After faithfully observing many long months of abstinence, owing to general impecuniosity and a bedroom groaning with bottles, The Scentimentalist recently conceded one coveted scent acquisition. Emboldened in part by Chanel’s supplying its Les Exclusifs in the new 75ml (alongside the usual 200ml) size, and by the egoistic acquisitiveness that can characterise celebrations of one’s birth, it was thus decreed that, on this special occasion, one scent just had to be had.
And so a slim and lovely bottle of Cuir de Russie entered the fold, taking its light and leathery place alongside its sisters, No. 5 and Cristalle.
Cuir de Russie is the cultish stuff of legend and much purple prose. Inducing descriptions of birch-tarred Cossack boots, dung, Slavic cheekbones and Twenties garçonnes, this floral leather inspires—even in its relatively timid EdT version—encomia that speak tremulously of its ‘fecal’ and ‘animalic’ qualities. Intriguingly, the Chanel website prefers to describe it as a ‘rich, woody Oriental with leather notes for an enveloping, warm, sensual presence’. Not on The Scentimentalist’s skin, it ain’t.
For Cuir de Russie (as it now exists) is surely the most polite and poetically romantic of leathers: though spicily antiseptic on opening, its fierce but fleeting severity is quickly eclipsed by a soft, sweet, flowery middle. Almost imperceptibly, twinkling aldehydes transport us through a bower of jasmine and rose, as dusty violet oscillates above a dry bed of powdery iris, taking our nose from cold climes to warm as the scent’s balsamic bottom holds true. Though laying claim to a vanilla base note, this is mercifully indiscernible on my skin—in curious contrast, say, with Lancôme’s Cuir, in which an uncited vanillic accord appears to cling grimly alongside the styrax.
Bearing the one-time US distribution name ‘Russia Leather’, Cuir de Russie was marketed to the non-European as Chanel’s ‘interpretation of the great outdoors … equally smart with heathery tweed or sequins on black’, and as a ‘fragrance with a dash of paradox’. The latter description, I feel, is germane: despite other wearers’ enthusiastic impressions of sweaty saddles and White Russian potency, Cuir de Russie—for this author—eschews both shit and unblushing sex. Less smoky and more coolly ‘blonde’ than Tabac Blond, its is a restrained and essentially classical form that refuses to shout, but insists to be understood. A skin scent, it may be argued, in the numerous meanings of that term.
Cuir de Russie was born to The Scentimentalist in late August, and as such has now been claimed as the ‘Virgo’ leather of that fragrance family.