Creed (an English perfume company) were the first to create a leather perfume - Royal English Leather - in 1781, and in those days this would be intended as a masculine fragrance reminiscent of riding boots, horse-riding and other such virile pursuits. Then in 1924, Coco Chanel, always aiming to challenge tradition, created Cuir de Russie for women (now very much a unisex, or a perfume many would perceive as masculine)
There are numerous ways a perfumer might create the idea of leather. For example Birch Tar was used to cure leather in Russia and lends a phenolic, acrid note not dissimilar to that found in coal-tar soap. Styrax is a resin which gives a slightly softer, sweeter leather impression, saffron in combination with other notes suggests leather, labdanum resin can also smell 'leathery' as can castoreum, which was originally sourced from badgers but now produced synthetically. Castoreum has a urinous quality which in small amounts, or blended with other notes lends a skin-scent quality. (All the above are usually, but not always synthetically created aroma chemicals).
This association with warm skin and luxury is a large part of leather's appeal in perfumery - variously sensuous, comforting, animalic or erotic, depending on how it's handled by the perfumer.
Perfumers enhance aspects of these notes to conjure up a range of moods, so the most successful leather perfumes evoke ideas of leather such as the scent of luxury handbags that retain notes of floral perfume or make-up, or worn car seats and an air of travel.
The following perfumes are among the most evocative leathers..
Soft, suede-like leather
Cuir de Lancome, by Lancome
Cuir de Lancome is complex yet cosy and easy to wear, sweet but quite unisex. It’s lightly musky but not animalic, more sensual than erotic. It's very suited to autumn, but I think it could be worn any time of year, especially evenings, for a luxuriously soft, warm and elegant aura. Everyone will want to cuddle you!
Cuir de Russie, by Les Exclusifs de Chanel