I came to this conclusion recently when taking inventory of my several bottles, all of which have got to be moved. Many were leather scents. I mean a surprising proportion of them were leather, almost thirty percent of what I actually wear these days qualifies as some sort of leather scent. I had not the faintest notion. If you had asked me, my nice well mannered left brain self would have told you that I wear florals. Yes I do wear some florals, mostly aldehydic florals, and some modern chypres, but a lot of the time…well you know.
I blame Bandit myself. That is a truly corrupting perfume and I met it at one of those formative periods of life when your mind is as squishily soft as Play Doh and takes all sorts of impressions easily. The trouble is that the adolescent mind seldom loses those impressions, and Bandit, dark, unforgettable, something you couldn’t tell was a boy or a girl, created quite some impression..
Funnily enough I never wore Bandit, but did wear Miss Balmain which in many ways is Bandit Lite, and enjoyed that for years, but eventually met other leathers that I really couldn’t do without. Leather turns out to be as flexible a base for perfume as chypre. You can have fruity leathers, floral leathers, spicy leathers, dark leathers, even boozy leathers.
Here’s my current leather list*:
1) Tabac Blond This is nearly the oldest and definitely the best leather. If you can find old Tabac Blond (and it survives very well because of its heavy basenotes) you are in real luck. This is leather, tobacco,orange blossoms, bone dry spice, and more leather, oppoponax and rosewood. Lasting, enveloping, there just isn’t anything else out there like TB.
2) Divine Folie is a leather from the nineties, one of the Jean Patou revivals and very elegant indeed. This is leather from the inside of an extremely expensive handbag, a dichotomy of a smell because most of the notes are floral. Specifically the top is neroli and ylang-ylang, the heart orange blossom, styrax, iris, rose, jasmine and vetiver, the end is allegedly musk and vanilla. I only catch the ylang, orange blossom and styrax, because most of this is leather and surprisingly versatile. I can wear DF all sorts of places and have successfully over the years. This is a very good theater perfume because everyone assumes ( I assume) that they’re smelling your shoes or your purse.
3) En Avion I hesitate to mention En Avion because this is an unlucky perfume for me, still the combination of orange blossom, anise, jasmine and suede is very suave and airy. EA is an acquired taste, but like caviar or truffles once you have it, you have it.
4) Baladin de Nicolai This is one of those obscure de Nicolai perfumes that few people wear.The mixture of birch tar and herbs is such a good one, and really so logical, that you soon understand why Patricia de Nicolai chose the accord. Baladin always reminds me of the movie A Walk With Love and Death, not because the formula is medieval or reminiscent of doomed romance come to that, but because the outdoors scent of birches and grass and herbs and saddle leather strike me as the sort of smell that would have been on the air in the 14th century and preferable-I’d guess-to a lot of other ones.
5) Souvenance Now this is a really back number and plenty odd, but about 1912 or so Ernest Daltroff composed a precursor to TB and this leather carnation scent with muguet and jasmine touches was his first attempt at leather tobacco glory. The name means recollection, and the scent is surprisingly urbane. Although not as emphatic, nor as sensual as TB, Souvenance is very refined. This is Parisian leather married to flowers and the effect of wearing
Souvenance is odd because people smell you and assume the perfume is modern and niche, only the formula is over a hundred years old now.
6) Just Un Reve This is maybe stretching the leather a bit, but this tropical fruity floral is built on an unmistakeable leather base, particularly in older bottles, and so I include JUR here. I find the combination of ylang ylang, jasmine, rum and leather irresistible and have worn this for ten years.
7) Penhaligon’s Lily & Spice Here you have that oddity a floral leather, and indeed almost a leather/lily duet. The beginning of L&S is full of saffron and the middle is casablanca lily but the end is leather and patchouli. This is one dirty spicy lily, and not at all like Anais-Anais, but wonderful to wear on warm days with dirt under your fingernails. I’m indebted to Vanessa from Bonkers About Perfume for this introduction. Lily leather-who knew?
Why leather? I think the answer is that leather is essentially skin on skin, the note fits in with so much that we do in a day: hug people, crowd onto subways, lug bags of produce home, write, cook, work, garden (and I am a grubby gardener). Only chypres are similarly pliable. I need to get dirty in a daytime and a lifetime. Who doesn’t have a bit of skin in this game?
Have a favorite leather?
* I realize I’ve been annoying here and listed a number of discontinued perfumes, but Divine Folie can be found in miniature form from The Perfume House in Portland for 14.95 or so, Just un Reve is still available in a lighter more jasmine centric form, and so is Baladin. Bandit is out there,so is Miss Balmain. The current form of Tabac Blond is more carnation and cinnamon than the old version but quite wearable. Only Souvenance and Lily & Spice are truly hard to find.