For each year of marriage, a gift based on differing materials is traditionally given – we all know diamond and ruby celebrations, but did you know the third year is symbolised by leather, which has come to represent the durability of marriage?
We’re actually celebrating our third birthday all month, here at The Perfume Society, but we’re certainly wedded to our love of fragrance and in any case it’s a marvellous excuse to lust over our favourite leather scents. Of course leather and perfumery go way back together ç hand in scented glove, you may say…
The links are rooted in the tradition of the ‘gantier parfumeurs’, a guild of glove-makers in Paris who fashioned gloves for royalty and the aristocracy as far back as the 15th Century. The whole tanning process smells utterly repulsive, though, so leathers were treated with oils, musk, civet and ambergris, to mask the smell of the animals’ skins. The very first ‘leather’ scent, so far as records show, was worn by King George III: Creed’s Royal English Leather. He was so taken with the smell of scented gloves that he asked Creed to make it into a fragrance, and thus a whole fragrance family was born.
Fragrances can be ‘leathery’ but not always easy to love – yet it’s not really essence-of-leather in that bottle, as Andy Tauer explains below. It might be from birch tar (which has a leathery smokiness), or juniper, aldehydes or other synthetics, designed to give a skin-like scent. Patchouli, black tea and tobacco can also conjure up that old library/leather-jacket sensuality. Women’s chypres, and men’s fragrances, are most likely to have a leathery sensuality, but perfumers can take leather on all sorts of fragrant journeys: woody, aromatic, floral, even gourmand.
Here’s what leather means to perfumer Andy Tauer, and how he uses it in his creations. ‘The first association, when you tell me “leather”, honestly, is “Swiss Army” and me serving there as soldier: my generation had the privilege of serving in thick leather shoes that were made to endure a Swiss invasion of Moscow, including the way back. Solid and as uncomfortable as can be. Every evening we had to brush them, polish them. As mixed as my memories of proudly serving in the Swiss Army are, I loved the scent of my leather boots. Rough leather, made from Swiss cows, with a thickened skin due to a happy but rough life in the Alps (we can dream, can’t we?). Leather in perfumery is not a natural essential oil that you buy.’
Reminiscent of a favourite, battered biker jacket, curling up on a Chesterfield sofa or surrounded by leather-clad tomes in the library of your dreams – bedecked with flowers for a feminine balance or positively exuding a snarl, we urge you to explore and indulge leather fragrances with a few of our favourites, below…
The Queen of feminine leathers, originally created by Ernest Daltroff in 1919 for (shockingly, at the time) women who smoked. A refined descent in to layers of leather powdered with tobacco and carnation, through lime blossom, ylang ylang and iris – then deeper down to a bone-dry vetiver and ambergris base that lingers like a slap’s tingle. Think furtive cigarettes smoked in a leather-clad starlet’s dressing room amidst mounds of maribou feather boas.
Caron Tabac Blond £105 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Fortnum & Mason
A classic American image of a cowboy sipping coffee by a campfire after a long day on the saddle, Andy re-imgines this scenario in a delightfully ambiguous way. Seasoned leather is richly infused with smoke from the fire, an intriguing hint of carrot seed that almost seems iris-y with geranium juxtaposed by clary sage, jasmine with vetiver, and a myrrh-rich tonka dry down. Beaneath the bluster, this cowboy reads poetry and weeps openly.
Andy Tauer Lonestar Memories £90 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Les Senteurs
A hyper-sophisticated chypre blends warming saffron with iced raspberries plucked straight from a cocktail glass garnished with thyme. Richly resinous olibanum sinks in to heady clouds of night blooming jasmine and the smooth leather seats of an expensive car. Suggestive of the nefarious limousine antics of A-List celebrities involving chocolate-dipped fruit and cigars.
Tom Ford Private Blend Tuscan Leather £155 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at House of Fraser
The sense of black ink languidly swirling through opalescent water with soul-warming West Indian spiced rum intermingling with leather-bound books lining a library wall and the immediately evocative notes of vanilla pipe tobacco all following the trail of a dark heart laden with birch tar and labdanum. This is truly a fragrance with a story to tell…
BeauFort London Coeur de Noir £95 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at BeauFort London
Deceptively nonchalant, this is a leather to wear when you want it to be your saucy little secret rather than up front and personal for all to see (and smell). The leather here is subtly slipped in to a bouquet of roses, with a background of lime, pink pepper, clary sage, juniper and a rounded, woody base. We see this spritzed by a Gallic muse sipping a G&T, who enjoys communicating via exaggerated pouts and deftly arched eyebrows.
MEMO French Leather £195 for 75ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Harvey Nichols
Written by Suzy Nightingale