Cuir Cannage is Dior‘s latest release, mixing florals and leather in a mix that is both masculine and feminine. The fragrance not only reflects a very Serge Lutens approach to its deconstruction of orange blossoms, but is actually extremely similar to Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque.
Cuir Cannage debuted this month as part of Dior’s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (It is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The eau de parfum was created by François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior, and its name refers to the woven technique used on Dior’s “cannage” leather bags. Dior describes the scent as follows:
OPEN A BAG, PLUNGE INTO THE DEPTHS OF A
LIVED-IN LEATHER AND UNEARTH ITS SECRETS
Cuir Cannage is a diverse fragrance in which soft floral notes blend with the density of leather to open up a whole new realm. It recreates a world of intriguing scents that intertwines the fruity notes of a lipstick tinged with Rose and Violet along with more powerful scents, in which the leather of the bag meets the warmth of tobacco. Cuir Cannage appeals to the senses, like an olfactory portrait painted with personal and subtly scented objects, protected by the finest cannage-stitched leather. The Dior way.
Since leather is a key part of Cuir Cannage, it may be useful for you to read Dior’s description of the note:
A Leather fragrance is an exercise in style that begins with a desire to convey the scent of one of the world’s finest leathers: Russian leather. Tanned with charred birch bark, this exquisite, legendary leather emitted warm and enveloping notes that perfume creators were soon scrambling to recreate. And so a leather note was born, obtained from “pyrogenic” Birch Oil.
An overheated, “caramelised” note that is the signature of this highly distinctive olfactory family.
Dior’s very limited — and I would argue, very incomplete — list of notes only mentions a top note of orange blossom, a heart note of jasmine and a base note consisting of a “leather accord.” Fragrantica has a slightly more detailed summary, though I smelled additional notes as well. Their list is:
Leather accord, orange blossom, rose, jasmine, iris, and accords of ylang-ylang, birch and cade.
Cuir Cannage opens on my skin with camphorated menthol that has a medicinal, eucalyptus-like vaporousness, infused with burnt caramel, burnt oranges, and smoky, rubbery latex. Much of that is the essence of deconstructed orange blossoms, the way that tuberose was first treated in Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake‘s groundbreaking and completely revolutionary Tubereuse Criminelle with its rubbery, black, mentholated flower. Orange blossoms received the same treatment in their Cuir Mauresque, but the latter is much more obviously floral on my skin than the Dior. I’ll do a side-by-side comparison in greater detail later on, but what is key for now is the opening.
Dior’s Cuir Cannage starts with even more mentholated and smoked rubber notes on my skin than the infamous debut of Tubereuse Criminelle. For those unfamiliar with that sort of molecular deconstruction, the result on me smells strongly of Vick’s Vapor Rub with a good dose of Tiger’s Balm muscle salve. In addition, there is also a plastic note, a dash of diesel, and much more of a burnt orange undertone than was ever noticeable with Cuir Mauresque.
On me, Cuir Mauresque was dominated from the start by orange blossoms, which were then trailed by a brown leather note. It smelled of actual Moorish leather, with a well-burnished, sweet, richly oiled aroma that was slightly skanky and animalic. The Dior scent seems to have shifted the scales and the balance to make its leather more dominant up front and at first. Moreover, it is definitely a black leather infused with a heavy dose of burnt tar, rubber, smoke, and a brief touch of diesel.
To the extent that the orange blossom is noticeable as an actual flower in Cuir Cannage’s opening minutes, it is highly indolic. In this case, that doesn’t translate to naughtiness, lushly seductive fleshiness, or languidly sweet flowers on the verge of over-ripeness. No, in this case, we’re talking hardcore, barely diluted indoles. We’re talking mothballs. It’s a subtle note that is somewhat muffled by the overpowering Vicks Vapor Rub, but it’s definitely there.
The overall effect is various layers of blackness, smokiness, camphorated, and medicinal tonalities, along with rubber and mothballs. Thank God, it softens. Roughly 15 minutes into Cuir Cannage’s development, relief arrives in the form of jasmine. Its floral sweetness diffuses the difficult, darker accords, tames their harsher edges, and tones down the Vicks Vapor Rub camphor. It also eradicates the mothballs. I’m relieved as neither element is really my thing, no matter how popular the Lutensian deconstruction has become in niche perfumery. In all candour, Cuir Cannage’s opening is not very enjoyable for me, and I’m someone who loves and owns Cuir Mauresque. The difficulty is that, on my skin, the Dior surpasses not only Cuir Mauresque but also Tubereuse Criminelle in terms of mentholated, rubbery blackness — and that second Lutens had too much for me to begin with.
Slowly, very slowly, Cuir Cannage begins to take on greater floral tonalities instead of purely camphorated Vicks and burnt, smoky, tarriness. A light touch of sweetness floats in and out, feeling like a wisp of abstract vanilla. The orange blossoms start to emit subtle touches of caramelized oranges that lie in sweet syrup, thanks to the jasmine. 25 minutes into its development, the black leather and rubbery elements have sunk into the base. The menthol, indoles, and smokiness linger, but neither one is as profound as they were at the start. For the most part, Cuir Cannage is a blend of blackened orange blossoms and sweet jasmine, lightly flecked with caramelized oranges, and much muffled touches of camphor and small, all atop a base of black leather.
The secondary and tertiary elements tame Cuir Cannage’s darker, smokier, and blacker elements more and more with every passing moment. By the end of the first hour, the perfume has lost almost all of its Vicks mentholated edge, and turns almost purely floral. Only the subtlest, quietest hints of blackness streak the white of the flowers. There is also the first glimmer of ylang-ylang with its yellow, custardy aroma stirring at the edges.
What’s interesting in all of this is the iris. I frequently test fragrances on both my arms, as there can occasionally be differences that appear on my right arm. This was one of those infrequent instances. I’ve tested Cuir Cannage about 7 different times now, and two of the times reflected a slightly different opening bouquet on that arm. As always, Cuir Cannage opened up with Vick’s Vapor rub, but the burnt rubber, plastic, and smoky tonalities were much less. What showed up instead from the start was a significant iris note. Initially, it smelled like rich orris butter, but it soon took on a more suede-like aroma.
In essence, this version of Cuir Cannage smelled of mentholated muscle rub, sweet orange blossom florals, and the suede interior of a new, very expensive, leather bag almost right from the start. The whole thing felt hot and cool, simultaneously. The mothball indoles appeared here, too, but only briefly. There was no impression of caramelized, singed oranges, and much less tarriness. The sillage was even softer on this arm, and Cuir Cannage hovered a mere inch above the skin after 20 minutes. Regardless of arm, however, Cuir Cannage always ends up in the same place eventually, especially as the orris butter and iris diffuse into the rest of the scent quite quickly. Roughly speaking, by the middle of the second hour, both versions align into the same bouquet of notes.
Speaking of sillage, Cuir Cannage’s opening bouquet may be intense in terms of its bold notes, but the fragrance as a whole is not particularly powerful. Two big sprays from my bottle initially gave me 3 inches of projection, but that number dropped in less than 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, Cuir Cannage lies only 1 inch above my skin, and then hovers just above the skin at the end of the hour as a gauzy, intimate and discreet scent. This is not a powerhouse fragrance by any means, either in terms of weight, density, or projection.
The Dior Privée line generally opts for a softer approach, but Cuir Cannage feels lighter and thinner than some that I have tried. It lacks the richness of Mitzah, to give one example, but also the projection of something like Oud Ispahan, unless one really applies a lot of the scent. Yet, even with 4 very large sprays from my decant (whose nozzle opening is really equivalent of that in a proper, actual bottle), Cuir Cannage became a skin scent on me at the end of the 2nd hour. With a smaller, more regular dosage, the perfume became a skin scent 1.75 hours into its development.
At the start of the 2nd hour, Cuir Cannage is an orange blossom and jasmine scent with some blackness, sweetness, a touch of dark leather, and tiny flickers of custardy ylang-ylang. It is so soft on my skin that the finer nuances are sometimes hard to detect. What is noticeable, however, is a certain creamy, deep coolness, though it doesn’t initially translate to a distinct or concrete suede scent on my skin. That happens roughly an hour later, when the orange blossoms and jasmine are infused with creamy but clean, pristine suede, followed by ylang-ylang, a hint of vanilla, and a subtle suggestion of iris powder. The notes lie on a base that carries just a whiff of something animalic and vaguely “leathered,” but it’s all very smooth and gentle, without any hard edges.
By the end of the 3rd hour, the orange blossoms begin to subtly change. There is a growing element of spiciness running through the petals, and I would swear that Cuir Cannage has some cinnamon mixed in. Its effect on the subtle undercurrent of fruitiness results in something that consistently reminds me of Red Hot Candies and cinnamon-dusted oranges. The blossoms also continue to emit a subtle suede note, but it is now very muted on my skin. It most certainly doesn’t smell of pure iris or makeup powder, as the note sometimes can.
More interesting to me is how the birch tar is impacting the leather. There is a microscopic whiff of something both smoky and animalic in the background that occasionally translates as a Cuir de Russie-style leather. As many hardcore perfumistas know, Cuir de Russie is one of Chanel‘s most famous fragrances, and a benchmark in the leather category that employs a strong birch tar note amidst Chanel’s signature aldehydes. On my skin, Cuir de Russie was an extremely horsey leather. To be precise, pure horse manure smeared onto leather under a heavy lathering of soap. I’m enormously relieved that Cuir Cannage smells neither fecal nor soapy, but there is a subtle wisp of Cuir de Russie stirring in the background at the start of the 6th hour. Here, it’s an extremely smooth leather note that smells like new, expensive gloves, but it also has a definite whiff of something horsey underlying it, subtle though it might be.
The start of the 6th hour heralds other changes, too, and the start of Cuir Cannage’s drydown phase. The jasmine retreats to the sidelines to join the leather. The iris suede vanishes from my skin, while the streak of creaminess grows significantly stronger. It feels like more than mere ylang-ylang. I would swear that there is also some dry vanilla or tonka in Cuir Cannage, and it works beautifully with the spicy, cinnamon-dusted orange blossoms. I also wonder if there is a slight dash of white woods mixed in, because there is something beyond the aforementioned notes in that streak of creaminess. The whole thing is very pretty, but I wish the notes had appeared earlier when the scent wasn’t so sheer and thin.
By the end of the 8th hour, Cuir Cannage’s bouquet smells primarily of smooth, soft orange blossoms with spicy cinnamon and the tiniest whisper of caramel warmth, all nestled in a cocoon of creaminess that has a suggestion of abstract woods and vanilla. The leather continues to flit about on the periphery, but it is incredibly faint. In fact, Cuir Cannage as a whole feels like translucent gauze. It clings so softly to my skin that its nuances are very hard to detect unless I put my nose right on the skin and inhale hard. In its final moments, Cuir Cannage is a blur of abstract floral sweetness with a vaguely woody, dry undertone.
All in all, Cuir Cannage consistently lasts over 9.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, but the longevity is completely dependent on the amount that I apply. Using a normal quantity of 2 spritzes (and, remember, my decant’s nozzle makes it the equivalent of a full bottle instead of a small atomizer), I experienced just over 9.75 hours. Doubling that amount to 4 big sprays, I had a little under 14 hours. That amount translates roughly to about 2/3rds of a 1 ml vial, so it’s quite a lot more than what most people use in testing. However, anything less than that resulted in a scent was generally so intimate for most of its lifespan that its full nuances were hard to detect. Again, Cuir Cannage feels much softer on me than several others from the Privée line when taken as an average whole, and it has shorter longevity, too, unless a significant quantity is applied.
As noted earlier, Cuir Cannage is similar to Serge Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque, and not only because Dior has adopted the Sheldrake/Lutens’ method of deconstructing white flowers to their molecular parts and then putting them back together again. However, there are distinct differences between the two scents, though it takes a lot of side-by-side testing and a really concentrated focus to detect all of them.
The similarities are strongest in both fragrances’ opening phase with their mentholated, camphorated, rubbery blackness and smokiness. On my skin, however, there is substantially more of those notes in the Dior than in Cuir Mauresque. Even more than Tubereuse Criminelle, in fact, which consistently blows Cuir Mauresque out of the water when it comes to Vicks Vapor rub, mentholated camphor, black rubber, and smokiness. In addition, those elements all fade even sooner on my skin with Cuir Mauresque than they do with Dior’s Cuir Cannage.
More importantly, the Lutens leather is completely different on my skin. There is leather right from the start with Cuir Mauresque but, instead of smelling like tarry pitch, it feels brown, deep, and like richly oiled Moorish leather. It is also lightly skanky with a civet-like note. The Lutens is far more consistently leathered and animalic on me than the Dior whose “leather” is a fluctuating affair that generally lies in the background once the black tar burns off. Throughout Cuir Mauresque’s lifespan, the leather continues to be lightly skanky, but it is never suede-like, horsey, or akin to new leather gloves. In fact, it actually takes on a sweet nuance later on, as though a thin layer of honey had been scraped over the leather.
There are other differences as well. Cuir Mauresque never emitted a mothball tonality, it was more obviously floral right from the start, and it lacks a profound birch tar note, as well as iris or suede. In addition, the Lutens fragrance turns creamy much sooner than the Dior. Cuir Cannage’s drydown of creamy, spiced orange blossoms starts to appear roughly around the 6th hour. With the Lutens, it takes only an hour for the orange blossoms to turn creamy with the same cinnamon-like spiciness and slightly animalic leather in the background. The two fragrances’ drydowns are different as well. On me, the Lutens’ finish is ambered with salty and caramel nuances, while the Dior scent involves creaminess infused with subtle vanilla and wood tonalities.
The sillage and depth of both fragrances differ as well, though they share the same longevity periods for the most part. The Lutens lies about 1.5 inches above the skin at the same point where the Dior is practically a skin scent on me. While 3 small sprays of Cuir Mauresque results in a true skin scent at the start of the 4th hour, 4 large sprays of the Dior turns into a skin scent at the end of the 2nd hour. I think the Lutens is a much deeper, richer, more full-bodied scent as a whole, while the Dior feels much softer, smoother, wispier and more discreet.
Other than the obvious sillage issues, however, the differences are generally subtle, and I think you would have to focus intensely in side-by-side tests to detect a few of them. For the most part, I suspect people will simply conclude that the Dior scent starts off with more camphor than the Lutens, before turning substantially more iris-centric with suede tonalities in a softer, less animalic mix. Depending on your skin chemistry, the iris may last far longer on your skin than it did on mine, and you may experience some of its powdery facets in addition to the suede.
Regardless of skin chemistry, however, I think you will definitely experience some degree of camphorated, Vicks Vapor Rub and smoky birch tar. Dior warns you quite explicitly about that point in its mention of “charred birch bark” that is “pyrogenic.” Those of you who dislike Tubereuse Criminelle (and I know a few who feel horror at the mere mention of the name) should take comfort in the fact that the camphorated, smoky notes in Cuir Cannage began to soften and recede on my skin in as little as 15 minutes. It’s really not a driving, central focus of the scent at all.
In fact, several bloggers seem to have experienced smooth, refined, handbag leather for the most part. Persolaise talks about it a lot in his review for the scent, in addition to comparing the Dior to Knize Ten. My experience with Knize Ten was extremely different, particularly as it is not an orange blossom leather like Cuir Mauresque, but I’ll let you read Persolaise‘s assessment:
Cuir Cannage is … bone fide leather. A close cousin of the masterful Knize Ten, it luxuriates in the dangerous sensuality that comes from an encounter between the human nose and a piece of material that once covered the body of an animal. It relishes that moment when you bring your oh-so-civilised new gloves towards your face and their sharp, near-bestial smell plunges you into primordial memories of a time when human nature wasn’t the terribly refined construction it is now. It lingers over the sensation of picking up a satchel from a shop shelf, burying your face within its interior and letting that curious alchemy of hide, glue and acid exert its very particular spell.
That said, Cuir Cannage is also modern – I fancy sociologists would have a thing or two to say about its non-gender-specific take on purses, clutches and other related accoutrements – and supremely elegant. Without compromising the integrity of its central leather note, Demachy has made it both radiant – through an expert use of citruses – and velvety. This latter effect has probably been achieved with the help of a pronounced ylang ylang facet. The link between white florals and leather is far from novel, but here, the ylang maintains its own curious, spicy, banana-like identity, whilst bolstering the darker, more carnal aspects of the overall construction. It rests at the heart of the perfume like a faithful, petal-scented lipstick that has made itself at home in a trusted shoulder bag.
The Smelly Vagabond also brings up Knize Ten, but finds differences. Interestingly, he seems to have experienced the same “medicinal” opening that I did, though he never compares it to Vicks Vapor rub or talks about mentholated camphor. His review reads, in part, as follows:
If Knize Ten were a leather-clad biker rocking a Harley-Davidson, and if Jolie Madame were a cigarette-wielding bad ass Mama-san dressed in a violet cheongsam, then Cuir Cannage has to be a smartly-dressed, high-ranking executive striding confidently into the office while carrying a leather briefcase/handbag.
Diehard fans of leather who whine about suede not being leather will have nothing to complain about, nor will those who like their leather to come without too many floral or animalic embellishments. Despite the somewhat medicinal opening, Cuir Cannage does its job of being a smooth and elegant leather, and does it well. The light sprinkling and dusting of powder throughout the composition keeps it restrained and serves as a reminder that Cuir Cannage isn’t about delivering knock-out, migraine-inducing punches in the manner of LM Parfums’ Hard Leather, but seeks rather to be the definition of refinement. And just when one is left wondering if the person wearing the suit has a pulse, a tiny (very tiny!) trace of birch makes its presence known, a reminder that it is still very much human at its heart. [Emphasis in the original.]
I have no idea why no-one brings up Cuir Mauresque in these reviews, though I’ve seen the comparison made frequently elsewhere and amongst friends of mine. Cuir Mauresque is not one of the well-known fragrances in the Lutens line, so perhaps that is one reason. I actually think it is a shamefully under-appreciated scent in general. I also far prefer it to Dior’s heavily copied version.
For The Smelly Vagabond, Cuir Cannage was “safe” but “very, very nice indeed.” I’m less enthused. I blindly bought quite a large decant of the Dior fragrance, and I regret it. A small amount would have been wiser and sufficient. To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Cuir Cannage. It’s fine. It’s safe. It’s smooth. It has pretty bits. But I have a bottle of Cuir Mauresque, and think that is a more balanced, more interesting and much better fragrance with more body and with leather that I find to be substantially more appealing. It also has huge sex appeal in my eyes, with a timeless, classic nature that would have suited an Old Hollywood icon like Ava Gardner.
In contrast, Cuir Cannage opens as Vicks Vapor rub that transitions to… handbags. Eh. I am definitely not enthused by the degree of the mentholated opening, let alone the mothball indoles, even if neither one lasts significantly long on my skin. The handbag suede phase isn’t particularly riveting to me, but the creamy ending and drydown are very pretty — at least, when I can detect them without attacking my arm like a snuffling pig searching for truffles buried deep in the ground.
In fact, I became extremely frustrated with Cuir Cannage’s wispy nature and blurry notes as a whole. For a large part of the fragrance’s duration on my skin, especially from the third hour onwards, I consistently felt as though I was chasing after a hazy shadow, scrabbling to get a hold of it, but finding it hovering just out of reach. However, in all fairness, this is a stylistic and personal issue. As regular readers, I like my fragrances to be what I call “Wagnerian,” akin to the Ride of the Valkyries. Serge Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque doesn’t rise to that level in terms of enormous boldness or strength, but it does so a lot more than this light, gauzy, intimate, wispy scent.
Then again, the Dior may be a safer fragrance in some people’s eyes because of the iris and handbag tonalities, especially if their skin chemistry amplify those elements to a significant degree. Since “safeness” is often interpreted as “more refined,” I suspect a number of people will prefer Cuir Cannage. I don’t, but you should give Cuir Cannage a sniff if you like orange blossoms, iris suede, a floral treatment of leather, birch tar, and the Lutens style.