If there is anything I associate as the scent of luxury it is leather. Leather always seems like an upgrade. Ricardo Montalban would tell me soft Corinthian leather was part of the luxury of the automobile he was hawking. The pieces of leather I’ve owned all seem like some of the most high-end things I own. Part of that is the smell of leather. There is something primal and opulent about it.
Leather has been a staple of modern perfumery since the 1927 release of Chanel Cuir de Russie by perfumer Ernest Beaux. Here is the thing there is no such thing as leather essential oil. When you smell leather in a perfume it has to be a created accord by the perfumer to smell like leather. When I learned this I realized whenever I smelt leather in a perfume, I was encountering a perfumer’s signature.
Because there is no one recipe every perfumer creates their own version of the accord. M. Beaux would use one of the materials used to tan leather, birch tar, as the foundation for the one in Cuir de Russie. Ever since, each perfumer has had the opportunity to evolve the making of their accord as more and more ingredients became available.
This has resulted in perfume with differing leather effects. They can be subtle as a driving glove to as robust as that original saddle leather. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour would make different leather accords for different compositions. He combined styrax and birch tar for the classic leather vibe. Frankincense, davana, cistus, and saffron form a piquant version. Angelica seed, blackcurrant bud, and tomato leaf form a raw untanned scent. My favorite is his combination of castoreum and ambergris. There is just the right balance of refined and animalic that is near perfect.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois
A recent pair of releases shows the difference ways a leather accord can be tuned to very different styles of perfume. Perfumer Quentin Bisch working with Marc-Antoine Barrois. Released their first perfume based on a leather accord called Marc-Antoine Barrois B683. This is that luxurious leather accord I spoke of at the beginning. This leather caresses and envelops me in all the things which make leather great. They would return a year later with Marc-Antoine Barrois Ganymede. This time the leather accord is used in a near transparent way allowing immortelle to tease out the ambergris I am pretty sure is there. This makes it that kind of salty animalic that I enjoyed so much by M. Duchaufour.
Leather is one of the most important accords in all of perfumery. It also allows the perfumers an opportunity to append a scented signature to their works. This is why I adore it.
When I was a child if there was a scent I associated with success and power it was leather. Whenever we visited family and friends who I perceived as successful the smell of leather was everywhere. In the furniture we sat on. In the pair of driving gloves worn as we drove in a big car. A leather covered desk in a wood-paneled office. This became hardwired into my developing mind as even now I still must overcome the impulse. What it does mean is when there are perfumes which go for this it brings me back to a childhood where the smell of leather is a pure luxury. Marc-Antoine Barrois B683 is one which reminds me of all of this.
Marc-Antoine Barrois is a menswear designer in Paris. He works on bespoke creations for his clientele. He decided he wanted a perfume to scent his store. For him he also shared the same childhood memories of leather as luxury. It turns out perfumer Quentin Bisch is another who also feels this way. When M. Barrois and M. Bisch came together it became obvious this was the style of perfume they would collaborate on.
Quentin Bisch (l.) and Marc-Antoine Barrois (Photo: Fred Zara)
When a leather accord is constructed it can go in many directions. Based on my experience the refined version is the most difficult to achieve. As a perfumer pulls together the pieces, I think rough spots frequently show up requiring a more precise construction. What is achieved in B683 is that high degree of difficulty leather accord achieving the desired effect.
The opening of B683 is a surprising spice mélange of black pepper, nutmeg, saffron, and Szechuan pepper. I have extolled the use of the last material a lot recently. In the hands of a perfumer like M. Bisch it still can impress in new ways. In this case M. Bisch teases out a green thread and uses the nutmeg and saffron to make it more pronounced. As much as I like the leather which comes next this top accord is compelling. The leather does come next. This is that refined supple style of leather that only seems to be attached to luxury items. It is bracketed by softly resinous labdanum and green violet leaves. The violet leaves pick up that green thread from the top accord and passes it along to the oakmoss in the base. The foundation of B683 is sandalwood, patchouli, and ambroxan. This forms a very dry woody accord as the ambroxan is used to tamp down the less arid aspects of patchouli and sandalwood.
B683 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
The star of B683 is the leather accord at its heart which lives up to its brief. It is a gorgeous example of this. For me it is the top accord which was my favorite part. Somewhat like the opening act overshadowing the headliner. The entire experience of B683 is one of leather as the epitome of luxury.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.