It’s getting chillier and after my last post about Chypres, I started thinking about other categories of fragrance that might be good at this time of year. It’s the perfect time of year to re-organise your cupboards for a new season and bring out the leather.
Leather fragrances, like chypres, hark back to the age of glamour and romance, summed up by the classic movies of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Can’t you picture Cary Grant or Kathryn Hepburn wise-cracking and arching an eyebrow sardonically while wearing crisp tailoring and smelling elegantly of leather with a faint hint of roses or sandalwood?
There are some ‘hard’ leather fragrances that remind me of roughly-tanned hides and are rather too animalic for my tastes. Others are harsh, green and bitter with a strong chypre aspect, such as vintage Piguet’s Bandit EDT, which is legendarily eccentric while the modern EDP is more floral and approachable.
While leather is utterly unisex as a fragrance type, gents often enjoy the classic ‘hard’ leathers like Knize Ten, while ladies are more typically drawn to the softer, more sensuous variants such as chypres or fruity, rounded leathers and suedes such as Serge Lutens’ Daim Blond, Bottega Veneta’s original Women’s fragrance, and Penhaligon’s Iris Prima – all of which marry soft suede with fruits and flowers. I like all of these for work, as I feel they give an aura of warm coziness without veering into the gourmand realm. They’re very relaxed and yet still interesting and sophisticated – all are perfect for men as well as women, by the way.
But the leather I’ve worn this week is my perfect iteration, Cuir de Lancome. A winemaker friend referred to a bottle of wine as ‘correct’, by which he meant a completely typical example of the style, which is how I think of Cuir de Lancome. There is a touch of chypre, a touch of softness from florals, but mainly it’s a straightforward utterly wearable leather.
With the passion for gourmands and fruity patchoulis in the last decade, leathers rather dropped off the radar, but the tide has been turning thanks, I think, to the introduction of Oud or agarwood as a popular note. Today I tried a stunning fragrance by Guerlain called Les Absolus d’Orient Santal Royal; from a creamy sandalwood opening, this warms into a beautifully balanced leather and oud heart. Never veering too far into the animalic, and utterly unisex, this fragrance was a Harrods exclusive for a number of years but has now been released more widely. If you get a chance to try it, do. On skin it blooms and develops a beautiful roundness that is immensely satisfying. I can see why Harrods wanted to keep it to themselves.
With the leathery aspect of oud becoming popular, suddenly there are leather fragrances on the market again. Molton Brown has recently released a Russian Leather, which is probably the best fragrance they’ve produced in years – it’s ‘correct’ like Cuir de Lancome, though has a little more birch tar and a little less softness. It may well be the easiest leather fragrance to track down, because Molton Brown prodcuts are available so widely, so try it and see what you think.