Back in August I consigned Helmut Lang Cuiron to the Dead Letter Office. In that article I expressed regret that it was a perfume which would have found the current time the right place for its minimalist post-modern leather to thrive. It would be barely two months later that I would receive a press release announcing the return of all three discontinued Helmut Lang perfumes. Besides Cuiron there was Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum. I was dreading receiving my samples because I expected the probable reformulation to somehow have marred them. All three of these perfumes are among the best I have smelled. The Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum are both by perfumer Maurice Roucel and M. Roucel shows how very different the same notes can be made to smell. Both of those have survived completely intact from their 2000 formulation. Cuiron was going to be something different, perfumer Francoise Caron so artfully used a number of synthetics to create her three leather accords I was concerned it would not be the same; and it isn’t.
Mme Caron created fluid leather, sensual leather, and noble leather accords to use as Cuiron developed from top to bottom. The thing was this never felt like real leather it felt like patent leather, synthetic and artificial. She used a brilliant set of notes to temper that reproduction leather and make it work. As I said in my Dead Letter Office article Cuiron is one of the greatest leather fragrances ever in its 2002 incarnation.
The 2014 incarnation is oh so close to being perfect except on top. One of the synthetic components of the “fluid leather” accord has been changed and it keeps it from being as supple as advertised. There is now a sharper synthetic substitute and it has the unfortunate side effect of drawing my attention to it every time I’ve worn it. It completely throws the opening moments off kilter for me. Once the top notes have been burned off the rest of the development is exactly as it is in my original bottle.
Without confirmation I can’t be sure if it is just one change or more but the difference between the opening of the 2014 version and the 2002 version are very different. I’ve tried trying to assess the 2014 version as if it was something different but the heart and base are identical in both versions. It is hard to not think the new version is flawed. There is the crux of the matter this time. I think the new Cuiron might be good enough to make an impact now where it just fizzled out in 2002. If you had never smelled the original I think that those new to it will really be impressed and I urge leather lovers to try it. If you are a fan of the original and own a bottle this might be disappointing. You might also like the new alteration. Both versions are worth trying.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of 2002 Cuiron I own and a sample of 2014 Cuiron supplied by Helmut Lang.
A common thread of this series will be “right fragrance, wrong time”. These are releases which attempted to lead a charge only to look around to see nobody following behind. By the time tastes catch up these fragrances are long forgotten. In the case of Helmut Lang Cuiron pour Homme I think if Hr. Lang hadn’t decided to chuck his whole fashion career aside in 2005 it might have survived until perfumistas caught up to it.
Helmut Lang Autumn/Winter 1996 in Vogue
Helmut Lang was one of the most influential fashion designers from 1988 through his retirement in 2005. In the middle of the “greed is good” decade he was designing fashion which was stripped down. He was one of the designers at the head of the “neo-modernists”. His fashion was simple pieces tailored to a scalpel’s edge. You can see the Fall 1996 collection from a spread in Vogue from that same year above. His fashion stood out because it was a reaction to the excess everywhere else. In 1999 Prada acquired the brand and started to expand the offerings under the Helmut Lang imprimatur. As part of the Prada deal Proctor & Gamble was going to partner with Hr. Lang on a fragrance collection. The first two releases in 2000 were a pair of Eau de Cologne and Eau de Parfum by perfumer Maurice Roucel. Two years later Cuiron pour Homme would be released. All three fragrances were fitting examples of Hr. Lang’s aesthetic they were streamlined and sharply tailored perfumes. Cuiron pour Homme stood out because it was a leather that was completely different than the leathers on the market.
Self-Portrait 2007 by Helmut Lang
By the early 2000’s the state of leather in fragrance was that of powerful birch tar laden powerhouses. Perfumer Francoise Caron would go in an entirely different direction. When I read the press release for Cuiron it described the leather in three distinct phases; fluid leather, sensual leather, and noble leather. What Mme Caron did was to use a mix of synthetics to create a post-modern leather accord. It reminds me of those chrome tube chairs with big leather cushions. Mme Caron’s leather felt like patent leather fresh off the assembly line. For this to not be unbearable she had to use a smart assortment of complementary notes to keep the leather light. In the top mandarin provides a juicy citrus. The heart uses pink pepper to accentuate the artificialness of the leather accord. Iso E Super and Cashmeran also add a synthetic vibe with their austere woodiness. The base uses tobacco and olibanum to add sweetness to the leather and try and make the synthetic seem natural. It never does as Cuiron always seems like an artificial construct in a fascinatingly good way.
Cuiron has 12-14 hour longevity and very modest sillage.
Cuiron pour Homme is one of the greatest leather fragrances ever, in my opinion. Mme Caron captures everything that Hr. Lang stood for in fashion at this time and turned it into a true masterpiece. In 2005 Hr. Lang split with Prada and retired from fashion. Prada quickly sold off the brand and Proctor & Gamble stopped making the perfumes. Three years after it was released it was discontinued. This is one of those perfumes which seems to have regular rumors of its resurrection. I would love to see it back again as I think it is a perfume whose time has arrived.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.