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