We’ve just had our first cold mornings here. Which means I reached into the closet for my leather jacket. I’ve owned it for over twenty years. I don’t remember exactly when I purchased it, but it is old and I’m happy it still fits. When I slip it on the first time two things always happen. I smile at the history that jacket and I have lived through. Then I walk back to the perfume collection and find my bottle of Knize Ten.
Knize Ten is the one of the original leather perfumes, created in 1925. Joseph Knize was a Viennese tailor who had royalty for clients. He wanted to offer a fragrance for his male clients which was not the typical floral constructs favored by the dandies of the day. He enlisted perfumers Vincent Roubert and Francois Coty to formulate that alternative. They landed on leather as the style of perfume they would create. This time in modern perfumery it was the birch tar laden Cuir de Russie-type leathers which were in vogue. Messrs. Roubert and Coty had a different vision while creating Knize Ten. What they made was a mannered leather fit for Hr. Knize’s clients.
Knize Ten opens with a bracing citrus focused top accord around petitgrain. The perfumers use tarragon and rosemary as herbal interrogators of the green within petitgrain. It turns decidedly spicy as cinnamon and clove enter the picture. All of this is prelude to the leather accord. At first it has a powdery effect enhanced by iris. It is an interesting part of the development. It seems like the perfumers maybe wanted to entice the dandies in with iris before unloading with a full leather. That full leather comes next. Early on I read someone’s description of this as the smell of an oil change in a garage. Every time I wear it, I see this. There is a greasiness to the early stages of the leather. It continues to intensify at the same time sandalwood arrives. As it settles in for the long haul it is the scent of my well-worn leather jacket.
Knize Ten has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
I have always considered Knize Ten as a timeless leather perfume. Almost one hundred years after it was first released it still holds up. Just like my leather jacket.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
When it comes to the scents of summer most of us think of beaches, fruits, and green growing things. I was reminded of another less referenced scent of summer with some road construction in front of my house; tar. Birch tar has been one of the key components of leather accords. Even though the overall effect is that of tanned cowhide when I wear these perfumes there is also a hint of country blacktop, too. Here are five of my favorite tar perfumes.
In 1927 Chanel perfumer Ernest Beaux would use birch tar as the key ingredient in his “Russian leather” accord. It would be the beginning of its widespread use for nearly the next 100 years. Cuir de Russie has been a part of the Les Exclusifs collection and it shows off a raw tanned leather as the name promises. M. Beaux tempers it with the use of aldehydes, jasmine, and sandalwood. Don’t kid yourself though this is all about the leather; gloriously so.
Two years before Cuir de Russie perfumers Francois Coty and Vincent Roubert produced an unabashedly straightforward leather fragrance, Knize Ten. The perfumers make one of the most full-bodied leather perfumes ever. Their accord reminds me of not only birch tar but the motor oil scent of a garage. It might sound unpleasant, but it is mesmerizing to me. A musky patchouli sandalwood base accord is the main complement to the uber-leather accord.
I leave it to Comme des Garcons to give me the exact scent of overheated asphalt. In 2004’s Series 6 Synthetic: Tar perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer accomplishes it. She uses birch tar as the nucleus but expertly weaves in styrax, castoreum, and opoponax. It is exactly what the road in front of my house smells like this month. It is this aesthetic which has elevated Comme des Garcons above so many of their contemporaries.
Just as Tar is emblematic of the creativity at Comme des Garcons the existence of Le Labo Patchouli 24 does the same for that brand. Perfumer Annick Menardo finds the intersection of birch tar and patchouli to create a fascinating pungency. That she adds in a bit of sweet vanilla as contrast to it only serves to delineate it all. Another great perfume from one of the true innovators of niche perfumery.
Even though it was the smell of summer road work which got me in to this column; Sonoma Scent Studio Winter Woods is how you use tar along with cade wood to create that winter haze of woodsmoke. Those two ingredients form one of the most intense woodsmoke accords I have. Independent perfumer Laurie Erickson spends the rest of the development taming the smoke with warm amber, clean cedar, green vetiver, and sweet sandalwood. It is among the best that this talented artisanal perfumer has produced.
As I look back over this list it might be the most imaginative list I’ve produced for this series. Every one of these perfumes are among the best of the brands and styles described. If you love perfume this is something to get on the road to try.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.