Wearing Cuir de Russie

Everytime I look at my sample of Cuir de Russie which the nice lady at the Chanel boutique gave me simply because “it’s obvious you love this stuff”, I think of an experience I had back in the early 80s.  I was a young executive at the time and, like most businessmen, I wore tailored suits, beautiful silk ties and Italian leather shoes that felt like slippers.  Tailors were everywhere but good tailors were like gold!  I remember Roger, my tailor, taking me out to the sidewalk in front of his shop to show me a new material that he had just received.  He insisted that I see it in sunlight as opposed to his sedate, dimly lit but chic shop.  It didn’t matter that the people walking by were looking at us.  Having a suit made was serious business and choosing the right fabric was crucial.  It’s hard for me not to smile when I think back at that former life… of so many lives.

And so one morning I noticed a sharp-looking businessman in my apartment building carrying a hat.  It was a “canotier”!  You know… those flat-top, straw hats with a dark ribbon.  Maurice Chevalier was famous for wearing them.  When my neighbour popped it on his head upon leaving the building, it blew me away and the next day I went directly to the only men’s hat shop in Montreal that I knew of and tried one even though I knew hats can be hard to wear… like some perfumes.

Luca Turin says chypres are hard to wear because some of them smell like they’ve seen more of the world than the wearer.  Actually… chypres don’t scare me.  I wear them all the time.  But leathers!!!  They smell so sophisticated AND so subversive!  Whether it’s iris-centric Cuir de Russie (1927) or bitter orange Bandit (1944) or peppery Bel Ami (1986), their basic element is leather.  They smell animalic!  I say… you had better know who you are if you’re going to go to the office smelling of fauna… instead of flora.

Oddly though… leathers also remind me of humanity… of Man’s illusive obsession to tame nature and establish superiority… which he will never do.  But the quest, the struggle, has produced such artistic and technological beauty, it inspires!  There is nothing more beautiful than art and technology together.  The SS Normandie comes to mind… as does the Concorde.  Both were designed to improve trans-Atlantic travel and both are works of art in their own right.  I think that’s why I find perfume so fascinating.  It’s the synergy of art and technology… artist and chemist working together.

As for the canotier at the hat shop… well… it looked like it had seen so much more of the world than I did that I regrettably handed it back to the sales clerk.

But Cuir de Russie, still untested, remains on my radar.

Top image : Ocean liner SS Normandie (1935-1942)

Bottom image : Le déjeuner des canotiers (detail, 1881) by Pierre-August Renoir

Leave a comment


  1. Richard Townson

     /  November 29, 2010

    I always look forward to you posts but the latest was particularly, one might say exceptionally, well-written.

    The line

    Oddly though… leathers also remind me of humanity… of Man’s illusive obsession to tame nature and establish superiority… which he will never do.

    struck me so hard that it forced me to re-read the whole post with greater care so as to give the whole post the attention it deserved.


    And it is time to bite the bullet: a man of such obvious intelligence has what it takes to wear Cuir de Russe and even a canotier (a boater in English) should he choose.

    • Hi Richard,

      I’m building up to it. This week, I’m starting with Bel Ami because I can do pepper easily. I’ll work my way up to it… and when I do, we’ll have to go out and celebrate!


  2. I have a bottle of Cuir de Russie. It’s actually my second bottle, as the first one was broken by the cleaning lady. For more than a month, my apartment smelled like very expensive leather. It was like living in a fine car.

    I think my heart belongs to Bandit though. CdR is Katherine Hepburn, a great dame from a patician background, but Bandit is Lauren Bacall in the Big Sleep – a little dangerous but a lot of fun.

    • Bandit definitely has a jagged edge to it… like you say, dangerous. I understand the Cuir de Russie is now available in the smaller size so I may just buy it at Christmas even if I never wear it. It really is from another time.


  3. I find CdR difficult to wear as well…not sure why, it’s obviously stunning and easily one of my top-10 fragrances (ever!), but still, I rarely wear it. I imagine my 200ml jug will last me a lifetime.

    Bois des Iles, on the other hand, seems almost *too* easy to wear.

    • I’ve been wearing Bel Ami by Hermes recently which I bought partly based on the review I read on your blog. It’s beautiful! But I think CdR is going to be a bit of a stretch. Too bad I don’t have some grand affair to go to. It just seems so over the top to wear to the office.

  4. Until very recently leather was a complete no-no for me. But I recently received a bottle of Cuir de Lancome that has changed my mind. Everybody mentions Cuir de Russie as THE leather fragrance. It’s now reaching top priority on my *must try* list.

    • Cuir de Russie is from another world. I found that all my references of what is beautiful were off. One thing right off the bat… I really appreciate the technology behind making something that smells like leather but is made out of birch bark and flowers. For me, this is real perfume. It attracts and repels at the same time. When you try it out, I’d love to hear what you have to say about it! And Cuir de Lancome would have a home in my perfume cabinet if I could buy it locally… but I’ll get it eventually.

      Now that chypres have been seriously neutered… I really think that leathers may be the next best thing. I even wrote a post on it awhile ago.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. monica

     /  September 23, 2017

    hi normand! as a “girly” woman i didn’t expect to fall in love with ‘cur de russie’ as i have. since i was a teenager i’ve preferred fruit and florals in my fragrances. as i’ve gotten older (now 30) i appreciate quality and originality more than anything else. ‘cuir de russie’ is just gorgeous—and unlike popular opinion i find it easy to wear. i credit that to how well blended chanel fragrances are; they function as a whole, not disparate parts. on a man this would be even more fitting, IMHO. question: what is the difference between ‘cuir de russie’ and cur de lancome? how close are they?

    • Hi Monica!

      They are not very close, actually. Cuir de Russie is colder,.. more grey. I think it was Luca Turin who said that Cuir de Russie was more of an iris with animalic notes. I can see why. Cuir de Russie stands alone. I find that there is nothing else on the market like it.

      Cuir de Lancome is warmer. It is closer to the other leathers that I own, like Azurée and Bel Ami. They seem to share some DNA…. more of a brown leather jacket than the grey leather interior of a Rolls-Royce, which is Cuir de Russie.

      Both are wonderful. I would think that Cuir de Russie on a girly woman would be surprising and spectacular.

      Thanks for writing.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: