What I Wear: Leather



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*:

Tabac Blond and Pour un Homme, not the pairing you'd expect...

Tabac Blond and Pour un Homme, not the pairing you’d expect…

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.

A still from A Walk with Love and death

A still from A Walk with Love and Death

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

 A Walk with Love and Death

A Walk with Love and Death

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?

Penhaligon's discontinued Lily &Spice a leathery lily

Penhaligon’s discontinued Lily & Spice a leathery lily

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.


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14 thoughts on “What I Wear: Leather

  1. Yes, those aren’t the most prominent or findable leathers! Even Miss Balmain is not as easy to find as it used to be.

    I came late to leather and don’t enjoy the really harsh, dry, birchy type. I’m curious about them and try them occasionally. I keep a decant of Bandit but only for reference. I’m at the soft, almost-not-leather end: Cuir de Lancome, Cuir Cannage (a bit too timid that one, actually), Cuir d’Ange, Bottega Veneta.

    Cuir de Russie eldudes me – I can’t smell it!

    Chanel No 19 has a dash of leather, especially in the extrait. I love that one, so I do have a bit of leather cred! Perhaps also Miss Dior as well, another favourite. You are right about leathers being so varied. Something for everyone hopefully.

  2. Souvenance is my worst offense against readers here because it is impossible to get, but frankly it’s not as good as Tabac Blond anyhow so no one is missing out.

    I had not smelled Cuir Cannage myself and am interested to hear that it’s mild, and like Bottega Veneta very much. Could not quite take to Cuir de Lancome although that’s a pretty leather. How odd you can’t smell Cuir de Russie, have you tried Cuir Ottoman?

    Miss Dior, I miss that one as it used to be. Lasted for hours, now it’s gone in thirty minutes :-(.

  3. There was a spring… oh, maybe two or three years ago… when I found my usual spring green florals entirely unsatisfying. The weather was chilly and wet and I had to have something with even more motorcycle-revving throttle than galbanum. I found myself wearing Jolie Madame in extrait and Cuir de Lancome nearly all the time, with occasional side forays into Memoir Woman. If I’d had my decant of Cuir Cannage or the reissued Diorling, I’d have worn them too.

    (But not Cuir d’Ange, which goes horribly fecal for a good twenty minutes on me. Other than the diaper stage, it’s very nice and probably too soft for you. I just can’t manage it.)

    I’ve already firmly stated my position on Cuir de Russie but will say here that in my opinion, CdR certainly ain’t my mama’s 1972 handbag, which is exactly how I like my leather perfumes. Virtual cattle working pen, anyone? No? I’m shocked, I tell you.

    DIvine Folie sounds very nice. Tabac Blond I have tried once and did not enjoy it, but then I have had trouble with nearly all the classic Carons. Sigh.

    OOH, Tuscan Leather, I did like that one. It’s a bit “gentleman’s club study” compared to my usual leather scents, but I found it very comfortable.

  4. The coldish Spring scenario was at play this year too, and no doubt explains me and all my leathers. Plus which, with all the restrictions these days, leathers may be filling some of the chypre gaps.

    I have fallen lamentably behind on Dior sampling. It’s the moving process, smelling and packing seem not to go together! But I will try to get a bit of Cuir Cannage to try as this is the second time somebody’s mentioned it.

  5. Tabac Blond is the only perfume from your list that I’ve ever tried but, in general, I’m in anti-leather mood recently. Most likely, because I don’t like chemicals currently popular for creating that note.

    Have all of the bottles been moved safely?

  6. I think this is why I like the older leathers because I like the birch tar note but not the butyl quini..whatevers they use now.

    As to moving, well not yet. My bottles have to go in about three weeks and they are traveling in a cooler in the car for extra security, then straight into the refrigerator. I’m not taking any chances either with the cat or the perfume- and thanks for asking. Moving is worrisome for perfumistas certainly and I’m aiming for a 0 causualty rate :-)

  7. I was not familiar with some of the scents on your list, plus I never got leather in Lily & Spice, hehe. My favourite leathers are Cuir de Russie and Cuir de Lancome (when I fancy something a little stronger). Oh, and Jolie Madame. I have no problem smelling the former. Bottega Veneta is a goody too. I know what Undina means about leather scents sometimes being chemically. The singer in the band I follow described Cuir d’Ange – with which Cookie Queen Val stealth perfumed him! – as an ‘electrical malfunction’, initially at least.

  8. I like “Electrical Malfunction” very like what my kitchen smells like with the electrician in and out to fix the ceiling lamp. Burned wires, leathery technician…well a strong smelling scene!
    A natural , very natural smelling leather is Aftelier’s Cuir de Gardenia. Now that does not seem chemical at all ;-)

  9. Some of these are really worth a shot.

    I agree that leathers can sometimes be hard to match up, and I used to think that seasonally they were for Fall or Winter, but they are more leathers than there used to be, with something for just about everyone and every time of year. Lancome Cuir is a goodie that some of the readers mentioned and I forgot, btw. :-)

  10. Tabac Blond is a wonderful leather-so is En Avion. That one is leather, and petroleum, and tar, and neroli, oiliness, and violet-it’s soft and subtle and totally addictive.

    Another leather I like is Cuir Ambre, by Prada. A tiny little bottle of poisonous strength and depth. Hilary Mantel wrote about it for The Guardian-to paraphrase, wear it, and use it as an ingredient for a better life. It’s just crammed with good things, and one drop is the exact right amount. I adore it! It’s similar to Tabac Blond-not a dead wringer, at all, but I think if TB appeals to you this one will too. But if I had to choose-TB would be my champion over CA.

    • Cuir Ambre, something new to try. Lord knows I do love the leathers, and extract strength is hard to come by these days-unless of course it’s an oud.

      En Avion is all the things you say it is and curiously, more divisive than Tabac Blond. You would think people would love EA because of the suede, flowers, and ultimate airiness, but more people appear to detest it than TB, and I would have thought that would be the other way around!

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