Let’s Talk Russian Leather. No, not the Cuirs d’Russie under the banner of either Chanel, Creed, Guerlain, etc., nor the various other leathers often discussed (e.g. K10, Rien, Gomma, Lonestar Memories, Tuscan Leather, Cuir de Lancome, Cuir d’Arabie, Cuir Mauresque, Cuir Ottoman, Cuir d’Iris, Aramis, Bandit, Cabochard, etc.). Rather, I’m interested to hear from those that have delved into the Russian Leather colognes and aftershaves that were apparently commonly available decades ago and pop up on ebay now and again (e.g. Imperial Del Oro, Royal Argenta, Prince Obolenski, L’Argene, Davlyn, etc.). Since I’m drawing attention to it, I feel compelled to point out that I’m not a seller of any cologne, anywhere.
I’m a fan of Elsha 1776 which is marketed as a Russian Leather. To me it’s pleasant amber with a titch of smoke and leather, just a titch, and not at all similar to the birch tar monsters like Aramis. I did a little ‘research’ and was interested to hear/read accounts of Elsha Russian Leather being available decades back in typical small town clothing shops; A real slice of Americana from a bygone era, if you will. I believe Elsha copyrighted the ‘1776’ in the 1970s and that it went by Elsha Russian Leather beforehand. Elsha provides its own account of the history of Russian Leather on its site, elsha.com. I also stumbled upon this eBay Russian Leather Cologne Aftershave buying guide that I found interesting enough to share:
Russian Leather Cologne/Aftershave
Author information: ebay handle jethrobodinejr
The term Russian Leather cannot be copyrighted for a fragrance according to a decision of the United States Copyright Office. It is a generic term. That is likely the reason that so many different Russian Leather colognes and aftershaves had been available through the first seven decades of the 20th Century. (An availability that for some unknown reason [lest perhaps the lack of affiliation with a major fragrance manufacturer], has not continued into the 21st century.) Russian Leather fragrance is supposed to have been based on the smell of a certain type of leather that per legend only the Russian aristocracy was allowed to possess!
One author in writing of Imperial del Oro Russian Leather noted: 'But Birch Oil is probably the most important scent ingredient that gives real Russian Leather it's characteristic smell....It is natural for man also to include salicylates in his perfumes as well and especially essential to create a Russian Leather fragrance. ...[H]eavy animal fat such as whale oil was also traditionally used in the process of making Russian Leather; it softened the leather and preserved it as well as its distinctive scent. Today, synthetic scent molecules and fixatives are used to produce the same rounding harmonizing effect in perfume... As a final step in preparing actual Russian Leather, it is treated with Birch oil, Sandalwood resin and Gutta percha (yet another type of tree resin) mixture to give it increased strength and a pleasing color. But the animal fat and Gutta percha do not leave the leather yet with an acceptable smell, so a mix of benzoin, tonka beans, orris root and more sandalwood are used to sweeten its scent yet more. So finally a list of notes from which we can imaginatively build our Russian Leather cologne: white flowers (tuberose and lily of the valley), essences of birch bud oil, pine and willow tree saps, Styrax flower and benzion, sandalwood, plus a synthetic animal-like fat molecule for fixative. And something you do not see mentioned from actual Russian leather preparations but that is smelled in the cologne (and perfumes), is hesperides or citrus. In Imperial Russian Leather there seems to be a combination of fresh green bergamot and a sweeter orange note. So even though I can't find an explicit list of notes for this vintage Russian Leather made by Imperial Del Oro, its scent likely incorporates many of the above notes. This particular blend is a very pleasing, being a smooth and strong'. Amelia, The Vintage Perfume Vault (Blog) 'Imperial del Oro Russian Leather' November 20, 2008.
There have been many Russian Leathers of US, French and other vintages in the 20th Century, especially during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The zenith in terms of number of brands and number of bottles sold likely occurred in the 1960s. Not only did colognes and aftershaves bear the name Russian Leather, but soaps and talcs were also marketed by many of the cologne and aftershave makers. None of these Russian Leather products was marketed by a major cosmetic/fragrance company. Perhaps that is why none are available today with a very few exceptions: Elsha, Demeter, Creed are made today and have Russian Leather types or are or claimed to be based on the Russian Leather scent. This author does not feel these compare to the Russian Leathers popular in the mid 20th century.
Russian Leathers were made by Cosmetco in Long Beach and Los Angeles California. Their two brands were Royal Argenta & Imperial del Oro (discussed in article in The Vintage Perfume Vault (Blog), above, and by implication that blog author's favorite--Royal Argenta and Imperial del Oro would be close to being tied as my favorites (In this writer's subjective opinion these were the two best Russian Leathers, with the former slightly preferred). Argenta=silver and oro=gold and these Cosmetco fragrances were indeed produced in bottles hand-decorated respectively in real silver and gold.
Probably the largest producers were Stacy of Providence, Rhode Island (Prince Obolenski); Cosmetco; Maisson Renee, Paris & Hollywood; Sacoma Cosmetique, New York; and Saxony, Los Angeles, all but Saxony and Cosmetco not having a particular brand. Aristocrat from Los Angeles had very similar packaging and fragrances and manufacturing locale to Saxony and likely both were from the same manufacturer. This would also likely be the case with Imperial Toiletries For Men Russian Leather which came from the same locale as the Cosmetco Russian Leathers and a bottle very similar to Imperial del Oro and had a scent almost or in fact indistinguishable from the latter. Cosmetco also later made Royal Silver and Del Oro with the Imperial omitted in the same bottles and scents as Royal Argenta and Imperial del Oro. L' Argene of New York apparently (at least according to litigation as well as appearance) was a copier of successful fragrances and seems to have copied Stacy's marketing (Prince Obolenski--see L Argene Duke of Odessa) although LArgene's fragrances smelled different [and in this author's opinion- better] than Prince Obolenski; it does not seem at all that they merely tried to copy the style and certainly not the scent per se but came up with a superior product and it would appear put some time, money, and creativity into its marketing, style and scent.
Other Notable manufacturers that put out a good procuct were Davlyn, Renard, Executive, Louis D'Or, Rose Dor, Delatour, and Parfum's Lency. Of these all but the latter three produced product that was simply named "Russian Leather." The latter 3 however produced Russian Leathers respectively named Czar Nicholas V, Royal Cossack, and the very rare and incomparable Essence Imperiale Russe.
This information is not based on firsthand knowledge. It is what I have put together from reading and purchasing (and even attempting to make) Russian Leathers.
People have asked why copies of some of the more successful Russian Leathers are not mass marketed. None of the apparently successful Russian Leathers was marketed by a major fragrance manufacturer. All have disappeared. I do not know how one gets to market a great scent if one is not a major fragrance manufacturer or someone with large funds available for the project (even with a great fragrance or copy). Hopefully this will be of some use to some interested in this fascinating fragrance. -- Thomas J McKeon, Indianapolis --
So, how about it? Anyone else interested in these old bottles of Russian Leather? If so, what are your experiences? In general terms, how do they smell? Are they worth the effort and expense to check out or are they pretty much just gussied up aqua velva aged for a few decades? The more specifics the better.
The following are pics of some of the brands mentioned throughout the buyers guide above:
russian leather - imperial del oro.jpgrussian leather - saxony.jpgrussian leather - royal argenta.jpgrussian leather - prince obelinski.jpgrussian leather - maison royale.jpgrussian leather - maison renee.jpgrussian leather - diplomat.jpg