Cuir de Russie is really a fragrance of its time. Again a creation of Ernest Beaux and created in an age and time when women were gradually taking charge of their lives. In this era are milestones like the “smoking jacket” by YSL, and the many smoking women, and of course the large variety of tabac type (Tabac Blond (Caron), Emeraude (Coty) and leather type fragrances (Cabochard(Gres), English Leather, Jolie Madame (Balmain), Cuir de Russie (Guerlain, Chanel)) or even orientals with a a captive leather note, like in Shalimar.
Top notes, Orangeblossom, Bergamot, Lemon, Clary sage, middle notes Carnation, Orris, Yasmin, Ylang, Cedarwood, Vetiver, Base Note, Leather, Opopanax, Heliotrope, Vanilla (from H&R)
Having a leather note in a fragrance is nothing new, because in Europe, one of the first areas where fragrances found extended use was in perfuming leather gloves. After the tanning process, the leather usually had a very pungent leather smell. Glove owners often sent these gloves to be impregnated by perfumes to mask or harmonize this pungent leather note.
Over time, when the smell of leather has become highly coveted, perhaps due the fact that a leather smell is indicative about the quality of the leather, and a sign that it is real, amidst the large variety of synthetic leather materials that does not possess that rich authentic smell. Anything with the feel and smell of leather had a decidedly luxurious feel about it.
In Cuir de Russie, these same ideas come through; a sense of luxury, a sense of empowerment, a sense of daring and independence.
The parfum explodes off my skin and it was as if I put on a pair of really expensive leather gloves. The first notes I sense are a cologne-like top note, with neroli, herbs and bergamot, and immediately I noticed the dry animalic chypre structure. This quickly gives way to a floral and leather accord, which is dry and woody. Irones (dry woody iris material) and isoeugenol (carnation) forms the floral component, and that surrounds the core of the fragrance a leather note and a sweet liquorice/moss note typical of Isobutyl Quinolene (together with the resinous tar like sweetness of opopanax) and vanilla, similar to the combination found in Shalimar. The dryness and smoky notes supported by careful use of cedarwood, coupled with styrax. The drydown is vanillic sweet.
In many ways, this fragrance feels like wearing animal skins lined with fur, smoking a cigarette. This fragrance works well for a man too, as the fragrance is rather androgynous, smoldering sensuality that is neither too feminine, nor overtly masculine.
The leather note is not a new leather smell, which would have made you feel as if you had put on some artificial leather conditioning fluid. Neither is the leather note totally taking the center stage, as in some other fragrances. The spices, carnation and resins help to lend a warm and “age” this leather, making it something convincing. The iris note lends a certain elegance to an otherwise brutal leather and IBQ combination. Finally, the tabac and woody notes create a story of a woman who dears to dress with assertiveness, of a certain bohemian chic.
I would say overall, this is really a fragrance that is very classy, luxurious and rich.
Photo from Chanel.com