I've never met perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, but from what I've seen, heard and read (interviews, his own books) I like him. I enjoy (and own) many of his perfumes and, like Georgia O'Keeffe, Ellena shows that wrinkles do not tarnish sex appeal or good looks. Best of all, Ellena comes across as unpretentious, sensible, fun.
Enter stage left: Mr. Serious (aka Frédéric Malle).
In Frédéric Malle's video of the making of Rose & Cuir,* Malle talks of Ellena's "periods" as a perfumer (and references Picasso's creative periods). Malle mentions that Rose & Cuir is like a rose photographed by Warhol. ART! There's portentous music swelling in the background (the type you'd hear in a documentary telling the story of wartime victory, the discovery of penicillin, the saving of Notre Dame cathedral from flames....) Edmond Roudnitska's name comes up as an inspiration. (In other words, the tongue is flapping away, not planted in the cheek. Perfume is SERIOUS business.)
Ellena describes his "periods" thus: 1. complex (Van Cleef & Arpels First); 2: minimalist (Hermès Hermessences); and now: "...going straight to the point...having more precise intentions...simplifying the formula even more." His quote in the video is: "Moin j'en mets, plus ça parle." ("The less I use the more it speaks.") Ellena claims Rose & Cuir has only 15 notes and he compares the composition to paintings by the artist Nicolas de Staël.
I'll start with the perfume's name: Rose & Cuir. It's commonplace. Cuir Rose (pink leather) would have been more interesting. Or Queer Rose...which fits the scent perfectly. Maybe Pink Queer (Malle could reference one of his beloved upper-class deplorables from times gone by: Guy Burgess)?
Rose & Cuir starts off with the scent of rosy geranium Bourbon, vibrant, yet creamy/cosmetic in character. There's also a sappy/green tinge to the proceedings (as if you're weed-whacking a wild meadow in spring when all the plants are juicy and young). In mid-development there's a tomato leaf-like scent and a spicy note/accord that smells like a mix of crushed peppercorns and coriander seeds (perhaps this is the timut pepper note). But what about rose? Not one person I let try Rose & Cuir mentioned it. I certainly detect a rosy note in the geranium but Rose & Cuir does not scream "rose" to me (as in genus Rosa). This could be a "rose"-scented perfume that rose haters and rose lovers can both enjoy.
Next up is "leather" (IsoButyl Quinoline). Rose & Cuir's leather was dominating on some wearings and on the mild side on other days. The leather smells tarry, like motor oil mixing with burnt vetiver. I found the leather note monotonous; to avoid leather domination, spray Rose & Cuir on clothing to prolong the geranium and pepper throughout the dry down. A rosy musk ends Rose & Cuir's development.
I was ignorant about two aspects of Rose & Cuir: timut pepper and IsoButyl Quinoline (described by Malle as "leather" and "an intensely bitter molecule, largely forgotten since its use in the daring perfumery of the Jazz Age"). I could not find timut pepper locally but I looked at the IFF Safety Data Sheet and the IFRA standard to learn more about IsoButyl Quinoline and — yikes. When in contact with IsoButyl Quinoline, one is advised to avoid inhalation and contact with skin and eyes, and keep the material away from the Great Outdoors and all who live there. An interesting warning: "Do not eat, drink or smoke while using this product." IFRA is blunt: "The material is considered as a carcinogenic/mutagenic agent and had only minor reported use in fragrances; Recommendation: prohibited." (Read the IFF fact sheet here.)
I won't be buying Rose & Cuir. Its leather note has a heavy, blunt-object "impact" on my nose. The perfume is OK but I could easily name at least 25 other Ellena perfumes I like much more, including two in the Frédéric Malle collection. Of course, give it a try if, like me, you're an Ellena fan.
Frédéric Malle Rose & Cuir is available in 10 ($67), 50 ($230) or 100 ($330) ml Eau de Parfum.
* Listed fragrance notes of geranium Bourbon, cassis, timut pepper, vetiver, cedar, IsoButyl Quinoline