Skip to main content

Russian Leather – green and leathery and woody

Boot Lake Sunset, Mackenzie Delta, NWT by Martin Male, Nov. 20. 2005

When I first came across Russian Leather from Parisian niche fragrance house MEMO at Saks, I was immediately taken with it. Something about it just resonated with me. Back at home, I checked it out online where I found the brief for the fragrance:

‘Fougère, frost, the call of the forest, lavandin, echo, large herds of reindeers, basil, no compass, pine needles, guided by the song of the thrush, running free, a carpet of rosemary, on the watch, clary sage, minus 48 degrees, courage, mint, ardour... A caravan suddenly looms on the distant horizon, tonka bean, without a sound, patchouli, sea of blue snow, palace of ice, tall cedars, burning light, hand hovering knife, lichen, ever ready for a fight, wolf leather, pride, a Siberian smile on the lips.’ Then the penny dropped.

I once had a contract to work in Yellowknife, located in the North West Territories, just north of the 60th parallel. I liked Yellowknife, the first few times I went there in spring and summer, but it wasn’t until I went there in the winter that I loved it.  It was, to me, the land of gold and diamonds, polar bears and bison, ice roads, Northern Lights, dog sledding and deep, frosty forests. You can see the dancing Northern lights, hear the howling of wolves, smell the pine forest and take in the cold Arctic air all while standing in the middle of town. This is what Russian Leather brought me back to.

MEMO was founded in 2007 by Clara and John Molloy and Russian Leather is part of thei Cuirs Nomades series which ‘explores the leather note through six emblematic destinations, from Africa to Italy.’ For the Molloy’s, it’s all about the journey.

Russian Leather opens with a green, herbal, minty-tinged note of basil. It’s camphourous facet, makes my nostrils flare. This is followed by a beautiful fougere accord: lavender, medicinal and anisic, it echoes the basil, lichen smells piney and resinous and coumarin contributes its distinct hay-like smell. It ushers in more green notes: clary sage, fern and pine. Together, they give Russian Leather a green, slightly sweet-smelling start that is soothing and surprisingly sensuous.

As it blooms, it gets woody from cedarwood, but what I really get is gust of cool bracing Arctic air blowing owing over it all. It comes from a note of refreshing, green mint. Rosemary, camphorous and herbal, stops the mint from wandering into mouthwash territory. It’s helped by a note of spicy-sweet nutmeg. Then, comes the Russian leather. To me it’s the rich smell of supple, worn leather boots. Guaiac Wood, smoky and tar-like, provides a campfire. Sweet, dark, earthy patchouli is the perfect base for this EdP to rest on.

The dry-down is green, slightly sweet, woody and so sophisticated. It’s green forward more than it is leather forward, but this is the exploration of a leather note from a journey, not necessarily a leather fragrance.

The first whiff took me back to the Arctic winter in December. I’m on a supply plane with a few other travelers. As we approach the landing strip, I look out the window and see Christmas trees on both sides of it, their lights shining bright to guide the pilots in. We disembark on the tarmac. That first deep inhale of icy cold air, filled with the piney smell of the deep, wild forest. In the distance, there is a dog sled gliding on the frozen snow.

Russian Leather isn’t the sweaty smell of trekking all day in the frozen forest. It’s the romantic idealization of it, which makes it the perfect scent for winter.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ll be sorry to see spring come around this year.

Russian Leather is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $7.00 for 1 ml.

Image- Wikimedia Commons