Thursday, February 14, 2013

Naomi Goodsir: Cuir Velours

When I first smelled Cuir Velours and Bois d'Ascese, the debut duo of fragrances by Julien Rasquinet for Naomi Goodsir, Bois d'Ascese was the clear front runner. It seemed a no brainer (wood, smoke, fifty shades of burnt). Cuir Velours was lovely enough, but I seemed to have forgotten it the next day. When I sprayed on some Bois d'Ascese, and wore it out of Scent Bar in LA, it faded a lot more quickly than I can tolerate in a smoke fragrance, and I sort of forgot the line altogether.

Until last month, when I was back in LA, frequenting Scent Bar a lot more than I have any business to. I'd long since decided that Bois was a tamer, less interesting sibling to Essence of John Galliano, the (now discontinued?) room spray by Diptyque. Galliano is my go-to woodsmoke scent. I spray it on clothes; typically, on a scarf, in the winter. It reminds me of homecoming bonfires in high school, where no matter where you stood the smoke made a bee line for you. Galliano is a holy grail for me and it hasn't been improved upon yet. I have something like six ounces and doubt I'll run out any time soon. I see no reason to cheat on it.

Somehow, now that Bois had receded from view, I was able to smell Cuir Velours more clearly, and after several trips to Scent Bar I was hooked. I kept going back to it, re evaluating. It was my final purchase, and once again I'm struck by how a good perfume can take a while to permeate your attention. It's as if you have to catch up with it, or get it somewhere on its own, before you can truly appreciate it. This is one of the reasons I don't write so much about new releases. Almost every fragrance seems route to me upon first sniff. It takes a long time, living with one, to see it on its own terms, a long time to recognize its distinct appeal.

Part of my problem with Cuir Velours at first (it seems like such a non problem now) was the fact that it didn't really smell like a leather to me at all, neither soft nor hard. I couldn't really see the connection. Now I smell it and wonder what the hell I was thinking. These are all good signs in a fragrance for me - that initial disappointment, followed by a shift of perception and a percussive revelation. Cuir Velours is a different kind of leather, and I think I must have mistaken it for all those wan suede things that have pepper sprayed the market over the last several years, scents which seem to be apologizing for leather's offenses even while capitalizing on its mystique.

Velours bears some relation to Daim Blond, the Serge Lutens suede that, for a change, gets it right, adding a startling peachy note to shake up a tired format. Cuir Velours sits somewhere between leather and suede, and while it feels more refined than your average leather (usually a turn off for me), it's saved, or maybe energized, by the judicious use of immortelle. Though I know it's a take no prisoners note within a composition, I've always felt that you can never be too liberal with immortelle. Too much has never been quite enough for me, which makes my appreciation of its subtle application in Cuir Velours at the very least...confusing. Like Daim Blond's radiant peach note, immortelle adds something beyond articulation and infinitely appealing to Cuir Velours basic structure.

Cuir Velours (aside from immortelle, notes listed are rum, labdanum, and incense) has a reputation already for being a variant of Skin Scent. I don't get that. On me, it radiates off the skin for hours, quietly but persistently. It smells, now, of leather, but its own peculiar version of leather. Like most good fragrances, Cuir Velours caused a recalibration in my thinking about what a leather is or can be. It's rich and, truly, velvety, with just the right touch of boozy - clean but compelling.

My experience with it makes me wonder how often this happens with other people - the vague interest which turns to strong, committed affection.