Imagine a land in an alternate universe, a parallel Cuba called Cuir Cuba Intense. There, an old tobacco farmer rolls out tobacco leaves, not on the thighs of nubile virgins, but on cedar tables covered with thick, black licorice paste. The leaves are still a bit raw, half-moist, and wet, with a certain dirty darkness that borders on the leathery. The farmer layers the tobacco with generous amounts of sweet coumarin crystals, then more black licorice, before dusting them with geranium rose, bits of lavender and mint, and a touch of lemon. Rolled into cigars, they are lightly doused with civet and musk, then nestled between sheaves of sweet hay, and left to dry in a room filled with golden ambered warmth which carries the faintest traces of rum and honey.
Over time, the cigars change. The licorice melts into their body, the civet awakens to add a slightly sharp edge, and the tobacco starts to dry. They lose their raw darkness, tempered by the coumarin crystals which bloom into a subtle creaminess. Eventually, by some alchemical transformation of this alternate universe, the tobacco is no longer even tobacco. It has turned into leather. First, into a dark, sweetened leather dusted with spices and, then, finally, into the creamiest calf-skin with supple smoothness and a hint of sweetness.
That is the world of Cuir Cuba Intense, brought to you by Patricia de Nicolaï, a talented perfumer who is, in my opinion, the true, rightful heir to the Guerlain throne. You can read more about that, her childhood in the Guerlain family, the glass-ceiling for female noses within both the family and the perfume industry as a whole, and how her Parfums de Nicolaï brand was really the first, truly “niche” house in a profile piece I wrote a long time ago. Here, I will only say that we’re all probably better off that Madame de Nicolaï (hereinafter spelled simply as “Nicolai,” sans the dotted “i”) is following her own vision and not subject to the dictates of a corporate overlord like LVMH. In fact, this year marks Parfums de Nicolai’s 25th Anniversary, so a huge congratulations to her and to her husband who co-founded the house.