Knize Ten

Knize Ten

Knize Ten was designed by Francois Coty and Vincent Roubert in 1920, and is arguably one of the first leathery fragrances. It was commissioned by Joseph Knize, a Viennese bespoke tailor. And before we go on, a word on pronunciation: This name is not pronounced like "knees" or "knife" or any other Anglo-centric interpretation. It is pronounced: K-NEE-sche. Now we can move on to talking about the scent itself... 

The perfumers have most likely used a then-new leather base from a fragrance firm when the then-novel molecule isobutyl quinoline was invented, and incorporated into the Cuir de Russie base. 

What I first get is the impression of a dry, cracked leather chair. There is also a clean, soapy accord, the dry and green-leafy aspects of Eau de Cologne. Knize Ten opens bright and clean, with mandarin, bitter orange and bergamot. It has a very elegant but also a bit severe, reminds me of a moustached man meticulously dressed only to armour himself as deep within he's a gentle and soft. And indeed, as it warms up on the skin, it softens to reveal  floral sides, namely violet and carnation notes that lurk afterwards.  

Keeping it within the historical context, it seems to have more than a tad in common with Tabac Blond (1919), complete with the parched dryness of isobutyl quinoline paired with carnation (also probably a floral base). 

The isobutyl quionoline is truly the star of the show here, and being surrounded by quite the herb-garden (geranium, rosemary, petitgrain) and diffuse sweet gums and balsams (vanilla and labdanum-based amber), oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood and castoreum, give it a more natural feel. I may be imagining the tobacco note there. And a hint of spicy cloves or carnation. 

As it develops on the skin, it becomes more and more balsamic-resinous. The birch tar, as it would in true life, becomes more woody and resinous, almost incense-like. And at the very end bit awaits another round of dryness, from cedarmoss. 

Top notes: Bitter Orange, Bergamot, Rosemary, Lemon

Heart notes: Petitgrain, Orange Blossom, Geranium, Cloves, Carnation, Orris

Base notes: Labdanum, Vanilla, Tobacco, Cedarmoss, Ambergris, Birch Tar, Isobutyl quionoline 

Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather)

Cuir de Russie (Russian Leather)

Cuir de Russie is an age-old theme in perfumery, and has been explored thoroughly by many houses, niche or not. But if you're looking for one that has none of the ubiquitous isobutyl quinoline, not to mention one that actually comes from Russia, Anna Zworykina's interpretation of the theme is both traditional and refreshing.

Traditionally, Cuir de Russie fragrances feature the two key ingredients that give Russian leather is characteristic scent: castoreum (from the Russian - or Canadian beaver) and birch tar.

Castoreum being an animal product, creates a presence of actual leather (or rather, a fur pelt), creating depth and complexity, and a sexy-animalic potency. Technically speaking, castor is what it keeps the perfume getting better in the bottle every year, aging, curing and changing; and at the same time also gives it an astounding longevity on the skin.

Birch tar is a specialty material, prepared in only a handful of villages in Russian and Poland, using an age-old process of pyrolysis. This is a slow burn and suffocation of birch wood, resulting in partial combustion which produces a thick and sticky tar that has moisture-and-rot-resistant properties. It is first and foremost a substance that used in the oiling process of cured leather, which gives the leather the desired water-resistant properties. Traditionally, the leather processed in that manner in Russia would be dyed red (only sometimes in black), and used for making boots suitable for the sub-zero Russian winter.  Birch tar use in perfumery is only secondary, owing to its intense smoky odour and leather connotations, sparking the imagination with primordial notions of campfire, hunting and our ancient origins of living in minimal shelters, exposed to the four elements and relying on them for sustenance and survival. Wether if you like the smell of tar or note, it is impossible to stay aloof to this reminder of our origins and connection to fire as a source of power, both physically and spiritually. 

It is refreshing to smell the actual raw ingredients used to scent leather in there, namely birch tar as well as wormwood; yet equally refreshing is the use of brighter notes here that gives it a lift and a sense of the outdoors. Leather fragrances, and in particularly the "Russian Leather" types, can easily become overbearing and heavier while worn. In this perfume, there is something really light and bright about it, that prevents it from being weighed down too much. The smokiness paired with lighter and brighter citrus notes and green galbanum and artemisia gives me the feeling of stepping out of a smoky cabin in the middle of the forest in the winter, and breathing in fresh, snowy air filled with coniferous breath.  

After the intial outdoorsiness, there is a deep dive into luxurious resins and flowers, most notably labdanum, orange blossom and jasmine. And slowly but surely, the castoreum makes a return, only that now it is more refined and subdued. It reminds me of the old Peau d'Espagne perfume, which was used to scent leather. And this should not be a huge surprise, as it also has castoreum, birch tar and floral bouquet and shares most of the materials used here in the base notes as the main components. You'd get a whiff of vetiver, and sandalwood and patchouli, but the overall feel is rather ambery-balsamic and not smoky anymore. The final dry down, about eight hours in, features a very delicate lace of grey moss, resulting from the dissipation of oakmoss primarily, and hints of vetiver. This brings to mind the frozen forest undergrowth under layers of snow. 

Top notes: Galbanum, Lemon, Bergamot, Yuzu, Absinthe

Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Rose de May, Jasmine, Ylang-ylang, Carnation,

Base notes: Birch Tar, Tobacco, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Labdanum, Vetiver, Vanuatu Sandalwood, Ambrette, Castoreum, Ambergris

Cuir de Russie

While Tabac Blond is a rebel, with an elegant off-beat premise – Cuir de Russie is an unusual take on luxury and chic.

While the animalic notes in Tabac Blond are abstract and allude to leather bound books and horse-takcs, and set the mood of a desired loneliness, in Cuir de Russie these are present to make a statement of uncompromised luxury and decadent style.

Cuir de Russie, more than other leather scents that I met, really makes me re-think the relationships between luxury, wilderness, death and perfume. The animal essences here are so strongly present, that you can’t help but think of the forests in Russia where wild animals’ lives has been taken away for the sake of their skins and furs. I cannot wear Cuir de Russie without thinking about a fur coat and a furry Russian hat. Maybe it’s because my mind is set on these clichés. Maybe it is because the first time I smelled Cuir de Russie was in one of the most luxurious spaces – the Chanel boutique. Perhaps it’s really the scent doing this, as reeks of luxury quite blatantly.

Wearing Cuir de Russie is like wearing a fur coat. Which is a big statement. It’s going all the way for appearance. It’s telling the world that you are willing to kill for your looks. That you don’t really care about wild life. But it’s also a reminder that once upon a time, before we learned how to make textile and fabricate our clothes, we had to burrow other animal’s skins and furs to survive the cold long winters. In those far-away days, where fur was a question of life-and-death.

When I wear Cuir de Russie, I think of a snow-covered forest in Siberia, where a hunter is just recovering the hunted animal, breathlessly giving away its winter coat which is soon to be traded for rye bread, sausages, vodka, and other Russian necessities of life.

Chanel’s Cuir de Russie reeks of animal essences – primarily castoreum absolute, an essence extracted from the Russian – and Canadian – beavers, after they have been hunted for their furs. There is also civet galore. It’s amazing how furry this perfume is thanks to those essences. But there are other notes as well, and these are what make Cuir de Russie such a masterpiece:
It opens with notes of cade and a resinous, dark myrrh. Than, leathery cassie notes fleet around, like a misty cloud of foggy vapour – airy, powdery, barely visible. Soon enough, we move into a phase of an airy white floral bouquet – jasmine sambac being the most visible of all. Roses undfold later and the perfume turns into a smooth bouquet of notes that are not quite separable from one another, but harmonize to create an overall creamy, smooth leatherness. There are sweet resins and balsams (namely benzoin and labdanum), a subtle, sexy musk, and a most definite note of castoreum paired with civet. Hours later, I smell a familiar oakmoss dry down, but it is very subdued.

*Image of a Woman in a Fur Coat by Nick DeWolf dated December 8th 1970, courtesy of dboo
**I chose this picture because it is elegant, yet it seems the woman really needs the warmth of the coat...
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