Friday, June 10, 2011
Leather seems to always be a problematic note in perfumery. One step too far in the “raw” direction and it’s too close to the dead animal that it came from. One step too far in the “smoky” direction and it smells like a campfire. One step too far in the quinoline direction and it smells like celery. One step too far in the “finished” direction and it smells like powder, violets, iris, or all of those things.
After smelling an uncountable number of “leather” perfumes, I’ve concluded that leather in perfume is an elusive concept that each individual has to construct for him- or herself from an ambiguous olfactory “figure” that could be perceived in more than one way. The easiest way to think about it is by considering an ambiguous drawing. Look at the picture one way and you see the young wife. Look at it another way and you see the old mother-in-law. Sniff the accord one way and it’s violet. Sniff the same accord another way and it’s leather. It’s an interesting cognitive process that crosses over from one modality to another. Like an ambiguous or hidden visual figure, leather is a lot easier to find if you’re told it’s in the mix so that you have a search image to fit it to. Without a suggestive name or a list of notes as a guide, there’s no telling how you’re going to connect the dots.
In general, I like leather scents regardless of which direction they take, and a couple of perfumes with a leather note are on the drawing board. This means that I have to create something that, to me, truly smells like leather. The leather I have in mind is my husband’s relatively new black leather jacket. My own leather jackets (yes, I have more than one, all bought second-hand) have long ago lost that fresh, finished leather smell, which is the one I think I’m going for.
On my first attempt at making a leather accord, I thought I overdosed it with isobutyl quinoline, and planned to start over from scratch. However, after the elements blended together, it doesn’t seem too far from the mark. It needs to be just a little drier, a little less quinoline-heavy (easy to fix), with just a touch more of the leather-finishing chemicals that give new leather its characteristic odor.
As soon as I have the definitive leather accord, my plan is to combine it with the dry grass accord that I made a long time ago to create a perfume celebrating Salamanca, the Spanish college town where I’ve spent a good bit of time. I already combined the first leather accord with the dry grass accord, and know that they go well together. The second plan for the leather accord is to use it in a fragrance inspired by a Seattle café where a lot of actors hang out. I’ll probably call it Café V, with notes of coffee (of course), chocolate, cinnamon, cardamom, cream and vanilla on a base of leather and woods. The initial tests with that basic combination have worked out well, too. I’ll have prototypes of both leather-containing scents soon, so if you’d like to sign up to be a tester for Salamanca, Café V, (and/or a skanky orchid fragrance, Emergence), please let me know by leaving a comment here or sending me an e-mail.