Cuir de Russie (Creed Private Collection)

Leave it to Creed to create a dry Russian leather perfume that smells just as fresh and sparkly-clean as Acqua di Gio. When I think of leather, I think of animalic, dusky, dark notes, dusty accords found in old-school classics like English Leather and the original Chaps. What doesn't typically enter my imagination is the idea of "freshness." For fresh, people don't buy bottles labeled "leather." They usually go for those pale blue things with breezy names that every guy and his cousin wears. So it was very surprising to find that Creed put such a concentrated effort into making their own classic leather smell of salty ambergris and sea spray, evocative of a sailor in a leather coat, and the smell of his garment after many hours exposed to rough weather. Not what I was expecting at all.

I consider this fragrance to be styrax heaven, its gloriously smooth, understated animal hide constructed with additional notes of bergamot, pine, neroli, and birch, most of which are evident in the first hour of wear before melding into an inseparable slating of salty dryness. The Russian incense analogies elicited by the heavy use of natural benzoin resins are taken out of church and into the wild, thanks to ambergris and salt notes, yet Cuir de Russie isn't a fragrance I would reach for before a sailing trip or a walk on the beach. While its references to wind and waves are obvious, its woody green notes are very starched and conservative, and the composition reads as a brisk formal scent for uptown dinner parties and executive board meetings. It's fresh, yes, but it's also quite direct and serious.

Nevertheless, like the aforementioned Armani bestseller, CdR is easy to wear, loud enough to be over-applied, and not entirely "natural" in tone or effect. This is a postmodern leather. Its unisex appeal, quality craftsmanship, and enduring reputation as one of the better Russian leathers to hit the niche market make it worth seeking out if you're a fan of this sort of thing. I was never much for leathers (I'd sooner wear something with strong tobacco in it), but if I were to spot a flacon of this perfume in a store somewhere, I would inquire about it. It's good enough to spend a few hundred dollars on, that's for sure.

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