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Perfumer Pierre Guillaume.
Cuir Venenum takes orange blossom down two parallel courses, neither of which is expected.
Track # 1. Similar to iris, underneath orange blossom’s sweetness there is a sweaty quality that gives the flower its dimension and complexity. Cuir Venenum capitalizes on the blossom’s underbelly by steering it in a yeasty, fermented direction, giving Cuir Venenum its infamous whiff of beer. The beer note is likely an olfactory mirage created by combing orange blossom with myrrh and hawthorn, and I suspect Guillaume’s training in chemistry is the origin of this odd, fortuitous mash-up. The reference to beer might seem curious, but the way it’s integrated into the scent is ingenious. Cuir Venenum doesn’t have a lingering, background aroma of beer. It has a detailed synopsis of the scent embedded like a hologram in the composition. It triggers the complete olfactory image of an aromatic, tangy, fruity lambic beer in my mind instantly. I’m the dog, Cuir Venenum is Pavlov’s bell. The perfume reminds me of the expression used in the almost magical brewing process of a lambic beer: spontaneous fermentation.
Track # 2. Orange blossom’s sweetness is inflected with a trace of grape in the way that muscat wine has an aroma of orange blossom. It’s as if each contains an element of the other. Cuir Venenum dives headlong into the cask and finds another olfactory image buried in both the perfume and its name: Poison. Cuir Venenum takes the grape note that you might catch in orange blossom, then amplifies it à la Dior Poison. Monster grape. I believe it was the result of the stylistic use of particular aromachemicals, but the maenad-florals of the ’80s amplified white florals with stinging chemo-fruit notes and slapped you in the face. (Think Giorgio, Carolina Herrera, Cacharel Loulou, Rochas Byzance.) This style of perfume might have been the olfactory version of the furniture-like shoulder pads and geometrically-rouged cheeks in fashion at the time, but it also required just a spoonful of sugar to become the syrupy fruity-florals of the ’90s. It’s fascinating the way Guillaume retrieved this grape note from its association with the most egregious styles of perfume and nestled it into a new, crafty/foody setting. The fact that all of these bizarre aromatic images coalesce into a wearable perfume is the final act of Cuir Venenum’s brilliance. On paper it might sound like a car wreck and it theory it might sound like one of the fuck-you perfumes of early millennium niche, but it’s a proper perfume and one of the more inventive florals. It’s the flame, I’m the moth.
I read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence years ago and always remember one small detail. It was a small bit of custom that, like many other arcane practices of the time and place, reflected the thresholds of class distinction that permeated society.
It wasn’t, “… such an enviable thing to be in an age when ladies were beginning to flaunt abroad their Paris dresses as soon as they were out of the Custom House, instead of letting them mellow under lock and key…. [It] was considered vulgar to dress in the newest fashions; and…. it’s a safe rule for a lady to to lay aside her French dresses for one season.”
It’s taken me years to get around to writing about Cuir Venenum because it deserves the same respect as those frocks from Worth.