Guerlain Santal Royal



It takes some effort to get a One-Star “Avoid” rating from Luca Turin, but Guerlain has managed it with its new Santal Royal. I don’t always agree with the famous perfume critic and I don’t think Santal Royal is the worst thing I’ve ever smelt, even from Guerlain (L’Homme Ideal holds that dubious distinction), but he’s right: Santal Royal isn’t good. It is especially disappointing coming from a once-great house, perhaps the greatest that ever was.

In essence, Santal Royal is another sub-par, extremely commercial creation from Guerlain without any distinctiveness or originality, and with absolutely nothing remotely reminiscent of sandalwood. What it does have, however, is a strong resemblance to a heavily aromachemical Montale fragrance or to any number of basic, cheap, Middle Eastern fragrances centered on a generic, overly sweet, wholly synthetic, fruity rose-oud combination. Actually, I’ve smelt better perfumes from Montale, which is saying something given my general view of that house.

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Armani Privé Oud Royal & Cuir Noir (2013) (Mille et Une Nuits)

Armani is re-releasing some of its limited-issue Privé line, and I obtained samples of three of the fragrances from La Collection des Mille et Une Nuits. This review is for Oud Royal and Cuir Noir, neither of which is complicated enough or compelling enough to warrant an individual review. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if Armani could ever make a fragrance that would move me. His style is simply too bloodlessly refined for my tastes. Plus, for the cost, I keep thinking that one could do better. That is especially true for one of the Privé fragrances which seems to have been reworked into something completely different and rather terrible.


Refinery29 has the details on which Armani Privé fragrances are being returned to the market:

The brand has been releasing its ultra-exclusive Privé scents in limited-editions since 2004, usually debuting just one at a time in small batches. Once they sold out, they were gone for good. Well, someone over there was feeling generous, because this summer sees the launch of four brand-new scents and the re-issue of all 10 of the previously launched scents. […]

The four “new” scents — Oud Royal, Cuir Noir, Ambre Orient, and Rose d’Arabie — were originally launched overseas back in 2011, but never made it to the U.S. They are part of the La Collection des Mille et une Nuits that was inspired by the classic Arabian tale, One Thousand and One Nights. They showcase notes of oud, leather, amber, and rose, respectively.

There is no word on whether these 2013 fragrances have been re-worked and re-formulated, but I think at least one of those fragrances must have been, as you will soon see.


Armani Oud RoyalAccording to Fragrantica, Oud Royal was created by Alberto Morillas, while Bois de Jasmin says it is Symrise perfumer Evelyne Boulanger. Some people give the original release date as 2010, others say 2011. Regardless of whoever made Royal Oud or when, the fragrance is certainly described with opulence. In the original press release description of the fragrance, as quoted by Now Smell This, Oud Royal and its notes are described as follows:

“When Giorgio Armani turned his attention to oud, he decided to work it the way he would a heavy brocade lined with gold and silver, leaving its weight, its noble intensity and majestic sedateness. Respectful of its personality, Giorgio Armani set about highlighting each facet of character in its composition: depth is amplified by an amber harmony, the reddish glow is fanned with spices, the dark earth reflections are smoked with a veil of myrrh and incense.” Additional notes include black earth note, animalic notes.

The current description of the fragrance on Armani’s website is largely the same, though much less detailed and focusing more on the mystical nature of oud wood. Thus far, that much is the same. Armani, however, doesn’t list any notes for the fragrance. So, if we take the Now Smell This press release report, and combine it with the notes listed on Fragrantica, the list of ingredients in Oud Royal would be:

Oud from Laos, saffron, amber, rose, sandalwood, myrrh, incense, black earth and animalic notes.

Oud Royal opens on my skin with a very leathery facade, so much so that I actually had to double-check my sample to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put on Cuir Noir. The fragrance is dry, earthy, very dusty, only slightly sweetened by saffron, and reminds me strongly of Dior‘s Leather Oud. There is a subtle undertone of smokiness, but it’s extremely muted. After about five minutes, the saffron becomes a little more noticeable, taking on an almost meaty quality, but, like almost everything else in the fragrance, it’s restrained, refined, and very polite. The rose also makes an appearance at this time, but it’s bloodless, and remains a muted, virtually hidden presence in the perfume’s life.

It takes a mere 30 minutes for Oud Royal to turn into a highly refined, elegant, very pleasant blur. It hovers discretely above the skin as a pleasant haze of soft leather and oud, with saffron and a touch of incense. The rose is barely perceptible, the saffron loses its meaty touch, and the fragrance eventually turns slightly sweeter at the end of 90-minutes. A pretty little pop of sandalwood appears around the end of the fifth hour, but it is very subtle and is largely overpowered by the oud. Those are all minor changes, however, and the core essence remains the same: an extremely pleasant, almost pretty, soft, gauzy leather-oud fragrance that sticks close to the skin. All in all, Oud Royal lasted just short of 7.75 hours on my skin, with weak sillage throughout.

Our Royal is exquisitely blended, very refined, and highly conservative in every way imaginable. I can see its high quality, and even its prettiness, but something ultimately leaves me unmoved. On some levels, it seems like the perfect oud fragrance for those who: 1) dislike true agarwood scents; 2) are looking for a refined fragrance that is highly unobtrusive, in addition to being somewhat blandly safe; and 3) have a lot of money to spend on a prestige name in luxury goods. I think all three factors must apply for Oud Royal to really be worth your while.

The general reaction to Oud Royal is mixed. Bois de Jasmin seems to have been singularly unimpressed, giving the fragrance a 3-star (“adequate”) rating and finding its price (even back in 2010) to be too high for the scent in question:

the fragrances from this collection are in fact quite opulent, well-crafted, made with high-quality materials. Yet, as I am trying to get over the sticker shock of £170 per bottle (according to Harrod’s pricing,) I have to ask myself whether this price is warranted. I really enjoy the decadent sensuality that Oud Royal conveys as well as its prêt-a-porter interpretation of the leather-oud notes that sometimes are quite difficult to wear (such as by Kilian Pure Oud, beautiful though it is.) Yet, it does not strike me as particularly new or original. Or perhaps, something of this Arabian Tale was lost in translation.

On Basenotes, there are mixed reviews in one thread, while a Basenotes poll about the best oud fragrances for men that gives 11 different options has Oud Royal coming in seventh place with 4% of the votes. Are those voting numbers representative or comprehensive? No, and I’m not claiming that they are. Nonetheless, the poll shows that Oud Royal — while being perfectly pleasant and beautifully refined — isn’t necessarily a fragrance that sweeps people away. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that there really isn’t much to say about Oud Royal, and I think it has been intentionally made that way.




I find Cuir Noir to be singularly misnamed, and rather irritating to describe. The fragrance sample I obtained from Neiman Marcus would be more aptly called Saffron Rose, because a leather fragrance it is not. You wouldn’t know that from the Fragrantica description, however, which seems to quote the original Armani press release from 2011:

Cuir Noir was inspired by the art of Arabian tanners. “Leather is an art. From Cordoba, Spain to the borders of the Atlas Mountains. With a wine patina, it takes the name of “cordovan”. Tattooed with gold, it is called “maroquin”.” The perfume composition consists of Australian Sandalwood, Rose essence, Coriander, Nutmeg (in the top); Leather, Smoky Guaiac and Oud (in the heart); Tahitian Vanilla absolute and Benzoin balm (in the base).

I read that description, started testing the fragrance, then immediately stopped in my tracks. Leather? Sandalwood? Nutmeg? Not on my skin, it wasn’t. I double-checked the name printed on the manufacturer’s vial, I re-read Fragrantica, and then I went online to see what some reviews might say, because what was appearing on my skin was gooey, rose syrup with walloping, hefty amounts of saffron, and nary a whiff of leather in sight! I read with confusion Bois de Jasmin‘s bored, negative review of the scent and paid close heed to the statement: “Cuir Noir was created by perfumer Nathalie Lorson and includes notes of Bulgarian rose, nutmeg, coriander, guaiac wood, leather, oud, Australian sandalwood, ambergris accord, benzoin.”

I’ve concluded that Armani must have changed his mind about Cuir Noir, and that it must now be a very different thing from what it was back when it was originally released for the Middle Eastern market. You see, in his current description for the scent on his website, Armani barely bothers to talk about leather at all. Instead, the purportedly black leather fragrance is actually a tribute to saffron, and with rather a different focus from what Fragrantica originally quoted back in 2011:

Cuir Noir showcases the raw material Saffron, a spice with leather accents. The roundness and sensuality of its notes bring suppleness and warmth, reflecting the enveloping sensuality of skin-on-skin contact.  Derived from the crimson stigmas of Crocus sativus, saffron is the world’s most expensive apice [sic]. Its ochre colour symbolises inner happiness, which is why saffron-hued clothing is often mentioned in ancient mythology, tragedies and poetry. In perfumery, saffron lends a full, leathery and sensual note to fragrance compositions.  With Cuir Noir, Giorgio Armani journeys into the heart of an Arabian night. He revisits  the saffron accord to create a captivating Oriental. Golden and voluptuous, saffron infuses a profoundly sensual experience  that recalls the redolence of tanned hides with the wild scent of tallow and  e [sic] smouldering, tarry aroma of black birch.

Well, I don’t smell any tarry black birch at all, but the description does explain why my skin is reeking almost solely of saffron mixed with a syrupy, gooey, jammy rose. It’s revolting, cloyingly sweet, and backed by a sort of chewy darkness that feels like purple patchouli. Cuir Noir is also wholly unoriginal in bent, a retread of very tired old ground walked by so many other fragrances. In fact, the scent reminds me strongly of Tom Ford‘s Café Rose which was the same sort of jammy rose, saffron bomb on my skin.

From beginning to linear end, the same two notes dominate Armani’s Cuir Noir. For the first five minutes, there were flickers of something smoky (though it never felt like guaiac wood), but leather? Bah! BAH, I tell you! My notes are littered with comments about saccharine sweetness, and the complete absence of any mythical tanners from Cordoba. Even the oud is pretty much of a lost cause; it disappears within thirty minutes. Oddly, around the 10 minute mark, there was a momentary pop of a powdered lipstick tonality with a slightly violet aspect, but it vanished within minutes.

Cuir Noir becomes soft and sheer very fast. It takes less than 30 minutes for the moderate sillage to begin its sharp decline and drop; by the 90-minutes mark, the fragrance is a complete skin scent. Yet, Cuir Noir is oddly potent when sniffed up close, and I had almost a burning sensation when I sniffed the saffron, patchouli, rose combination during the second hour. It makes me wonder just how synthetic the fragrance is, and how much fruit-chouli is lurking underneath.

Cuir Noir doesn’t drastically change from its main, boring, sickly-sweet combination until the very end, so I should be thankful that it died so soon. In its final drydown, a rich, faintly custardy vanilla note shows up, along with some abstract, generic smoky woodiness that might be guaiac or ersatz, fake, Australian “sandalwood,” but both notes are as muted and sweetened as everything else in the fragrance. All in all, the fragrance lasted exactly 4.75 hours, ending as a whimper of vanilla sweetness. I know my skin eats fragrances quickly, but come on! For a $275 eau de parfum that is ostensibly made from the richest and best ingredients, that seems rather pathetic. As for the mythical tanners from Cordoba, all I can do is mutter about misleading names, and analogize to that old 1980s commercial for Wendy’s: “Where’s the beef?!”

As you can tell, I’m hugely unimpressed by Cuir Noir, especially in light of its $275 price tag. I never tested the original version released in the Middle East, but I find it hard to believe that the 2011 fragrance whose descriptions and reviews I read is the same one I tested now. The difference between the press release quoted by Fragrantica and what is now on the Armani website seems too vast. I even contemplated the possibility that Fragrantica was incorrect in its description of the scent’s leather, seeming press release quotes notwithstanding. So, I checked the Cuir Noir entry on Osmoz. Nope, Fragrantica wasn’t mistaken. Osmoz usually relies on press release descriptions, too, and its entry for Cuir Noir reads:

The Italian designer was inspired by the refined, ancient art of making leather. He wanted to “recreate the fascinating atmosphere of tanneries, which blend the pungent odor of tallow with the burnt and tarry aromas of black birch.’

Osmoz does reference that “This oriental-leather scent opens with spicy notes of coriander and nutmeg, with a sort of saffron effect.” However, that mere “effect” still differs from the way saffron is highlighted front and center in Armani’s description which, again, states flat-out “Cuir Noir showcases the raw material Saffron.” That seems to be a far cry from Armani’s prior focal point in 2011.

My conclusion about a difference in versions is further underscored by reading the reviews on Fragrantica where very little matches with either Armani’s current description or the manufacturer’s fragrance sample that I obtained from Neiman Marcus. References to leather (subtle as it was even then and lasting a mere 30 minutes) are joined by comments about the vanilla custard drydown, and quite a bit of talk of the amber. One person writes of a sort of industrial machine scent in the fragrance:

My father used melted stannary and resin to glue together small metal parts of broken machines. I used to love to see how the metal melts and the resin melts and evaporates into a wonderful perfume. The melted resin is what this perfume reminds me of.

There is not a single word about saffron. Not one. Not even indirectly. And there is nothing about how Cuir Noir is equally dominated by the rose note, either. The only things that seem to be exactly the same are the vanilla custard drydown, and the fact that the old version barely lasted on people either. There are complaints about its short longevity, with one person saying that it didn’t last above 4 hours.

Bois de Jasmin also seems to be describing a different scent. Her review is brief, so brief as to feel like she just wants to get the whole thing over with. Giving it 3 stars for “adequate,” her entire description of the way Cuir Noir actually smells is limited to four sentences:

Cuir Noir starts out as a big sweet amber and leather in the style of Tom Ford Amber Absolute or Annick Goutal Ambre Fétiche. There is a distinctive rose note that lingers from top to drydown. The medicinal, smoky oud is such a rich accent that it makes the leather play a second fiddle. Fans of oriental blends will enjoy Cuir Noir, but if you are looking for a smoky rich leather, it will not satisfy the craving.

Well, I certainly agree with her last statement, but I am more convinced than ever that the 2013 version of Cuir Noir is a wholly different fragrance. My skin might be even more insane than I had previously thought, but that doesn’t change the fact that saffron is the focus of Cuir Noir’s entry on the Armani website. No, this has to be a new version, it simply has to be.


I was unimpressed with both fragrances given their high price, but if one looks at Oud Royal in a complete vacuum, it isn’t a bad fragrance by any means. It’s actually quite pretty! Oud Royal has the trademark Armani signature stamped all over it: luxury ingredients incorporated seamlessly into a well-blended blur that is hyper-refined and proper to the point of being too elegant and bloodless. It’s just like Armani’s clothes: superbly crafted and reflecting a refinement that is minimalistic, aloof, and understated. Unlike his Privé line of clothing, however, Oud Royal lacks the style to make it really stand out. It’s also linear, uncomplicated, and so refined as to feel rather dull on occasion.

When I tested Nuances, Armani’s limited-edition, ridiculously priced ($500+) iris haute Couture line fragrance earlier this year, I thought part of my discomfort stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t an iris lover. Now, however, I think that the Armani signature simply doesn’t move me. I truly think that, if Armani could sanitize the slightly dirty, earthy qualities of oud to render it as suffocatingly prim as he did to the iris in Nuances, then he absolutely would. Oud Royal lacks the claustrophobic qualities of Nuances, a fragrance so elegant that its refinement gasps for life, but that’s not saying much. After all, there’s only so much one can do to suck all character out of oud combined with leather. That said, I still find Oud Royal to be largely unremarkable, in my opinion, and I much prefer the more nuanced, richer, longer-lasting Dior version (Leather Oud) with its significantly more palatable price tag.

As for Cuir Noir, I’m not sure the 2011 version was much to write home about, but the 2013 absolutely is not! In short, the less said about Cuir Noir, the better. Bah!

Cost & Availability: Both Oud Royal and Cuir Noir are eau de parfums that come in a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle and which cost $275, or £190. The Euro price in 2012 was €205, but I don’t know if it has been increased for the re-launch. Armani: You can purchase Oud Royal or Cuir Noir directly from the US Armani website, where the fragrances are listed under the Mille et Un Nuit section. However, I couldn’t see either perfume listed on the Armani International Privé section, and I’ve somehow never been able to select a Privé fragrance to put into a shopping cart on that particular site. Maybe you can figure out how it works. Finally, the UK Armani site does not carry Oud Royal, but does list Cuir Noir. In the U.S.: All four of the new Armani re-releases are sold exclusively at Neiman Marcus, which is where I obtained my samples. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, Harvey Nichols carries Oud Royal and Cuir Noir. The Heathrow Duty-Free boutique carries Oud Royal, but not Cuir Noir. In France, the fragrances are listed on the French Armani site, but no prices are given, and it doesn’t seem as though you can actually purchase fragrances directly from the website. In South Africa, I found Armani Privé at a store called Luminance. For all other locations, you can rely on the Index of different geographical Armani websites, or use their store locator within the site applicable to your area. Samples: I’m afraid you have to rely on an Armani store near you for Oud Royal, or the sales counter of one of the handful of boutiques that carries the Privé line. However, Surrender to Chance does offer samples of Cuir Noir starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Given the newness of the relaunched fragrances, I’m assuming they carry the original 2011 fragrance and not what I am testing now.