L'Art et la Matière is a trio of fragrances released earlier this year to coincide with the opening of Guerlain’s newly refurbished flagship boutique. The perfumes were “curated” by Sylvaine Delacourte, Guerlain's director of fragrance development. Three noses were asked to create fragrances, or, to quote the press release, to “freely express passion for an original, precious raw material”.
Olivier Polge has taken on leather, and the result is Cuir Beluga, with notes of mandarin orange, immortelle flower, leather, amber, heliotrope and vanilla. It starts with sweet but mild citrus, and dries down to a creamy cloud of vanilla suede. It is extraordinarily soft and well-mannered; I have always thought of Serge Lutens Daim Blond as the pale, buttery leather interior of a new, very high end car — the sort of car that the salesman is likely to call without irony a "motorcar" — but next to Cuir Beluga, Daim Blond smells positively edgy.
Like VIP Room, or like the softest, most expensive pair of leather gloves, Cuir Beluga manages to smell of leather without evoking any thought of actual animal skins. The longer it is on skin, the more abstract and cloud-like it becomes; if you can imagine a comfort scent based on leather, this is it.
Rose Barbare is by Francis Kurkdjian, and is described as “a heady, incisive Ottoman rose (aldehydes) over a modern structure of honey-chypree notes”. I did not find this to be heady at all, but rather, a dewy sweet rose with fruity undertones and vague, indistinct spice notes. It is warm but soft, not particularly dark or provocative, and despite the chypre classification, not noticeably earthy. It is very pretty, and would likely appeal to anyone who loves the Parfums de Rosine line.
Angélique Noire features bergamot, angelica and vanilla, and was created by Daniela Andrièr. It starts rather strong and sweet, but with a nicely spicy, bitter green undertone. The dry down is softer, and has a warm, enveloping creaminess with the tiniest hint of smoke. It is perhaps the most interesting of the three fragrances — it has the most presence, at any rate — but once the bite of the top notes faded, I found it too candied-vanilla to appeal to me personally.
All three fragrances are beautifully done, very elegant, very wearable. They are perhaps less unusual than I expected from the advance press; there is nothing here to ruffle Guerlain's traditional customer base. My favorite of the three is probably Cuir Beluga, but I would wear any of them if a bottle dropped in my lap. Happily though, I was not moved to grab the credit card, which given the price (€140 for 75 ml), was cowering in fear before any of these touched my skin. That said, any of the three is more interesting (and more Guerlain-ish) than L’Instant, and I will look forward to whatever Guerlain does next with this line.