Discovering the creations of Rania Jouaneh (Rania J) is the ultimate reward of fragrance hunting. Diving into the deep end of perfumes and emerging with a fragrance jewel is what gives meaning to perfume collection.
Coming back to the surface with one great fragrance is exciting. Emerging with a whole line of jewels is a whole different story. Rania J is that story.
Rania Jouaneh has been creating perfume under the brand of Rania J since 2012. Her inspiration to create perfume comes from her childhood in the Middle East and Africa. The jasmine trees and spice bazaars influenced many of Rania's creations. These early influences are evident in the fragrances themselves.
Rania J's perfumes strike a perfect balance between the presence and heft of the Middle Eastern fragrance tradition and the elegance and sophistication of French perfumery. This is why, one cannot dismiss Rania J as just another Middle Eastern or French perfume maker. The inspiration coming from her life experiences and the novel approach to perfumery is what makes Rania J hard to ignore.
It's a fragrance that challenges and delights the senses.
The fragrance that introduced me to Rania J and then continued to capture my heart was Cuir Andalou. I don't remember how I stumbled upon it. I do remember, however, that the notes and the concept behind the fragrance excited my imagination enough to blind buy a bottle.
In an interview with Sergey Borisov for Fragrantica, Rania says Cuir Andalou was born from the idea of a leather fragrance. Rania's vision was a soft, supple leather note (think a leather jacket) combined with a floral accord. At the same time, she wanted a fragrance that is deep and complex. She says "my goal was to create a leather depth in the perfume".
Andalusia and the Cordoban traditions in creating gold-covered leather also served as an inspiration for Rania J. In English Cuir Andalou can be translated as Andalusian Leather. The name and the fragrance is a reference to the Moors' period in the history of Andalusia. It was a period of cultural renaissance, where artists like Ziryab (in the backdrop of Cuir Andalou) popularized the Arabic cuisine, music, and the art of wearing perfume.
I don't get many cultural references to Andalusia in Cuir Andalou besides the leather aspect (reference to the Cordovan leather) and the saffron and oud accords (reference to the Arabic influence in the region).
One way to fortify the bond between the fragrance and the region could have been by adding an orange blossom accord. Cordoba and Andalusia at large are known for its oranges and orange blossom water, which were widely grown and popular among the nobility at the time.
The lack of orange blossom is not a criticism to the fragrance. Rania might have considered adding it and later taken it away. As it stands, Cuir Andalou is perfectly blended and is not in need of any alterations.
What Does Cuir Andalou Smell Like?
Cuir Andalou opens with a soft leather note. A touch of neroli gives the composition some freshness and the patchouli note adds some depth to the composition.
Rania J describes Cuir Andalou as the smell of a person who wears a leather jacket and a floral perfume. The leather note is definitely the one of a high quality leather jacket. It is soft, supple and enveloping; it almost makes me want to snuggle.
The leather accord also feels deep and rich. It doesn't have the bitter facet characteristic for other leather fragrances. Instead, the leather in the opening has a dry, dusty quality to it thanks to the saffron. Saffron is often used in compositions to recreate a feel of dryness or dust. In Cuir Andalou Rania adds just a touch of saffron to soak up any sweetness the floral accords might add.
After the opening settles down (around the 1-1.5 hour mark for me), the leather lets a soft floral accord emerge. I get a touch of violet and maybe iris. I can't tell apart the rose accord, which I blame on me rather than a shortcoming of the composition.
In its heart Cuir Andalou maintains a certain warmth, which I attribute to the sandalwood and some spice accord. The warmth here is not to be confused with sweetness. It feels like the warmth of a skin, as if you are in the arms of someone you love.
With Cuir Andalou you'll turn the heads of those who know fragrance.
Cuir Andalou remains determinately dry. The more time passes, the drier it gets. After the first six hours, the leather and sandalwood are still present but they fall into the background. A dry, woody note (I suspect oud) takes centre stage. This leather-oud accord remains throughout the dry-down of the fragrance. After eight hours, I barely detect some of the oud on my skin. It has turned slightly bitter but in no way off-putting. It is the perfect end of this journey in a leather jacket through Andalusia.
I get 8+ hours longevity from Cuir Andalou and a medium projection. After the first half hour the fragrance stays close to the skin and I detect it only when I move or when I sniff my hand.
I don't see Cuir Andalou's quiet projection as a problem. It is exactly how you would want a leather-floral perfume to behave. You want it to hum from your neck, not to scream in people's faces.
Where to Rock It
The natural warmth of Cuir Andalou makes it perfect for cool weather. The lack of sweetness should stop it from getting cloying in high temperatures, which could make it a good choice for a breezy summer night. When you decide to wear Cuir Andalou is not so much a question of temperature but mood. An intimate leather fragrance feels just right on a cold autumn evening. Something lighter, however, may work better on a hot day.
Just like many complex fragrances, Cuir Andalou requires some dressing up. It would work great for any occasion that requires nothing less than smart-casual as a dress code.
Cuir Andalou is a very wearable fragrance and fits many occasions. As long as you avoid events where short sleeve/pant is the preferred outfit, you'll be fine.
It's in rare cases that age defines the appropriateness of a fragrance. In the case of Cuir Andalou, age doesn't really matter. Anyone from 20 and above can rock it flawlessly.
What The Other Frag Heads Say about Cuir Andalou
As of this time of this writing, I didn't find any detailed reviews of Cuir Andalou. I suspect this is because it is a relatively new fragrance from a niche perfume house.
The few reviews on Fragrantica are split on Cuir Andalou. Some find it challenging to wear, while others are in love with it. By no means is Cuir Andalou a crowd-pleaser. Thank God for that. Cuir Andalou is worth smelling because it is so complex, unusual, and challenging.
The Bottom Line
Cuir Andalou is definitely worth trying out. It's a fragrance that challenges and delights the senses. Take your time with it because every time you wear it, you discover a different facet of it.
Would you buy Cuir Andalou?
I blind bought my bottle and am glad I did. Cuir Andalou is amazing and definitely worth a purchase.
Would I get compliments wearing Cuir Andalou?
With Cuir Andalou you'll turn the heads of those who know fragrance. If not a compliment, you will at least stir some interest. I don't see the average person falling for Cuir Andalou at first sniff. It's a fragrance it takes a while to understand. Considering its medium projection, it's not likely to get you compliments. But then, does it really matter? You just paid yourself the greatest compliment by wearing what you love.
What rating would you give Cuir Andalou?
I'd give Cuir Andalou a solid 5/5. It's a complex, superbly blended fragrance that is a pure joy to wear.
Leather, Neroli, Saffron
Rose, Violet, Iris, Patchouli
Castoreum, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Oud