Cuir Thursday: Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque and Parfumerie Generale Cuir d’Iris

SERGE LUTENS CUIR MAURESQUE: There are numerous interpretations of what leather might smell like on human skin, and because leather isn’t a natural essence or synthetic compound in and of itself, it’s up to the perfumer to play Dr. Frankenstein in his/her lab, creating life out of a myriad of separate pieces and parts. The results are not always a success, and sometimes angry townspeople, pitchforks and torches get involved. Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque (or, Moorish Leather) strikes me as one of those pitchfork and torch moments.

So far, Odori Cuoio has been my favorite interpretation of leather — stark, unadorned and so dry you can almost hear the sound of cured hides cracking as the liquid is released from the bottle. Cuir Mauresque is not like Cuoio, unfortunately, and in what seems to be a desire to be willfully obtuse, it contains a compound that smells strongly of piss — which, I suppose, if you’re into gay faux-biker bars and fetishistic watersports, you’d quickly associate with the scent of leather, but is this really the Lutens target audience?

To be frank, if Etat Libre D’Orange had put this exact liquid into their Tom of Finland bottles, it would have been a stroke of marketing genius and I’d be sitting here marveling at their brilliant sense of chutzpah, but this is Serge Lutens, and the fragrance is not named after an artist famous for his gay S&M drawings, so my reaction to Cuir Mauresque is, instead, more along the lines of “WTF?!”

In Cuir Mauresque’s defense, the sour aroma of piss does fade as time passes, but it doesn’t fully go away, and I have to admit to not being particularly certain why anyone would reach into their perfume collection and think, “A-ha! Today I want to smell kind of like the windowless back room of a gay leather bar!” Nevertheless, because it’s a Serge Lutens, it receives the predictable accolades from the roster of usual suspects. For instance, I give you Marina at Perfume Smellin’ Things:

“Cuir Mauresque makes my mouth dry and my knees week. From the slap of pure unadulterated leather in the beginning to the warm, gentle caress of cinnamon and orange blossom at the middle stage, to the wonderful dark, ambery, leathery embrace of the drydown, Cuir Mauresque charmed, enamoured and enslaved me.”

You know, I had a gay friend back in Seattle who was an out-and-loud leather bottom, and he reacted to nights full of golden showers in much the same fashion. I always thought hey, more power to ya, buddy, so I suppose it’s only polite that I offer Marina (as well as all the others who go ga-ga for Cuir Mauresque) the same latitude.

PARFUMERIE GENERALE CUIR D’IRIS: Here we are, cuir again, but I figured that as long as I was on the subject, I may as well keep it rolling.

Parfumerie Generale has a reputation for employing a boldly sweet base in many of their fragrances, and while Cuir d’Iris does incorporate this sweetness, it’s toned down by magnitudes. In fact, I found Cuir d’Iris to be initially as challenging as Cuir Mauresque, though (and thankfully!) not because of any sour piss aroma.

Because Cuir d’Iris is working with Iris root instead of eastern spices, it at first exhibits a metallic sheen, a cold gray note that plays in contrast to the faintly ambered base. There’s a little bit of forest and earth, as well, but once the emotionally detached Iris makes its early exit, what we have left is a much more accessible dry woods and smoke mixture — balanced and a bit hushed. I found that it melted into my skin more quickly than Cuir Mauresque, and I enjoyed the brief snatches of amber that drifted occasionally past.

There’s a muskiness to Cuir d’Iris, too — blended carefully into the mix so that it doesn’t overpower the whole, and I think this is what separates Cuir Mauresque from Cuir d’Iris. The musk of Cuir Mauresque is mostly sour on me until it hits the finish line. It smells like my own skin, but worse, as if I hadn’t bathed for two days, whereas Cuir d’Iris smells like my own skin, but better. It adds subtle layers of incense and antique-store dust so that anyone leaning in close to me would think I smelled warm and comfortingly familiar instead of just unwashed.

Cuir d’Iris is also unlike many of the other Parfumerie Generale fragrances I’ve tested in that it’s surprisingly subtle. I sprayed on quite a bit for this test and yet I have to lean in close to my skin to really get the full effect. Actually, both Cuir Mauresque and Cuir d’Iris are quite subtle in what they’re attempting to do — creating that pulled-in to the skin scent that transforms the wearer, yet if I’m to be transformed by a fragrance, I’ll opt for the one that helps me put my best foot forward, so to speak.

I mean, I can smell unwashed all on my own, and without the indignity of having to pay for the privilege of it.


My sister’s birthday is today. She’s running up into her later 40’s, and I wanted to gift her with some items that would help her feel like she wasn’t so easily succumbing to the approach of the ferryman (rage, rage against the dying of the light!). Here’s what I sent:


(click to enlarge)

Left to right:
Parfumerie Generale L’Oiseau de Nuit — because she loves sweet, exotic perfumes and she’s never experience a PG fragrance before.
Mephisto Raya boot — she’s on her feet most of the time while at work, and Mephisto is known for creating some of the most comfortable shoes you can buy. She’s also not into high heels, so the 2″ heel on the Raya is perfect. They’re fairly conservative in style, but with just a little bit of flair — a lot like my sister, in fact. They’ll go with practically everything in her wardrobe.
Dior Deluxe Travel Palette: she’s traveling to visit our mom in a few weeks, and what better way to comfort oneself while visiting an old and cranky parent than locking yourself in the hotel bathroom and playing with Dior cosmetics! I thought it was brilliant that it was all contained in such a handy travel case, so that she can keep it in her carry-on bag without having to worry about brushes and pots and tubes, etc.

Hey, sis — happy birthday!


  • Cuir Mauresque, a queer one indeed. I reached for it this morning, but settled on Vetiver Oriental. You seem to have had real fun with reviewing this one.

  • Tara

    What a nice brother you are! Wish I had one like you.
    As for the Cuir Mauresque, it is one of the few Serge Lutens scents that I really do not like. It doesn’t smell like piss on me, but plasticky like a cheap naugahyde faux-leather. I guess it must work on someone but not us!

  • Nathan Branch

    Christopher: yes, very strange, and not what I was expecting, given all the heavy breathing from other sites (*cough* Bois de Jasmin *cough*).
    There are a couple of Lutens fragrances I’ve found genuinely interesting and appealing, but most often I’m left scratching my head, perplexed over the rapturous cries that Serge Lutens inspires from some of the more excitable corners of the Perfume-O-Sphere.

  • Nathan Branch

    Tara: and what a nice thing for you to say! I’m happy to report that all three gifts hit the bullseye, which eased the pain of nearing that big 5-0 marker by one more year.
    I’m honestly relieved to hear you say that Cuir Maureque doesn’t work for you, too — sometimes the worshipful chorus of Serge Lutens pod people across the Net can get a bit daunting. I’m, like, “Hello? I can’t be the ONLY person who thinks this fragrance is crap.”

  • Once again I dearly wish I had a brother. Your sister is one lucky lady.
    This review made me giggle, even though I couldn’t disagree with you more about Cuir Mauresque. I wish I could live inside my bell jar, because I’m getting from it the softest leather in sweet Lutenade. So sign me up with the other Lutens pod people, as long as Arabie, Serge Noir and a couple of the big white florals are kept far far away from my skin. Those are the ones I can’t stand (Datura Noir is my Kryptonite).
    As for Cuir d’Iris, I’m getting a bottle in a couple of weeks when I’m in LA. It’s gorgeous, but then I’m also a PG fan girl.

  • Nathan Branch

    Oh, I so agree with you on Arabie and Serge Noir. Begone, foul juices!
    And I find it admirable that you have the courage to live inside your bell jar of Cuir Mauresque, but that’s what makes perfumery such a fascinating industry to examine — one consumer’s treasure is another’s “I don’t get it” (and I sincerely don’t get Cuir Mauresque) and vice versa. For example, I very much enjoy PG Haramens, yet the clan over at Perfume Posse rounded the wagons and started firing at its approach.
    Enjoy your bottle of Cuir d’Iris! I’m contemplating a purchase of one, myself.