Cuir de Russie by Chanel
December 15, 2014
Chypres, especially the leather ones are the perfect allegory for the dark winter days and long evenings filled with warm candle light and shadows of the night. This perfumes are deep and dark, a little bit scary due to their animalic notes, but at the same time warm and daring. Almost the same qualities we find in Oudh scented creations these days. I wanted to go to the origins of this perfume family.
There is no separate leather group in the H&R Fragrance Guide Genealogy Classification of Fragrances – they are classified as animalic subgroup of a chypre family. And the first (thus the oldest) perfume mentioned there is Cuir de Russie by Chanel from 1924. Is it the nice way to start the journey into the dark world of leather chypres? Let’s check the facts first!
Name: Cuir de Russie
Perfumer: Ernest Beaux
Year of creation: 1924 (released later in the US under the name Russia Leather)
Pyramid according to H&R Fragrance Guide:
Top notes: Dry Fresh
Main: Orange Blossom
Supported by: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Clary Sage
Heart notes: Dry Floral Woody
Main: Orris, Carnation
Supported by: Rose, Ylang-Ylang, Jasmin, Cedarwood, Vetiver
Base notes: Leathery Warm Balsamic
Supported by: Amber, Opoponax, Styrax, Heliotrope, Vanilla
Classification according to H&R Genealogy: Chypre, animalic
Classification according to SFP (Société Française des Parfumeurs): G1f, Leather (Cuir) group, Leather (Cuir) subgroup, feminine
Classifications according to Fragrance Wheel by Michael Edwards: Dry Woods (Chypre Cuir), Classical subgroup
Verdict by Luca Turin: 5 stars of 5 called “leather luxury“
Cuir de Russie is presented as the first feminine scent with the pronounced leather note. But in fact leather theme was quite popular at the end of the 18th, begin of 19th century. Names like Cuir de Russie or Peau d’Espagne were more like common names of leather scented perfume compositions. And yet I do believe that this creation of Ernest Beaux could be shocking. Madame Chanel was quite famous with her liberating spirit.
According to the legends the inspiration behind Cuir de Russie was the homage to the Russian motherhood of Ernest Beaux under the growing success of Russian Ballet during this time. A lot of Russians escaped to Europe after the Revolution of 1917 and raised the interest to the Russian culture. Birch tar was one of the main ingredients of Cuir de Russie composition next to animalic castoreum and ambery labdanum. But it was not the first time the smoky notes were used in perfume (let’s remember Tabac Blond by Caron in 1919). There are also rumors saying that the smell of Russian Leather became familiar to French noses after the War of 1812 when the birch tar scented boots of Russian soldiers were marching through Paris. An urban legend probably as Russian leather was already a famous export product before that war. Birch tar next to many other components (including aromatic ones) was used in a leather currying process to create a supreme product – soft, water resistant and pleasantly smelling. This process was unique to each country and that is why leather from different parts of the world had its own smell.
Taking into account all mentioned above I can imagine Cuir de Russie to be a very dark smoky scent with an animalic background. But the reality of modern eau de toilette version is quite far from the described fantasy. The original formula was discontinued and re-orchestrated again by Jacques Polge in 1989 (some mention 1983) and later again in 1999 when the perfume has joined the Les Exclusiefs de Chanel collection together with other “forgotten” Chanel perfumes.
Spraying the modern EDT on my skins reveals a beautiful classic elegant scent. It’s quite floral to my nose with just a touch of soft leather. It starts with very recognizable touch of aldehydes. Much less than in Chanel N5 or N22 and melts into a classic floral bouquet. Again a very recognizable Chanel – rose, jasmine, iris and ylang-ylang accord. And then the softness of smoky leather that recalls the impression of fur in my imagination. Leather luxury worth 5 stars? Well, I can’t agree more. The pure perfume seems to be less aldehydic floral and more leathery, but it’s only available in a very few shops like Chanel Boutique on Rue de Cambon in Paris. Though it might be much closer to the darkness I am looking for. Cuir de Russie leaves a delicate trail that hardly goes beyond the intimate zone. I stop noticing it on my skin within a couple hours, while I still can perceive it from my clothes. Probably it’s too delicate scent for me. Despite of a strong floral and aldehydic facets I don’t perceive Cuir de Russie as ultimately feminine on my skin. It would perfectly suit a refined man.
Pictures: among others are taken from the website of CHANEL (www.chanel.com).