4:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Welcome! I am glad to hear that you are enjoying my writing, and that you also share my love for Serge Lutens fragrances. I find new aspects every time I wear my favourites, and it is a wonderful process.

    Your comment made me think about it. Even though Habanita, Tabu and Cuir Mauresque do not smell alike per se, they contain similar elements, and I agree with you in finding a relation. For me, Habanita, another sweet leather fragrance, achieves the same contrast between the dark (burned, tarry) and the light (sweet, floral) that Cuir Mauresque possesses, but via different elements. Tabu with its combination of rose and orange blossom over a dark mossy base is another fragrance that has the same character–rich, sensual. Thank you for a prompt. It is fascinating to explore! September 23, 2005 at 5:13pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Thank you for such a lovely compliment! It is a pleasure to write knowing that others find the articles enjoyable. September 23, 2005 at 6:08pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I’d love to read more of your thoughts about this dark/light family of perfumes some time. What comes to mind is that they are all, in some way, “Spanish”. Tabu was created for the Spanish house of Dana. Habanita is evocative of Carmen and the “cigareras” of Seville (and yes, I wore it when I was there). Cuir Mauresque ties in with Spain’s Moorish past. I will definitely try layering it with Fleurs d’Oranger which I find a little too sweet on its own, although it reminds me of intoxicating springs of Andalucia… Thanks for the tip! September 23, 2005 at 7:05pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: You are absolutely right in pointing it out. Both Tabu and Habanita were intended as sensual and shocking fragrances. Jean Carles was given a brief to create “un parfum de puta” (“whore’s perfume”), and this is how Tabu was born in 1932. Habanita (“young woman from Havana”) was likewise striving to conjure sensual and dark. I would like to smell the original 1924 version (it was reformulated in 1988). In general, in the 1920s and 1930s, the fragrances were often composed resting on dark bases, and the effect would frequently result in that kind of light/dark interaction. Another fragrance of this nature is Guerlain Shalimar–very sensual composition, with an almost tactile feeling of cold (icy bergamot notes in the top) and hot (vanilla, ambergris and other animalic notes in the base). It was a very shocking fragrance at the time.

    Thank you for such a thought provoking comment! September 24, 2005 at 1:24pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I started wearing Habanita in 1981, so it must’ve been the original. I stopped wearing it in 1990, probably when I bought the new formula. If memory serves me right, the base was less “caramelized” back then. My knowledge of perfume chemistry is nil, but I would imagine that the vanilla was “pushed up” and blurred into the patchouli, creating a much “flatter” scent. I guess only Mr Turin could answer that one properly… September 24, 2005 at 5:07pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: That makes perfect sense, because I always found Habanita much more vanillic than what I read about. It seems that neither patchouli nor vetiver (that cold earthy note) are as prominent in the current version as I expected.

    If you remember, what did your bottle look like? September 24, 2005 at 5:13pm Reply

  • carmencanada: It was rectangular, clear glass (not the black Lalique design). You could also get huge eau de toilette bottles directly from Molinard: they were cylindrical, again in clear glass. But there may have been black Lalique ones too back then.
    I may still have the original flacon somewhere with a couple of drops in it. I’ll try to find it and compare.
    The extra vanilla would make sense in a new formulation: it was quite the fashion at one point in the late 80’s. I remember the craze for Comptoir Sud Pacifique vanilla at the time. September 24, 2005 at 6:03pm Reply

  • carmencanada: P.S. Found the original Habanita! Just dabbed the thick brown residue on one wrist, and the 1988 parfum on the other. Top notes are distinctly different. Vintage much smoother with the rose, vetiver and ambergris rising to the fore. Definitely more vanillic in the “rewrite”. Will keep you posted! September 24, 2005 at 6:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Fascinating! Thank you for a comparison. I agree about the point about vanilla. Plus, it would makes the composition less edgy. Rose, vetiver and ambergris combination sounds amazing. I will have to look for a vintage formula. It sounds good enough to put extra effort in looking for it. September 24, 2005 at 6:50pm Reply

  • Tara: Neela and I had a wonderful visit in Paris! We went to the Palais Royal and sniffed Borneo, then walked over to the new Different Company store and checked it out, then over to Nina’s for a nice cuppa tea. So lovely to see her again!

    Tara September 26, 2005 at 1:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Sounds like you had a wonderful time! I read about your trip on the POL, and I could only imagine how enjoyable it was. I am glad that you ended up liking Borneo 1834. It is one of my favourites for the fall. September 26, 2005 at 2:33pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Dont know what’s happening to me, dear V. but our exchanges have spurred me to try on various classics: in the past three days, Caron’s En avion and Tabac Blonc (I’m sad to say I mostly got the trademark powdery base almost immediately), today Paco Rabanne’s La Nuit (because it was reviewed by Luca Turin). I find myself craving for a sniff of Cabochard, Je reviens, Bal à Versailles (all of which defined perfume in my childhood, pre-Opium days). Yet, every time I get to try them on, I feel that they come from another era — it’s part of their attraction — and that most feel too nostalgic to be a part of my life, though I still love Tabu, Habanita, Farnesiana and Nuit de Noël, I am now more attracted to the composition of lines such as Serge Lutens and Ormonde Jayne. While they are composed in a traditional French perfumery way, they’re much more modern. In the way that, even though a couturier may use past references and traditional know-how to create his line, the way he builds the clothes is NOW, and can never be mistaken from vintage. I have quite a large vintage clothing collection and I find it fascinating to study the difference in spirit with contemporary creations, although most of the elements may be the same. I think there’s something to think about in that line… September 30, 2005 at 7:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, how perfectly put–past references and traditional skills, yet the design is modern. That is how I feel about Serge Lutens fragrances. I would add Divine to this list. Their fragrances, especially Divine and L’Ame Soeur have that grand parfum quality, while remaining modern. The new Guerlains strike me as neoclassical.

    I am glad I inspired you to revisit various fragrances, and I myself have been sampling many of the ones you mentioned–Cabochard, Habanita, Bal à Versailles recently. It is a time travel for me as well, although not in a sense of personal connection. I just envision them perfectly at the time that gave rise to them and in the context that influenced their form. They are definitely the fragrances that are very special.

    It is wonderful to exchange thoughts on this topic! October 1, 2005 at 12:13am Reply

  • Lauren Steiner: Has anyone sampled Bal a Versaille lately? I just bought the Eau de Toilette and it was awful – all powdery and cheap smelling. How can I find out if they changed the formula? And do people think I have a right to take it back since I can’t possibly stand to wear it? May 16, 2006 at 6:30pm Reply

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