Leather perfume – a rich and fragrant history

Perfumers go to great lengths to recreate the sensory experience of leather from a rich palette of ingredients.

Nick Gilbert, Fragrance Expert, 15 September 2022

What does leather smell like?

The scent of leather in a fragrance is warm, earthy, animalic, slightly bitter and smoky. It can be sweet or powdery, rich or soft. The scent is dependent on its tanning treatment and the source of the leather. In perfumery, there are 2 main styles of leather both created from accords and materials used in the tanning process rather than distilling leather.

Hands on rolls of leather

The best known is the ‘Cuir de Russie’ or Russian leather type, tanned with birch bark. Cuir de Russie type leathers are astringent and smoky, with most of its scent from birch tar, castoreum and isobutyl quinoline, an aroma compound with an intense green and bitter streak. Think of fragrances like Knize Ten, Piguet’s Bandit, Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather and indeed Chanel’s Cuir de Russie.

The other type of leather fragrance is Peau d’Espagne, or Spanish leather, which was originally used to scent leather itself. The main accord is a combination of rose and neroli, with sandalwood, lavender, spices, civet and musk. It became a popular fragrance, and a historic version is still available from Santa Maria Novella.

What do perfumers use to create leather perfumes?

The advent of perfume chemistry has provided some incredible materials for the perfumer’s palette, including Suederal, a compound that smells like the inside of a leather handbag and of brushed suede all at once. Isobutyl quinoline, the famed leather material, has different facets depending on the production process, with one variety reminiscent of vetiver and smoked earth, and others more astringent and intense.

Often perfumery materials are also used for the purpose of tanning leather, especially birch, cade and cedar, depending on what was available locally to leather makers. This makes them perfect candidates in the creation of leather perfumes. Resins such as styrax, a rich and smoky material also known as liquidambar, and labdanum, a sweet and animalic note obtained from the rock rose plant, are also used in the creation of leather fragrances.

Other materials useful when composing leather perfumes are patchouli, sandalwood, beeswax, vetiver and guaiac wood.

The scent of luxury

Scrunched up leather

There is a long association of the scent of leather with luxury goods, thanks to trunk makers using leather to build exquisite and durable luggage, as well as its use in handbags, shoes, and other accessories, and decades of leather perfumes being created for luxury brands.

Perfumery owes a great deal to leather makers – in fact, the commercialisation of perfumery is due to the trend of perfuming leather gloves to signify status and mask the natural odour of leather.

The town of Grasse, famed globally for its role in the perfume trade, was originally a leather making town, historically growing herbs and flowers for use in tanning. In 1724, the glove maker and perfumers split from the Tanner’s Guild and formed the Guild of Glove-makers and Perfumers.

Lorica Segmentata

The highly stylised armour we imagine Roman soldiers wearing thanks to its portrayal in film and stage was made of plates of iron, held together by riveting them to leather straps. Scholars in the 16th century gave it this name, but it is likely to have been called Lorica by the Romans themselves. Historians remain unsure of the usage of Lorica Segmentata, whether it was reserved for Legionnaires and used as dress uniform or worn more widely by troops. Either way, the armour worn by Roman troops would have been held together with leather thanks to its durable and flexible nature.


Julius Caesar

VICI LEATHER by Julien Rasquinet is our latest perfume release. Inspired by the victory cry of Julius Caesar, Vici Leather is the scent of success exuding luxury and an easy confidence.

At the heart of this fragrance are two powerful notes of seduction, one feminine, one masculine, combined perfectly to create a very unisex scent that is elegant and charismatic. A robust tuberose entwined with an addictive sweet leather to create a heart of masculine and feminine sensuality.

Vici Leather is made intoxicating by the wormwood which has the woozy quality of Absinthe and an ambery base that is both powerful and relaxed. It is a confident fragrance with effortless elegance exuding success and sensuality. FIND OUT MORE

NERO NOVEMBER OFFER: Complementary Nero sample set and free shipping with purchases over £150 until 4 December.

Electimuss roundel

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