I have to admit that I’m not the hugest fan of leather in fragrance, mainly because I really haven’t a great deal of exposure to the note, which is why I was particularly interested in attending last week’s ‘Evening of Leather’ organised by Lila Das Gupta of Perfume Lovers London/Olfactory Events. I wanted to explore leather, deconstruct and understand it, but most of all I wanted to find a leather that I loved.
Perfume Lovers London is a Meetup Group run by Olfactory Events in conjunction with Basenotes. They have so far held two events, with many more exciting meet ups in the pipeline. An Evening of Leather was hosted by Lila Das Gupta who has a penchant for leather fragrances, was the perfect captain for our voyage of discovery of a note that is steeped in history and comes in many guises.
An Evening of Leather promised to “map out the geography of leather fragrances from the meaty to the haughty” and I’m please to say that it was an event that delivered on all counts. I may have walked into the event being clueless about, and not really loving leather but I left with a new found appreciation for the genre and a head full of leather fragrances that demanded to be explored further.
The evening started in the way that all good perfume events do – with wine and chat with like-minded lovers of perfume. It was great to catch up with friends and finally meet other bloggers such as Vanessa from Bonkers About Perfume (technically a re-meet), Tara of Olfactoria’s Travels and Katie Puckrik of Katie Puckrik Smells.
Once the small talk had subsided and we had taken our seats the evening kicked off with a brief introduction to the history of leather in perfume. I found it quite fascinating to learn that leather notes in perfume stem from tanneries in Grasse, where leathers (which had been treated with such lovely-smelling substances as urine and faeces) were scented to take away the ghastly smell. Materials such as orris, civet and jasmine were used to perfume leather and as the need for scent on leather diminished people still demanded that smell that they associated with the luxury of leather, hence the birth of the leather perfume.
Cuir de Russie by Chanel
Tabac Blond by Caron
Habanita by Molinard
Cuir by LT Piver
The first category of perfumes that we smelled was the ‘Historic Leathers’ and we kicked off with Knize Ten, a fragrance that I had never smelled before despite the fact that it has a huge cult following. To me Knize Ten was very sweet and slightly powdery and one person commented on how it had a distinct insect repellent-vibe and I can definitely go a long with that.
The second historic leather that we tried was Cuir de Russie by Chanel, another incredibly popular fragrance that I cannot seem to get on with (although, I wonder if I persisted like Dee of Beauty on the Outside I could learn to love it). My notes on Cuir de Russie simply read “Salty, sweet ham. Aldehydes – vaguely floral.” and my overall impression is of respect rather than enjoyment.
Lila then talked about how leather perfumes were intrinsically linked to the emancipation of women. Perfumes such as Tabac Blond by Caron and Habanita by Molinard were for daring women, women who smoked and knew how to have a good time. Out of all of these historic leathers Habanita was the most interesting, mainly because it wasn’t as bad-ass as I imagined it to be, a fact that, at first was a big disappointment to me but with time it has led me to be more intrigued.
Cheap and Cheerful Leathers
English Leather by Dana
Imperial Leather by Cussons
After a quick blind sniff of two leathers (Scent A: English Leather by Dana – Citrus, lime, woody & Scent B: Cuir by LT Piver – Pine, menthol, honey) we looked at the cheap and cheerful leathers. These two, as Lila described, were a regression from the strong and powerful historic leathers, and belonged to a genre that hinted that leather may have lost its way somewhere. This is a fact that was only emphasised by two very un-feminist (and rather tacky) TV commercials.
Before we moved swiftly onto the next category, Liz Moores of the upcoming brand Papillon Perfumer took the stage to discuss and let us test some of the raw materials used in creating a leather perfume. We tried Birch Tar, which smells exactly like creosote and Quinoline, which smelled exactly like mushy peas. These two materials smelled pretty damn awful on their own but when we waved the smelling strips together you could smell the basics of a leather accord forming.
Lonestar Memories by Tauer Perfumes
Dzing! by L’Artisan Parfumeur
These maverick leathers could also be described as the weird and wonderful leathers. Tauer’s Lonestar Memories is a wonderfully smoky leather with the birch tar pushed to extremes – think beef jerky and you’re on the right track. Dzing! is a bonkers circus leather that smells suitably barnyard-y and like hot leather seats in the sun. Lonestar Memories is wonderful but not for me, Dzing! however is an absolute lemming. Must. Have.
The Middle Ground
Cuir d’Iris by Parfumerie Générale
Cuir de Lancôme
Cuir Ottoman by Parfum d’Empire
After the Maverick Leathers we moved on to The Middle Ground which, despite the name, showcased some rather interesting perfumes. Cuir de Iris by Parfumerie Générale with its perfect blend of sherbet, iris and a velvety smooth leather was the standout, however Cuir de Lancôme, a lovely buttery leather wasn’t too far behind. It seems that for once in the world of perfume I, The Candy Perfume Boy – the guy that loves his perfumes BIG, is happy to settle for the middle ground. There’s a first time for everything!
Azurée by Estée Lauder
Quorum by Puig
Coze by Parfumerie Générale
Vanille by Mona di Orio
Cuir Beluga by Guerlain
Leather Mahon by Floris
Cuir Noire by Armani Privé
Habit Rouge by Guerlain
These were the fragrances that contained leather but didn’t necessarily let it take centre stage. As expected, this category was a mixed bag, not only of styles but also of successes. Habit Rouge and Azurée were the only ones that spoke to me (I do love my Guerlain’s and Lauder’s) but both would probably still rank as my least favourite from those lines. Still, it was interesting and important to see how leather can be used as a supporting act rather than the lead.
Daim Blond by Serge Lutens
Kelly Calèche by Hermés
Cuir Venenum by Parfumerie Générale
The soft suedes were an interesting bunch and a very good starting place for those who may consider themselves as leatherphobes. Unsurprisingly there were no real stands out for me in this category (we all know how I feel about Bottega Veneta), perhaps because I do like a bit of oomph (that said, Daim Blond certainly has its fair share), but also because I can already get my suede-fix from Etat Libre d’Orange’s Tom of Finland and L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Traversée du Bosphore.
Cuir by Mona di Orio
Cuiron by Helmut Lang
Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford
When Lila described these as full on she really meant it! Cuir by Mona di Orio is a tour de force of a leather perfume, its full of sweaty cumin and meaty chorizo-like leather whereas Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather is the perfect representation of that new car smell, a novelty that nearly everyone can’t help but love. As much as I was shocked by these two at first I cannot help but want to get to know them better, Cuir especially.
Leather Oud by Christian Dior
The last category we looked at was the Sex God Leathers which simply consist of one perfume – Leather Oud by Christian Dior, a perfume that when smelled leads one to think of ‘downstairs thoughts’. I cannot sum Leather Oud up any better than Lila’s description of ‘Sex God’ so I best leave it there, what I will say is that it smells pants-tearingly good.
After our exploration through each category we were treated to the results of the Annual Basenotes Reader Awards, during which we, in true pantomime style cheered, booed and hissed at the winners and losers.
The Evening of Leather was rounded off with the opportunity of smelling all of the leathers as well as the Basenotes winners/losers and the opportunity to mingle with the other attendees. We were also all given a leather bracelet which we could scent with a leather of our choice, I chose Dzing! (naturally) and I haven’t taken the bracelet off since.
I had an absolute ball at the event and thought it may have been my first Perfume Lovers London meet up, it certainly will not be my last. If you are in or around London you should check the Meet Up page for upcoming events, you will not be disappointed!
For other write ups please head over to Bonkers About Perfume and Basenotes.
Both images are my own.