The Chanel Project: Cuir de Russie

kittypawI don’t want to lie to you. To me Cuir de Russie smells exactly like vintage Chanel No. 5, with no aldehydes and with the woods amped up and with some leather added.

Sorry. Short review.

Part of Les Exclusifs collection of Chanel, Cuir de Russie is not easy to get one’s hands on. If you decide to try, especially with a decant, make sure you’re getting what you want, as “Russian Leather” apparently not that unique a name. Creed makes a Cuir de Russie too (or did), and vintage-wise there was also a Guerlain Cuir de Russie as well as versions from other classic perfume companies. One imagines that they weren’t all inspired by Dr. Zhivago. Russian leather was apparently a “thing” long before the 1965 movie, perhaps even before the 1957 novel. (Yes, Virginia, making movies based on known successes from other media is not just a new thing.)

I admit I went looking for Cuir de Russie because of the way perfumistas rave about it on the web boards. It’s not difficult to see why they do. The rich, well-blended, elegant scent has touches of orris, that earthy, yet royal floral scent, along with the jasmine and rose of No. 5, and it dries down (on me) to the creamiest, smoothest sandalwood one could ask for. Dating to 1924, this predecessor to modern florientals is rich, feminine (I never say “feminine”, but this baby is feminine), and, as it is so often called, cozy.

Without the punches of aldehydes and musks (it may have some, but they don’t stand out to me), it doesn’t have the clean or fresh vibe of Chanel No. 5. Clean and fresh?? you may say, if you have ever smelled vintage No. 5 (or even the modern). Yes, No. 5 is clean and fresh, especially compared to something else of its era. Cuir de Russie’s party buddy is Shalimar, with its citrus/vomit/vanilla combo. None of the notes are similar to my nose, but both of the perfumes seem to call for a fire and perhaps sex on a fur in front of it. Where Shalimar is edible, though, Cuir de Russie is emphatically not. I feel that if I lived in one of those spacious pre-Depression mansions one sees in classic movies in black and white, with flowers from my hothouse standing two feet high in a wood-lined drawing room where someone had laid a tidy small square fire but not yet lit it, if I were to wear leather boots into the room, about to ride to the hounds, I would recreate the inspiration and perhaps the actual smell of this perfume.

Sex on a fur in front of the fire, once lit, would also be called for.

I don’t much wear it, because as I say, its sandalwood drydown (which also might have a touch of vanilla), reminds me so much of vintage No. 5. Do you have perfumes you find beautiful that you don’t usually wear?

Image is “f***k off, stupid paparazzi! :)“, by ilexxx, on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license; some rights reserved.

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Flavors of lavender

lavenderA positive review of Burberry Brit Rhythm for Her (which sadly I cannot locate) sent me off into one of those spirals of must-have, must-have, must-have. I love the idea of lavender oil, I like the calming effects of smelling it and I like its clean freshness, and it sounded as though I might enjoy this one.

Having now obtained a sample and worn it a bit I can see why Burberry Brit Rhythm for Her is not doing so well. Aside from its ridiculous name (there is a version coming out that adds Floral to the name; I assume Noir is just around the corner), it’s well done but simple and to my nose a bit too obviously head-to-head competition for Prada’s popular Infusion d’Iris.

That’s right, I’m comparing an iris to a lavender. Both of them have a metallic ground note and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the same ingredient caused that note in both. When the top wears off, this chilly bit of fluff (makes me think of a medieval mace wrapped in fake sheep fleece) is not so different between the two perfumes; and whereas Burberry Brit Rhythm for Her is not well known, and pretty indistinguishable from all the other various Burberry bottles out there (at least the rectangular tartan ones), Prada Infusion d’Iris is a blockbuster hit and visually distinguishable as well with its frosted glass and its evocative mint green box.

I’m glad I didn’t blind buy this Burberry. I have been enjoying Burberry Brit, and got a bit excited. But this one I can live without. If I decide I want a classic lavender and vanilla cologne, I still have a mini of Caron Pour un Homme around here somewhere. And I own a bottle of Infusion d’Iris.

If you’re looking for chilly metal (and this time of year I don’t know why you would be), let me recommend Craft, by Andrea Maack. Maack scents are so interesting to me. They have the beauty of composition and experience, more like couture than architecture. Craft to me is less like a knife edge and more like a silver ring with cabochon stones. Maybe I’m just a sucker for patchouli – this claims to have patchouli in the base, but it would never cause me to sit around thinking “Hm, I’m wearing patchouli.” I don’t wear it often – I always end up liking the idea of it more than the actuality of it – but if lavender is what I’m craving, the intelligent and beautiful creation of Craft is usually what appeals to me most.

Of course, it’s the color of lavender that’s my favorite feature.

Image is “Lavender blue” by surrydweller…, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license; some rights reserved.

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The Chanel Project: No. 5 Eau Première


New “poser” bottle.

For a lot of people Chanel is synonymous with perfume. I often think I should be reviewing more Chanel – after all, I want to give the public what it wants! – but then I find myself thinking “Yeah, like 24, Faubourg… oh yeah, that’s Hermès.” Truly I love classic-style perfumes but a lot of the ones I like aren’t Chanel.

But when I went to look at my Chanel stores, I actually had quite a few. So I hope to review them all and you’ll see what gaps I have in my Chanel collection…

I was prepared, snobbishly, not to like Eau Première. I have an intellectual’s kneejerk overvaluation of “authenticity” and I had grown to love Chanel No. 5 in its vintage formulae. I was suspicious of Eau Première, probably rightly. Like Shalimar Parfum Initial, I suspect these “not quite the ‘real’ thing but easier to wear and understand” versions are meant to replace their original, heavier, more complex, and probably less IFRA-compliant predecessors. I believe they will go the way of Miss Dior Chérie, reformulating a classic as something far less, then nudging the classic out of the way to make room for the new fume, which ultimately gets renamed and replaces the old one, which is discontinued.

It’s a New Coke scam and I’m on to it.

Eau Première is well on its way. It itself has been “discontinued” and re-issued in the classic Chanel bottle with the square stopper. Even though other perfumes (like No. 19) are available this way, I feel that it’s just a waystop on the way to ending Le Monstre, the rule of Chanel No. 5, which is undoubtedly difficult to produce if it’s using any of the natural ingredients it claims to include – and is probably on the IFRA chopping block anyway.

So should I be angrier?

Well, here’s the thing. I try to put my “authenticity” snobbery aside. When perfumes are reformulated without warning within a few years of being issued, and 1500 of them come out a year, I’m not sure what “authenticity” is any more anyway; the perfume producers are essentially plagiarizing themselves and making money from it. You could get angry because they cheapen the formula as soon as a product hits it big; on the other hand, I’ve seen perfumes where only one specific year or even batch was the one that made me swoon, so isn’t it more that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? The ephemerality of perfume is a killer but there it is.

The other reason Eau Première doesn’t bug me is that I like it. I admit it. It’s a lighter, prettier, more wearable-for-today version of No. 5. A birthday present several years ago, I own it, and I wear it. I reach for it a lot. It’s one of those go-to, never-wrong, everyday perfumes for me. It’s lovely. It takes No. 5’s famous mix of florals, aldehydes, and clean musks and brings it into the modern era.

Now, serious perfume lovers are right to bemoan the lack of intensity of today’s perfumes. I don’t disagree. It’s like saying everything has to look like Monet, and that Jackson Pollack is pointless. Intensity and boldness has its place. For those who admire that place (1920-1960 A.D. perfumery), something like Eau Première is unsatisfyingly light and bland.

But it’s just a place, one of many. If Pollack had come before Monet, art lovers might decry washing out the colors just as much as perfume lovers decry the lightening of their classic scents. But where painting got more intense perfume got less. And you can see why. No longer the purview of just the rich, perfume is a very common luxury these days, and in appealing to more people and being more multipurpose (used all day, every day,) it only makes sense for it to have gotten a bit lightier, a bit easier.


“Original” Eau Première bottle.

Eau Première is that lighter, easier version of Chanel No. 5. Which, as the most popular perfume of the last hundred years, is no slouch in the beauty department. The musks and touch of vanilla, so popular today, are brought just a bit forward; the florals, so frowned upon by IFRA, are backgrounded (and downgraded, I’m sure) just a bit, and the aldehydes no longer bap you over the head but rather come along for the ride.

It all makes for a lovely, balanced, wearable everyday perfume, and I do enjoy Eau Première. Yes, I’m aware that it itself has apparently just been reformulated. Yes, I have a backup bottle of the older stuff. But I’m not fighting the river, I’m just calling them like I see them. And the truth is that though I admire my vintage Chanel No. 5 more, and have plenty of it, I reach for Eau Première more often. It is a worthy perfume.

Do you wear it (or one of the other “junior” perfumes, like Parfum Initial)? What’s your feelings about “authenticity”?

Images are sales images.

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Bulgari Omnia: a modern classic

Let’s kick off the new year with a review of a modern classic.

Bulgari Omnia gets mentioned a lot on perfume boards. I bought some years ago, a cheap blind buy, didn’t get excited about it, and tossed it in my drawer of Bottles without Boxes I Don’t Much Give A Damn About.

There’s . . . → Read More: Bulgari Omnia: a modern classic

2014 in Perfume for the Unseen Censer

What do you remember most from your year in perfume?

I think mostly this year I surprised myself. Never heard of Pierre de Velay (nor, probably, have you, since it’s a line Roja Dove keeps exclusive to his Harrods parfumerie); nonetheless, when I managed to stop in on my way through London perfume shopping . . . → Read More: 2014 in Perfume for the Unseen Censer

Wrapping up 2014: Personal

It’s been an odd year for me in a lot of ways, and it’s affected my relationship with perfume.

We moved. I was so careful to bring all my precious small glass bottles with me, hand-carrying them in separate boxes before I moved anything else, stacking them in protected space in one of the . . . → Read More: Wrapping up 2014: Personal

Sniffa Fall Ball ’14 day 2 – the final reckoning

I’m always surprised that so many people come to day 1 of Sniffapalooza and don’t do day 2. There are likewise some people who only do day 2. Day 2 is completely different. Day 2 is downtown, indie, discovery and insidery. If you really love perfume, I don’t know why you’d want to miss it.

. . . → Read More: Sniffa Fall Ball ’14 day 2 – the final reckoning

Sniffa fall ball ’14 – rest of day 1

Usually lunch on day 1 includes small speeches from a series of people who have something to do with the perfume industry. Past ones that come to mind have some sort of a multimedia component – the time a Hayari dress was modeled in the room to introduce Hayari perfumes (which I quite like), for . . . → Read More: Sniffa fall ball ’14 – rest of day 1

Sniffapalooza fall 2014 – Saturday

As usual after a Sniffa, I have almost too much I want to write about. I am SOAKED in perfume, y’all. And of course there’s always a lead-up; I got super excited and bought (among other things) the COOLEST Linari sample set…

But just to get started on the perfumes themselves (though there were lots . . . → Read More: Sniffapalooza fall 2014 – Saturday

WTF downtime??

Thanks to an alert Twitterer, I found out this site was down today while I was at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball 2014. No good! Anyway, it’s back up now and I will post some news soon. Thanks for sticking with!

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