Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kid Gloves

Leather fragrances are the opposite of the modern synthetic-fruity-floral. 
Last summer I was asked for advice on the choice of a fragrance for a young woman about to go to Italy to study. The budget was moderate. The gifter wanted a classic, though, something that wouldn’t shriek “C’mere, soldier!” to the Italian, er, skies. We chose Anais Anais, and the giftee seemed to like it, but now I wish I’d recommended Cuir de Lancome.
I’ve fallen in love with this one, because it is a leather that is in no way bitter or harsh. Of all the leather scents I’ve tried, this one comes closest to the vintage Tabac Blond I wrote about last week, although it is, you might say, blonder. I don’t smell Iso Butyl Quinoline (hereinafter “IBQ”) in either of them.
IBQ is one of about 100 essences and aromachemicals in the perfumer’s kit  I have. Now, there are some bad boys in this schoolyard: Allyl Amyl Glycolate is the 14-year old hood, scion of the Georgio family, that hasn’t made it out of 6th grade yet -- the guy that everyone’s afraid of (except for Frank Incense, older than his years, who takes charge of every group he’s in). IBQ, well, he isn’t around much, because he’s usually in detention. But when he is, kiddies...watch your backs. 
This substance, which dates to the late 19th century, is pretty much the definition of the modern leather fragrance, not that there are that many. Could anything else be so out of fashion? (There is always hope, though. Since I’ve been writing this blog, the perfume cognoscenti have rushed from iris to incense to oud, and it hasn’t even been two years!) My point is that the leathers I’ve tried -- Miss Balmain, Cuir de Russie, Jolie Madame, Knize Ten, Bandit, others from The Leather List -- all contain it. But Vintage Tabac Blond and Cuir de Lancome, if they have it at all, are so beautifully constructed that I can’t smell it. That’s remarkable.
I’ve tried to experiment with IBQ. Twenty drops of this, ten of that, five of that...the formula book says to start with one drop of it. In my experience, one drop is about twenty times too much. Dip a toothpick in the vial, then stir the rest: still too much. Let it sit for a couple of weeks. Mellower, but still too much.
The result of this geek-a-zoid analysis is this: I can smell IBQ in a fragrance at twenty paces, but not in Cuir de Lancome. It’s now my favorite leather, excepting vintage Tabac Blond of course, whose price and rarity are beyond rubies.
The modern “Cuir de Lancome” has a sad history of cold feet. Released as “Revolte” in 1936, it was changed to “Cuir” in 1939, as the earlier name was judged to be too risky. The modern “Cuir,” reorchestrated by perfumers Calice Becker and Pauline Lanoni, went, as they say, straight to video. Part of Lancome’s 2007 “La Collection” group, the fragrance company said they would feature it in the US at retail, then they wouldn’t, then maybe they would, but then -- cold feet again? -- they didn’t. It’s only available in Europe. Is this bad news for U.S. leather lovers now? Why, not at all! It’s at the online discounters, which is where I got my bottle, and it’s reasonable. Very reasonable.
When we lived in Spain, my father liked a rotgut brandy called “Magno.” It was the working man’s liquor, he would say. Pressed from the leathery skins and bitter seeds of wine grapes scratched out of dry red dirt. And it did contain the essence of that land. I’d say that Magno was akin to IBQ in some ways, as are the fragrances that feature it prominently, like Bandit. Vintage Tabac Blond would sit somewhere on the other end of that continum, as would a hundred-year-old fine cognac. Cuir de Lancome would be closer to that end of the scale than anything else I’ve tried. 
Will leather fragrances ever return to popularity? The first response would be a twisted smile and a mention of hell freezing over. Most people don’t know these perfumes exist. I sprayed some on a perfume-naive friend’s hand the other night. “This is really different!” she exclaimed. And after an hour or so she said “This is...animal, somehow.” She loved it. 
I think Cuir de Lancome would be a great introduction to leather. It’s so smooth. It’s gently floral. It’s not aldehydic, so the dreaded “Old Lady” judgment isn’t an issue. The drydown is delicious and the sillage modest. Maybe Lancome missed the boat on this one.
So, if you have the opportunity to give a perfume to someone who might otherwise be wearing Beyonce, try it.
Cuir de Lancome’s “notes” include saffron, iris, leather, Aubepine (a macrocylic musk) birch, styrax, bergamot, mandarin, iris, ylang-ylang, hawthorn, patchouli and jasmine.
Perfumer Calice Becker’s other fragrances include By Kilian “Back to Black,” the modern version of Balmain’s “Vent Vert,” and Donna Karan “Gold.”
Photo credit: © Iurii Krivenko|Dreamstime.com 


Norma said...

Agreed with your esteem for leather frags! Cuir de Lancome was my first leather. I have to say, though, that I have since fallen hard for leather and now my go-to is Bandit. My 14 y/o daughter has nipped my Cuir and she wears with with aplomb.

I hope to raise her to disdain the fruitchouli.

Olfacta said...

Wonderful! I have always believed that if younger women were given more opportunity to smell the classics, they'd like them. But when all you see is the celeb and mass-market dreck scents, that's what you think "perfume" is.

Perfumaniac said...

Cuir de Lancome sounds divine. And one of these days, I'll get my paws on Tabac Blond! Thanks for giving me another leather fragrance for my list...

ChickenFreak said...

I first tried this very recently, and found it very classically feminine, but not at all "old lady". I don't know how they achieved that, but I was impressed.

I'm curious, on the IBQ, do you also smell it in Daim Blond? (I'm guessing yes, but I'm, well, curious.)

Singlemalt said...

Love Lancome Cure. It's my cashmere lined elegant pair of gloves. the Knize Ten are my motorcycle gloves. These were a couple of my first purchases after I became a 'born-again' fragrance nut. i would also like Serges'Cuir-now that I've gotten over the headshop aspect it. People always want to know what it is. Yes it is old, but I agree that is seems to escape the aldelhydes and thus the 'little old lady'must and drung. It is as though it is entirely new,

Ines said...

SO true. It was the first leather fragrance I fell for and is still my favourite.

Olfacta said...

Hi everybody -- I have a sample of Daim Blond around here somewhere. I'll try to find it and sniff for IBQ. A dim memory tells me that it was smooth, much like Cuir. I will also look for my sample of Cuir Maresque, which is now on my mind too. (Drowing in samples here.)

Suede gloves vs motorcycle gloves -- good one!

The Left Coast Nose said...

I love your geeky smarts, O-- I can see you in my mind counting out the drops, ever the scientist...

Since I'm heavily not a fan of leather scents (although I adore the smell of the real thing) and CdR is the only one I like, I must try CdL.

Anonymous said...

Hi R -- Uh-huh. I'm a geek, it's true. Even a "drop" isn't exact enough to suit me. Was that a small drop, or a big one? If my house ever got raided I'd be in big trouble with all the vials and droppers and teeny little plastic bags around here.

Mals86 said...

I'm not a big fan of leather-focused scents, although I do enjoy hints of it here and there (vtg no. 19, Citizen Queen, SSS Tabac Aurea). Bandit scared the pants off me. Cuir de Russie smelled like our cattle feedlot.

But Cuir de Lancome I love. And currently have a TPC sample of Tabac Blond winging its way to me.

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- Yeah, Bandit's pretty scary. I wonder what the original smelled like, though. With my sample I get galbanum, then an interesting mix, then IBQ, big time, and the drydown is almost all IBQ. I haven't smelled the modern Tabac Blond, just vintage. Let me know what you think of it.

Judith said...

I bought Cuir de Lancome blind on the internet and I like it. I didn't find the leather at all at first but now I get it in the opening notes. Later it turns powdery and sweetish but not in the modern way of doing sweet. I guess sweet nowdays means chocolate, vanilla and fruit candies. Mercifully missing in this fragrance.

Olfacta said...

I agree. I recently bought a backup bottle, just in case.

Thanks for commenting!