Why does leather smell so good?
Leather and perfume allied a long time ago. This partnership began around 4,000 years ago.
In ancient Mesopotamia, raw leather was rubbed with the fragrant bark of various fragrant trees to make it softer and less smelly.
A millennium later in the Iberian Peninsula, animal skins were treated with musky oils and resins for the same purposes but with better results.
In Roman Italy, the leather was perfumed with sweetened almond, iris oils, and animal essences to gain malleability and a pleasant scent.
In the Middle Age, the unpleasant smell of cowhide and other leather types produced in the many cooperages that existed in Grasse has been reduced with the adding of flower essences during the manufacturing process. As a consequence, flowers and their pleasant essences became a traditional trade in the region.
In the Renaissance, well-tanned and perfumed leather artifacts became a symbol of social distinction and were widely used by nobles and high-rank military. Rich ladies began to use perfume in their soft leather gloves.
Moving ahead a couple of centuries, an important step took place in Russia for the marriage of leather and perfume. It all started with the Cossacks and the classical Russian dancers that inflamed many noses with the very pleasant smell of their shoes and other leather goods. To soften and impregnate the leather, they used birch oil and musky essences, which gave off the smells of tar, wood, tobacco, and licorice. Everybody recognized it as a very pleasant scent.
In 1872 this type of aroma conquered Aimé Guerlain who created the first perfume called Cuir de Russie. A few years later, in 1880, he also created a leather chypre called Eau de Cologne Russe Double Impériale.
These animal scents attracted so much attention from perfume lovers that several other large houses developed their own version of a leather perfume. More than forty compositions with similar names and ingredients emerged from Cuir de Russie during the Belle Epoque.
The original Guerlain leather scent was considered a male fragrance but was feminized by Coco Chanel in 1927 when she created her own Chanel Cuir de Russie that we could call a more metrosexual perfume today. This perfume is still available for purchase, or at least, a reformulation of it.
From the end of the 19th century till the 1980s, some great leather fragrances saw the light of day. I may refer to examples of such masterpieces as Jicky by Guerlain, Tsao-Ko by Guerlain, Chypre de Paris by Guerlain, Kadine by Guerlain, Tabac Blond by Caron, Cloches de Noël by Molinard, Knize Ten, Scandal by Lanvin, Bandit by Robert Piguet, Femme by Rochas, Cuir de Russie by Creed, Cabochard by Grès, Aramis by Aramis, Vivara by Emilio Pucci, Habit Rouge by Guerlain, Balafre Brun by Lancôme, N° 19 by Chanel, Givenchy Gentleman by Givenchy, Jules by Dior, Pour Lui by Oscar de la Renta and Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent, to name but a few (!).
However, the fashion for this type of animalistic fragrance declined sharply from the 1980s onwards. Both male and female perfume customers in search of novelties started to popularize fragrances inspired by fresh citrus fruits, sea notes, sweet accords, and clean scents.
With the advent of niche perfumery, the scent of leather has returned to great fashion. This current new leather note is more silky and velvety. It may even offer you floral and apricot tones. It can also evoke the feel of suede for added softness. These notes can take on different facets: smoke, tar, wood, or even tobacco nuances. In the beginning, perfumers from Grasse distilled mixtures of leather scraps that were tanned with dried birch bark to obtain the so-called leather perfume ingredients. Later, the essential oils produced with smoked birch became one of the main components of perfumes bearing leather notes.
Juniper essence can also be used for a similar purpose. Its wood and roots are distilled to provide an essence with a very intense smoky cowhide note.
Agar essence, the main ingredient in oud wood perfumes, can also be used to recreate leather notes. Actually the most pungent perfumes animalistic perfumes are made that way.
Other raw materials such as styrax and labdanum, whether natural or synthetic, can also be used to make leather accords. Its balsamic, warm, animalistic notes, are spicy and are therefore very suitable for imitating the smell of leather. Some flowers also have leathery facets, such as immortelle or senna. Finally, synthetic chemistry can be used with isobutyl quinoline, better known as IBQ. This artificial compound, made in the laboratory, is treated with great care by perfumers. Its smell is very raw, powerful, and dry. Tom Ford and Grès, for example, use it extensively in their Ombré Leather and Cabochard perfumes.
Other synthetic structures have proliferated in recent years. I highlight the coriaceous Woodleather® note from Firmenich. It has a structure that remains unchanged after being applied to the human skin, which forces the perfume to evolve linearly. Alberto Morillas used this note masterfully when he created Guilty Absolute pour Homme. Here, sharp leather is mixed with cypress essence. The result is dry, complex, woody, and very, very sexy.
Are you ready to try some new-generation leather fragrances? Here are some easy suggestions for you to try!
If your answer is yes, but you are a newcomer to leather fragrances, start with some "peaceful" but very good designer fragrances like Fahrenheit by Dior, Égoïste by Chanel, Bentley for Men Intense by Bentley, Ombré Leather by Tom Ford, or Dior Homme Parfum by Dior.
If you want to lean to the more experimental and usually bolder"niche" side, have a try with Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford, Memoir Man by Amouage, Bottega Veneta by Bottega Veneta, or Santal Royal by Guerlain.
If you are a brave person and you aim to start your experience with some daring strong leather scents, you may go for Myths Man by Amouage, Rhinoceros by Zoologist, Lonestar Memories by Tauer Perfumes, Cuir Andalou by Rania J., Cuir Intense by Guerlain, or New Sibet by Slumberhouse.
If you are convinced that you are a breed of Tarzan and Indiana Jones, then I really advise you to spray yourself with Dehn al Oodh Malaki by Swiss Arabian, Dark Aoud, or Black Aoud or Aoud Cuir d'Arabie by Montale, Faqat Lil Rijal by Rasasi or Doraphilia by Miguel Matos.
The Parfumo community will enjoy hearing your suggestions too. 🤗