Growing up in Miami in the 1960’s was a wonderful experience for me. One of the big reasons was the Cuban exile community known as Little Havana was a bicycle ride from my front door. Once I would make the turn onto Calle Ocho it was like crossing an invisible border as the signs were all in Spanish and the people on the street weren’t speaking English. I was very slowly learning a hybrid of Spanish and English which allowed me to communicate. In South Florida it is called Spanglish and it developed into its own dialect similar to Creole French around New Orleans. My destination most days was Domino Park. Over the course of a few months I had been taught the game and developed an aptitude for it. I was given a nickname by most of the older men “El Joven”. As I became a better player I felt there was a real pride in the men who had been my teachers. A roar of laughter would go up when I slapped my final tile down with a cry of victory. As much as I enjoyed playing the game the smells of the park were equally as exotic. Many of the players smoked cigars. I always stopped to pick up a serving of flan. If you asked me to describe the smell of Domino Park I would say it was cigars and flan. Perfumer Patricia de Nicolai must have channeled my memories because her latest release Parfums de Nicolai Cuir Cuba Intense captures that mix of caramel dessert and freshly rolled cigars almost perfectly.
Mme de Nicolai has been creating perfume under her Parfums de Nicolai brand for twenty-five years. She is part of the Guerlain bloodline but she has forged her own distinctive identity almost from the start. One of those first releases, New York, is still one of my favorite perfumes of all-time. From that auspicious start she has created over 50 perfumes and it is a collection that has never been afraid to take risks. Mme de Nicolai, according to the press release, was inspired by the smell of a cigar box. That cigar box must have been close to a jar of licorice and caramels because Cuir Cuba Intense matches the tobacco with those gourmand facets for much of its development. The promised leather is only around in a very transparent way.
Patricia de Nicolai
Cuir Cuba Intense begins with a double dose of licorice as Mme de Nicolai uses anise and licorice as the focal note for the top notes. Lemon and mint are around to add a bit of context but the early moments are all licorice. The list of notes show the heart to be full of floral notes but of all the ones listed magnolia is the most prominent. The burnt caramel accord is constructed of coriander, sage, hay, and liatrix. This is the smell of cooked caramel and it comes together in a mouth-watering way. Mme de Nicolai adds in a bit of orthogonal cumin. For me it is the smell of sweat on a S. Florida day. It is noticeable and if you are cumin averse it could pull you out of the spell Cuir Cuba Intense is weaving. Thr liatrix is a great choice to use as a raw material because it has a very high coumarin content and along with the other contents in the essential oil it also has a bit of tobacco character as well. Tobacco absolute forms that smell of freshly rolled cigars and patchouli adds depth to it. Musk and civet form the leather accord but it is a supporting player in this perfume not as prominent as you might expect from a fragrance with cuir in the name.
Cuir Cuba Intense has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
For the last twenty-five years Mme de Nicolai has been forging her own language of perfume. With Cuir Cuba Intense she has fused the worlds of French perfumery and Latin America charm into a delightful ride to my memory of Domino Park.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.