Luxe Leather – Review: Chanel’s Cuir de Russie

By Tara

There’s no getting around it, you really have to like birch tar to like Cuir de Russie. Historically, the bark of the birch tree has been cooked-up and used to cure leather. The synthetic birch tar accord used in perfumery today is deep, dark, resinous and animalic. If like me, you are fond of inhaling smoky aromas, chances are you will like leather perfumes.

Fragrances with prominent birch tar can be rugged like Tauer’s Lonestar Memories or intense like Le Labo’s Patchouli 24, but Cuir de Russie is a smooth and elegant take on leather.

Other notes include aldehydes, orange blossom, bergamot, mandarin, clary sage, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, carnation, cedar, vetiver; styrax, amber and vanilla.

However, despite the aldehydic start, the floral heart and the ambery base, it’s really all about the leather. Bold and beautiful, it oozes sophistication and more than a little edge.

Cuir de Russie was originally created in 1927 by Chanel’s Master Perfumer, Ernest Beaux at a time when all things Russian were fashionable. He created this provocative perfume for the emancipated “Roaring Twenties” woman who was out drinking, smoking and voting.  It’s conception becomes more intriguing once you learn that during the 1920s Coco Chanel was having a love affair with the Russian Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (the cousin of Tsar Nicholas II). In her book “Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life” Justine Picardie describes Cuir de Russie as the “bottled…essence of her romance with the Grand Duke”.

Reformulated by Jacques Polge in 1983, Cuir de Russie is now part of Les Exclusifs. Known as a perfume for grown-ups, it’s hard to imagine it appealing to your average teenager. It feels decadent, and sensuous, with just a hint of darkness. Its smoky warmth makes it an ideal perfume for autumn and winter and perfectly suitable for men as well as women. It wears very close to the skin, coating you with an olfactory shield of leather. Considering it has such a strong personality you won’t be surprised to learn that it is extremely tenacious, resulting in outstanding lasting power.

If I need a confidence boost, only Cuir de Russie will do.  Other women rely on sharp tailoring and killer heels, I rely on Cuir de Russie.

Cuir de Russie is available in 75ml and 200ml Eau de Toilette  and 15ml Parfum.

Image source: chanel.com
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53 Responses to Luxe Leather – Review: Chanel’s Cuir de Russie

  1. Liam says:

    I love Cuir de Russie. It is one of the ultimate sophisticated, gender-bending, smokey, smooth, classic and cool fragrances ever. In fact, considering I only have a few drops of a decant left, I have to buy a new bottle soon, thank you Birgit!

    • Tara says:

      Liam, I love your description of Cuir de Russie, that sums it up beautifully. A full bottle is highly recommended!

      • Liam says:

        Thank you Tara, I’m sure a big bottle is in order, however as I found out today on my lunch break, Belfast does not stock it :( another day it seems.

        • Tara says:

          I’m surprised that such a big city as Belfast doesn’t have a stockist for Les Exclusifs. That’s too bad. Hope you find another way to get access to CdR.

          • Liam says:

            You know what, I actually confused in my head this Cuir de Russie with another, that of LT Piver’s. I was sent a sample of it this year, and IT was the smoky, cool, sophisticated fragrance I was thinking of!

            I was in Dublin over the weekend and the Chanel outfitter in Brown Thomas is the only place in Ireland, north and south, to stock Les Exclusifs. Belfast is such a small city, it’s dubbed, The World’s Biggest Village. I have to admit, I wasn’t dying about Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, I much more prefer LT Piver’s take, much smokier, much smoother.

          • Tara says:

            That’s interesting Liam. A lot of people find Cuir de Russie to be more weighted in favour of the iris than the leather so can I can imagine it not standing up to a very smoky leather scent. To me it has more than enough leather but that’s probably because I prefer the more “elegant” variety.

            I wonder if you would prefer the Parfum concentration as it is smoother and more animalic. In any case I will check out the LT Piver CdR if I get the chance – sounds interesting. I do hear that Brown Thomas is THE department store in Ireland.

  2. Undina says:

    I LOVE this perfume. It will be a full bottle in my collection very soon (it’s on my short list already). Tara, I’m so glad you reviewd it – it’s a beautiful review for a beautiful perfume (and it’s a very nice picture – whoever had chosen it).

    • Tara says:

      Thanks Undina! I’m so glad you think I did it justice, that was very important to me as it is such an iconic perfume. I’m very pleased it’s made your “to buy” shortlist.

      That is my favourite photo of Coco Chanel. It has an otherworldly quality to it.

  3. Ines says:

    I really like Patchouli 24 so I’m thinking I’d probably like this as well. I don’t remember smelling it, and I thought I worked my way through most of the exclusive Chanels…

    • Tara says:

      Ines, you absolutely MUST try Cuir de Russie asap! I’m certain you would love it. The birch tar is a hundred times more subtle than in P24 but it’s constant throughout. Please add to your Parisian “to sniff” list!

  4. andrea says:

    I am going to London this weekend and after your review I may have to take the brave step of going into the Chanel boutique to have a sniff, I am already destined to go to the Hermes Boutique but that is with the intention of buying the Amber Hermessence. Its the unfriendly looking SA’s that I don’t like.
    Very good review Tara. :-)

    • Tara says:

      Andrea, don’t worry about the Chanel perfume boutique SAs at Selfridges. They’ve always been nice and helpful to me so I’m sure you’ll be more than fine and give you some samples. Likewise, as you’re actually buying something from Hermes I’m sure they’ll be a lot to nicer to you than me when I was just asking for samples! (They gave them to me all the same). I’m excited for your Ambre Narguile purchase, that is such a wonderful perfume and fantastic for this time of year.

      Have fun this weekend and if you do go to Selfridges, check out the Dior perfume boutique and get yourself some of their Collection Privee samples as well!

      • andrea says:

        Tara, thanks for your recommendations, will try and fit in a visit to Selfridges (only there for the day) sadly the Amber Narguile is for the BF, he hijacked it from me when I ordered the travel set and now deems it full bottle worthy. Still its not like it is hidden so I can still use it, I just find it a bit weird to smell the same as him though.

        • Tara says:

          I think the SAs at Selfridges are nicer and it is a lot less intimidating than going to the individual boutiques, plus there’s such a range. So do go if you have the time.

          That’s great that your boyfriend loves AN so much. Though all the Hermessences are unisex I would have thought that would be too sweet for a lot of guys. I know what you mean about both wearing the same perfume – a bit like wearing matching jumpers :) Perhaps you can wear it on the days he doesn’t. In any case, he’s a lucky guy if you’re going to treat him to a full bottle!

          • andrea says:

            He does not know how lucky he is though I do keep reminding him, he likes the smokey aspect to it as he is an begrudging ex smoker so I think it gives him a small fix.. Method in my madness buying him full bottle, I am hoping that a visit to tiffany’s will be in order. :-)

  5. Caro says:

    The EDT is probably one of my Top 5 scents, beautiful, deep and smooth. I intend to get the extrait as soon as I can.

    • Tara says:

      Caro, the EDT is indeed beautiful, deep and smooth . I suspect the extrait may be a bit too potent for me, though I’ve only tried it once. Hope you get your bottle very soon.

  6. Natalie says:

    I liked reading your take on this, Tara, it was very evocative. I think I like Cuir de Russie, but I haven’t had the chance to wear it many times. I’m looking forward to remedying that eventually though.

  7. LOVE Cuir de Russie! I had the opportunity to try some of the vintage a few months back and – oh! I was in heaven. I would love a bottle of the extrait, when I have the money for it.

    • Tara says:

      Joey, you are so lucky to have tried the vintage CdR, how wonderful! I understand that the leather was a lot more pronounced. Hope you get a bottle of the extrait in the not too distant future.

  8. Cheri says:

    I have the parfum. I find it very smooth, perhaps smoother than the edt.

    I had a tiny decant of the vintage edt (or was it edc? It is long gone!) and the original was more animalic than the current formulation (my bottle is from 2010.)
    It is certainly one of my favorites!

    • Tara says:

      Yes, I think the parfum and the older formulations are smoother and more animalic. I have to say that the current EDT is just animalic enough for my tastes but I’m glad Cuir de Russie is one of your favourites, whatever the vintage/formulation.

      • Cheri says:

        I love all of them. I just find them different enough to invest in a small decant of the older version. The new version parfum is my most favorite.

  9. Olfactoria says:

    Thank you for this beautiful review of Cuir de Russie, Tara! It is one of the very few leather scents I adore. It is beyond elegant and sophisticated. I’m happy with the EdT though, the parfum would be a bit much for me…

    • Tara says:

      Thanks, B! I have to agree. While I like few leather scents (Cuir de Lancome and Sarrasins chiefly), Cuir de Russie in the EDT is just right for me too.

  10. civava says:

    I love that one! End of words.

  11. Suzanne says:

    Tara, your review of Cuir de Russie is dreamy and wonderful. I have a feeling I’ll be returning to it again and again as we move into 2012 and I can think about purchasing fragrances again. (I’m going to try and cool it until then.) ;)

    • Tara says:

      Thanks Suzanne! Cuir de Russie is going to be a staple of mine during the months too. I can completely understand about holding off on purchasing for a while. The good thing about it is that can then become clearer about what you really want to spend your money on.

  12. Joan says:

    I love Cuir de Russie! And Patchouli 24.

    I read that the older version of CDR was more leathery. This one seems like really soft leather to me. I can also smell a lot of iris. It’s easy to wear, while Patchouli 24 sometimes isn’t.

    I linked to your review!

    • Tara says:

      Many thanks, Joan. I think you’re right, from what I understand, the older version is a lot heavier on the leather and the new version has more iris. Luckily the current EDT is just about perfect for me. I admire the intensity of P24 but like you say, it’s not the most wearable of scents!

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  14. This is really beautiful to me, but almost too-too with the birch tar. I like my leathers creamier usually, but there are days when only Cuir de Russie (Chanel) will do! Thanks for a great review.

    • Tara says:

      Thanks very much, Jen. I like the softer leathers too (Cuir de Lancome is a lovely creamy leather) and aren’t always in mood for CdR but when it’s right, it’s RIGHT!

  15. holly says:

    Cuir de Russie is quite simply perfume perfection. I will sometimes dither about sniffing different perfumes before deciding what I’m going to wear and when I get to CdR, it’s just so obviously perfect, balanced and elegant. Even if I’m not going to wear it that day it always makes me pause to marvel at its beauty. Strangely, I find the EdT more strident than the extrait which is smoother and wears more closely to the body. I adore them both and can’t imagine being without them.

    • Tara says:

      That’s interesting about the extrait vs. the EDT. Often extraits are more smooth than weaker concentrations and I can imagine it being closer to the body. I guess I find the parfum just a touch too animalic for me but I marvel at it’s beauty, whatever the strength, too!

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