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Cuir de Russie – Luxury with an edge (September 30, 2011 New Fragrance Listing)

Photo-Wikipedia - Maybach Exelero at the Concours d'Elegance Motor Show - Auust 20, 2006 - by Simon Davison

I had a little stash of cash which I’d accumulated over the past few months from gifts, loans paid back, pocket change, which was just the right amount to be spent on something – something good. Every time I opened my wallet, this little bundle of cash pleaded “Spend me!”

I knew it would be spent on a new perfume, but which? I’d sampled most of the new releases, and there were a few among the bunch that I truly liked, but not one of them really made bells ring, or knocked off my proverbial socks.  

Sitting in my kitchen musing over morning coffee, I marvelled at the blond beauty of our birch hardwood floor bathed in autumn sun. I was glad I’d chosen birch instead of maple, or oak, for the new floor….birch…. birch tar….leather….perfume! I had the answer to my question. An hour later I walked into the Chanel  boutique to release my little stash back into the economy, and I brought home my new bottle.
I bought Cuir de Russie. If you have a basic knowledge of French, you know that Cuir de Russie means Russian Leather. I’d been flipping through Perfumes The A-Z Guide, and stopped once again at Luca Turin’s 5-star review of this legendary Chanel scent. The first thing he mentions is rectified birch tar, the smoky resinous note which makes Cuir de Russie, and most leather scents, smell like leather. It is, in fact, the dry-cooked resin from the bark of the birch tree and has been used for centuries to cure leather, and to “dress” it, as in polishes for military leather boots.

Why Russian leather? Coco Chanel introduced the perfume in 1924, a time when Paris was feeling the sophisticated influence of the Russian aristocrats and artists who had settled in France after the Revolution. Chanel had an affair with Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovitch, cousin of the Tzar, she designed costumes for the famous Ballet Russe, and Ernst Beaux, the nose behind Cuir de Russie and the early Chanel  scents like Chanel No.5, was also Russian - Russian was the “mot du jour” in the Paris of 1924. Whether this fabulous perfume actually smells like Russian leather, as opposed to English or Chinese leather, is not worth pondering – the name adds to its strange, luxurious appeal.

The notes are aldehydes, orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage, iris, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, balsams, vetiver, styrax, incense, cade, leather, amber and vanilla – but they don’t appear in that order. The opening is citrus with leather - animalic, sweaty, almost dirty – and fascinating. Then the florals mix in, creating a smooth, spicy, rich, sensual accord . The drydown maintains the thick, rich quality that makes this Chanel scent so luxurious.

As Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc describes in her 2008 review:

“Its warm, slightly oily, tarry base notes of styrax, birch tar and castoreum, which discreetly recall the most luxurious of leathers, are punctured by the aldehydic fizz; these thousands of pinpricks infuse the iris into the leather notes, to open up and dry up the composition. When the iris rises up again, propelled by the aldehydes, it carries all the other floral notes with it: jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, orange blossom…That’s the genius of the composition.”

The thing I love about Cuir de Russie is that it has this "raw edge" to it. As a feminine fragrance, it conjures a supremely confident elegant woman, who drinks (champagne), smokes (Cuban cigars), wears couture (leather) and quotes literature at the wink of an eye (Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky – in Russian). She’s rich, sexy, and smart, an intelligent beauty.

But, after the florals subside, Cuir de Russie conjures the uber-male, becoming a sexy masculine scent. That raw edge - the funky animalics, civet and castoreum – mix with the smoky leather, balsam and woods , giving Cuir de Russie an erotic, brutish quality. The drydown with vanilla and amber transforms this rawness into a warm sensual skin scent for both sexes, an intimate aura of leathery, smoky, floral, earthy luxury. 
Luca Turin says in his review:
“There have been many other fragrances called Cuir de Russie, every one either too sweet or too smoky. This one is the real deal, an undamaged monument of classical perfumery, and the purest emanation of luxury ever captured in a bottle.”

After you wear Cuir de Russie, after you’ve experienced it, and lived in it, I think you’ll agree with Mr. Turin.

Les Exclusifs de ChanelCuir de Russie” is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1ml.