It is really strange how familiar smells stay with me for all my life and influence the way future experiences are perceived. Even the most raw and animalic smell, the smell of cheap leather, became a part of me and filters the way I appreciate perfume. Athens, and Greece in general, are full of clichés, which is not a bad thing of course. It means people can relate to it easily. Athenians have grown out of some of those clichés while others still hold their place in their every day life. The leather sandals that hang outside tourist shops have been one of those things that were reserved for tourists alonefor many years. They were quite popular in the 60’s but after the 70’s were considered the epitome of kitsch and no Greek would be caught dead wearing a pair. The “ancient”connotations were too strong and strange for the 80’s lifestyle. The sight of rows of sandals hanging on the façade of tourist shops has become a staple of Greek summer. I have never owned a pair to this day but the smell of walking by one of this shops has been a part of my childhood and it has fascinated me with its animalic vulgarity. I can describe it as a savoury gourmand smell that mixes leather and bacon with hints of feta cheese and beeswax. I know it may sound revolting but actually this smell is warm, comforting and somewhat mesmerizing. Every time I get my hands on a piece of cheap leather I rub my nose in it, trying to relive the awe of how soothing this vile smell is.
I approached Aoud Cuir d’Arabie many years ago while I was on my oud exploration and I was not prepared for it. Influenced by Serge Lutens’s one-thousand-and-one-nights vision of “Arabie” I was expecting something lush and picturesque. The opening carries a powdery note that lasts only a few seconds to be followed by the most photorealistic note of feta cheese brine, that only someone very sick or very interesting would dare incorporate in a perfume. The shock was a mix of provocation and respect. Because I immediately remembered the cheese component of the cheap leather sandals and I realised that when Montale uses the word “Arabie” he does not do it in a whimsical, westernised way. I could immediately see the connection of the leather that was hanging outside tourist shops and I could only imagine that this type of leather would also be available in souks. In French, “maroquinerie” (could be literally translated as “Moroccan things”) actually means “luggage”. And although the typically French maroquinerie is Louis Vuiton I am certain that a few decades ago, when leather was the only material available for suitcases, many of them did smell like this. So the joke was on me and it was a good one! No Arabesques here, just the real life. The feta cheese note starts to dissipate…, slowly…, mixing with a light smokiness and and intense leather accord that is as unique as the one in Cuir Ottoman. In a sense these two ways of recreating leather in perfume are the two opposites of the spectrum. Where Cuir Ottoman smells of expensive, black, shiny leather and focuses on how the finished product smells, Aoud Cuir d’Arabie is the smell of hide. Tan is the only colour I can associate with it. If you are frightened by my description so far, please do not be deterred because Aoud Cuir d’Arabie mellows with hints of honey and the cheesy opening is only a memory towards the drydown. It peaks through at times but I do not know if it is really there or it has integrated itself so well into the Arabian leather metaphor that its impression lasts longer than its actual presence. An exquisite and unique leather lives on my skin. Unique and uncompromising but perfectly wearable, at least in the long run. So where is the oud? It is definitely there but it is very well balanced and tamed. I imagine that anyone not familiar with this ingredient will not be able to notice anything else but a slightly medicinal element integrated perfectly in the leather accord.
Just as Aoud Cuir d’Arabie found its way into my heart, the leather sandal has made a comeback. They are light, cool, stylish and cheap. If you find yourself in Athens and you are tempted by the smell of raw leather be sure to visit Melissinos. He made his name when sandals were popular and he has created custom sandals for the likes of Maria Callas, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Jeremy Irons (my favourite design). If you visit the shop in winter when business is low you may even convince him to make your custom sandals. And they will always be naturally scented with Aoud Cuir d’Arabie.
Notes from Parfumo: Birch, Leather, Oud, Tobacco
Notes from my nose: Feta cheese, Smoke, Leather, Oud, Honey
MemoryOfScent by Christos Karageorgos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.