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Comforting and animalic: The scent of leather and leather perfume creates an ambience of stately calm, quality and discretion. No wonder we’re still enamoured even centuries later.
Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in Calgary or perhaps it can be attributed to the years I spent hustling bomber jackets, pants and calfskin skirts for Danier: I love leather.
Luxurious and warm, I equate leather with expensive purses, knee-high boots and the custom-made saddle my niece secures around her horse’s belly before jumping fences in the ring. My favourite leather, however, is the one I spritz from my perfumes. On me: Hermès Kelly Caleche, Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum and Tom Ford Tuscan Leather. On him: Christian Dior’s Farenheit never fails. Regardless of the elixir, leather’s smooth, earthy, sultry scent is always the perfect juxtaposition between comfort and sensuality.
“Leather has always been relevant to perfumery,” affirms Will Andrews, the principal scientist for the fragrance design team at P&G. “Its depth, complexity and particular character—generous, soft warmth, sometimes with an animalic suggestion—creates a seductive counterpoint in any fragrance.”
This leathery trend reportedly started with Creed Royal English Leather, a scent that was originally dabbed onto the English Royal Court’s riding gloves in attempt to mask the not-so-nice odours, courtesy of the century’s poor hygiene. It was 1781 and bathing wasn’t a favoured pastime. King George III however, enjoyed his scented gloves so much he commissioned his glove maker James Creed, the founder of the fragrant couture house, to whip up a fragrance. The rest is history, complete with a long line of the leather perfumes that have since ensued, such as Dana English Leather, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Dolce & Gabbana Velvet Exotic Leather and Le Labo Santal 33.
What does it smell like?
Ironically, leather as a perfume ingredient doesn’t actually come from animals—or car seats for that matter. It is synthetically constructed from various notes including styrax, birch tar and castoreum. “The scent of leather we all recognize is made up of hundreds of volatile molecules, since it is a complex natural material,” explains Andrews.
“Because there is no reliable way to extract the scent from leather, we have to build a perfumery replica of a leather note (an accord). To do this, we first evaluate and interpret the odour of leather, and then rebuild it by using a variety of known perfumery raw materials.”
As a perfume note, leather brings “a warm, deep, resinous character to any composition, which is familiar and reassuring, perhaps unconsciously for the wearer,” says Andrews of leather’s unrequited popularity in perfumery. “This is because the scent of leather surrounds us via objects which are associated with quality: bags and cases, beautiful shoes, car upholstery and furniture. It is familiar and enduring in our scent landscape. A timeless scent, it creates an ambience of stately calm, quality and discretion, whenever it is present.”
Of course, the impact of the note varies depending on whether it’s combined with feminine violet flowers like in Hermes Cuir D’Ange and Lady Gaga Eau de Gaga; sensual spicy patchouli and fresh aromatics like those swirled into Bottega Veneta Pour Homme Extreme and Maison Martin Margiela Replica At The Barber’s; and like gourmand coffee and cream, as at Valentino Oumo.
Our leather perfume picks
Regardless of how it’s mix-mastered, “leather is a robust note and its use suggests strength and confidence,” Andrews adds. “And it’s increased use in perfume is likely due to society searching for scents which enable people to feel stronger and more confident in a turbulent world, perhaps helping to drive a sense of identity.”
Lady Gaga Eau de Gaga, $76 (75 ml),www.shop.ca
Bottega Veneta Pour Homme Extreme EDT, $90 (50 ml), www.bottegaveneta.com
Hermès Cuir D’Ange, $270 (100 ml), www.hermes.com
Maison Martin Margiela Replica At The Barber’s, $115 (100 ml), www.maisonmargiela-parfums.com
Valentino Edition Noire, $98 (100 ml), www.thebay.com