What does it mean when we say a perfume smells like leather?
The image of a reading room, study or library in an old English manor certainly comes to mind; with gentrified men smoking cigars and drinking aged whiskey, in front of a fireplace.
Perfumes can be classified as FLORAL, ORIENTAL, FRESH and WOODY. Most scents will fall under these categories. The latest addition to perfume scents is the FRESH accord, which includes scents like aqua and citrus. This is because it has only been in the last 60-80 years that extraction methods have improved which has enabled scent essences to be extracted from previously difficult to extract organic substances, not to mention the modern perfumer's ability to synthesise scent molecules. The leather / woody accord, however, has been around for a very very long time.
The leather dominant accord is a sub-set of the Woody dominant accord.
Woody accord consists of 4 sub-sets: Aromatic, Dry Wood, Mossy, Ash
- Aromatic - sweet woody scents like vetiver and sandalwood (warm powdery sweet)
- Mossy - oakmoss and amber (woody earthy)
- Dry Woods - leather, dry smoky
- Ash - incense
So, a leathery scent generally refers to the dry wood accord.
HISTORY - leather
Before the industrial revolution in the 1880s and indeed even up till the 1960s, a woody dominant accord was considered gender neutral. As an irony, at the time when the women’s’ rights movement in the 1970’s was at its crescendo, perfumeries started branding their perfumes with labels like “For Men” and “For Women” or “Pour Homme” and “Pour Femme”. They had done so in the past, but not as widely.
Florals were labelled more feminine and Woody accords more masculine; and everything in-between were weighed up against how skewed they were towards leather, woody or florals. (I’m oversimplifying). Modern scents like citrus and aqua also took up gender sides – citrus being skewed towards the feminine and aqua towards the masculine.
For the modern man, a pure leather dominant scent can come off as archaic. Try a modern formula like Milton-Lloyds’ Colour Me White (fine mist perfume). It has top and middle notes of citrus and florals with a strong base note of dry-woods and musk.
If you are a lady and prefer a more sophisticated perfume, try the French traditional perfume house, Parfum Gres’, Cabochard. It has floral top and middle notes with a leather-woody dry down.
Leather on the other hand seems masculine no matter how you market it. It’s history and the secondary conditioning associated with the scent are dominantly masculine. This can be a little disappointing from a functional point-of-view as perfumes from the woody family tend to have longer silages and better projections than florals.