In anticipation of our upcoming fragrance classification event on July 18, I thought it would be fun to write about some of my favorite fragrance families and share a few of my favorite fragrances from each family. If you are interested in attending our event, you can sign up here. Now, without further ado, my favorite fragrance families:
It was leather fragrances that first ignited my passion for fragrance. While there are many fragrances that contain leather accords, the leather family is unique. It is characterized by the use of dry, woody notes that attempt to recreate the characteristic aroma of leather (smoke, charred wood, etc.). Classic leather fragrances typically feature white floral accents like orange blossom and jasmine.
CUIR DE RUSSIE Chanel
Chanel's Cuir de Russie was the first leather fragrance that I discovered. I fell in love with it immediately and, to this day, it remains my favorite fragrance. Cuir de Russie is the archetypal leather fragrance with white floral notes of orange blossom and indolic jasmine and a warm leathery effect imparted through the use of birch tar. However, what really sets Cuir de Russie apart is the addition of a gorgeous, high-quality orris root.
This is the fragrance that Edmond Roudnitska hailed as the prototype of the "fruity-aldehydic-leather" family and lauded as a perfect example of a composition that evokes rather than represents a note in his 1980 publication Le Parfum. The long-discontinued fragrance features notes of leather, orris root, clary sage and oakmoss.
CUIR D'ANGE Hermes: Hermessence
Cuir d'Ange was inspired by the Hermès leather vault and is as soft and supple as a fine leather glove. It has an airy feel and, in many ways, feels like the culmination of Jean-Claude Ellena's decades-long quest to strip away all extraneous elements from his compositions. What remains here is a sublime, subdued leather composition built around a core structure of leather, hawthorn, musk and heliotrope.
Leather chypre fragrances are a subcategory of the chypre fragrance family and are distinguished from leather fragrances by their dominant chypre structure (bergamot, cistus labdanum and oakmoss). The chypre framework provides a template that perfumers can dress in many different ways. In the case of leather chypres, leathery accents (smoke, charred woods and animalic notes) are added.
BANDIT Robert Piguet
Perfumer Germaine Cellier's masterpiece is a no-nonsense tour-de-force of green notes, moss and leather. In Bandit, the central chypre structure is bolstered by the addition of an inky black leather note (courtesy of isobutyl quinoline), a huge slug of oakmoss, the resinous verdancy of galbanum and a bevy of animalic notes.
It is scary how good this fragrance is. Antaeus is the result of a collaboration between the in-house perfumer Jacques Polge and François Demachy (now the in-house perfumer at Dior). Antaeus was released in 1981 and features notes of castoreum, oakmoss, patchouli, rose and cistus labdanum.
AZURÉE Estée Lauder
Estée Lauder's Azurée is truly a forgotten classic. Originally released in 1969, Azurée was inspired by the Mediterranean and features notes of oakmkoss, leather and sage and opens with a bright burst of aldehydes.
In the same way that leather chypres adorn the basic chypre structure with smoky, leathery notes, fruity chypres flesh out and embellish these compositions with the addition of fruity notes like peach and plum.
Jacques Guerlain's masterpiece is often cited as the best fragrance ever created. Taking Coty's Chypre as a starting point, Guerlain enhanced the rather skeletal composition with spices and fruits. Mitsouko's central accord of oakmoss, jasmine and a Firmenich base called Persicol (prominently featuring gamma-undecalactone aka aldehyde C-14) is mind-blowingly gorgeous and one of my favorite accords of all time.
I have been wearing Femme a lot lately—my wife came across a full bottle of vintage extrait at a thrift store and I have to say, it is beyond compare. At once leathery, fruity, animalic and mossy, Rochas Femme is one of my favorite fragrances. It has a dusky quality that makes it perfect for autumn (although I wear it year round). Femme features notes of oakmoss, leather, civet, jasmine and sandalwood. As heavenly as the fragrance is, Femme is just as notable for the unique story of its creation. Roudnitska composed the fragrance during the waning days of World War II. Supply shortages forced him to trade for hard-to-source materials and use whatever materials he could find in storage. One such material labeled simply "Fut Cinque" (or Barrel 5) had been sitting in the stockyard at DeLaire had been sitting in the sun and cold for many years. The material contained therein possessed a delightful candied prune scent. This material became a key part of the finished composition and imparted a crystalline fruity accord to the classic fragrance. Unfortunately, Femme has been reformulated many times since its initial release and its current form bears little resemblance to the sublime heights of the original.
Another Roudnitska classic, Diorella is perhaps the purest example of the perfumer's lifelong quest to strip away extraneous layers. Antoine Saint-Exupery noted that "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." This philosophy informed Roudnitska's approach to perfume composition and with Diorella is, in many ways, his greatest achievement. Roudnitska's signature accord of jasmine, sandalwood and oakmoss is present in a perfectly balanced composition that has been compared to a perfectly exposed photograph.