If oud has rightfully owned the title of most (over)used perfume note in the ’10s leather has really made it fight for this title. In fact don’t let the hype deceive you, more fragrances launched in our decade boast the use of leather than oud. Leather in all its forms and variations found its way into our perfume bottles. From plush suede to raunchy black Perfecto leather, through glove leather, shoe leather and handbag leather. As ready-to-wear fashion trends are most prominently dictated by textile industry innovations, it is safe to assume that aromachemical technology is the culprit behind this delightful infatuation of perfumers with tannery. And as much as I enjoyed smelling perfumes like Ramon Monegual Mon Cuir, I soon found myself feeling bored with all these leather variation replicas. Recreating the smell of a new pair of shoes can be fun from a technical point of view, it can also be considered an achievement. But it leaves little room for imagination to unravel its plots: a shoe is a shoe is a shoe…
It has always struck me as a strange oxymoron that the perfume house most closely associated with leather goods (and I am not confusing this with leather goods houses that have decided to scent us beautifully), Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, never had a true leather fragrance in its line-up. There is Parfum d’Habit of course but this is not so much a scent built around a leather accord as it is a patchouli scent with a leather nuance. Cuir Fétiche was already long overdue in 2011 when it was released. With Maître Parfumeur et Gantier sending mixed signals about its well-being (closing down one boutique in Paris and losing major distribution in the US) the news of this release were also a sign that the understated label with the overstated bottles was back on green. I was only able to try it late last year though and I must admit that I wasn’t impressed. Apparently I must have been caught up in the tannery fad and I found it too… un-leathery to put it simply. Having decided to give perfumes more than one chance and having a soft spot for the label lead me to try it a few times and at some point I had my epiphany.
Cuir Fétiche opens softly. It is like a leather curtain swept swiftly in the distance. The lift of the curtain lets the exhalation of a boudoir approach and greet me with the scent of flowers. A very gentle play of lambskin and jasmine mark the opening. They are so perfectly balanced that their coexistence is never perceived as a fight for domination. And what makes this opening all the more interesting is that it has a rather watery quality. Or better said, water-color-y. Being a Maître Parfumeur et Gantier collector, I have a rather good grasp of their accords and I am delighted to smell the violet-rose accord of their feminine fragrances play with the jasmine-musk accord of Route du Vetiver with some doughy iris carried over from Fleur d’Iris . All these notes jump from one context to another creating a prismatic composition that allows one to focus on different parts with every whiff. Cuir Fétiche does not have the unusual twist most perfumes of this house have so you can approach this with no fear. But what it lacks in quirkiness it gains in maturity. The lambskin note is so perfectly balanced and it never loses its composure trying to become more obvious than it should.
The fetishistic debauchery promised by the name is not there. Or is it…? To put things in the right perspective, one has to remember what a fetish is and how it is different from a sex toy. A fetish is a deep part of the personality, overcast and shadowed by fear of social rejection. A fetish has to remain discrete and very personal, shared only with ones who share the same fetish, in the same covert way. In that sense, a straight up leather in a bottle is more of a sex toy in its overtness, like a leather clad biker hiding his true eyes behind mirror sun glasses. Cuir Fétiche however is the perfume of Séverine Serizy, Luis Buñuel’s sexually repressed bourgeoise who finds release for her domination fetish by prostituting herself in the afternoons. Or maybe she is just imagining the whole thing. Séverine would never wear knee-high leather boots. Instead I imagine her wearing an extremely tight leather corset with silk interwoven laces. The corset’s leather has to be in a natural, skin-like tone so that it won’t show under her lighter silk dresses. For the same reason the leather is exquisitely finished, to the point that it resembles human skin. That being said however, Cuir Fétiche is not a feminine scent. It is a dandy scent. And following Belle de Jour narrative, one never knows how real the leather fetish is. But this is irrelevant because fetishes are stronger when they remain part of the fantasy.
Notes from Parfumo: Bergamot, Geranium, Red mandarin, Lemon, Iris, Jasmine, Leather, Rose, Ylang-ylang, Ambergris, Musk, Patchouli, Sandalwood
Notes from my nose: lambskin, jasmine, violet, rose, musk