There’s an ongoing debate as to whether perfume is an art. I for one, know which side of the debate I come down on and I very much believe that yes, perfume is an art form – after all, it can evoke emotion, illicit memories and tell stories in the exact same way sculpture, photography, film and many other types of art can. But does that mean that every perfume is art? Hell no! Perfume is first and foremost a commercial enterprise, in which many brands create things that are new, exciting and beautiful, but also where many others create replicants that are simply made to sell, so it’s a mixed bag and a more in-depth conversation than this one paragraph allows for.
Anyway, I talk about perfume and art because the fragrance I’m reviewing today is created by an artist named Paul Schütze, whose work spans photography, sound and now, perfume. Schütze’s latest duo of fragrances (Cuadra and Villa M – his fourth and fifth fragrances) take inspiration from two famous buildings, weaving architecture and olfaction together in a bold way. Today’s subject, the bright-pink-bottled Cuadra, is inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragan’s “brilliantly hued modern masterpiece” Cuadra San Cristobal – a ranch situated amongst reflective pools and fountains. I tell you now, it makes for one heck of a fragrance!
Juxtaposing the architect’s hot signature colours with the vast reflected skies of Mexico, Cuadra is passion contained and refined.
– Paul Schütze
Bay, Bergamot, Coffee, Eaglewood, Hay, Sandalwood, Jasmine, Oak Moss and Tobacco
How Does it Smell?
Cuadra starts out as a melange of odours that slowly unfurl and unravel with time. The opening is cacophonous – a thick cloud of bergamot, coffee and hay. In fact, the straw-like facet is incredibly vivid and with the underlying funk (of which the levels are relatively soft – almost a background noise, really) one’s mind instantly thinks of a stable on a hot day. There’s also something medicinal, most likely the eaglewood (oud), that contrasts the heat with a cool, menthol effect. So yes, ‘cocophony’ sums it up perfectly.
At its heart, Cuadra focuses on one material: immortelle, or ‘everlasting flower’ as it’s also known. Immortelle has the most fascinating odour profile, with characteristics of; maple syrup, curry powder, smoked sugar, liquorice (anise), and celery. Here it is not quite as sweet as it often can be, avoiding gourmand territory (a la scents such as Etat Libre d’Orange’s Like This and Dior’s Eau Noire) and instead amps up the smokier, spicier and vegetal facets. This dry immortelle is slot neatly into place next to an equally arid tobacco note that is again devoid of sweetness, and which, with its overarching green quality ties it tightly to the hay accord in the top notes. It’s seamless.
As for the dry down, Cuadra changes significantly, unfurling more and shedding away much of its heft. For me, there are three main facets in the base; leather, earth and wood. The leather is relatively subtle and simply amplifies the warmth and saltiness, whilst the earth plays into the mineral-green facet, adding a touch of something beautifully mushroom-like. Sandalwood rounds things off, with its nutty weightlessness, pulling Cuadra inwards and creating a more intimate trail at the end. It’s an exciting ride from start to finish – nobody can deny that!
Cuadra is not an easy perfume. It’s also not a perfume that everybody is going to love, much in the same way that not everyone is going to look at Caudra San Cristobal and appreciate its fuchsia pink walls and endlessly straight lines. It’s a bold creation and therein lies its appeal – this is a fragrance that presents intriguing facets, drying out the usually sweet note of immortelle with smoke and herbs, to create something unashamedly savoury. It may not smell hot pink, but it serves as much of an olfactory shock as the signature colour on the walls of Cuadra San Cristobal. Smell it, then love it or hate it, but do make sure you smell it. After all, good art has to be experienced.
Cuadra is available in 50ml Eau de Parfum for £135.
Sample, notes and quotes via Paul Schütze. Images are my own.