Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense, 2014

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Perfumer Patricia de Nicolai

I applaud the PR department of Parfums de Nicolai. Coordinating the release of Cuir Cuba Intense with the US administration’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba?  Brilliant!

Cuir Cuba Intense is a tobacco perfume. No surprise, given the locale in the name, but Patricia de Nicolai creates the notes the way a stage magician plays with your focus.

De Nicolai uses the tobacco note to focus your attention, but it’s a ruse. As with any good magic act, the real action takes place right in front of you without your notice. Cuir Cuba Intense is a fougère! Granted, it’s an impressionistic one, but an effective one. The classical fougère is typically described as soapy, but from Houbigant Fougère Royale to Caron Troisième Homme to YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme, the coumarin in a fougère smells of hay and tobacco. In Cuir Cuba Intense, de Nicolai uses all the tricks the fougère has to offer. It plays the cool, and anisic tones of coumarin against warmer woody hues. It balances delectable, caramelized qualities with soapy inedibility, suggesting forbidden fruit. And wrapping identifiably masculine aroma (tobacco, leather, rumbly woods) up in a pretty bow, it is a classical dandy. Also in classically Victorian dandy fashion, and epitomizing the early generations of the fougère, Cuir Cuba Intense opens with a generous, expansive geranium note.

Prestidigitation works best on the suggestible and Cuir Cuba Intense is highly suggestive perfume. The fougère is there, but so is the leather. A citrus note ties to a dry smokiness and the heartnotes hint at citrus-leathers like Hermès Bel Ami and Estée Lauder Azurée. The combination of botanical references alongside undisguised chemical qualities reminds me of Robert Piguet Bandit. There is a  sweet, caramel-patchouli inflection to the quiet but durable  basenotes that is the balanced, pleasant version of Thierry Mugler A*Men’s hangover of a drydown. Cuir Cuba Intense isn’t derivative, it’s just composed of a lot of moving parts.

My strongest association between Cuir Cuba Intense and tobacco is not the way it smells, but the tone of voice and the synesthesia it triggers. It smells like Betty Bacall’s gorgeous, cigarette-raspy voice sounds.  Her husky feminine voice was exotic yet she was forthright and plain-spoken. This same duality runs through the perfume.

Classical perfumery’s forté is orchestration, the ability to build notes and accords and swing them around with flourish. Contemporary perfumery, from about the mid-90s forward, used the tools of postmodernism, focussing on deconstruction and recontextualization to make perfume. De Nicolai’s Guerlain heritage is often cited in order to emphasize her traditionalism. Cuir Cuba Intense shows that she is as contemporary as she is classical and that first and foremost she is an expert structuralist.

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