Our Very Special Agent… Cuir de Lancome The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter 

Too suave, yes suave, a manly word for a woman just so: urbane, debonair, gallant.

Too suave for run of the mill family affairs and conventional celebrations, she turns up only where she feels she might be needed, only when she can be ‘of use’.

Unannounced, of course.

She ran around the world for forty years as the Empire gently unravelled, almost a diplomat not quite a spy, keeping our irons in the fire, giving lie to the James Bond idea of espionage.

The model of sophistication, an apotheosis of self-possession.

Above all, poised.


Now she arrives after a difficult birth or a messy divorce, to quell an unruly teen or bring an errant husband back into line.

She smoothes things out as she has always done: an iron will against the creased fabric of human existence.

These days she brings her force to bear on the domestic front.

Once it was in once grand hotel bars stranded in warzones like beached art deco liners. She rubbed shoulders with foreign correspondents and well-oiled middle aged men in import export. She quaffed fake Scotch and evaded unwelcome advances expertly. She retained her elegance though pressed against imperial oak panelling by the tiresome and overbearing flotsam and jetsam of the ex-patriati.

Today it is a cottage in Wiltshire, a flat at West Hampstead, a commuter’s semi in Altringham or a retirement villa in Aldeburgh.

The locations may have changed, the attitude and accoutrements remain the same.

Effortlessly polite to the point of insouciance, immaculately turned out in clothes one knows were made for her alone.

Her voice has lowered with age but her intonation is a pointed and brittle as it was when Britain still ruled the bulk of East Africa.

Her luggage is a wonder, her accessories, all leather, worth salivating over.

She travels in the manner of an aristocrat traversing the Atlantic to marry a tycoon before the great depression ruined everything.

A trunk in saffron scented calfskin that transforms into an armoire come dressing table complete with the aroma of antique make up. A second stowaway containing everything else she could possibly require.

One enormous, shapeless hide sack made soft and shiny and sweetly spicy with age and wear and care. The gold crest is almost invisible now, the words ‘Diplomatic Baggage’ nearly worn right away.

It may take two men to move her, but once installed, wherever she may be she relies on no one.

She is an island.

Removing her mandarin coloured driving gloves, she reveals their real fur insides and in turn her pianist perfect but ageing hands.

Tanned by endless exotic summers, the liver spots are joining up to form a single continent that will soon cover the entire surface save the pillar box red lacquer nails.

Hers is an elegance without any means of visible support that cannot exist forever.

In a day, maybe a week or two, conjugal crisis or intergenerational trauma resolved, she will disappear to no one knows where.

Will she be back?

Everyone always assumes so.

One day they will all be disappointed.

Cuir de Lancome by Lancome is possibly the most refined and elevated of birch tar perfumes ever created.

It is a leather scent with a presence and poise that seems almost entirely absent from the modern fragrance lexicon.

Sweet, deep, complex, aloof, alluring, floral and animal.

An entrancing set of contradictions held together by a thread of perfectly woven paradoxes.

Saffron and orange, both slightly sharp and sweet sparkle briefly at the opening.

The saffron broadens into an earthy floral accord with jasmine, ylang ylang and most recognisably to me hawthorn.

Both opening and pre-heart are quickly contained by the unspeakably rich leather of the base, which is not a base at all but serves as both structure and true heart to the fragrance.

This birch tar is like almost no other for it balances a lucid bitterness with luxurious resinous styrax benzoin and a sprinkling of fine maquillage powder iris.

These components and the floral accord then begin a conversation that lasts on the skin for several hours. At one moment the talk is all floral and saffron petals come to the fore, then there is a sweet smoked sensation the next a more familiar thigh length boot from Italy bought with a summer’s worth of savings smell.

It’s hard to say which part wins out in the end for, intriguingly, the perfume seems to conclude differently each time.

Indeed, though the effect of each individual element is entrancing it is the interplay between them that is quite exceptional.

Exceptional, there’s the word.

If Lancome’s Cuir were a woman her correspondence could bring down governments and the autobiography would be unstoppable, unputdownable.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy


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20 responses to “Our Very Special Agent… Cuir de Lancome The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter 

  1. Lilybelle

    What a lovely review, Mr. Dandy. I don’t know Cuir de Lancôme but I’ve always been a little curious about it. I’ll be sure to sample it now.

    • Dearest Lily
      Such a very special leather, the balance between bitterness and sweetness is delightful. Others seem to find it deeply floral too (I’ve heard it described as a floriental!), I wouldn’t perhaps go that far, but this is an exercise in honeyed complexity.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  2. Alice

    A lovely review of one of my very favourites. I’m lucky enough to have a small bottle ( the top wobbles, but otherwise seems to be ok). I do wish they had kept it in their exclusives range, sadly it seems to have vanished.

    • Dearest Alice
      Yes… The Dandy’s top wobbles too. At first I thought it might be a fake, but all else is an order and the fragrance itself is so good that I determined it to be the true thing.
      Why this should have been discontinued (though it’s still widely available on the internet, at a price) is quite beyond me. Perhaps with the mini vogue for leathers going on at the moment it will stage a return to the shelves.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  3. Bee

    Wonderful review. She is the woman I would have wanted to be but never would have dared – and now her world is gone. Now I can see why I love this perfume. The most recent version seems to have a slight air of melancholy about it but there is still enough life in it to savour.

    • Dearest Bee
      Oh yes, these kind of women, the sort who filled the ranks of the SOE in WWII, were matrons in hospitals and kept the diplomatic service running whilst never having a hair out of place. Oh yes, to have been one of them!
      I agree that perhaps the last version was a little sad, perhaps her new life sorting out the woes of wanton family and friends is not as rewarding as running the world!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  4. Dear Perfumed Dandy, I am salivating over her luggage! “A trunk in saffron scented calfskin that transforms into an armoire come dressing table complete with the aroma of antique make up.” Ah, I love your words. As always, I love your reviews. Journeys, I tell you. Thanks for the retreat! (Off now to sniff some leather!) Theadora (Happy New Year!) Snipping from you again, “Above all poised. Measured.” Perfection. Lovely to say out loud.

    • Dearest Theodora
      You are too kind.
      As for those armoire trunks, they have them on display at the Conran Shop in Marylebone High Street and The Dandy has been known to sit himself at one fantasising like a child at a toy kitchen, cooking up, in my case a life lived on ocean liners and in colonial era hotels.
      Happy New Year my dear, may 2014 bring everything you desire and a few pleasant surprises on top!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  5. rosestrang

    Wonderful stuff Sir T.P.D.! And yet again you’ve resolved me to buy something new! (the last one was Do Son). I’ve been meaning to test this for ages and I will order a sample first, just in case, but basically I know I’m going to fall in love with Cuir de Lancome. I’ve always thought it just couldn’t get any better than Chanel’s Cuir de Russie so if I like the Lancome even more I’ll probably have to book a holiday to spend some quality time with it!
    (and I concur with Theadora above – so will have to seek some vintage leather luggage to accompany me)
    I recently tried Heeley’s Cuir Pleine Fleur which I felt was very good though definitely leaning more towards masculine, still not a patch on the Chanel Cuir of course. Off the topic slightly, but did you ever try Iris de Nuit by Heeley?

    • Dearest Rose
      This is the Milanese calfskin thigh length boot to Cuir de Russie’s adjutant’s riding gear. Smoother, softer, sweeter but with as much a sense of steely purpose just different expressed.
      As to the luggage… I need no encouragement to indulge that personal foible. If I ever have the space and several thousand pounds to spare that trunk will be mine and my perfumes will have a mobile home to go with their wardrobe back at the ranch.
      For other leatherwares I love Morocco, Marrakech, Essaouira and Fez and their souks (with attendant stiffling tanneries).Trading with the family who’ve actually made the goods still has a thrill and as for choice! Try going into any department store and offering them a description of your ideal holdall settling down for fifteen minutes or friendly mint tea-fuelled chatter only to be presented with a selection of hand made goods that exactly match your description at the end. The modern world still has much to learn from ancient cultures.
      Heeley perfumes are something of a blind spot for me, one I wish to shed a light on in 2014! Sel and now this leather sound so tempting.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • rosestrang

        You’re in fine wordy form this morning Sir Dandy! – a ‘Milanese calf-skin thigh-length boot’ – that’s it then, I’m buying a full bottle post art sale next month (sometimes I fear I paint to feed my perfume habit!). Funnily enough I’ve just bought two pairs of boots – one pair the Cuir de Russie of leather boots – no nonsense, hard-wearing, and the others high heeled suede, more for elegant posturing than walking, Cuir de Lancome should be the perfect accompaniment!

      • Dearest Rose
        Let’s not forget how many great artists have produced their work to feed a habit! With perfume yours is a great deal healthier than many that have gone before!!!
        Now I hear the news about new boots, well, Cuir is not a want, it’s a necessity.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • rosestrang

        Though come to think of it I might forgo the perfume for a trip to Morocco!

      • Dearest Rose
        The other rather lovely thing in Marrakech are the ‘dupe stores’ where one can buy smell-a-like oils. They may bear the names of fine fragrances, though as often as not smell only a little like them. No matter though for very many of them smell quite differently beautiful, rich and dark and with a common attar base.
        So there we go trips to Morocco, Paris and Milan for me this year!
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  6. He, he, he.
    “Cuir de Lancome by Lancome is possibly the most refined and elevated of birch tar perfumes ever created.”
    Very funny!
    But also very true. 🙂 I personally enjoy it a lot.

  7. Pingback: Gillian Anderson and The House of Mirth (2000) – by George Kaplan | BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD

  8. What a wonderful review! I had been wanting to try this for a while and when I did, Cuir de Lancôme smelled like . . . a beautiful leather saddle smeared with black olive tapenade. So sad! But someone told me that you have to try it a few times to really get it. I’m encouraged by your review as well. Thank you, M. Dandy!

    • Dearest Biscuit
      Hello… how nice to see you around here!
      Now, you see and old saddle smeared with olive tapenade sounds rather wonderful (though not what I get from cuir).
      Maybe it is a rather queer sort of scent to some noses, I’ve heard it described as both sweet and sour bestially animalic and containing no leather at all.
      One thing for certain though, I think it is a definite grower, so would persuade you to go back for more!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  9. Cuir de Lancome is on my “to buy” list for a while now. I have to finish my sample and go for a FB. Great review!

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