Few accords in fragrance generate as much difference in opinion as those that smack of leather. From the prim velvet-capped members of elite riding academies to the denizens of downtown biker bars, leather is worn and cared for by more than a discerning few. And like musk, civet and other synthetic animalic notes, it commands an important height in the world of traditional perfumery. For tackbox traditionalists there will always be English Leather
, Cuir de Russie
, Peau d'Espagne, Knize Ten,
and Royal Copenhagen
, but nowadays a new generation of leather scents populates the shelves of the niche stores – and among them some very wearable creations.
To begin with basics, leather accords usually are created through the blending of cistus (rockrose) and birchtar as well as the addition of certain petrochemicals used in the tanning and polishing of leather. Depending on the proportions used, the leather accord can smell anything from "new" to "rustic" to "ripe and raunchy." However, the best of the new leather kids on the block contain other ingredients which transport their wearer far beyond the inside of the shoe closet or belt drawer. And, like leather itself, the interpretations in most cases are gender-free.
Mimosa, violet and fresh hay soften a fine leather accord in Heeley's Cuir Pleine Fleur
(2007), an eau de parfum conceived by the eponymous James Heeley for his Paris boutique. The birchtar here is sweet and rain-kissed as the slightly humid blossoms spring up around it on the forest floor. Heeley outdoes himself by perhaps creating the very first green-leather fragrance, and something that most anyone can be comfortable wearing.
On the other side of the cleanliness divide, there is Lonestar Memories
(2006) by Zürich perfumer Andy Tauer
, which might remind some of us of a failed-cowboy-cum-auto-mechanic met on a service road south of Butte. But, for all his brawn, he's a little soft in a lovable sort of way, as Tauer has conjured him from an unmistakable top note of geranium married to Clary sage and carrot seed. The chemical smell is a complete illusion created through the perfumer's art. And depending on your mood, you may want to indulge in clandestine rendezvous with this lonestar stud while putting yourself together for a day in the office. People will talk, but when it's this good it really doesn't matter much.
Heading east (about 8,000 miles), Pierre Montale's Aoud Cuir d'Arabie
(2005) appears like a mirage and bears down on us like a band of roving Bedouins. Again, cistus and birchtar make their appearance but bolstered by a near-paralyzing jolt of precious oud extract and backup vocals by mint and sweet tobacco. Unlike many of the Sheldrake-Lutens scents, Montale's Aoud Cuir d'Arabie
is less about the tea-shop and more about the mystery of the tent. Its details aren't filigreed or sugary; rather, they are straightforward, plainspoken and super-seductive. To finish getting dressed with a liberal spritz of this potion is like standing in the middle of your room and watching the tie-rack literally shudder. Unless it's your desert riding gear, clothing asks to be subtracted, not added. Think Travels in Arabia Deserta
and pray that you make it through the Al Jabir with body, if not virtue, intact.
All three are available at Luckyscent
. For a review of Tom Ford Tuscan Leather
, see my earlier entry