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Cuir Cuba Intense – Speak, Memory – June 11, 2015

Image - Wikimedia Commons - Cuba libre by Christopher Michel, Feb. 23, 2012

Fortunately for Canadians, Cuba has never been on the restricted list when it comes to travel. We’ve vacationed several times en famille on this sunny Caribbean island and always had a fabulous time, despite the longstanding Castro regime. The lush tropical beauty of Cuba, the warmth of the people and their culture, the fabulous music, the rich history, always made us want to go back for more. It wasn’t just the white-sand beaches, the rum, or the cigars.

I was thrilled when Patricia de Nicolaï launched her new fragrance, Cuir Cuba Intense in late October last year and I couldn’t wait to try it. It was part of the re-launch of her brand as Nicolaï, formerly Parfums de Nicolaï, celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary.  I’m in awe of  her creative style, the fact that her fragrances always reflect the classic elegance of her Guerlain heritage, and yet also embody the more bold sophistication of modern perfume design.

I wondered about her connection to Cuba. On all our visits, we’d met French people who, like us, were hooked, and came back again and again after their first trip. Maybe she vacationed in Cuba. But no, according to the press release, her inspiration for Cuir Cuba Intense sprang from childhood and her memory of being asked to go and collect the cigar box for her parents to offer to guests:

 ‘Although I hate smoking, I have always loved the scent of tobacco leaves used in the making of cigars.’ explains Patricia. ‘When I was a child, at my parent’s, I appreciated when I was asked to go and collect the cigar box’ continues the creator. ‘What a pleasure to open it and to smell these delicate scents…It was a fragrance that really transported me! .."

The Nicolaï website describes Cuir Cuba Intense as a tobacco-leather combination, which dries down into a warm and sensual fragrance. After wearing it for several days I can state that this is totally true on both counts, but I can also say that it is much more, as well as very different from any idea I held as to how Cuban leather – cuir Cuba – should smell.

The seven Nicolaï fragrances that I own all open with a welcoming sweetness and warmth. This sweetness usually subsides as the theme notes begin to emerge and take their place in the line-up, and Cuir Cuba Intense follows this opening format. The first spritz on my arm is an aromatic cloud of sweet lemon and mint layered on top of black licorice, a really stunning accord, like a cool gulp of a mojito splashed with 12 year old dark rum.

I love licorice so I’m happy sniffing this accord, detecting bits of burnt caramel, and then it begins to change, the sweet decreasing, the herbal aspect building with the addition of lavender and sage and cedar, and the unfolding of green tobacco leaves. The scent is gorgeous, filled with natural essences, almost smoky and musky, more vegetal and herbal, underscored with cedar and geranium and the barest hint of gourmand notes from the opening accord. I can feel the effect of tropical heat and  humidity, as the scent takes on a dampness, becoming creamy and rich.

And then it changes, going in a direction I could never predict. A floral heart blooms – magnolia, ylang-ylang and iris are listed – a soft floral accord of gentle white flowers that floats above the aromatics and wraps itself around the tobacco note, which now includes tobacco absolue, lifting Cuir Cuba Intense out of the damp shade as it moves into the dry down. The florals waft softly, magnolia dominating the bouquet and blending so sublimely with the aromatic tobacco.

And the leather? In truth it’s a suggestion, a sensation, a vision of soft pale suede conveyed through an accord of patchouli, hay, liatris (deer’s tongue or wild vanilla), musk and civet, that emerges and remains just under the floral heart until the final dry-down, when the magnolia has faded and the leather is a smooth, warm, and sensual waft from my arm. These two accords of floral tobacco and sueded leather are so perfectly matched in their complexity and restrained sophistication, each is so elegant on its own, and yet I can’t imagine one without the other.

Patricia de Nicolaï designed Cuir Cuba Intense to be worn by everyone. It has perfect sillage, enough to be enjoyed by others but never intrusive, and lasts for many hours on skin. If considered as a “note” fragrance, a tobacco or a leather or a white floral, Cuir Cuba Intense pales in comparison to leather scents such as the classic Knize Ten, or Lonestar Memories by Andy Tauer, or tobacco scents such as Odori Tabacco or Back to Black by Kilian, or white florals like Robert Piguet's Fracas, or White Gardenia Petals by Illuminum.

This fragrance is much more than a one-note samba. It’s about the “delicate scents” in the cigar box that Mme. Nicolai’s recalls in the press release…‘What a pleasure to open it and to smell these delicate scents…. Many years after, I have found out this scent in my lab thanks to the tobacco leave absolute, starting point of Cuir Cuba Intense. “ Tobacco was simply the inspiration, the starting point for her to recall these “delicate scents”  - the citrus, licorice, spice, herbs, magnolia, iris, tobacco, musk - and capture them in her beautiful fragrance for all of us to enjoy.

How lucky we are.

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