Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Chanel Cuir de Russie (Parfum)

Reflection and Self-Reinvention Part 2: How I Found My Chanel

When it comes to the classic perfume houses, I'm a Guerlain girl. I own a few vintage Carons which I learned to love and appreciate in parfum form, but as much as I've been trying for years, the magic of Chanel escaped me. I'm not even talking about the newer ones, Chance and Allure with all their flankers which I could never stand. It's the big guns, the famous and generally adored classics and classics-in-the-making that I just couldn't get to work for me.

I blamed the flowers, the aldehydes, and the French government, just because. The bottom line was elegant tester bottles mocking my unsophisticated skin and downtown tastes. Some turned upon contact (the horrors of No. 19, Coco Mademoiselle and Cristalle, very different from each other and only united in hating me), others were like wearing someone else's skin and clothes, simply not me. It made me sad.

I was aware of the more exclusive (even before the launch of the Les Exclusifs) Rue Cambon scents. They've been around for a while and I smelled them, probably in EDT version and never felt they were meant for me. I had a vague memory of what Cuir de Russie was like, but it didn't call my name, either, probably because it was so long ago and my young nose wasn't ready.

Over the last year or so I got reacquainted with the new formulation of the EDT. My complaint about the entire line still stands: Too Big, Too Sheer, Too Thin. But I couldn't deny that Cuir de Russie has captured my attention with its hint of naughtiness and the magic word: leather. Hoping for the best, I decided to go for the real thing and ordered the parfum (that was just before Chanel in their eternal wisdom decided the extrait doesn't belong on our shores and left us with the EDT in family size packaging).

That was one good decision.

I'm not afraid of horsies. Dzing!, Bandit, Lonestar Memories, Cuir Ottoman and Cuir Mauresque are all part of my rotation, as well as other, tamer animals. I find Cuir de Russie to be much more civilized than the ones I mentioned. Maybe it's my skin, I can't tell, but the animalic base here is very friendly and well-behaved and the floral composition is very uptown chic and not avant garde in the least.

And you know what? It's perfect.

Because as much as I like the East Village on its quirky restaurants, little clubs and creative but little-known designers, I also like it Uptown just as much. I also love Paris, listening to Yves Montand and watching many classic French films. I can't have Anouk Aimée's cheekbones or hairstyle, but I can dream. And I can wear Cuir de Russie and pull it off.

Cuir de Russie is elegant and nostalgic. While today's version is probably very different than the 1924 original, it still speaks of other times and places. I don't get much drama from it. The scent feels self-assured and very pulled-together. I'd hate to call it "fabulous" out of fear of evoking Kim Cattrall instead of true French chic, but it really is. The sillage of the parfum is minimal and requires getting close. Its staying power is good and what remains on sweaters, scarves and coats is so beautiful I want to wear it again and again.

Photo: Candice Bergen in the poster for Claude Lelouch's 1967 film, Vivre Pour Vivre. Clip from another Lelouche movie, Un Homme et Une Femme (1966).

This review is for Cuir de Russie parfum which I bought from Chanel.com ($165 for 1 oz) when it was still available around here. It wasn't discontinued, just withdrawn from our market in favor of the EDT. The Paris boutique keeps it in stock.


  1. Hey, maybe we're not such scent opposites after all. This is my favorite Chanel as well, and easily one of my top ten. The other Chanels (I am also slowly warming up to them) are more an acquired taste for me.

  2. This is my next favorite Chanel(after Coromandel). It's also he most classic (and perhaps classiest) fragrance I wear. Thanks for writing about it!

  3. I'm a Guerlain boy (Jicky, Vol de Nuit, Muchoir ...) but I'v always been curious about Chanel's CdR and never smelled it. I've also never dared enter a Chanel boutique, you think it could be worth a first time?


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