One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hiding: Chanel Cuir de Russie

Alert readers may have noticed that I am apparently doing the Chanel Exclusifs in alphabetical order, but that I've missed Bois de Isles. That's because I don't have any. There are twelve Exclusifs, and I have only the newest releases, not the four re-issues from the twenties. Except for this one. Thank goodness.


A while back I decided--as I will often decide out of nowhere to do something that seems interesting or edifying--to listen to all the symphonies of Haydn. He wrote a lot of them: a hundred and seven, give or take. I suppose I got through about twenty or so when I realized that they all were sounding pretty much alike to me. I couldn't tell if I had listened to a particular one already, so I just gave it up. There's lots of other music to listen to, after all.

I'm not saying that I'm some philistine who thinks that all Haydn's music is the same, and that he might as well have written just the one symphony and be done with it. Without a doubt there are people who love the symphonies individually, and have listened to them all repeatedly over the years with great pleasure, and can even tell from a snippet which symphony they're listening to, in the same way that I can tell which of the six Bach Brandenburg concerti I'm hearing (a much lesser challenge, of course). But you have to have an emotional connection with the composer and his music, and you have to spend the time--and more importantly, want to spend the time--becoming familiar with it.

I know that people who don't get the obsession with fragrance will think it's insane that I would have so, so many different scents, when I can't possibly use them all up. And yet they are all different; one amber scent will not do when there are many dozens on the market and each, if it is made with any degree of care and art, will have something interesting to say about the theme of amber. It's the same with leather: many, perhaps most, men's fragrances contain some of this thoroughly masculine note, and quite a few scents have been based entirely on the idea of leather. And yet perfumers have still not finished ringing the changes on this note: you can buy leather sweet (Stetson) or bone-dry (Knize Ten), classic (Antaeus) or modern (Je Suis Un Homme), aggressive (Yatagan) or restrained (Lonestar Memories). And what's more, there are women's leather scents, too.

"Cuir de Russie" is French for "Russian Leather". There's a Demeter Russian Leather, but where it's a single-minded leather scent with a dark floralcy and no development, Chanel's Cuir de Russie is gloriously elaborate, constructed, and once again, at the risk of repeating myself into meaninglessness, very, very Chanel.

Cuir de Russie opens aldehydic and shimmery, with a jangle of citrus and a typically Chanel iris note on top, the leather already in evidence. Where I said that the Demeter was like a live flower that was somehow made of leather, Cuir de Russie is more like a single flower placed on a well-worn leather armchair. The leather deepens and enfolds you: you're sinking into the armchair, and the stem of iris, root and all, is joined by a clutch of flowers, slightly dirty jasmine and perhaps a rose or two. Despite the animal quality of leather, Cuir de Russie is thoroughly refined, a most genteel sort of leather, and it only becomes more so as it heads towards its long-lasting finale, a warm haze of vanilla and amber with enough of the leather remaining to keep it from ever becoming too sweet or pretty. It is a masterful piece of work: a masculine scent turned into a feminine scent that any man could still wear, and perfectly situated on the line between the coarseness of animal hide and the elegance of couture.


  • Although I also love Bois des iles and Beige, this is the only Exclusifs that I own. At 200ml I will probably be using it for 20 years, but that's ok, it's wonderful. It's actually my 2nd bottle. I had th replace the first, which broke. My apartment smelled beautiful for a month.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:28 PM  

  • You broke an entire 200-mL bottle? Yikes! But I bet your place smelled fantastic....

    Cuir de Russie has been on the market (though often hard to find) since 1924, and a scent doesn't stick around for close to a century unless it's good. I would never buy a full bottle because it would last me a lot longer than 20 years, but a decant is looking like a good idea. It's gorgeous.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 11:34 PM  

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