Chanel Cuir de Russie Les Exclusifs : Perfume Review

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Gabrielle_coco_chanel

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

If perfume allows the imagination to paint vivid pictures, Chanel Cuir de Russie is a fragrance that seems to embody a whole story. From the shimmering dry aldehydic top to the warm leathery base, it unveils one image after another. One can almost envision an elegant woman reaching into a black leather handbag, her hand rummaging through its contents: red lipstick, powder compact exuding an aroma of violets, a silver cigarette case… The owner of the fragrant handbag also seems to be fond of listening to jazz in smoky clubs since Cuir de Russie has an alluring note redolent of soft tobacco pervading its leathery smoothness. It is indeed a scent of the fine handbag and the warm skin of its beautiful owner.

Cuir de Russie, “Russian Leather” was a popular theme at the end of the 19 th century, with similarly named fragrances offered by houses like Guerlain and LT Piver. Created in 1924 by Ernest Beaux, the fragrance was intended to provoke and shock, being dedicated to the woman who is not afraid to smoke in public nor speak her mind. …

Like Caron Tabac Blond (1919), the composition relied on the aggressive, smoky notes of the aroma-chemical isobutyl quinoline to convey the animalic darkness of leather. Yet, in contrast with the drier Tabac Blond, Cuir de Russie accentuates the smooth and elegant character of leather. While Daltroff infused the composition with the characteristic Caron darkness, Beaux ornamented Cuir de Russie in order to cast a soft glow onto its polished form.

The initial aldehydic astringency is softened with the nectar-like sweetness of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang, a classical trio that blossoms in the heart of many of Beaux’s compositions. The lush florals are underscored by an indolic element which ingeniously complements the animalic darkness of leather notes soon to be revealed in their full beauty. Yet the most wonderful aspect of the composition is provided by the chilly elegance of iris that undulates slowly until it envelops the heart and spills into the base accord. The base notes of Cuir de Russie wrap the sweet smoke of tobacco into a voluptuous note of amber. With the arrangement resting on the dark leather notes, the fragrance attains a warm and sensual aura.

The fragrance was reintroduced in 1983 after being reorchestrated by Chanel’s nose, Jacques Polge. The reformulation paid proper respect to Beaux’s original masterpiece; although, the leather of the main accord was rendered more subtle and gentle, with the aggressive smoky facets toned down. Iris, with its majestic character, was emphasized, further reigning in the darkness pervading the base notes.

The parfum is undoubtedly my preferred formulation of Cuir de Russie. Unlike the sharper, more aldehydic Eau de Toilette, it possesses an almost tactile butteriness which never fails to evoke a sensation of brushing one’s finger against the softest of leathers. The classical structure of the fragrance offers such a smooth progression that it is almost impossible to identify where one accord ends and the other begins. As an example of strikingly elegant and sumptuous leather, Cuir de Russie is among the classical gems.

Notes include orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage; iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, vetiver; styrax, leather, amber, vanilla. Both the EDT and the parfum are available from the Chanel boutiques and Gloss.com.

Photo: Coco Chanel, a photograph by Man Ray, ©Man Ray Trust / ADAGP Paris 200. From vogue.it.

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39 Comments

  • Judith (lilybp): Dear V,
    I am wearing CdR parfum today, so I’m thrilled to see that you wrote about it. I absolutely love this–in both its vintage and new (almost out of this!) forms. It’s one of those very rare fragrances that makes me think, when I wear it, that I could wear it all the time. I would never do this, of course (too fickle), but it’s one of my very favorites. And that’s perhaps a bit strange, because I’m not on the whole, a tremendous Chanel fan. I do enjoy Gardenia, but even Bois des Isles, while I like it, somehow doesn’t seem wholly suited to me (though I haven’t tried the parfum, and probably should). But this is, quite simply, perfect. Thank you for the lovely review! November 16, 2005 at 7:53am Reply

    • Laura velasco: Where do you find this perfume? ?? July 23, 2015 at 8:18pm Reply

  • Marina: I never had any luck with Chanel perfumes before I discovered the Rue de cambon collection. I worship and adore Bois des Iles, love Cuir de Russie and Gardenia. Those 3 are pure magic.
    The strange thing is that actually prefer EDTs. I know, it is wrong, but there it is. I swear they stay longer on my skin and has more sillage. I guess I am blessed that none of the 3 EDT is sharper on me than perfumes. November 16, 2005 at 9:04am Reply

  • Liz: V,
    Oddly, I have never tried this one. I tend to steer clear of Chanels, not because I think they are bad perfumes but because I have made the assumption that their aesthetic does not suit me. I have often thought “Well, at the very least I should try Cuir de Russie,” but then I forget about it – thanks for reminding me to put it firmly on my to-do list! November 16, 2005 at 9:51am Reply

  • Tania: Often when I smell fragrances, I get sort of bummed out. So many of them are well made, pretty, with interesting references or effects, but they fail to be anything but, simply, pleasant body-scenting products. But then once in a great while, I smell something and I feel instantly, with the shock of a physical blow, as if I have been jolted through the center with the beauty of it. Cuir de Russie is one of the few fragrances in the world that paralyzed me, made me gasp, standing there in the shop, surrounded by bored sales associates and the bright white lights of the Chanel boutique, bumped by women trying lipstick, as I held the bottle and felt on the verge of tears. I felt crazy. And I remembered why it was I love fragrance.

    I agree the parfum is gorgeous. I didn’t know it had been reformulated, but even though I’ve never smelled the old version, I can’t fault the current incarnation for anything. However, I’ve realized recently that while I like to *smell* parfum extraits, I like to *wear* EDTs, and so I bought the EDT of this and feel perfectly happy with its big aldehydic, expansive opening, and I keep a little vial of the parfum, given to me by a friend, to smell the close warmth of it when I’m at home. November 16, 2005 at 10:12am Reply

  • Helena: Thank you for a beautiful review of my favorite Chanel fragrance. I discovered it during a trip to Paris more than 10 years ago. I agree that the parfum is wonderful, but I wear the EDT more often, maybe because I am afraid of running out of the parfum. I prefer to save it for special occasions. November 16, 2005 at 10:22am Reply

  • Robin: V, It is lovely but I don’t love it nearly as much as Bois des Iles. Fabulous picture of Coco Chanel! November 16, 2005 at 10:50am Reply

  • linda: My body chemistry did something strange, although I loved Cuir de Russie on my sister. Your fabulous description is enough for me to give it another try though. I want to be that chic woman in your story. 🙂 November 16, 2005 at 11:20am Reply

  • mreenymo: Beautifully written as alway, darling!

    I love Bois des Iles (parfum), but have not yet had the pleasure of testing Cuir de Russie.

    Hugs! November 16, 2005 at 11:33am Reply

  • Diane: I haven’t tried Cuir de Russie yet, but oh, how I’ve wanted to! Your review, as well as Tania’a lovely testimony, confirm that I must, must, must! I absolutely love Bois des Iles in both the EDT and parfum. I also love Tabac Blond. It would seem that there is no way Cuir de Russie could disappoint. Must seek out at once! November 16, 2005 at 11:43am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, oh, what a wonderful coincidence! We seem to be on the same wavelength lately. 🙂 Cuir de Russie makes me marvel at Beaux’s genuis over and over again. This fragrance as well as Bois des Iles are my favourite creations by him. November 16, 2005 at 12:37pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, I felt the same way, although eventually I rediscovered other Chanel fragrances, and I consider myself a big fan of the house. I understand what you mean about the EDT though. The parfum stays very close to the skin, while the EDT is more diffusive and smokier. Perhaps, I would say that it is edgier than the parfum. November 16, 2005 at 12:39pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, Beaux was such a character! I have a few photos of him, and every time I study his expression, I want to revisit the fragrances he created. Cuir de Russie is a must-try for a Tabac Blond lover. November 16, 2005 at 12:40pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, I can understand why, because I had an identical experience with Cuir de Russie. I tried it at the Chanel boutique in Chicago, and the beauty of the composition was almost like an electric shock. When I noticed iris emerging, I was about to weep. It was just perfect for what I envisioned a leather fragrance from the 20s to be.

    I love the EDT as well, and perhaps it is even edgier than the parfum (as I mentioned to Judith), however I love the smooth progression from the top to the heart to the base of the parfum. It fascinates me. November 16, 2005 at 12:49pm Reply

  • kaie: I love your descriptions. I don’t know Cuir de Russie by Chanel, but I enjoy reading the comments here. Maybe I need to visit rue Cambon. November 16, 2005 at 12:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Helena, I do the same thing once in a while, although I love Cuir de Russie too much to save it. 🙂 What a wonderful memory you have associated with it! November 16, 2005 at 12:54pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, isn’t it a great photo! Well, your parfum has a good home now. 🙂 I think that if you are not a leather fan, Cuir de Russie might be too much. November 16, 2005 at 12:56pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: L, I am sure that you are a chic woman, and you do not need Cuir de Russie to prove that. 🙂 However, it never hurts to revisit. Perhaps, you will change your mind about it. November 16, 2005 at 12:56pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, thank you! I know that you and I share our love for Bois des Iles. I think that you will find Cuir de Russie to be fascinating as well.

    I still need to try your Coco layering technique! November 16, 2005 at 12:58pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, you definitely should! Since I already know your tastes a little, I would venture to say that you will fall in love with Cuir de Russie the same way Tania and I did. I would love to hear your impressions then. November 16, 2005 at 12:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaie, thank you. I think that the visit is absolutely necessary. 🙂 November 16, 2005 at 1:02pm Reply

  • parislondres: Dear V – I adore Cuir de Russie. My four Chanel favs include Chanel 22 parfum, Bois des Iles parfum, CdR parfums and Gardenia parfum. I will need to try the EDTs in BdI and CdR and see how they compare. Hope you are well. November 16, 2005 at 1:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dear N, my favourites would be identical, except that I would substitute No. 19 for Gardenia. I think that all of the concentrations are very successful, however it depends on the effect one would like. I do like the softness of the parfum though. November 16, 2005 at 1:36pm Reply

  • yann: Thank you very much for this great review of one of my oldest favorite, I used to wear it like crazy as a teenager, it used to followed me like a cloud !!!
    after years of abstinence, i can`t do it anymore, i still love to smell it, wearing it, i feel like a big fat civet !!! November 16, 2005 at 3:18pm Reply

  • julien: Ahhhh…cuir de russie.
    One of the most interesting CHANEL perfume.
    I do love also N°22 in extrait de parfum.

    In france we have a very old house of perfumes called LT PIVERT which makes another Cuir de Russie more smokey than the chanel one but rather good for its little price(about 20 euros).

    Do you know this one?

    It is made of woods,leather and a drop of honey.
    A kind of mix in between FUMERIE TURQUE and CUIR de RUSSIE.

    Quite good,really…

    About the chanel,i love it because it is not a hard leather and yet not a gourmand one.

    Pure equilibrity.

    A masterpiece!:)

    Thanks.
    Julien. November 16, 2005 at 4:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Yann, thank you! I have always been fascinated with Beaux’s work and discovering Cuir de Russie was such a great experience for me. It was the first Chanel fragrance I fell in love with, although Bois des Iles is probably the one I wear more often these days (along with No.19, another absolute favourite). Cuir de Russie indeed has a pronounced animalic side. November 16, 2005 at 6:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Julien, LT Piver indeed has a very nice Cuir de Russie, although it is not as easy to find in the States (in my experience). I love your comparison–the honeyed element is wonderful. November 16, 2005 at 7:00pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, thanks for sharing! This actually had me laughing out loud. I am not sure I would drop $1,200 for it, but yes, sounds pretty interesting. How do you and P. come across things like this? November 16, 2005 at 7:08pm Reply

  • Test Subject: A phone that sprays perfume? And a mere $1200? Technology marches on! November 16, 2005 at 7:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: All hail the scientific progress! November 16, 2005 at 7:39pm Reply

  • Test Subject: What I always wonder with this sort of novelty gadget is what was the original idea? In this case, it might have been a security device that would spray ink if someone stole the phone and tried to use it. I guess there would be some fingerprint recognition to go with it so that the owner could disable the spray when they opened the phone. Just a guess though. Still, no harm in having a fragrant phone! November 16, 2005 at 8:14pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Yes, there is no harm, unless your fragrance of choice is Angel, or something equally strong. That in itself might be a weapon, rather just a novelty gadget! November 16, 2005 at 9:51pm Reply

  • Tania: Ooh, a perfume weapon. Taking notes… November 17, 2005 at 12:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Exactly! It could be more utilitarian than what it appers like at first. November 17, 2005 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Margaret: I used to wear Coty’s Chypre and Patou’s Moment Supreme. One day while browsing the perfume counter in a high-end women’s apparel store, I noticed that the Chanel fragrances included a bottle of something called — Russia Leather. Not Russian Leather, but Russia Leather. I bought a bottle and wore it for a while. I guess I was more than a little intrigued by wearing what sounded so much like a man’s fragrance. Actually, Russia Leather — or, Russian Leather — had a rather gasoline-y layer. September 1, 2007 at 1:06am Reply

  • Anonymous: o thats really good and it smells good to hahahahaha thats funny February 6, 2008 at 12:30pm Reply

  • Lily: I discovered Cuir de Russie in my 20s. I had fond memories of my mother’s No.5 when I was a child, the distinctive and unmistakable aldehydic smell. Although I loved it, I found it too rich on me and I wanted my own scent, preferably by Chanel but all of their more popular perfumes never quite ‘wowed’ me, there was until I discovered Cuir de Russie. The rich leather and tobacco accord are simply unmistakable, it was also the first time I smelt a chypre like perfume and it was love at first sniff.

    Although I love my Cuir de Russie, I’m a perfume addict and tend to have more than 1 at the time but I never buy a fragrance without first reading your take on them. Keep up the good work 🙂 April 15, 2012 at 9:30am Reply

  • ElenavL: Hi V,

    Happy New Year!

    I have a question about the perfume concentration of CDR. Last November my husband was trying to get a bottle at the Chanel store in SF and was told that none of the US stores had it at that moment. And last week I asked for it in the Amsterdam store and the lady there said that they did not have it and in general Chanel is just getting rid of the stock they’ve got and will not produce it anymore. Should I be really really worried? My hopes are that she was simply clueless, since when I asked her for the vetiver of the exclusives and indicated that it was supposed to be either Sycomore or Coromandel (somehow in my head these names are hard to tell apart), she insisted on it being Bel Respiro. I would be so happy to hear from you, that it is all nonsense and that, say, Brussels store has truck loads and all that “happily ever after.”

    L. January 1, 2016 at 11:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Wow! That would be the strikingly bad news. I will find out. January 1, 2016 at 9:34pm Reply

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