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Cuir Andalou – My Spanish fragrance story

 

Alhambra Palace, Patio de los Arrayannes, Granada, Spain - perfumeniche.com image

We were in Andalusia in southern Spain for almost three weeks last fall. 

In July 2018, old friends join us for a long overdue dinner. They vacation in southern Spain every year, and their passionate descriptions of the landscape, the architecture, music, art, food, the people, the history, inspire us to explore Andalusia for ourselves. In mid-October we land in Malaga, pick up our rental car, and head west on the coastal highway along the Mediterranean. After an overnight flight from Toronto via Paris, we can’t believe we’re actually here, driving along the beautiful Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean on a sunny Sunday afternoon, free as birds and filled with anticipation.

We’ve rented our friends’ vacation home in Nueva Andalucia, up the hill from Puerto Banus, a tiny fishing village which became a playground for the rich and famous in the 1970’s but is now the place to park your 4-deck yacht while shopping for Patek Philippe watches on Designer Avenue. That quaint old village is long gone…but I digress. 

Our friends’ home turns out to be much more than their pictures! A gated garden complex, the large second-floor corner apartment has a gigantic patio facing southwest, so that when we recline on the comfy loungers, a glass of cold vino blanco in my hand, a cold beer in my husband’s, we can see the island of Gibraltar, at the very tip of Spain, rising up between our toes. Does it get better than this?

The Costa del Sol has great weather and is a vacation playground for northern Europeans – mostly Brits, but also Swedes, Germans, and Russians are there all year round. In fact, you catch whiffs of fish and chips any time of day or night in the resort towns. Costa del Sol is the south coast of Andalusia, but Andalusia itself is big, one-fifth of all Spain, a large autonomous region of hills, rivers, farms and cities with a very distinct and rich history. Andalusia was the Muslim part of Spain from 711 to 1492, and the legacy of the Moors is apparent everywhere you go… Alcázar castle in Seville, Córdoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada. We plan to see all these historic wonders, and we do. 

Wherever we visit during our mini-trips, I’m on the hunt for fragrances. This is sunny Spain so naturally I’m looking for a spectacular citrus, sunny and zesty…Seville oranges, orange blossoms, flamenco!  But all I find is same old, same old, because perfume shops are selling mostly to tourists, who want to buy what they already know. Except for one shop in Puerto Banus which although it is obviously all luxury niche scents, holds no new treasures for me. I ask the owner, a beautiful French woman, a few questions, after listening politely to a detailed story about her recent move from Paris:

“Do you stock Spanish lines, by Spanish perfumers?” 

“Yes, of course. Carner, Ramon Monegal, Jesus del Pozo…”

“Mmhmm, I know these perfumers, and own several of their fragrances. Are there other, more local lines by Spanish perfumers?”

“Well, there is Alvarez Gomez, Santa Eulalia, Jimmy Boyd…”

“And where could I find those…?”

“In Madrid, Barcelona, where the Spanish people shop…we don’t sell here…”

“Are there any from Andalusia?”

She shrugs, as only Frenchwomen can do, “I do not think so. But there is a fragrance with the name Cuir Andalou. I have it in my bag, I wear it today”… and she lifts her wrist under my nose. “ I bought it in Paris, it’s by Rania J. I think it is beautiful.”

So I sniff Cuir Andalou, and Madame is correct. It is beautiful. Leather, but the soft leather of a well-worn jacket, sweetened with florals, deepened with spices and woods, and darkened with just a wisp of oud, the distinctive Arabic note that puts the Andalou in the Cuir. This is a sexy leather. I must have it.

Later that day, I google Rania J. as I sunbathe on the patio, sip my vino blanco and snack on paper-thin slices of jambon and bright green olives from the local olive groves.  Rania Jouaneh is the owner and perfumer who started the niche brand Rania J. in 2012, and the nose who created all seven of the fragrances in the line. Her creations marry the refined elegance of French perfumery with the scent memories of her childhood in the Middle East and Africa - jasmine and orange blossom growing in private gardens, notes of spices, leather goods, attars heavy with oud notes permeating bazaars and markets. 

In an  interview with Fragrantica Rania describes her vision for her leather fragrance:

“So I thought about leather and I wanted my leather to be more dry but with a bit of flowers to bring more life into it. And I don’t want my leather to be overly-sweet or sharp and strong. I like it to be soft and supple, very complex (of course with a lot of naturals) and deep; I want my leather perfume to be as soft to touch as skin. My goal was to create a leather depth in the perfume.”

“…I chose to decorate my leather accord with rose absolute, neroli oil, and also orris and violet. Flowers made the perfume more bright and lively as I don’t like one-dimensional perfumes. I love deep and complex perfumes so I added woody and spicy notes as well. It’s still a leather fragrance, but it’s a multidimensional fragrance. It’s like a leather jacket on a person who wears floral perfumes...”

“…the oud is a very small accent in the drydown…it does not grab  your whole attention; it gives more character to the perfume. It gives a black shadow and makes the dark side of the perfume more pronounced. I am happy with Cuir Andalou because I feel it’s more wearable by all genders than any of my other perfumes. It’s perfectly unisex, for men and women…”

Cuir Andalou opens with a warm, rich leather accord, paired with vibrant florals and dusty saffron to balance the sweetness, but with none of the “barnyard” bitter aspect that’s sometimes found in leather fragrances. In the heart, the floral notes deepen, sweet neroli and rose, powdery violet and iris, subtly shadowed with the faint smoke of oudwood. In the base, vetiver and castoreum add earthy depth, and sandalwood keeps the leather accord distinctively dry and silky smooth. Cuir Andalou is leather perfection.

I buy a bottle of Cuir Andalou, my sexy leather, as soon as I arrive back home. It was love at first sniff, in that little shop in Puerto Banus, and the affair is still going strong. This leather floral has become my favourite leather fragrance. The EdP has a moderate sillage, lasts all day, and loves my skin in cold and hot weather. It makes me feel alive every time I spritz it on.

So to wrap this up…I travel all the way to Andalusia hoping to discover a new and wonderful citrusy Spanish fragrance, and end up with a leather fragrance with a Spanish name made by a French perfume line, which I have to buy in Canada because it isn’t available in Spain. How crazy is that!  

Cuir Andalou is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.