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November 16, 2005

Fragrance Review: Chanel Cuir de Russie


Rated 4.5 out of 5.0


Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

If perfume allows the imagination to paint vivid pictures, Cuir de Russie is a fragrance that seems to embody a whole story. From the shimmering dry aldehydic top to the warm leathery base, it unveils one image after another. One can almost envision an elegant woman reaching into a black leather handbag, her hand rummaging through its contents: red lipstick, powder compact exuding an aroma of violets, a silver cigarette case… The owner of the fragrant handbag also seems to be fond of listening to jazz in smoky clubs since Cuir de Russie has an alluring note redolent of soft tobacco pervading its leathery smoothness. It is indeed a scent of the fine handbag and the warm skin of its beautiful owner.

Cuir de Russie, "Russian Leather" was a popular theme at the end of the 19 th century, with similarly named fragrances offered by houses like Guerlain and LT Piver. Created in 1924 by Ernest Beaux, the fragrance was intended to provoke and shock, being dedicated to the woman who is not afraid to smoke in public nor speak her mind. ...

Like Caron Tabac Blond (1919), the composition relied on the aggressive, smoky notes of the aroma-chemical isobutyl quinoline to convey the animalic darkness of leather. Yet, in contrast with the drier Tabac Blond, Cuir de Russie accentuates the smooth and elegant character of leather. While Daltroff infused the composition with the characteristic Caron darkness, Beaux ornamented Cuir de Russie in order to cast a soft glow onto its polished form.

The initial aldehydic astringency is softened with the nectar-like sweetness of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang, a classical trio that blossoms in the heart of many of Beaux's compositions. The lush florals are underscored by an indolic element which ingeniously complements the animalic darkness of leather notes soon to be revealed in their full beauty. Yet the most wonderful aspect of the composition is provided by the chilly elegance of iris that undulates slowly until it envelops the heart and spills into the base accord. The base notes of Cuir de Russie wrap the sweet smoke of tobacco into a voluptuous note of amber. With the arrangement resting on the dark leather notes, the fragrance attains a warm and sensual aura.

The fragrance was reintroduced in 1983 after being reorchestrated by Chanel's nose, Jacques Polge. The reformulation paid proper respect to Beaux's original masterpiece; although, the leather of the main accord was rendered more subtle and gentle, with the aggressive smoky facets toned down. Iris, with its majestic character, was emphasized, further reigning in the darkness pervading the base notes.

The parfum is undoubtedly my preferred formulation of Cuir de Russie. Unlike the sharper, more aldehydic Eau de Toilette, it possesses an almost tactile butteriness which never fails to evoke a sensation of brushing one's finger against the softest of leathers. The classical structure of the fragrance offers such a smooth progression that it is almost impossible to identify where one accord ends and the other begins. As an example of strikingly elegant and sumptuous leather, Cuir de Russie is among the classical gems.

Notes include orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage; iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, vetiver; styrax, leather, amber, vanilla. Both the EDT and the parfum are available from the Chanel boutiques and

Photo: Coco Chanel, a photograph by Man Ray, ©Man Ray Trust / ADAGP Paris 200. From



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