All exclusive lines need a good leather on which to hang their hat. The Chanel Les Esclusifs have their famous Cuir de Russie, the Dior Privee their Cuir Cannage, and now Hermessence by Hermes have theirs: Cuir d’Ange. Cuir d’Ange, meaning Angel Skin, is the tenth, and probably Jean-Claude Ellena’s last contribution to the exclusive Hermessence line by Hermes.
And, wow, it’s a good one.
It’s a delicate, translucent leather consisting of a series of cool grey and blue notes – violet, hawthorn, heliotrope, maybe some unlisted iris – all daubed on as if in a watercolor. There is something cool and hollowed-out about the leather, as if a note of air or water has been floated up through the scent. It feels somehow anisic or salty. I would even go so far as to say vegetal or savory, rather than sweet. This could be the violet, although it smells like no other violet I’ve ever smelled before. Personally, I think violet has a tendency to ride roughshod over every other note in a composition, and therefore, to see such a denatured, subtle, almost salted version of the note here is both a surprise and a pleasure.
Cuir d’Ange has an odd but memorable opening. It is immediately and unmistakably cuir – a soft, supple leather that, for once, does actually smell like fine leather glove, unadorned by any other note. But there is also a surprisingly papery or rubbery tone to the glove leather. This kind of smells like a leather glove that has been left inside a paper supplies closet overnight. I find this oddly pleasurable. But then again, I used to lock myself in the supplies closet in primary school, almost making myself high on the smell of the sheaves of paper, rubber bands, and glue.
Fans of soft, cool-toned leather or suede scents will love this one. If we arrange all the leather perfumes of the world on a scale of one to ten, where ten is a harsh, full-on, belts-and-buckles leather like Bandit or Rien, and one is a soft, floral suede like Bottega Veneta, then Cuir d’Ange is comfortably around the one mark. It is soft, like Guerlain’s Cuir Beluga, although it differs greatly from that scent in that it does not have a creamy vanilla feel or any hint of almonds. However, both Cuir Beluga and Cuir d’Ange do share one slightly salty, fresh note in their core – in Cuir d’Ange, this note just adds to the overall translucency of the scent, whereas in Cuir Beluga, it stands out a sole note of freshness in the larger pool of vanilla and heliotrope.
If anything, Cuir d’Ange has more in common with James Heeley’s gorgeous Cuir Pleine Fleur. I think it must be the slightly bitter, aromatic note of hawthorn that connects these two in my mind. Wearing them side by side, I can tell that Cuir Pleine Fleur is far more animalic and dense than Cuir d’Ange, but that there is a pleasingly bitter, watery, almost herbal note that connects them, and of course, the soft of softness we always associate with suede.
But taken as a whole, Cuir d’Ange does not immediately recall the smell or feel of any other scent in the soft leather category. It has a translucency that is not common to the leather genre, and all those cool blue and gray tonalities mark it out as a very different animal to suede fragrances like Cuir de Lancome (warm saffron) or Bottega Veneta and Daim Blonde (stone fruit). Outside of the soft leather or suede category, Cuir d’Ange has a watery, white musk feel that runs quite similar to Ellena’s own work for Frederic Malle, specifically L’Eau d’Hiver. In fact, I feel confident that fans of L’Eau d’Hiver may well find their leather nirvana in Cuir d’Ange.
And yet, for all of the watery, cool feel of Cuir d’Ange, it is not an insubstantial perfume. The translucency of this angel’s skin disguises a tensile strength, a core of steel. In other words, Cuir d’Ange lasts a long time and it has ‘presence’ on the skin. It lasted on my skin for almost twelve hours, putting it in the same general category as Ambre Narguile within the Hermessence family. And although sillage is low, dropping to a skin scent within a couple of hours, the scent itself had what I can only describe as a ‘presence’, meaning that I was aware of it on my skin throughout the day. For people who like to enjoy their own perfume all day but don’t necessarily want others to smell it, this is good news. In fact, this would be a perfect scent for the office. Jean-Claude Ellena once said in an online interview that Hermes is “une maison de l’après-midi”, roughly meaning a house that creates perfumes suitable for daytime wear, and not for purposes of seduction or other night-time intrigues. Cuir d’Ange is the perfect embodiment of this type of perfume.