I was therefore surprised to find out that apart from Guerlain's exclusive fragrance Cuir Béluga , the name also refers to a species of small whale (Delphinapterus leucas) that is almost white in colour and completely endearing to watch. Beluga after all is white in Russian! The full name of course hints at some terrible cruelty that would have Brigitte Bardot up in arms, and justifiably so.
However no whale hide is necessary for the production of this scent and there is no other leather smell discernible to me or anyone else either. The chemical ingredient isobutyl quinoline that is most often used to render such a note is hard to miss, due to its bombastic character that has the ability to obliterate other scents. Even in Shalimar, the quinolines are there, under the plush. Thus, Cuir Béluga resembles a trompe l’oeil, the artistic effect of visually hinting at something that isn’t actually there; or even the manner of painter Magritte and his way of making us think in a completely different way than usual.
Created by Olivier Polge, son of famous Chanel nose Jacques Polge, the man who created such commercially successful numbers as Coco Mademoiselle and Allure, it promised the innovation and dare of a person who is young and willing to take a risk; the stance of someone who has artistic freedom to do as he pleases. However, regarding Cuir Béluga a risk it certainly does not take.
The Guerlain brief says about it: "A fragrance suggesting the absolute, contemporary luxury of leather. An initial burst of aldehydic mandarin orange, strengthened by everlasting flowers/immortelle contributes a luminosity all its own, then merges into deeper, sophisticated notes of leather, amber, heliotrope and vanilla".
The immortelle note, often compared to fenugreek, is nowhere near the omnipresence found in Annick Goutal’s Sables , the intense Middle Estern reference of El Attarine or even in the much tamer L de Lolita Lempicka. The hard, craggy Mediterranean beach cannot survive in the pedigreed salons of Paris, that’s understood. But neither is amber particularly present, never managing to make a full appearance on the dry down phase, making the composition somewhat linear.
Starting and finishing with a lullaby of soft suede-soft vanilla, with elements of slight bittersweet taste that is the heliotrope note echoing the minimalist composition of Eau d’hiver by Frederic Malle or Etro’s Heliotrope (but less sweet), it resembles the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale of the girl who sold matches: she glimpses the warmth of the rich house with the garlanded Christmas tree and the table full of delicacies, but it’s only behind the cold pane of glass. Never in my life have I smelled such an aloof vanilla. Although it has a very pleasant effect and is undoubtedly a delectable smell that would never become suffocating and heavy like many vanillic perfumes inadvertently do, it somehow cannot justify the cachet of exclusivity when it could just as easily sit on the shelf of a less exclusive store making gigantic sales by its lovely inoffensiveness. Wish it were widely available!
Notes for Cuir Beluga by Guerlain:
immortelle (everlasting flower), leather, amber, vanilla, mandarin, heliotrope
Cuir Béluga forms part of the L'Art et la Matière line sold exclusively at boutiques Guerlain and the Guerlain espace at Begdrof Goodman, in tall architectural bottles with the name on the side in a wide golden "band" and an optional bulb atomiser included (My advice on those is not to leave them attached on the bottle as they allow evaporation of the juice).
Related reading on Perfumeshrine: the Guerlain series, the Leather Series
Painting A couple by Fernando Botero via art.com. Pic of Beluga whale via wikimedia. Pic of bottles via Guerlain.