Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cuir Beluga by Guerlain: fragrance review

"Beluga" in most people’s minds is tied to caviar associations, the richest and costliest variety actually, yet not the one on top of every gourmet’s list who often go for Sevruga with its more delicate, less fatty taste and smaller dark beads.
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.


  1. Anonymous15:18

    So it doesn't smell like leather, huh? How odd.

    It sounds tooth achingly sweet. Would you agree?

  2. Hi E, Isn't the whale lovely! Well my ears pricked when I saw the Cuir but this sounds like it could be better leather wise. The descripton of it being like the girl looking in the window though is lovely and does intrigue me though I have to say.
    My new leather love is Cuir de Lancome.

  3. Anonymous02:49

    Hi E!

    Happy to see Cuir Beluga here on your blog. I love it. It's my favorite Guerlain. To my skin, Cuir Beluga is the a soft buttery suede that is the color of candlelight.


  4. Anonymous07:06

    Actually Beluga is not the water animal on the picture above. This small whale is called Belukha in Russian and it's completely different from Beluga which is a fish living in a Caspian Sea and producing so famous black caviar. And moreover Belukha is viviparous animal.

  5. Mike,

    no, it's not that sweet, happily. It's quite pleasant. But a leather scent it's not. Maybe a very, very faint suede one.

  6. K,

    I suppose Cuir de Lancome is not like this one, it's much more buttery sweet smooth, this one. Thanks for saying you liked my imagery; went out on a limp.

  7. Dear D!

    I am so pleased you liked the entry. I know this is one of your favourites (lucky you, it sounds more special on you than on me). For the life of me, however, I can't understand why Guerlain didn't put it out in regular production: I think it would be a very popular fragrance sales-wise, much more than Insolence for instance.

  8. Aromacasa,

    of course I defer to your greater expertise on Russian! :-)

    To my knowledge all whales are viviparous animals! I saw this entertaining video on Youtube that features Beluga whales as well as this one.
    by someone working there (they tag them as Beluga whales).
    As to caviar, it's made from sturgeon (=huso huso) eggs, no? We make some here as well. I didn't imply that the whales have any relation to the fish whatsoever, apart from the similarly sounding name. Sorry if it wasn't crystal-clear: I like to free-associate with perfumes!

    When I Google Belukha however I stumble upon references for the Siberian Altai mountain: are you sure the phonetic transliteration from the Russian is like that? (ie. could be pronounced like you say in Russian but not be written like that in English, I mean)

  9. I have always thought it a strange name for a perfume Helg.

  10. Anonymous09:38

    Sure, the phonetic transliteration is the same with the highest Altai mountains peak and it's even written the same in Russian. As far as for Beluga fish is concerned it belongs to the sturgeon fishes family and its caviar considered to be the best among them.

  11. M,

    have to agree with you there! ;-)

  12. Aromacasa,

    in that case, surely there is no problem with my post? That's what I said myself. :-)
    (I was merely asking because no one on the Net uses Belukha rather than Beluga for the whale, but only for the mountain...>therefore I am deducing it's become a common spelling for both the whale and the sturgeon fish)

  13. Anonymous13:41

    Don't pay so much attention to it, not even every russian knows the difference. Your post is nice in any case. But with the name Cuir Beluga Guerlain was likely to stress the luxuriuos aspect of it.

  14. OK, I feel better now. I was beginning to feel I hadn't done my homework properly :-)
    I agree with you that Guerlain had some ulterior motive behind this: it's just so unusual and weird for a perfume name. If they meant to evoke the caviar, surely the very salty and slightly iodine smell would better fit an ambergris perfume (?)

  15. Anonymous15:38

    Hi E,

    I agree with you that this one should have been put out in the main production. It does have that potential to be a best seller in that arena. Hmmm, hope the powers to be at Guerlain will happen upon your blog.... ;0

    Have a good one.


  16. Dawn,

    for everyone's sake, I hope the powers that be take note! ~I know that some there do read, you see ;-)

    Have a great weekend! :-)

  17. Anonymous22:53

    It doesn't really smell like leather and does not last at all. All that is left is a faint sweetly musky smell. Not worth the price.

  18. Mimi Gardenia22:47

    I just got Cuir Beluga.I find it a fascinating scent..sometimes vintage subtle leather, Sometimes it hints at Shalimar. Other times it is fluffy soft vanilla . I love it. The tenacity is really quite decent on my skin.


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