Suzanne's Perfume Journal

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A Package from Christos:

Greek Sandals and Montale Oud Cuir d'Arabie

Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie eau de parfum can be purchased at LuckyScent.com, where the cost of the 50-ml bottle is currently $100. (It used to be priced at $120.) My review is based on a decant I received from Christos of Memory of Scent, whose own review is here.)


Images: Photo of me in my Greek sandals is my own; Montale Oud Cuir d'Arabie is from Basenotes.net.

 
lyrics excerpted from the pop song "Never Been to Spain," written by Hoyt Axton and recorded by the band Three Dog Night (as well as Elvis Presley) © Lady Jane Music.


August 12, 2014:

Well, I've never been to England
But I kinda like the Beatles
Well, I headed for Las Vegas
Only made it out to Needles

Can you feel it?
Must be near it
Feels so good
Oh, it feels so good


         – lyrics from the 70s Three Dog Night hit, "Never been to Spain"

The oldies radio station that I listen to in my car has been reminding me recently that I’ve “Never Been to Spain.” Well, I’ve never been to Greece either, but I kinda dig their sandals – and that’s a statement I can make genuinely, thanks to my friend and fellow perfume blogger, Christos (who spent his whole life in Greece until last year, when he moved to Geneva). Christos wrote a fascinating review last summer of Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie, in which he likened it to the smell of the touristy summer sandals sold on the streets of Athens (here’s the link), and in it he touched on the sandals made by Stavros Melissinos, “the Poet Sandal-Maker of Athens,” whose sandals have been purchased by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, John Lennon, Sarah Jessica Parker and many others. They aren’t expensive sandals, but they are like poems: lightweight, airy and elegant, with an emphasis on lines: arabesque-like lines of leather that loop around toes and twine up legs, making the wearer look more graceful and long-limbed. I can vouch for this because Christos very recently gave me a gift of these sandals and they arrived just in time for my beach vacation, where I wore them and got the admiring thumbs-up from the women in my family, as well as my husband. Christos gave me the Maria Callas version (so-named because they were originally designed for her; if you peruse the Poet Sandalmaker’s website you can see the others), which have long ties that crisscross halfway up my calves and are what I think of as classically Greek in terms of their look. Though I wondered if the ties would make the shoes uncomfortable, I was surprised to find they didn’t. The leather is still new enough that I have to tie them tight, in order that the bow doesn’t come undone, and for a minute or two they feel a little too snug, as if they might bite into my legs’ circulation, but it literally is only a couple minutes. Christos says the leather will darken over time, and I imagine it will also become more pliable, but even as they are now, they are remarkably comfortable for a shoe that offers up such distinctive beauty.

Beauty and comfort aside, the real reason these sandals are a treasured gift – and the reason I started this post with the lyrics of the Three Dog Night song – is that I believe Christos gave them to me as a way of giving me a piece of Greece. That’s an assumption on my part; he originally suggested to me, in the comments section of his post, that he hoped I could do a side-by-side comparison of the scent of the sandals next to Oud Cuir d’Arabie. Consciously or not, I think he also sent them because he knows how much I've enjoyed his perfumed writing that relates to his homeland – and that’s what these sandals evoke for him in a very concrete way. Greek sandals displayed on the facades of tourist shops are a ubiquitous sight (and scent!) in Christos’s native city, and have been for so long that they are no longer a trend but something that has become iconic. He notes that these sandals are enjoying popularity again with Greek natives, not only the tourists, and that development seems really right to me. True, I’ve never been to Greece, but my impression is that tourism is a deeply embedded part of Athens’ existence, in the same way that it is part and parcel of all ancient and beautiful cities of the world.

Like any tourist, armchair or otherwise, I think of the sea when I think of Greece, and there is a strong whiff of it in the leather of these sandals. To Christos, the leather of these sandals and the leather scent of Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie smells briny in a very specific way: like feta cheese brine. I’m not as familiar with that particular smell as he is, but I do get brine: the leather of the sandals smells like sea kelp to me. It reminds me of Nori, the edible seaweed that is used to wrap sushi rolls, with its odor that speaks of fish and chlorophyll and a light amount of sulfur. This Nori seaweed smell doesn’t overtake the scent of the leather in the sandals, but it definitely infuses it. You could say it makes the leather smell tangy (in a way that does recall the salty tang of brined cheese, although in my head I get more of a true sea brine than cheese brine). I’ve had a similar seaweed scent show up in raw silk sweaters I've purchased, and there the scent was not pleasant the way it is with the sandals. Leather is such a yummy smell, it even smells good when imprinted by this briny odor.

Speaking of which, if there is any perfume that can be said to be straight-up leather and more leather, it is Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie. I’m always surprised when I read comments or reviews on the various perfume forums describing this as a very raw and animalic because it doesn’t wear that way on me. True, it starts off with a top-notes stage that affects the same briny air as the Greek sandals, and there is a gentle animalic whiff of something inky and urinous too, but that stage is short-lived. Almost immediately this perfume deepens, sweetens and smoothes out into a very supple leather that is the equivalent for me of being cradled in a leather sofa. Similar to Christos, I get a lightly sweet, beeswax aroma in Oud Cuir d’Arabie as it develops, and after rather scrupulous study of the perfume this week, I wonder if that smell might evolve from a mix of heliotrope and iris. Montale provides only the sketchiest list of notes for this perfume, which they cite as tobacco, leather and burnt wood notes, but I’d be willing to bet that heliotrope is part of Oud Cuir d’Arabie’s composition. For one thing, heliotrope has a number of facets – a cherry-almond waxiness, gentle powder, hints of pipe tobacco – that marry well to leather and maybe even lean in the direction of soft leather. (Think Guerlain Cuir Beluga, which pivots on a heliotrope accord.) Heliotrope is also used in Montale’s loukhoum perfume, Sweet Oriental Dream, and I catch whiffs of Sweet Oriental Dream coming through in Oud Cuir d’Arabie. It is what refines this leather scent for me and makes it so gracefully wearable. It also wouldn’t surprise me if there was iris in Oud Cuir d’Arabie, as iris can have a silicone-like, new leather smell before it warms and becomes more cosmetic (as it does in the quietly marvelous Parfum d’Empire Equistrius, which is yet another perfume I’m reminded of as I wear Montale Oud Cuir d’Arabie, if only in terms of this aspect).

One thing I don’t get much of in Oud Cuir d’Arabie is the oud—the “burnt wood” note that is referenced by Montale. It is mildly there, a hint of Montale’s much-used medicinal oud accord that smells like Band-Aids, noticeable in the perfume's opening salvo. I believe it’s accountable for what I perceive as the inky portion of the top notes: a bit of olfactory drama that sets the stage and takes the wearer to a dusky setting (Arabia after dark, maybe?) before the perfume smoothes out into its supple sofa-leather smell. The portion of real estate it takes up is so small, though, that its inclusion in the perfume’s name is misleading and unnecessary: Cuir d’Arabie pretty much says it all.


By the way, I have Christos to thank for this perfume, too, and it’s important for me to state this. In my reviews I like to credit friends who’ve sent me stuff, firstly to thank them and secondly because it reminds me how much my world has expanded via the perfume community. Yeah, I’ve never been to Spain, but this year I went to the Jersey shore with Greek sandals and German perfumes, and it felt so right…felt so good!