Leather Scents with a Soft Focus

Although classical leather notes in perfumery are dark and dramatic like Robert Piguet Bandit and Grès Cabochard, this theme offers many variations, including the soft and creamy ones. In my recent FT column, Leather Scents with a Soft Focus, I describe different ways in which leather can be interpreted. I also talk about my idiosyncratic behavior at the vintage shops.

Unconventional is the leather collection of Serge Lutens. The line has a number of fragrances with leather accents, whether Sarrasins, with its interplay of leather, jasmine and musk or Fumerie Turque, which weaves leather into tobacco leaves and rose petals. Cuir Mauresque, however, makes this tanned note the star player. It is buttery and rich, oscillating between the darkness of amber and the spicy bite of clove. What makes its leather tender and luminous is the clever addition of orange blossom and mandarin. Inspired by the old tradition of perfuming gloves with fragrant pomades, Cuir Mauresque conjures up vintage handbags and well-worn armchairs in old libraries. To continue reading, please click here.

Where do you fall on the leather spectrum, dark or light?

Image via FT

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33 Comments

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Serge Lutens! Yes, who wouldn‘t think of those three magnificent perfumes?
    I must however say — rant alarm! — that I‘m a bit miffed at the current marketing strategy. There are different bottles now (section d‘or, gratte-ciel, collection noire, les eaux de politesse, the bell bottles) all of which are filled at different levels (50, 75, 100 ml) at randomly selected differen prices 120 €, 190 €, 290€, and a whopping 450 €!
    Cuir mauresque now sells at € 290 for 100ml!
    Fleurs de citronnier , on the other hand, in the new boxy frosted glas flacon for € 120 for 100 ml.
    A la nuit, then, now is only available in the bell jar at € 190 for 75 ml.
    All of these were formarly available in one format at one price. And € 450 for 50 ml of the section d‘or selection is nothing less than daylight robbery!
    Sorry if this is one of the first comments as I don‘t want to sour the discussion on lesther scents. Therefore, in a different vein. Can anyone recommend Dior‘s Cuir Cannage? March 8, 2019 at 8:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I agree, they’re desperately trying to expand while keep the aura of exclusivity. I haven’t even tried the last couple of launches, since there have been too many. But I’m not even sure if such a strategy going to be successful in the long run.

      I like Cuir Cannage very much. Francois Demachy wove his favorite orange blossom-white floral accord through the leather, and the effect is beautiful–smoky, elegant, soft. March 8, 2019 at 9:04am Reply

      • OnWingofSaffron: Thanks for the info on Cuir Cannage! I keep going round and round it, without having the opportunity to smell it, and am curious about your and the other readers opinion! Thank you. March 8, 2019 at 9:45am Reply

      • Carla: Expanding while maintaining exclusivity – a perennial problem! March 8, 2019 at 10:55am Reply

        • OnWingsofSaffron: Indeed! 🙂 March 8, 2019 at 4:01pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Simply put, it is very confusing, not to mention irritating. And as Carla notes, it’s a circle impossible to square (expanding while maintaining exclusivity).

      On a more positive note, I very much enjoy leather notes. Among my collection I especially enjoy Azuree, Gallop, and Cuir d’Ange. So, I guess, it’s mainly on the softer end. But I also love Knize Ten (which I sometimes “borrow “ from my husband). Irish Leather (Memo) is lovely, as is Cuir Ottoman. So, I guess it depends on my mood. I also find weather a very important factor for leather notes (more so than many other notes). March 9, 2019 at 4:22am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: I find your observation on weather very interesting! In your opinion, when is it best to wear? My guess would be, when it is cold. March 9, 2019 at 4:33am Reply

        • Silvermoon: Hello onWingsofSaffron,

          Yes, your guess is correct 😊 I find leathers are lovely when it’s cold. Colder temperatures seem to keep the sweetish (you mention slightly nauseating aspects in your second comment below) and animatic aspects under control. I am unsure about the science behind it, but it’s just how I react to it. Interestingly, I find the same with amber (better when cold), and other animatic notes.

          I find that florals, on the other hand, seem to suit a full range of temperatures, although their impact/effect changes as the mercury rises. For example, Songes seems very comforting and soothing on cold days, but really sensual and extravagant on hot days. I have worn it on the cold and windy Yorkshire moors in the day as well as a sultry evening in Rio de Janeiro with equal enjoyment but very different sensory experiences. March 9, 2019 at 5:48am Reply

          • OnWingsofSaffron: Thanks, and interesting mentioning of amber, with which I also at times tend to have issues.
            So Scandal will have to move back to its old place at the back of the drawer…! March 9, 2019 at 6:57am Reply

  • StellaDiverFlynn: I usually prefer a certain creamy texture or roundness or meatiness in leather perfumes, often paired with iris or evoked by birch tar and cade, although I also enjoy the vegetal yet fierce leather built around IBQ.

    Among you recommendations, Cuir Ottoman and Cuir Maurèsque are also among my favourites. However, I consider Daim Blond and Boxeuse more representative of soft leather from Serge Lutens. March 8, 2019 at 9:14am Reply

  • Briony: I like my leathers on the suedey side. Nice and soft. Like Hermes’ Cuir d’Ange, Ann Gerard’s Cuir Nacre, Dzing and Cuir Beluga. Although once in a while , when I fancy something a bit stronger, I love Boxeuses and Azuree. March 8, 2019 at 9:20am Reply

  • Deborah: I like wearing men’s leather fragrances – the new one I tried was Tom Ford’s leather fragrance because I appreciate the depth of it and I find it lasts longer on me. I’m not fond of wearing “men’s fragrances,” but have not been exposed to women’s lines in the US….. I could layer men’s fragrance with a bit of floral. I love your blog! March 8, 2019 at 11:00am Reply

  • Carla: I used to love Black and Dzing. Now I like softer floral leathers, Sarrasins (I mostly get jasmine) and Cuir de Russie. I love Knize Ten on my husband. I like leathers on myself less than I did when I first « discovered » perfume.
    However for a scented candle one of my favorites is a soft leather, Traversée de Bosphore. Artisan changed the name though, to Voyage a Constantinople. Why are they always doing things like that? March 8, 2019 at 11:02am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Cuir de Russie and Cuir Beluga are two leathers that I adore. Serge and I don’t usually get on. Cuir Ottoman has now gone on the test list. (So much for trying to make that list smaller.) March 8, 2019 at 1:08pm Reply

  • Kathy Larson: Daim Blonde is the only leather that works for me-and S.Lutens is my favorite perfumer.It is wonderful in any season or setting! March 8, 2019 at 1:42pm Reply

  • Klaas: One can go so many ways with leather, from buttery soft gloves to chunky motor cycle jackets or even kinky boots! I guess it’s the same in perfumery. I quite like soft leathers such as blisfully innocent Cuir d’Ange or the ambery elegant Cuir de Russie, but truth be told, when it comes to leather I like ‘em a bit more bold and outspoken. Say Knize Ten or Chanel Anthaeus. Has anyone smellt the vintage? It’s leather on steroids and quite sensational to wear. I sure love it! March 8, 2019 at 4:25pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Thank you for another interesting article.

    I like the way Serge Lutens uses strong colour for his fragrances. The first thing that struck me about your article was the rich violet colour of his Sarrasins. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered my first bottle of La Fille de Berlin from Mecca, which opened in Brisbane a few years ago. It arrived last week, and I smelled it for the first time. I was delighted by deep red colour, and won over by the rich and lovely fragrance. I don’t know whether Lutens has created fragrances in other colours, but if not, I would welcome one in a deep forest green and a royal blue (similar to the one used for a limited edition of L’Heure Bleue some years ago).

    Warning: I’m about to go off topic, but I hope it will be fun! I know it’s a cliché, but perfume really does delight all the senses. There is the visual beauty of the bottle and the liquid, the tactile beauty of the bottle, the sound of cellophane tearing or an atomizer spraying, and of course the smell of the fragrance, which is sometimes so intense that we feel we can taste it. Others have thought along similar lines; a few years ago, I came across some special sweets being sold on Etsy – “Shalimar vanilla bergamot flavoured” lollipops. They were decorated with pictures of a classic Shalimar parfum bottle, and were being sold as wedding favours, at $35.33 in Australian dollars for a set of three. Oh, and last year I bought a tiny gold brooch in the shape of a L’Heure Bleue bottle, and I wear it with either my fine-knit jumper patterned with perfume bottles, or my cream-coloured cardigan patterned with round, pink atomizers. More marks for the visual.

    As for leather fragrances, I like Jolie Madame, and I’d love to try both Sarrasins and Turque. March 9, 2019 at 1:40am Reply

    • Silvermoon: Hello Tourmaline! I enjoyed reading your comments – I could almost experience what you meant with your words. I agree that perfumes can delight all one’s senses. Touch and sight being specially important (of course, they should enhance the experience, not substitute for smell). I noted that you even wear clothing and accessories with perfume images- how delightful! I have never seen such patterns on clothing here in the UK . March 9, 2019 at 4:09am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Silvermoon,

        I’m glad you enjoyed my comment and could identify with what I said.

        About ten years ago, I was browsing at David Jones here in Brisbane (during my lunch hour), when I found both of the clothing items mentioned. I could hardly believe my luck! The brooch, I found on Etsy. I wear them only occasionally, so that they won’t wear out quickly, but when I do, it feels special.

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline March 9, 2019 at 4:19am Reply

        • Silvermoon: Tourmaline, it’s odd isn’t it that one often wears least what one loves most (with the idea of preserving it). I do that too! March 9, 2019 at 4:26am Reply

          • Tourmaline: It’s ironic, Silvermoon, certainly. It is said that we should use our best things – our china, clothes, jewellery and so on, rather than keep them for “one day” or for special occasions. But perhaps it’s better that we wear out our best and know that we made the best possible use of it!

            Regards,
            Tourmaline March 9, 2019 at 4:54am Reply

            • Silvermoon: 100% agree, March 9, 2019 at 5:50am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Hello to all, I’d like to chime in a second time, this time a little more on a positive note.
    Firstly, just an observation. Just looking at how many comments the topic leather perfumes elicits it seems to me to be a rather a niche topic. In Victoria’s recent post “Smoke and Fire”, also on leather scents, there were but 26 comments; here there are 13. A similar post on Gardenia perfumes resulted in 90 comments!
    Second, I’m reading Denyse Beaulieu’s The Perfume Lover at the moment—great fun!—and stumbled over a mentioning of Lanvin’s leather perfume “Scandal”. Reading that and the current post I remembered I had bought some vintage Scandal (edt, extrait) by Lanvin some years ago. As however I’m not so enamoured by leather scents ist was relegated to the far end of the perfume drawer. It was returned from banishment and I’ve been wearing it for two days. First things: the dry-down is sensational. How it makes one yearn for vintage perfumes which focus on longevity and creamy, opulent dry-downs. Secondly, my squeamishness regarding leather scent (ever so faint nauseousness) remains. I’m trying to analyse why that is the case because on an abstract level I find it quite compelling: I think it may have to do with the mix of floral sweetness and the meaty aspects of tanning? March 9, 2019 at 4:27am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi OnWingsofSaffron,

      That’s interesting that you experience some nausea with leather scents. I have the same mild reaction to fougère scents like Gingham (by Innoxa, long discontinued), and to some extent, Maja. Anything with a large dose of lavender will be risky for me.

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline March 11, 2019 at 6:52am Reply

  • Aurora: Your article is such a lovely tribute to leather scents. I fall in the ‘light’ leather category. The one I wear most is Kelly Caleche. I admire and love Jolie Madame (I have vintage extrait and EDT) but have to be in a certain mood for it. I could wear green florals every day but couldn’t say the same about leather. Daim Blond has already been mentioned several times and it also gets a lot of wear in my perfume wardrobe.

    What are your thoughts about the Cuir de Russie EDP? I am curious as a commenter on recommend me a perfume explained that the discontinued EDT had more twists and turns. March 9, 2019 at 5:08am Reply

  • Figuier: I like leather scents, even though I don’t wear them much because the more interesting ones also tend to be strong – Knize Ten & Bandit for instance. I had a bottle of Cuir de Lancome for ages, but much as I loved it, even one spray overwhelmed me. My sister now has it on ‘long loan’ 🙂

    Cuir de Russie in the aldehydic edt is in the same category – I sprayed some of a sample in a book of mine a few years ago and still enjoy the smell whenever I open it, but am not sure I would ever want to wear it on my skin on a regular basis.

    Sweet leathers are easier; for autumn & winter I love Equistrius and Traversee du Bosphore, which are mainly powdered sugar/chocolate but just about retain the leather feel. March 9, 2019 at 8:00am Reply

  • Filomena: Although I enjoy Cuir de Russie and CdG Black, my very favorite leather scent is definitely Cuir Ottoman. March 9, 2019 at 4:47pm Reply

  • Lily: The only leather scent I have is Galop, though I am thinking of adding L’artisan’s mont de narcisse which has a soft leather facet to me (though I don’t know if it could be called a leather perfume). It is a note I think I should like but rarely find pleasurable on my skin. What I like about the leather in Galop is that it retains its saddle-leather aspect throughout wear, which is a comfort scent to me (grew up around horses). March 9, 2019 at 7:12pm Reply

  • Klaas: Back here as well, just to share that after reading about all these leather fragrances I retested Nadir by Swedish idie perfume house NOT Perfumes these past few days. It is an artisanal fragrance with not too many top notes. It goes straight to the heart of the matter: a rich, warm, sweet-ish leather note through a veil of green cardamom and insence. There’s some smoked vanilla in there as well, and a subtle camphorous touch for contrast. It’s super cozy and worked wonderfully in grey, cold, windy pre-spring Amsterdam… March 10, 2019 at 5:50pm Reply

  • Fazal: Sarrasins is my most favorite Lutens and also possibly my favorite jasmin-oriented creation.

    My favorite leather perfume (also one of my arguably top 3 most favorite perfumes along with vintage Eau Sauvage and first version of Dior Homme) is Lang Cuiron. I realize Cuiron does not really fit among conventional leathers but may be it is its simplicity and abstract nature that appeals to me. I even concede Cuiron is probably not a perfume that would be considered even average, let alone great, by many serious perfume critics and professional noses but sometimes the most ordinary things blow you away, for reasons that are mystery even to you. March 13, 2019 at 11:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: Mine too! I use to like A La Nuit, but the latest reformulation made it too sharp, too much banana peel like. This note is typical for jasmine, but in this case it dominates too much.

      Cuiron is indeed excellent. March 14, 2019 at 5:07am Reply

      • Fazal: Now that you mention A La Nuit, the original version is, indeed, the most realistic jasmine perfume I have ever smelled. Sarrasins, to me, is an imagined gothic jasmine. March 14, 2019 at 5:39am Reply

        • Victoria: It smelled exactly like the jasmine garlands that you see everywhere in India (and Thailand!) These days it doesn’t have that effect. Sarrasins, however, is still a dark jasmine fantasy. I might wear some today, in fact. March 14, 2019 at 5:42am Reply

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