Leather is preserved flesh.
From your shoes to your bag, what you wear is actually a form of embalming, even if the link to the Egyptian art is only metaphoric (other materials, no mystique for Hermès).
The perfume is a form of embalming for the soul, preserving memories and emotions. Human skin (in the process of embalming) and animal skin (for leather) came with their own scent, their own molecules both in their original state and in their decomposition, far from any seduction. All of them brought a unique set of odorants, not always pleasant, but definitively characterized by an unusual subliminal power. A horse saddle and wood sculpture are not the same for us. We are not biologically or culturally linked to everything. While concentrating on the art of preserving the skin and its visual aspect, the perfumers (even before they were called perfumers) made an unconscious choice of scented raw materials to perfume these skins. This choice, possibly made through trial and error, reflected something else - they selected ingredients that were all containing a facet of the "skin", of the "dead animal", but in the most pleasant way. It was a form of beautification where notes that could usually be repulsive were incorporated into a greater harmonious whole and their combination with the animal skin gave something unique, more than just a pleasant odor. The leather perfume existed long before it was bottled at the end of the XIXth century and its achievement, first by Roger & Gallet and Guerlain, was a huge step in this art.
There were several ways to prepare the scented gloves from the XVth to the XVIIIth century and this long, exhausting and extremely complicated process that took several weeks was actually a form of "modern" embalming. Those were the days when "Mummia" (obtained from Egyptian mummies) was a remedy. As an anecdote, delicate gloves were also found in Tutankhamen's tomb, but I do not know if they were scented.
During their preparation, the animal skin for the scented gloves was washed many times with pure water and Eau d'Ange, they were fumigated, scented with a mixture (amber, musk, civet, orange flower water, etc) and then covered with flowers several days (tuberose, narcisse, jasmine, violet, etc). The entire process corresponds to the structure of a perfume, from very tenacious animalic drydown notes to very volatile odors captured by the absorbent skin. It is a form of enfleurage where the fat was "replaced" by the leather and captured only a part of the scent.
The fumigation provided a set of molecules that were hardly found elsewhere. The combination of grey amber and civet were providing an animalic facet, while the musk alone, smelled in pure or in infusion, is a key to understand the scent of leather. It is interesting to smell the combination of flowers used (in their natural form or very diluted absolutes today) to understand their perfect contribution to this type of note. The leather itself, tanned and prepared according to more modern techniques, has a scent that desperately asks to be magnified by the type of mixtures used in the past. In fact, the perfumers have found the perfect set of operations to match the support and the fragile volatile presence. This "invention" gave an unusual characteristic to the animal skin - it was alive for our senses.
Leather is in fact a concept, an archetype, where you can replace materials if you do not disturb the philosophy behind. Building a leather perfume was the supreme art for the perfumer in the XXth century and for this reason you will not find "advices" on this type of scent. Leather is rare, secret, complicated. It is true that you can achieve the old scent with a 1% solution of birch tar, but this is not a structure, it's just an overdose of smoked notes that covers the rest, much similar to the overdose of ethyl vanillin in Orientals. Parquet, Beaux, Fraysse, Vacher, Gonnon, they all signed complex leather notes, none of them available today.
The leather scent is old as humanity. It has actually started as scent in the air during religious ceremonies in several parts of the world. Imagine garlands of white flowers, smoking woods and herbs, blood, sacrifices and an audience with their unmasked scents and sweat. A type of leather note floats in the air. With leather, the blood becomes perfume and the scent of death (from sacrifices to the animal skins) goes to Heaven by a subtle smoke. The leather perfume is the opposite of seduction, it mesmerizes the soul between rejection and attraction, without being carnal.
What was the scent inside an Egyptian tomb the first days after it was sealed?
It was a leather note where all the objects and actions provided the molecules allowing the creation of this ephemeral scent in the air and in the darkness. This "ideal scent" was leaving the Great Pyramid through the mysterious ventilation shafts.
Today people do not use leather perfumes because they are totally disconnected with the elements that made the leather scent a metaphor in our live. The modern man doesn't know the religious processions, he doesn't cook with fire but with electricity, he doesn't ride and doesn't know the scent of animals (cow, horse), the exposure to the scent of flesh (own body or decay) is minimal. But what is more important for our psyche, our evolution for several thousands of years or the past 50 years?
A true leather note is both animalic and empyreumatic, a metamorphosed flower between flesh and smoke where the unusual notes, directly related to the scent of skin like some fractions of orris concrete and cassie, have a tremendous importance. It is a very unusual zone located on the olfactory space with several special neighbors and only few of them have been explored in perfumes. How leather note have influenced us and how they are related to sex and psychiatry is another long and fascinating subject.
A truly leather perfume relates 2 unknown worlds, Here and There. No surprise very few are able to wear them. An ideal leather perfume is far from being bottled because, up to now, perfumers were guided mostly by its strong representations, they were "describing" facets of the leather, from the russian type to the cordoba or peau d'espagne and frangipani. They were rediscovering scents through modern ingredients.
The floral heart of the leather is best represented by Une Fleur de Cassie, the animalic, deep note by Scandal (Lanvin), while the most unusual, archaic and mysterious elements are found in several ouds. The combination of these 3 ideas plus a Firmenich molecule gives something of a tremendous beauty.
Gloves from the royal tomb of Tutankhamen
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art