Parfums Retro Grand Cuir : Fragrance Review

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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!

grand cuir

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

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16 Comments

  • The Perfumed Veil: I got a sample thanks to the wonderful Jeff Dame at Perfume of Life. Initially, I found this leather scent captivating. I love unisex and leather perfumes. But soon it turned soapy on me and lost its leather quality. It became a great birch tar scent, reminiscent of a forest. Not something I would buy, though a formidable effort nonetheless. June 3, 2014 at 9:20am Reply

    • Elisa: Yes, it is quite soapy in the middle stages. I found this one more masculine than unisex. I think it’s beautifully done but not quite my style — wouldn’t mind smelling it on my husband though. June 3, 2014 at 9:23am Reply

    • Cath: I had the exact same experience. Great leather in the opening, then turns into soapy sandalwood. In that category it is great, but I didn’t find it innovating, nor did it fulfill my desire for a leather scent. I’m enjoying the sample I have. June 3, 2014 at 10:02am Reply

  • Amer: I was expecting a sample of this but it never reached me… probably lost in the mail. Since my faith in leather perfumes is limited I didn’t give it much thought. From what you and other reviewers say, it seems I missed on something great… 🙁 June 3, 2014 at 4:28pm Reply

    • Elisa: Oh, that’s too bad! It’s lovely but I’m not sure it would convert a non-leather-lover. You need to like birch tar. June 3, 2014 at 4:32pm Reply

  • Undina: Grand Cuir is a little too masculine for me to wear but I like its development. And, in general, I’m glad that they’ve done it this way: I don’t want all perfumes to be unisex. June 3, 2014 at 7:21pm Reply

    • Elisa: I feel exactly the same way. June 3, 2014 at 7:25pm Reply

  • Laurels: I agree with Undina–it smells wonderful, but is a bit too masculine for me personally. Unlike most leather scents I’ve tried, though, it doesn’t turn sour on me. June 4, 2014 at 3:59am Reply

    • Elisa: I found it to be an unusual take on leather, at least by contemporary standards! June 4, 2014 at 9:48am Reply

  • rickyrebarci: Thanks for the great review. Looks like the men in my life need to try this one! I have a sample somewhere- now I’m for sure trying it!! June 4, 2014 at 6:59am Reply

    • Elisa: Thanks, I hope you enjoy it! June 4, 2014 at 9:48am Reply

  • Little Red: I must really like birch tar because I loved it the whole way through. June 5, 2014 at 11:09pm Reply

    • Elisa: I love birch tar too! June 5, 2014 at 11:21pm Reply

  • Ann: I’m getting caught up in my perfume blogs…but when I saw that you had reviewed Grand Cuir I skipped ahead a few weeks 🙂

    I like leather and birch tar, and l liked this fragrance–first sniffed in a packet of samples from somewhere, then proffered in tiny little fragrance shop in Mendocino, and then more recently from Olfactif. But after thinking I really should love this, I decided that it was just too masculine for me. Which made me feel disappointed in myself because I like to think that inside this middle-aged mother of two teen boys is a hip, metro-sexual chica who can swing all ways when it comes to fragrance.

    A fragrance that is also sticky with birch tar and has a soapiness in the dry down (that I actually really like) is Le Labo’s Patchouli 24, also a leathery smoky sultry scent (the patchouli is on the dry side, more tree-like than head shop). Have you tried it? June 10, 2014 at 10:50pm Reply

    • Elisa: I love Patch 24! It’s almost a pure birch tar experience — but there’s a little bit of sweetness that I think makes it a little more comfortably unisex.

      The “too masculine” thing is definitely a theme in the comments. I tend to agree, but one scent I thought was too masculine at first and then learned to love even on myself is Le Troisiemme Homme. June 10, 2014 at 11:03pm Reply

      • Ann: I didn’t like Patchouli 24 at all when I first sniffed it–too much medicine… but now I am totally addicted! June 13, 2014 at 3:36pm Reply

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