1892 was a year of empires, part of The Golden Age when aristocrats flourished and opulence was the order of the day. It was also the year when Oriza L. Legrand released a leather fragrance designed to appeal to its imperial Russian clients. A few weeks ago, the modern Oriza re-released the scent which it called Cuir de l’Aigle Russe. The name translates to “Leather of the Russian Eagle,” and the fragrance is based on the 1892 original formula with only a few tweaks to conform to modern perfume regulations.
The scent is quite different from what I had expected. To the extent that there is leather, it is the Spanish leather or Peau d’Espagne of Catherine de Medici, not the tarry, smoky birch leather of the Russian cossacks. And the first three hours were something else entirely.
Before I describe the fragrance, I hope you’ll forgive a small digression to talk about its name. As some of you are aware, Oriza had originally planned to release a fragrance called “Cuir de Russie,” and I asked one of Oriza’s current owners, Hugo Lambert, the reasons why they changed the name. He told me that “Cuir de Russie” raised concerns over litigation. (Chanel has the Wertheimer billions to fight off any potential trademark lawsuit, but they don’t.) So, they decided to call the fragrance “Cuir Impériale,” only to discover that there was an inexpensive British drugstore scent called Imperial Leather. The overlap in names, lower quality associations, and continued concern over potential litigation made them decide to change the name a second time. The historical Oriza actually had four different Cuir fragrances in their line-up. So the company used the note list and formula for its vintage Cuir Impériale, but gave the scent the litigation-safe name of one of its other leathers, Cuir de l’Aigle Russe.
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe is an eau de parfum that Oriza describes as follows:
Elegant and majestic, Cuir de l’Aigle Russe conjures up the days of the Russian aristocracy’s love affair with rich fragrances so refined they had no equals.
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe is a gleaming samovar at the centre of a smoking room hung with gold brocades shimmering with colour.
Its heady mixture of blond tobaccos and smoked teas will revive once-distant memories of the Russia of the Tsars.
Top Notes: Coriander, Lavender, Davana, Italian Bergamot, Cade and Styrax.
Heart Notes: Geranium Bourbon, May Rose, Immortelle, Cardamom, Styrax & Indonesian Patchouli.
Base Notes: Cistus Labdanum, Frankincense, Musk, Tonka Bean, Sandalwood, Amber, Benzoin & Vetiver.
I’ve tried Cuir de l’Aigle Russe a few times and have consistently struggled with the first three hours. In a nutshell, it first smells like vintage Brut, the old Fabergé classic, and then a mix of Brut and vintage Old Spice. Cuir de l’Aigle Russe’s first hour is a bracing aromatic fougère that later turns into a hybrid of fougère profiles or sub-fougère genres in its second hour thanks to oriental spices and warmth, but all of it smells like an old-fashioned barbershop cologne that my grandfather might have worn.
If you look at Brut’s Fragrantica page, you will see they share 6 notes in common, while also including some herbs and spices that give a similar feel, even if they aren’t the exact same ingredient. Below is Brut’s note list, and I’ve highlighted in bold the shared notes, while underlining four others that provided a similar olfactory bouquet on my skin:
lemon, bergamot, lavender, anise, basil, geranium, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, oak moss, vetiver, patchouli, tonka bean and vanilla.
Old Spice fills in some of the other blanks with its woods, spices, geranium, amber, clean musk, soapy aldehydes, and benzoin.
I fully realise that Oriza makes ultra-classic fragrances based on ancient formulae that, in this case, dates back over 100 years, but I still recoiled at the extent to which Cuir de l’Aigle Russe was bracingly aromatic, bitter, and, on occasion, medicinal in its first 3 hours. The fragrance opens on my skin with forceful clouds of pungently herbal lavender, bitter geranium, and sharp, icy, bergamot lemon, all infused with a ton of soapy, clean musk. There is no leather, no floralcy, and no ambered softness.
Instead, a dusty, musty spice bouquet pops up on the sidelines a few minutes later, followed by a cedar-ish woodiness. The overall, total effect is bitter, pungent, bracing, musty, sometimes sour, and bears the sharpness of a razor. That is probably one reason why I repeatedly imagined myself in some old world, 1940s or 1950s barbershop where a man was doused with a brisk, sharp cologne (and, in one of my tests, some baby powder as well).
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe’s opening is primarily an aromatic fougère dominated by a trio of lavender, lemon/bergamot, and geranium, but the nuances of the scent quickly change. Minutes after its opening, the scent grows even more bitter and brisk, then takes on dustier, woodier undertones as the cade stirs in the base. Cade is derived from the juniper tree and is one of the materials used to create the scent of “leather,” but it can also smell like singed woods in a smoky campfire. Here, it doesn’t smell like leather at all, and certainly not Russian (birch tar) leather. Instead, it smells simply of musty woods that are bear an occasional, sometimes nebulous, smokiness. Cuir de l’Aigle Russe’s woody undercurrent is further accentuated when the patchouli rears its head 5 minutes in, adding to overall sense of mustiness. The vetiver follows it shortly thereafter.
However, most of Cuir de l’Aigle Russe’s greenness is provided by the plethora of masculine geranium which wafts on my skin from the fragrance’s start almost to its dying breath. It smells bitter, like the flower’s dark, fuzzy leaves, and their acerbic aroma grows increasingly intense in the first hour, fusing almost completely with the dried, medicinal lavender. The icy, sharp, semi-sour lemon is never as powerful as its compatriots, but it adds to the Brut-like briskness and cologne masculinity nevertheless.
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe changes at the end of the first hour and the start of the second. The lemon fades away, replaced by spicy, woody, dusty patchouli as the third part of the main trio. The fragrance is slowly growing spicier, but it’s not merely the patchouli. It starts to feel as though there were a heaping amount of pungent, dusty cloves added in as well, creating a medicinal quality that goes in tandem with the bitterness of the geranium and the trenchant, powerful lavender. In the base, the cade occasionally sends out vaguely leathery, smoky wisps to curl around the aromatic top notes, but it continues to resemble dusty, dry woods above all else.
Something about overall combination of notes reminds me of vintage Old Spice cologne. It’s only a minor resemblance at first and, at a rough estimate, I’d say the balance still skews 75% (at the very least) towards the Brut. However, those numbers change midway during the second hour, as the oriental fougère notes intensify and the Old Spice joins the Brut as an equal partner.
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe changes for the better when the tonka arrives to smoothen out the pungent bitterness and sharpness of the scent, ushering in a new phase that slowly moves away from the barbershop vibe. The timing seems to depend on the quantity of fragrance that I apply, but it typically begins at the top of the 3rd hour when I use the equivalent of 1 spray and somewhere between the middle of the 3rd hour and the start of the 5th hour with double that quantity. The tonka makes a significant difference not only because it mellows out the various notes, but because it creates a soft plushness that — in conjunction with a shift in the notes — helps to approximate Spanish leather. Well, some of the time at least. The tonka’s main partner in this new paradigm is the spicy, woody patchouli that now overtakes the lavender as a central note. It slowly, very slowly, fuse with the tonka, spices, cade, and a newly awakened styrax resin in the base to create the first signs of something vaguely resembling Spanish Leather.
The Perfume Shrine has a wonderful article on the differences between Russian leather and the Spanish type called Peau d’Espagne. As Elena Vosnaki explains there, the latter is more of a chamois leather that was mostly commonly used to perfume gloves and which bore a plethora of aromatics (like lavender and bergamot), spices, soft floralcy, some powder, soapiness and, in a few fragrance versions, a subtle barbershop vibe as well. Traditionally, the classic Peau d’Espagne scent also involved a lot of civet and animalic musk, creating what one scholar quoted in the Perfume Shrine article says “‘approaches the odor of a woman’s skin [but…] whether it also suggests the odor of leather is not so clear’.” However, there are no animalics or skin-like aromas here.
When I first tried Cuir de l’Aigle Russe, I wrote to one of Oriza’s owners, Hugo Lambert, about the scent, and he said their leather was constructed to resemble the more floral leather of the 1800s. He added that it smells exactly like “the perfumed gloves made for Catherine de Medici.” In essence, that is Peau d’Espagne leather, rather than Russian leather, albeit Peau d’Espagne without the civet or animalics of the earliest historical versions.
On my skin, most Spanish leather fragrances are indeed very floral, but that is not the case here. Cuir de l’Aigle Russe skews completely woody on me without any rose or floralcy at all. There is only a nebulous approximation of something vaguely “chamois-like,” to use the Perfume Shrine’s apt description, but even that didn’t show up in a few of my tests. Instead, there was a much stronger impression of dusty, old books and dry woods, both suffused with spices and a soft warmth. It’s very similar to the undercurrents of one of the ultimate Spanish leather scents, Santa Maria Novella‘s 1901 Peau d’Espagne, but not to its distinct, clearly delineated leather top notes. Not on my skin.
One reason why might be because Cuir de l’Aigle Russe continues to manifest strong aromatic fougère elements. In essence, it’s Old Spice (with a lingering slug of Brut) drizzled on a mix of spicy, woody patchouli and dry, occasionally smoky, cade woods, both of which have been flecked lightly by a vaguely tonka-ish, chamois leather softness. It may not resemble hardcore Spanish leather, but I actually like parts of the scent quite a bit. I’m a sucker for spicy patchouli, and something about it here in conjunction with the quietly smoky cade creates a definite whiff of dark tobacco that is even further accentuated by the resinousness of the styrax now awakening in the base. At the same time, Cuir de l’Aigle Russe’s growing spiciness works wonderfully with both the “chamois” and the softer geranium-lavender aromatics.
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe remains that way until its drydown which generally begins at the start of the 7th hour. At that point, creamy sandalwood arrives to join the party, followed by an ambered warmth. The fragrance now smells primarily like a soft, hazy mix of patchouli, spices, cade wood, and aromatic geranium, lightly lacquered with a thin layer of resins and tonka “chamois,” all over a sandalwood base. Occasional wisps of vetiver, lavender, and styrax smokiness pop up in the background, but they’re muted. A haze of goldenness and warmth lies over them all, though it never smells like a clear, distinct labdanum note.
Over time, Cuir de l’Aigle Russe grows blurrier and even woodier. The chamois “leather” fades away entirely near the end of the 8th hour, leaving a spicy patchouli-woody scent bearing streaks of geranium and, once in a blue moon, ghostly wisps of smoke or herbal lavender. In its final moments, all that is left is spiciness that bears a lingering hint of something vaguely like geranium.
Cuir de l’Aigle Russe’s longevity, projection, and sillage depended strongly on how much fragrance I applied. My small atomiser had a large nozzle, so the sprays were just like that of a regular bottle. With 2 sprays, the fragrance opened with about 4 inches of projection and a scent trail that extended 6 inches or roughly half an arm’s length before growing even larger. It was a seriously intense, pungent blast that was far stronger than my memories of vintage Brut, but it did soften over time. The numbers started to drop during the 2nd hour. By the start of the third one, the projection was roughly 1.5 to 2 inches, while the sillage was about 3 inches. Cuir de l’Aigle Russe became a skin scent 7.25 hours into its development, and lasted just short of 11 hours.
It was a very different story with 1 spray. Cuir de l’Aigle Russe opened with 2-3 inches of projection, about 4 inches of sillage, and became a skin scent after 4.25 hours. The focus of the notes skewed a little differently, too. The fragrance was almost all Brut for the first 3 hours, with very little of the Old Spice vibe. In the first few minutes, there was also a definite baby powder or talc aroma mixed with the barbershop cologne, though it didn’t last for more than 20 minutes. The tonka appeared, as always, at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the third, but the “chamois” leather phase was shorter at this lower dosage. In addition, there was no tobacco, and significantly less smokiness or resinous undercurrents. As a whole, Cuir de l’Aigle Russe felt as though it were going to die at the start of the 6th hour but it lingered on, lasting 7.5 hours in total.
I haven’t found any reviews of Cuir de l’Aigle Russe to provide you with comparative analysis and to show you how other people’s experiences may have differed from mine. The fragrance is too new to have an entry on Fragrantica at the time of this review, but you can check their Oriza page later. On Basenotes, there is only an early discussion thread from August mentioning the upcoming release of “Cuir Imperiale,” which is also the name given to the scent on its Basenotes entry page. There are no reviews there at this time.
So, I’m afraid you’re stuck with my impressions for now. For what it’s worth, when I wrote to Hugo Lambert about the Brut thing to Hugo Lambert, he was rather surprised and said it was the first time anyone had mentioned such a similarity. All I can say is that the two fragrances share a lot of notes, and some of Oriza’s creations have always had a very old-school, old-fashioned cologne vibe to my nose. That is hardly surprising given that how long ago they were originally released, but the barbershop cologne vibe is really accentuated here on my skin. I didn’t like it one bit. Brut and Old Spice may be classics, but I’d rather not smell like my grandfather. The rest of the fragrance, however, was actually quite enjoyable at times, though I think you have to be a patchouli lover to really appreciate it. As a whole, I think Cuir de l’Aigle Russe will probably work better for those who have an intense love for both geranium and herbal lavender. I also think men will like it more than women. There was nothing floral on my skin; not one iota of May rose, cabbage rose, or any other sort of rose, either.
This wasn’t an easy review to write. I have enormous fondness for Oriza and for the men behind it. I admire how hard they work and how hard they try, as well as their passion for Oriza’s historical legacy and their commitment to keeping it alive in an authentic manner. Oriza fragrances have never been for everyone; you must love their intense classicism and old-fashioned vibe. I happen to enjoy some of them very much indeed. (Chypre Mousse forever! Horizon and Heliotrope Blanc are very lovely, too.) But Cuir de l’Aigle Russe was a difficult scent for me, even if it subsequently improved quite significantly.
Nevertheless, if you appreciate the Oriza aesthetic, love all types of fougères, and also enjoy Spanish leather, woods, and spices, then I think you should give Cuir de l’Aigle Russe a try for yourself.
Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Oriza L. Legrand. That did not influence this review, I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.