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The Surprising Appeal of Leather Scents

By Renée Batchelor

Tung Pham. Styled by Gregory WooClockwise from top: Hermès Cuir d’Ange Eau de Toilette, S$408; Louis Vuitton Dans La Peau Eau de Parfum, S$390; Tom Ford Private Blend White Suede Eau De Parfum, S$355; Memo Oriental Leather Eau de Parfum, S$355.

Most people would associate leather with bags and shoes today, but it was actually one of the first materials to be fragranced. In the 17th century, travellers who went on long journeys by horseback would not only use perfume to mask their body odours, but to fragrance their gloves as well — intimate objects that were subject to much wear and tear, but also closely worn on the skin. In fact, King George III reportedly liked the scent that the then clothing house and glovemaker Creed used to perfume his gloves so much that he ordered it to be bottled into a fragrance in 1781.

Today, the connection between perfumery and leather remains. Independent perfumer Francis Kurkdjian created a scent for Fendi comprising musk and leather notes to fragrance a bag for the brand in late 2019. Louis Vuitton’s line of fragrances includes the signature scent, Dans La Peau, which roughly translates to “under my skin.” The fragrance contains an infusion of natural leather — taken from the house’s workshops — rather than synthetic molecules. It took perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud several trials to perfect. At first, Belletrud tried steam distillation and classic extraction, but found the result smelled too animalic and unpalatable. Finally, he placed the leather in alcohol so that the liquid would trap the natural molecules of scents. This leather note was then blended with apricot, Grasse jasmine, narcissus, magnolia as well as musk, to capture the sensation of leather on bare skin.

For perfumery Memo Paris, leather-based scents are somewhat of a speciality, with the brand creating different interpretations of the note including Irish Leather — with juniper and green mate absolute — and African Leather, which blends the leather note with cardamom and geranium. The latest leather scent from Memo is Oriental Leather, a rich, almost dizzying Eau de Parfum which was inspired by Oman. This fragrance uses patchouli oil, cinnamon, vanilla, anise seed and lavender oil to bring out the heady, intoxicating accord of the leather note.

Many of the fragrances created by Jean-Claude Ellena during his time at Hermès have become modern classics, and Cuir D’Ange from the Hermessence collection is no exception. Unlike the stronger leathers of Memo, this “angel leather” which is a translation of its name, refers to the airy and transparent aspects of this fragrance. “Using the smells that are my words, I wanted to write a poem to rekindle the love duet between leather and the skin. Its softness and lightness, its tension and caress. Heliotropes and hawthorn, leather and musk. Cuir d’ange, [is an] oxymoron that fosters desires. The idea was born: a perfume that would smell like light, supple leather, a leather to clothe and shoe a winged god,” says Ellena. This fragrance sits beautifully on the skin and is never obtrusive.

Tom Ford’s White Suede from its Private Blend collection was recently re-released due to its popularity. In a crystalline white bottle, the scent is meant to capture the sensual and luxurious sensation of suede. The fragrance is almost a softer take on a traditional leather scent, using notes of musk, velvety rose and amber to mimic the delicate aroma of this velvety leather. The effect is akin to the material — warm, tactile and oddly comforting — inviting you in to take a closer sniff.