Lovely. Ghastly. Intoxicating. Nauseating. I want a small bottle. I can’t wait to scrub the revolting mess off my body. Two completely antithetical reactions to two supposedly parallel companion fragrances, both created by Cecile Zarokian for David Jourquin. The first is Cuir Altesse. The second is Cuir de R’Eve. Both fragrances are eau de parfums that were released in 2014 and that David Jourquin describes as “women’s fragrances,” but I think Cuir Altesse is completely unisex, thanks to a strong similarity to vintage Lagerfeld Cologne, classic bay rum tobacco colognes, and vintage Shalimar parfum. Let’s start with the dreadful one first, so that I can block it out of my mind immediately thereafter, and then we can talk about Cuir Altesse at greater depth.
CUIR DE R’EVE:
Cuir de R’Eve is presented as the “day version” of the “night-time” Cuir Altesse, even though it doesn’t have the same notes and smells completely different. Since I can’t abide the fragrance, I’ll skip over its long official description which can be summed up in a nutshell as “an ode” to the women of the 1920s. According to Luckyscent, the note list is:
Bergamot, baies roses [pink peppercorns], clove, heliotrope, orris, red fruit, patchouli, leather, vanilla.
Cuir de R’Eve opens on my skin with a deluge of fruity pink peppercorns, fruity purple-skewing patchouli, and candied cherries that smell like Maraschino cocktail cherries. The sticky, molasses-like goo is then blanketed by a thick layer of dusty, biting, pungent, and medicinal cloves. The sum-total result smells oddly rancid to my nose. Not only does it smell a little “off,” but it strongly resembles an oral disinfectant gargle wash that my dentist occasionally uses combined with Luden’s cherry cough drops.
At the same time, the powdery, acerbic dustiness of the cloves mixed with the intense molasses sugariness also calls to mind a spice-clove-brown sugar glaze for a traditional American holiday ham. In fact, a few years ago, I actually tried a Christmas ham roast with Maraschino cherries and that sort of glaze at a holiday event, and it was almost as bad as the accord here. This is somehow even more unpalatable. The saccharine nature of the Maraschino cherries, the thickness of the pink peppercorn-fruitchouli goo, and the disinfectant-dental-dusty aspects of the clove feel almost suffocating. It’s sign of just how unbalanced the proportions are because Cuir de R’Eve is actually soft and airy in body, but the medicinal, pungently abrasive, and sickly candy aspects supersede its lightness.
It gets worse. The orris and heliotrope arrive after 10 minutes, adding a thick layer of floral-scented makeup powder with violet lipstick undertones. I find it so jarring next to the cloves (that keep making me think of dentists and Christmas hams!), the Maraschino cocktail cherries, and the pink peppercorn-fruitchouli goo. Technically, the materials feel smoothly blended, but their olfactory profiles are so mismatched that the overall effect is a cloying mishmash.
Things finally improve a little after 40 minutes. A little. The cloves settle down, losing their dental and medicinal vibe, although a strong dustiness remains when I smell my arm up close. The fruity molasses goop also loses some of its thickness. Now, Cuir de R’Eve is primarily an intensely sweet cherry fragrance infused with spices and patchouli, covered by violet-orris-heliotrope makeup powder. In the base, there is a tinge of something amorphous that — at a stretch — is nebulously “leather-ish,” but it is so minor and so muffled by the cloying, powdery sweetness that it’s hard to tell.
If Cuir de R’Eve had actual, strong, and pronounced leather to counterbalance the other difficult notes, I might have endured longer but I scrubbed it off after 45 minutes. It took some effort to last even that long. The first time I tried Cuir de R’Eve, I gave up after 10 minutes because I was feeling queasy. I mean that quite literally. This fragrance turns my stomach. After 45 minutes during the second time around, I was almost nauseous. I love heliotrope and don’t mind orris violet lipstick undertones, but the combination here in conjunction with the other notes and the suffocating nature of the fragrance was just too much for me. Some days I simply have far less patience, tolerance, and masochism to endure unpleasant fragrances all the way to the end. Cuir de R’Eve may not be the worst thing I’ve ever tried, but I find it absolutely awful.
A few people seem to like it, though. There isn’t a lot on Cuir de R’Eve out there, but its Fragrantica page has one passing, positive comment that reads in full: “A Lovely suède and vanilla scent, it last very long on my skin. It is a perfume that lingers around.” Mark Behnke, the former Managing Editor of CaFleureBon, also wrote positively about the scent on his Colognoisseur site. Feel free to read his description if you’re interested because I am cutting this short; re-living the scent memories is starting to make me queasy, and I want to forget about Cuir de R’Eve as soon as possible.
Cuir Altesse is ostensibly the evening version of The Fragrance We Will No Longer Talk About, but they couldn’t be more different. In fact, they are truly “night and day” apart, thank God. Cuir Altesse is an eau de parfum that comes with another long backstory about the 1920s and “women who love men’s perfume,” but some parts of this one are quite accurate in describing both the scent and its feel, in my opinion. First in Fragrance has the English version of the official copy, presented below in its relevant parts followed by the note list:
David Jourquin’s nighttime perfume for women, Cuir Altesse is a spellbinding melody that has slipped out of a Left Bank cabaret.
It sways to the soothing sounds of the jazzy heydays. Sensual and moving, this elixir hums with the husky tones of an inspired trumpet. A tribute to the poet’s muse stretched out on a wonderfully weathered leather couch, it blazes like the lightning in her eyes that sparkle with the power of a spicy, ambry cocktail. She sketches smoky arabesques in the air with the tip of her glowing cigarette… this elegant aristocrat is absolutely intriguing, all the way down to the tips of her unforgettably long-gloved fingers.
A unique, magnetic, rebellious character. The base notes assert the sensual, Cyprusy scents of leather, benzoin and oak moss, with an ambry vibrato and the round warm of vanilla. The heart notes surprise and stimulate the senses with rose petals and oriental scents including jasmine, patchouly and cumin. Masterful, sparkling orange explodes in a glorious grand finale topping the experience off with a bouquet of spices laced with cardamom.
Top Note: Orange, Pink Pepper, Cardamom
Heart Note: Rose, Jasmine, Patchouly, Cumin, Clove
Base Note: Vanilla, Coumarin, Leather, Benzoin, Oak Moss
Cuir Altesse opens on my skin with wave upon wave of smooth, expensive cognac mixed with some rum. The intensely rich booziness is poured over unlit Cohiba cigars that have been lightly layered with the sweeter, fruitier aromas of fragrant pipe tobacco and with the dry, spicy, woody, and sweet aromas of brown patchouli. Subtle veins of rose smudge the edges, along with an incense-like smokiness.
The tobacco bouquet is exceptional. There is the delicious aroma of tobacco leaves that are barely dried and bear a vestige of their former greenness. The spicy sweetness of gingerbread seeps slowly towards their center like a brown stain, but they’re also marked orange from the fruity mandarin brandy and brown from dark rum. The overall effect smells exactly like unlit Cuban cigars fragrantly filling up a humidor or cigar room.
At first, I was quite confused by the intensity of the aroma because Cuir Altesse’s note list makes no mention of any tobacco whatsoever, though there is a passing reference in the fragrance’s description about “the sultry scent of cigars.” Things became clearer once I re-read David Jourquin’s biography on his site. His fragrances intentionally seek to replicate strong childhood memories of family members wearing not only leather, but leather that was always imbued with the scent of Cuban cigars, spices, and patchouli. In fact, he writes that the trio of leather, Cuban cigars, and spices “are his mirror image, his roots, the many facets of his inner self.”
That leather arrives within minutes, and it’s a gorgeous note that is multi-faceted and rich. It immediately brought to mind was the scent of an old boyfriend’s expensive brown leather jacket: warm, musky, spicy, sweet, and golden, with hints of smoke mixed with cologne-ish, masculine floralcy. The second thing it evoked was Churchill. Bear with me for a moment.
The leather here is a supple, well-burnished, oiled leather that always makes me think of those old-fashioned, studded, leather armchairs called Churchill chairs, and of the aristocratic, members-only, British clubs that often have them. It’s an old, smooth leather that isn’t tarry or blackened with birch. Instead, it’s imbued with the quiet paperiness of old newspapers mixed with Churchill’s cigars. It’s the sort of leather that always bears a definite floralcy as well. Here, hushed breaths of jasmine and rose stroke its edges like supplicants at the attar of classic, conservative, masculine leather that’s been well-worn and bears traces of its owner’s scent.
Roughly 10 minutes into its development, Cuir Altesse changes. The rich colour palette takes on a creamy beige tint at the edges as a silky vanilla like crème anglaise arrives, seeping over the cognac, rum, tobacco leaves, and leather. A cloud of cinnamon-ish, golden resins swirls all around, but what is most distinct is an almost cologne-like touch, a whisper of the old days through spiced citrus and vanilla. It’s a very Shalimar and Habit Rouge vibe, both in their vintage greatness, except here there are also Havana cigars, expensive cognac, rum, and spicy patchouli.
The end result reminds me a lot of the two Guerlains but, even more so, of Karl Lagerfeld‘s vintage Lagerfeld. (The original one, not the reformulated crap now labelled as “Classic.) Karl Lagerfeld created the fragrance as his intentional, express tribute to Shalimar, except he made a spicier, more overtly masculine, incense and tobacco version. Lagerfeld was not only one of my favorite fragrances for years, but my stumbling across a vintage bottle was actually the impetus for me creating this blog, and it was the subject of my very first review.
I love Lagerfeld, but Cuir Altesse may be even better. One reason why is purely technical; vintage Lagerfeld doesn’t always stand up to time and loses some of its mandarin, orange top notes. That may be why Cuir Altesse feels substantially and significantly more boozy on my skin. Another reason is that Cuir Altesse isn’t so strongly cologne-like in its opening accords, it feels more modern, and is better balanced on my skin, though, again, some of that may be due to the fact that it’s not a 30-year old fragrance.
There are other differences as well. Lagerfeld made me think of a leather shop nestled between a Turkish spice shop and a Turkish hookah-incense tobacco-ist. Cuir Altesse makes me think of British clubs with Churchill leather chairs but, most of all, of Havana nights where a speakeasy is filled with the fragrant aroma of unlit Cohibas, cognac, and rum. Yes, Cuir Altesse also has pipe tobacco, Turkish incense and hookah smoke, and the same “boyfriend leather jacket” as Lagerfeld. And, yes, the force of Shalimar vanilla leather is strong in both fragrances, but David Jourquin has somehow taken me on his childhood journeys to Cuba instead.
It’s an exceedingly classical leather blend that also feels very modern. Part of it is because there is a brightness about Cuir Altesse, an airy lift. More importantly, though, the booze, cigars, amber, and sweetness have been amped-up, while the classical cologne elements of brisk lemon and bergamot have been eschewed in favour of sweeter mandarin. Even that is reduced here, as though Jourquin and Cecile Zarokian were giving merely the briefest nod to the cooler, crisper, effervescent Shalimar/Habit Rouge top notes before twisting the orange into something almost entirely boozy and then skipping straight to Shalimar’s richer, spicier, more vanillic heart. That becomes even more apparent as Cuir Altesse develops. Roughly 40 minutes in, the vanilla surges forward to coat the leather, accentuating Shalimar similarities, except this is the smoky, darkly balsamic, styrax and resin-coated vanilla leather of very aged, vintage Shalimar parfum mixed with the more masculine Lagerfeld. It’s truly lovely.
At the same time, the spice mix, boozy cognac, rum, patchouli, jasmine, and rose combine to create a floral oriental twist on the traditional “barbershop” cologne opening. The cigar and leather grow stronger as well, deepening, turning muskier, as though they’d been warmed by the heat of a body in a way I can’t readily explain except to say it’s a damn sexy scent. It’s rendered even more appealing with the quiet curlicues of incense-like smokiness that work so well with the rich leather and the sensual curls of floralcy.
Yet, for all the floral, smoky, vanilla Lagerfeld-Shalimar leather, Cuir Altesse maintains a firm grip on its more masculine side. Roughly 75-minutes in, the barbershop cologne vibe grows quite powerful. Something about it continuously reminds me of bay rum colognes, a composition where spices, booze, and citrus are infused with woody, bay leaf and often a heaping dose of spicy patchouli as well. It must be the indirect impact of the oakmoss, which I never detect in a pronounced, individual way, but it must contribute to the greenness that — in conjunction with the spices — feels so much like a “Bay Leaf cologne.” Whatever the actual source, the overall result is tough, hard, and bold, but also softly sensuous, bright, glamourously sexy, and polished. It feels more like something Yves St. Laurent would have done than Guerlain, if that makes sense.
Depending on how you look at it, Cuir Altesse is either very complex or straightforward. It takes a lot of notes layered in perfect proportions to create a bouquet of vintage Shalimar, vintage Lagerfeld, and bay rum colognes. Cecile Zarokian has done a wonderful job at seamlessly integrating so many overtones and undertones all at the same time, while also keeping each note clearly delineated in its own right. Everything sings in perfect harmony and balance where no one note ever fully dominates but works with the others to create a nuanced, rich, heady mix.
However, there really isn’t much more to Cuir Altesse beyond this on my skin. From the middle of the 2nd hour largely until its very end, Cuir Altesse merely fluctuates between a spiced, Bay Rum cologne and a Lagerfeld/Shalimar vanilla leather. The scent simply becomes smokier, spicier, darker, and boozier on my skin. Sometimes, the cognac, rum, and spicy patchouli outweigh the tobacco; sometimes, the cinnamon benzoin and dark resins are as strong as the vanilla, resulting in a thick haze of ambered goldenness that suffuses everything.
At the start of the 7th hour, Cuir Altesse is primarily boozy leather and creamy vanilla lying atop a darkly resinous, smoky base and cocooned in amber. The patchouli and tobacco are still very noticeable, but they have retreated to the sidelines. There, they are joined by a new element, a subtle powderiness that descends upon the notes, just as it does in Lagerfeld. It’s a sort of tonka-coumarin Guerlainade accord, though it’s far lighter and more inconsequential in Cuir Altesse than it is in Lagerfeld. It barely puts a dent in the main notes which are finally blurring, turning more amorphous and shapeless. By the time the 9th hour rolls around, Cuir Altesse has transformed into a haze of spicy, ambered sweetness with only faint vestiges of something leathery, smoky, and bay rum-ish about it. It remains that way until it finally dies away, between 13.5 and 15.5 hours from its start depending on how much of the fragrance I apply.
Cuir Altesse has excellent longevity, good projection, and sillage that is initially quite strong. Using several wide smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opens with about 4-5 inches of projection, and 6-8 inches of sillage. The scent is airy but strong enough to swirl around me even when I don’t move. It actually seems to grow when the bay rum kicks in and the booziness even grows stronger at the end of the first hour. Roughly 4.5 hours into its development, Cuir Altesse still projects a good 3-4 inches, though the sillage drops to about 5 inches. The fragrance turn into a skin scent on me a bit after the 7th hour, but it’s still easy to detect up close for a while to come. As noted earlier, it lasts at least 13.5 hours on me in total.
There isn’t much commentary on Cuir Altesse out there, but what I’ve found is positive to mixed. On Fragrantica, only two people have left reviews. “CLevol” calls it “heaven,” writing, in full:
Ah, this is heaven. Sweat [sic] leather! Love, love, love; this is a combination of leather a good cumin and a hint of pepper, like drinking Pastis in a warm night with your new leather handbag on the table, new that your big love will come soon. Chique, very sexy!
“Q80” is more ambivalent. He’s written negative reviews for other Jourquin leathers, but finds this one better, though he still seems a bit dubious, writing:
At last, there is a nice fragrance from this house beside the mandarine one! [¶] It is cardamom, cloves leather type of fragrance with some pepper and patchouli on aside as the pepper rises too much the calmer it goes! and i hope it keeps it’s balance so far cause the first sniff wasn’t promising but as it cools down it goes quite interesting. [¶] But i guess after all, the middle note now is quite sorry for being good for a little while on the top note! i guess right after these 5 fragrances… i lost hope for this brand for good.
In contrast, Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur said he was “smitten” with Cuir Altesse “from [his] first sniff”:
Cuir Altesse was designed to be worn by a woman in the evening but this has everything in it this man could desire in a leather fragrance, from my first sniff I was smitten. Since wearing it a couple of times I am no less enamored of it. I think if I was ever to ask for a bespoke perfume from Mme Zarokian the structure of Cuir Altesse is where we would start. Cuir Altesse starts with cardamom bolstered with orange and pink peppercorn. The cardamom is what stands out and it leads down into a heart of mainly jasmine and cumin. The jasmine is indolic and the cumin is its usual pungent self. Together this should be a nightmare but instead all of these rough edges turn into a sweet dream. By using rose to pick up more of the floral character of jasmine and patchouli to blunt some of the sweatiness of cumin the heart of Cuir Altesse is alluring. Vanilla partners the leather again but this time benzoin and amber add a bit of resinous sweetness; oakmoss adds the final grace note to everything.
Trebor of the Scent for Thought blog has a very different view, calling Cuir Altesse a “brutal disappointment.” The main reason why seems to be the preponderance of the “marzipan” coumarin which he found to be “pretty much the prevailing note.” He hated that, though he’d seems to have thoroughly enjoyed Cuir Altesse’s opening stage which he calls “lovely”:
The opening is lovely, with a flurry of orange, spices and florals, alongside a mild leathery accent. And although this stage is fleeting, it’s both succulent and spritely while it lasts. However, after giving way to the mid notes, it all goes unexpectedly pear-shaped…
Initially coming across as anaemic, a bitter marzipan-like aroma rears its ugly head. As this aspect intensifies, one soon realises that it’s actually the coumarin… and far too much of it. So overwhelming is the coumarin that it takes quite a while for some of the other accords to sufficiently breathe (particularly the florals).
By the drydown, the coumarin has yielded some of its dominance but is still very much perceptible, with subtle hints of patchouli, vanilla and oakmoss being present. And while the marzipan-like aroma has largely subsided, the coumarin’s suggestive loukhoum properties continue to quietly pulsate.
It sounds like the Guerlainade-type elements took over on his skin. That might be a plus for some people, less so for other. It’s going to come down to personal tastes and skin chemistry.
For myself, I would wear Cuir Altesse in a heartbeat. I can’t get its mix of cognac, rum, Cohiba cigars, leather, spices, and delicious patchouli out of my head, and I keep sniffing appreciatively its traces on my cardigan sleeve and on my sheets. There are only two things stopping me from buying a bottle for myself. First, it’s not the sort of scent that I would want to wear every day. It’s partially because of the streak of Bay Rum cologne, and partially an issue of time. The chance to wear fragrances for myself (instead of testing) is so rare that I tend to turn to the ambers that are my main comfort zone. That brings me to my second point: the bottles are too large a size for occasional usage, at least for me. It’s a 100 ml or nothing. If there were a 30 ml option or if I could buy a 20 ml decant, I would leap at the chance (so if anyone is a splitter out there and interested in dividing a bottle, let me know) but 100 ml… no. There are exceedingly few fragrances for which I crave a full 100 ml, and this does not rise to that level for me. (That said, David Jourquin offers a good price for his refill bottles at €155… so splitters, let me know. Seriously. I want to buy some!)
I know sizing isn’t a big issue for other people, so let’s move onto the issue of gender. I think Cuir Altesse is fully unisex. As Mark Behnke said in his review, it has everything a man could want in a fragrance. But it also has unisex and feminine accents, too. While I find that it skews a hair more masculine than vintage Shalimar and falls squarely on the Lagerfeld side, I know a number of women who love the latter as well. Female bloggers like The Non-Blonde and EauMG have both written adoring pieces about vintage Lagerfeld, as did the commentators from MakeupAlley whom I quoted eons ago in that old review. Lagerfeld’s main issue for some, including one young man who wrote to me a while back, is that it has a very classical cologne vibe at first. (The young chap found it reminded him too much of his grandfather.) However, Cuir Altesse avoids that aspect of Lagerfeld by amplifying the rum, cognac, mandarin, and vanilla from the onset. As a whole, I think it’s a far boozier, warmer, more overtly floral, and ambered. Plus, it was made with women in mind, the sort of women who love to wear their boyfriend’s leather jacket in part because it bears traces of his masculine cologne. So, if you’re a woman, don’t let my mention of Bay Rum or colognes put you off, just as I hope men won’t be dissuaded by the Shalimar references. Really, it’s a great leather-tobacco fragrance for both genders!
Bottom line, a big thumbs up for Cuir Altesse, and a huge, shuddering thumbs down for The Other One.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.