Peau d’Espagne (Spanish Leather) is a brash, dark leather fragrance that drills home its point without losing the plot somewhere over amberland or vanillaville.
Unlike cuirs de Russie (Russian leathers), leather fragrances classified as peau d’espagne (Spanish leather) types do not rely primarily on birch tar for their smoky, leathery effect, but instead recreate it through the use of a complex locking system of various dry herbs, flowers (carnation), and dusty woods.
The Peau d’Espagne type of leather came about from the process of curing the leather for fine ladies’ gloves with a sweet-smelling mixture of flowers and botanical essences, which of course masked the terrible stench of uncured leather.
Peau d’Espagne is the oldest, and finest, surviving representative of this type of leather, and although it does contain a small amount of rectified birch tar, its total effect owes more to its complex floral construction than to birch tar. Although it plainly skews masculine, I think this could be phenomenally sexy on the right woman – a bad-ass perhaps, or if playing against type, a quiet, feminine girl who wants her aura to read as unexpectedly kinky.
The leather note is strong and dry, a piece of raw cowhide waiting to be tanned in a vat of dyes. But though it is dark, it is also fresh with an underbelly of green herbs, camphor, and even a touch of mint flooding the gloom with slivers of light.
The florals lend their effect rather than a distinct aroma of their own - the carnation note gives a flourish of clove-scented powder to the leather, and the violet leaf a sharp, green, almost metallic edge.
There is a touch of birch tar here, too, and although I wouldn’t really call this a phenolic fragrance, there is a distinct whiff of tar pits. But think sweet tar, like that in Patchouli 24 or the sweet, rubbery florals behind the tough saddle leather in Lonestar Memories.
As with a few other Santa Maria Novella fragrances, there is a distinctly antiseptic note floating through the heart here, almost like TCP or germolene. This adds a pleasantly medicinal touch, and replicates somewhat the balance achieved in something like Tubereuse Criminelle between the floral, creamy side and the harsh, wintergreen aspect. It is this antiseptic mouthwash note that brings together all the other elements – the leather, the herbs, the carnation, the tar.
A striking, if rather rough leather fragrance in a tradition of Peau d’Espagne that is no longer in fashion.
I haven't yet met another person that likes the smell of this, but god I love it! It's like mentholated smoked ham! Santa Maria Novella fragrances so reliably elicit perturbed "What ARE you wearing!" responses that it makes me laugh. People hate it but it smells wonderful. I like to think this is the Peau d'Espagne Molly Bloom remembers wearing in the last chapter of Ulysses. Wear it for yourself. "What IS THAT you are wearing!" like it's a personal affront. Mmmmmmm, soapy tarry fatty medicated meat strips. Glorious.
In a world where perfumes routinely smell like burnt rubber or bleach, it's amazing and kind of awesome that a century-old perfume can still be this shocking.
Peau d'Espagne is almost impossibly complex but worth the effort to get to know. On one hand, it's got a bit of a Knize Ten vibe, but MUCH harsher, with the dreaded gasoline note amplified until the whole thing smells like its fumes could get you high (if they don't kill you first). The suede and flowers fit into a chypre shell, but alongside a slug of dirty, almost burnt patchouli and a generous helping of hot vinegar fumes. There's also a weird minty brightness that comes across as vaguely moldy, but it fits right in with the gasoline and vinegar, so it's actually an interesting counterbalance.
To be honest, most people, including many collectors, will think this smells awful. It exists in limited production for the classic leather fanatics and chypre fetishists and devotees of oily patchouli, flatly rejecting any attempt at mainstream appeal, which I think is brilliant.
Saddles, tack, horses.... this leather scent has them all. It is an intensely dark, dry leather that is extremely masculine; it is as timeless as the smell of horses and stables (and their timeless appeal as well). There is a medicinal note that smells a bit like saddle soap, but even more like the treated water used to wash horses before the water is scraped off, like in a Roman bath, and they are curry combed and brushed. This scent is old school, old world and old money (and worth every scent in new money terms!).
shamu1 has said it all and very well indeed.
Dark and dry, bitter, herbal, resinous, strong, black, smoky, meaty. One of the first and greatest leathers ever made and thank goodness, still available after 113 years.
In the late 1800s/early 1900s it was one of forty Peau d'Espagnes available and one of the very few to have survived intact without any attempt to beautify the harsh real leather scent. Barbara Herman tells us that the secret is the use of linaloe berry (a cross between lavender, bergamot and mint), which gives it that dry, bitter, herbal note. Musk, amber and civet go a long way to soften the effect as it dries down.
Too bad it is so expensive - it is a great great leather and should be experienced by everyone interested in the scent. One of the most masculine scents ever made. Samples are available affordably on the internet.
Yee-haw! Saddle up cowpoke and stuff a sock down yer jocks.
One heck of a swaggering scent, which opens with a burst of sweet herbs and freshly split wood but soon finds its balance in a mix of smoky birch tar, well-used leather and a sweaty fenugreek-like note. Well-constructed, if a little piercing when sniffed up close. The sweat fades as the hours go by, and the leather gets drier and drier – and increasingly addictive. Beautiful, if somewhat challenging, stuff from the start. Funnily enough, this opens up splendidly on a summer’s day, gaining an airy dimension that the winter cold damps down.
Historical note: the name refers to the expensive scented Spanish leather items which had their heyday among the aristos of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. Why scent your leather? To cover up the pong of having cured it in urine.