I have a confession to make: I’ve always found leather perfumes difficult. They’re just so damn demanding most of the time and one has to commit to wearing them for the whole day, which can be a chore if they start to get annoying, which I find they often do. Don’t get me wrong, the smell of leather in fragrance is often beautiful, but with time it can become dry, harsh and tar-like, suffocating a guy and sending himm reaching for a mouthwatering cologne to quench the nose-thirst. So yes, I like leather, but it’s not often that I find myself loving a leather fragrance, and whilst there are exceptions (Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather being the most notable), leather just isn’t my thing as a rule.
With that in mind, I’m always very happy when a scent comes along to convince me that I do, in fact, like a style I’m slightly averse to. In terms of leather, that very scent is the new Étui Noir by Miller Harris. Described, rather fantastically, as being “like a well-worn leather jacket shared by lovers with comforting flashbacks of each other” and “as deep as the night”, Étui Noir is a leather with a difference. This is a leather fragrance crafted with an emotional point of view, speaking in nuanced and eclectic tones. It’s representative of the new style of Miller Harris, which is much more focused than it has been in recent years and to put it simply, Étui Noir just is an interesting fragrance to unravel.
Top: Bergamot Italy EO, Tangerine and Elemi Gum
Heart: Iris Butter Morocco, Incense, Cashmere Wood and Styrax EO
Base: Patchouli Indonesia EO, Vetiver Haiti EO, Leather, Amber, Birch EO and Labdanum Absolute
How Does it Smell?
Étui Noir opens fresh and clean with a nice drizzle of citrus shimmer and the paper-like smell of iris. In fact, the whole thing initially smells like a crisp sheet of A4 pulled straight from the ream. There’s a touch of spice initially, specifically the peppery, metallic sharpness of elemi, which slowly pulses with a blue warmth. The opening is subdued. This isn’t a firework of citrus and spice, instead it’s a softly glowing LED that radiates quietly yet intensely with warm light.
The key element in Étui Noir that separates it from other leathers is iris. Rather than simply adding a dusting of grey powder or a touch of suede, the iris here brings a doughy, mineral texture that is so soft one can only describe it as squishy. This softens the leather to such an extent that it almost becomes abstract, giving the impression of a vast array of scented treats; bread, paper, leather, dust and dirt. It’s a subtle friction between powdery plushness and mineral minimalism, and it’s more than interesting to the nose.
Leather dominates the base. It has a dry, tarry quality to it (groan), but the levels of smoke and salt seem to be well and truly in check here (yay), making for a palatable level that is more skin-like than hide-like. Labdanum and tobacco add a caramel-like sweetness, which also intensifies the smooth texture overall, but also allows the vanilla to throw up undercurrents of chocolate and amber. It’s far from gourmand, but this little edible inflection simply adds to the abstract nature of the leather, making for a deeply complex yet strikingly easy to wear take on one of perfumery’s trickiest genres.
Étui Noir is a sensitive leather. It feels like a fragrance that has lived a life and it wears its scars on its sleeve. It’s a formerly harsh leather that has softened with age, much in the same way that a leather jacket or bag will do over the years, presenting itself as a doughy delight of iris, smoke and animal hide. Much like many Miller Harris fragrances, Étui Noir is on the subtler side, with sillage and longevity that could be described as moderate, which actually works nicely with the fragrance’s overarching sense of paired-back style. Do check it out if you’re a leather-fan looking for a different viewpoint on the note or if, like me, you’re a bit leather-shy!
Étui Noir is available in 50ml (£65) and 100ml (£95) Eau de Parfum.
Sample, note and quotes via Miller Harris. Images are my own.