Impossible to distill, the leather note is actually a combination of ingredients by a perfumer: the simplest, earliest leather accords were a mixture of rectified (boiled) birch tar, castoreum (from the beaver, which eats bark from the birch) and isobutyl quinoline. Modern perfumes mainly use synthesised ingredients, such as suederol, to achieve their effect.
One of the original perfumery traditions were originally also 'Gantiers', or 'glovemakers'. They would scent their gloves using powerful and luxurious odours as a way of covering up the offensive smell of chemicals used in tanning. Traditionally, iris root and labdanum would be used, which is potentially why these ingredients have a leather facet to us.
How does it smell?
Leather can smell rich, luxuriant, tar-like, smoky, warm, dry, sweet, powdery, animalic. It can range from the patent exterior of a military boot to the soft delicacy of the interior of expensive handbags.
Why is it used in a perfume?
Leather exudes elegance and luxury. In a perfume, the addition of a leather note adds dryness, but also a sensual quality, reflecting the somewhat animalic nature of its origins. Also, and most importantly, leather not only smells fantastic as an inspirational material, but is loaded with memories for us: new (or old) leather bags can fill us with nostalgia.
At Penhaligon's, we've used leather in a number of our fragrances, but most importantly is the beautiful leather-suede note at the base of Iris Prima. Taking inspiration from the sole of the ballet slipper, Alberto Morillas decorated the leather note with a delicate floralcy and powder. Endymion, Juniper Sling, and Sartorial also feature Leather in their notes listings.
13 June 2015
Thank you for the information, very interesting. It brought back memories of my Sunday lunches as a child of around six at my grandparents house. We used the big dining room for Sundays and the chairs were Edwardian leather sprung seats and leather backs. They were so cold to sit on, and I usually had a wee dress with smocking on it just above my knees and remember it was like sitting on an ice patch! So thanks for the memories - that was over 60 years ago!
24 May 2015
One Learns Something New Every Day
Very interesting article. I didn't know leather was used so extensively in perfume. It does certainly evoke memories. I remember a leather shoulder bag given to me by my mother when I was about 11 and have never forgotten the beautiful smell which the bag exuded. It was made from English leather and shaped in the flapover fashion. Perhaps that's why I am attracted to perfumes which have this particular aroma included in their makeup. Thank you Penhaligon's.
24 May 2015
Historic Use Of Leather
So interesting. In grand houses in Stuart times dining rooms were hung with wonderfully patterned Spanish leather because leather did not absorb the smell of food/cooking. And for same reason chairs were upholstered in leather.
24 May 2015
I use Penhaligon perfumes because I am sensitive to most 'modern' perfumes. With a Penhaligon library of phials, a therapist was able to identify six of the ten which I could tolerate. You have added many new perfumes since then and I have to assume that these are produced using ingredients which are likely to cause me problems so I stick to those previously tried and trusted. I understand it was the development of Chanel No 5 which first used formaldehyde in the production of perfume and I do feel it would help people such as myself if ingredient lists were available.