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Cuir Beluga – Leather, and Silk Underwear – January 17, 2014 New Fragrance Listing


Photo - Wikimedia Commons - Beluga whale - Greg Hume, June 2006

It’s not our nose that identifies smells, it’s our brain, according to Avery Gilbert is his excellent book, “What the Nose Knows, the Science of Scent in Everyday Life”. Mr. Gilbert is a scent scientist, and a darn good writer, and now two years after reading his book the first time, I’m halfway through it again. Two more years of sniffing and paying close attention to smells and smelling, with the result that I’m truly beginning to understand much of what he says.

In Chapter Four, The Art of the Sniff, Dr. Gilbert talks about the “Spin Doctors”, and an experiment which vividly demonstrates the potency of olfactory suggestion. A professor tells his class he wants to demonstrate the diffusion of an odor through the air, so pouring some liquid from a bottle onto a wad of cotton, and waving it back and forth, he then starts a stopwatch and tells the students to raise their hand as soon as they smell something.

He explains that he’s quite certain they’ve never smelled anything quite like this chemical compound, that it has a strong, peculiar odor but they should not find it too disagreeable. Within a few seconds, many hands are raised, all the way to the back of the room. At the end of one minute, he stops the experiment because some students in the front are unpleasantly affected and are about to leave the room.

The terrible odor? It’s water – he has soaked the cotton ball in plain ol’ tap water. The conclusion from this classroom demonstration (and other more scientific controlled studies) is this: just expecting a smell can trigger an odor perception. It illustrates how our brain is constantly reshaping our awareness of our smell environment - the nose sniffs and the brain interprets, according to the words and images in our conscious mind.

So I’m wondering if I really do smell the soft leather in Guerlain’s Cuir Beluga from the 2005 L'Art et la Matière collection, or is it simply the power of suggestion, the result of the lengthy conversation with the charming Guerlain perfume expert who sold it to me, or the description on the Guerlain website, as a perfume “…having the softness of white suede”.

I definitely smell the bright fizzy mandarin orange aldehyde accord in the opening, I definitely notice when the scent warms up with unmistakable hints of the maple syrup/curry immortelle flower, and I’m delighted when I detect heliotrope and I think of Guerlain Apres l’Ondee, and I’m deliriously happy when Cuir Beluga slides into a deliciously warm, feminine, feather-light vanilla and amber cloud which gently wafts for hours. These scent perceptions are real and solid, but the leather is much more elusive.

Cuir Beluga’s leather note. It’s there, faintly, and then it’s not. And then it is. Maybe it’s not leather. Yes, it is a leather note – just very, very soft…like the imagined scent of wet skin on a Beluga whale (the name of the perfume had to come from somewhere)...or it could be the scent of fine kidskin gloves that have been stored next to a tiny bottle of Shalimar. Yes, I DO smell the leather note, and it’s very refined, elegant, and understated. Gosh, it’s almost…like white suede.

I love leather scents, like Cuir de Russie or Cuir de Lancôme, which to me are about statement, like an expensive accessory, worn to be noticed and admired. I was underwhelmed, to say the least, when I first experienced Cuir Beluga, but I persisted with more intensely applied spritzes because I was determined to “get” the leather-suede note. After wearing it exclusively for the past week, I’ve come to realize that Cuir Beluga is not a leather scent at all, and is actually a light vanilla/amber with vague hints of leather, which are most obvious in the far dry-down. It's a Guerlain almost in the classic mode, but here Oliver Polge has interptreted the "Guerlinade effect" for modern sensibilities. The power of a word – leather - led my brain in the wrong direction.

I’ve smelled hundreds of perfumes, and I’m a skeptic mostly when it comes to fragrance product descriptions, but I have to say that  Guerlain is spot-on when they declare that Cuir Beluga is a “totally unexpected sensorial experience.” This scent is unexpectedly quiet and contained, soft, elegant, feminine. It’s not at all like wearing a fabulous accessory, it’s much more like wearing expensive silk underwear. It’s like a second skin, no one knows I’m wearing it, and it makes me feel really really good.


Today, we’re adding Cuir Beluga to our Decant Store. Decants are $7.00.