Peau d’Espagne 1872 is the most recent addition to Oriza L. Legrand‘s collection of leather fragrances. It’s supposed to center on Spanish Leather, a specific sub-genre of the leather family of fragrances. I found it to be more of a hybrid, however, that also used Russian Leather and modern isobutyl quinoline methods of leather recreation. I think that makes an olfactory difference, especially if you’re expecting the softer, gentler fragrance style of Spanish leather, so today I’ll talk about the different olfactory ways in which the scent of leather is recreated in perfumery as well as what Peau d’Espagne 1872 smells like in particular.
CREATING THE SCENT OF “LEATHER” IN PERFUMERY:
I feel it’s important to begin this discussion with an explanation of the different types of materials generally used to create or recreate the scent of leather, and how Spanish Leather differed, traditionally, from the more common Russian Leather with which most people are familiar. I think it will help you better understand the Oriza fragrance and why it smells as it does. I’ll try to be as brief as possible.
In Russia, cossacks used to temper, waterproof, protect, and shine their boots by slathering birch tar on them. The smoky, resinous leather-like aroma of the tree resin eventually resulted – with contributing assistance from Ernst Beaux‘s leather fragrance for Chanel in 1924 – in what we now call Cuir de Russie-style leather or Russian Leather.
Generous use of natural, crude birch tar in modern perfumery took a hit around 2013 when it was placed on IFRA’s restricted list. However, IFRA Amendment 47 allowed a limited or regulated amount of rectified birch tar. (Ditto for rectified cade which is another tarry, smoky resin that can exude a leather aroma.)
It wasn’t a crippling loss because many modern perfumers had moved on to another material in order to recreate the scent of leather: Isobutyl Quinoline. It was derived from coal tar and had first been discovered in the 1800s. Like birch tar, it, too, had smoky, resinous, and tarry black leather aromas but, depending on how it was treated or used in a scent, it could also offer much more in terms of olfaction. It could also exude: musky, mossy, woody, vetiver-like, ambery, and/or raw tobacco-like aromas. Fragrantica has a good discussion on the molecule, its history, and its use in different well-known leather fragrances over time if you wish to read further. As a side note, what often gives isobutyl quinoline away to me when smelling leather fragrances is a subtle but definite chemical twang running under the different tonalities.
As a side note, oud is unquestionably another means by which to recreate the scent of leather, but I don’t include it in the discussion here because it’s a unique beast (in its natural, real form) that goes far beyond the traditional aromas associated with leather. It can smell of fruit, honey, flowers, spices, citrus, and so much more – all by itself. I’m limiting my discussion here to the standard, rather Western raw materials.
Spanish Leather or Peau d’Espagne is a very different entity than Russian or Isobutyl Quinoline leather, one that is often softer, gentler, and with greater fragrance complexity, in my opinion. The over-simplified gist is that, around the 16th century, a plethora of different materials were used to treat leather or chamois materials, typically in order to create perfumed leather gloves (or sometimes scented paper) with a pleasing aroma for the rich and powerful.
Glovemakers used: citruses (bergamot, lemon, verbena, orange, and/or lime); spices (cloves usually but sometimes also cinnamon or nutmeg); aromatics (lavender and/or occasional herbs like rosemary or thyme); flowers (typically roses and neroli); some powder; animalics (loads of civet and occasionally some castoreum as well); resins; woods (sandalwood, usually); and often some soapy clean material or a musk.
As I understand it, styrax was the resin typically used in Spanish Leather. Styrax, sometimes called “storax,” has been used since antiquity in perfumery and medicine and also as incense. One site claims it was used by Cleopatra in a love potion! It’s a resin from a tree (Styrax benzoin) and exudes a variety of odors: smoky, leathery, resinous, incense-y, woody, burnt wood, and/or sweet amber.
The UK’s Perfume Society has a good explanation that includes scent descriptions from perfumer Andy Tauer:
It was first described in the 14th Century; the Arabs called benzoin ‘frankincense of Java’, and it’s had a seriously long tradition of use in pomanders, pot pourri, incense and soaps. (Rather usefully, benzoin multi-tasks as an antiseptic and an inhalant, as well as a stypic, i.e. it actually stops minor wounds bleeding.) Benzoin gives ‘body’ to many perfumes (it’s especially widely-used in ambrées) and is sweetly seductive, very reminiscent of vanilla.
Adds perfumer Andy Tauer, ‘Styrax actually comes in two forms, which give different effects. The first is resinoid, which is perfect with lavender. Don´t ask me why but it seems to fix it perfectly and it calms the hyperactive lavender. The other type is leathery with woody smoky, undertones – not like birch tar, though, with its association of smoked sausages and campfires in October with wet wood. It is more the leather that you expect your gloves to exhale. I love the warm leather tones of this quality of styrax – but it needs careful handling, though.’
In my opinion, all three of the major materials used to recreate the scent of leather have been used in Oriza’s Peau d’Espagne 1872. The result is not what I, personally, would consider to be true Spanish leather. It’s more of a hybrid or a “use everything possible” leather.
ORIZA PEAU D’ESPAGNE 1872:
Peau d’Espagne 1872 (hereinafter just called “Peau d’Espagne” without the date ) is an eau de parfum that was created by Hugo Lambert, one of Oriza’s modern co-owners, and that was released in late May 2022. Oriza occasionally calls the fragrance “Skin of Spain 1872” on its site.
Its official description and notes are as follows:
From Florence to Grasse, from Corboba to Versailles, the fashion since the Renaissance had always been to adorn leather with luxurious scented essences.
Under the reign of Louis XIV, the Corporation of Glover-Perfumers flourished until its peak in the 18th century.
The Maison Oriza L. Legrand extended its collection with a perfume telling the former glory of Master Glover-Perfumers by creating Peau d’Espagne in 1872, an irrevocably powdery and woody leather fragrance.
Top Notes: Rose, Neroli, Bergamot & Verbena.
Heart Notes: Clove, Lavender, Carnation & Sandalwood.
Base Notes: Birch Tar, Styrax & Benzoin.
Peau d’Espagne opens on my skin with an extremely challenging bouquet that I can only describe as stinky, medicinal leather. Just how challenging, unpleasant, and long-lasting the opening is depends, as you will see, on the quantity of fragrance that I apply but, I will tell you this, I do not recall ever describing any non-oud leather aroma as “stinky” until now.
While the fragrance definitely improves later on, I was so put off by that opening after my first test that it took me more than 10 days to go near Peau d’Espagne again for the requisite further tests, hence the huge delay between my last review and this one. It pains me to write this, given my love for Oriza and my respect for the lovely, humble, down-to-earth gentlemen behind it who put their heart and soul into the house and who try to create the best fragrances for the most reasonable prices possible, but, man, that opening is…not easy.
I think it’s important to warn you about that, given that others seem to struggle with it mightily as well. While I never read blog reviews or Fragrantica unless I’m going to post comparative opinions in an article and well after I’ve finished my own tests, I was struck in the case of Peau d’Espagne of how 3 of the current 4 Fragrantica reviews specifically single out the unpleasantness of the opening.
My hope is that my experimentation with different scent quantities and the slightly different versions or balances of notes that I subsequently experienced will help you to apply the Goldilocks amount and get to Peau d’Espagne’s much nicer, better balanced later stages where carnation, sandalwood, tobacco, mossy, vetiver, and ambered aromas abound.
1. PEAU D’ESPAGNE: LOW-DOSE + RIGHT ARM VERSIONS:
The particularly brutal opening in my first test was, I think, impacted by the minimal amount of fragrance that I applied: 2 smears equal to one spray from a perfume bottle. With that dose, Peau d’Espagne began with an unbalanced deluge of sharp, acrid, bitter cloves that lie fully within the dental and medicinal realms. Matters are worsened further by what joins it: fusty, dusty, bitter, extremely medicinal dried lavender with a subtle camphor undertone; a biting, sour, lime-like acidity; and an antique potpourri-like aroma of dried, spiced roses.
This series of notes likes atop leather that smells of both birch tar and styrax. It is a part of my problem with the 1-spray equivalent opening of Peau d’Espagne, even though I usually really like both materials in perfumery. Here, the accord smells leathery, to be sure, but also acrid, harsh, medicinal, tarry, smoky with burnt wood tonalities, musky, fusty, and woody. It even has quiet but definite “partially cured, semi-raw cow hides tanning in the sun” stench.
I don’t know which leather material is more responsible for the dreadful opening, but I am pretty certain that using large quantities of the two together is a part of the problem. As Andy Tauer mentioned in the Perfume Society quote up above, styrax needs careful handling, and I think part of that includes thoughtful editing and/or a gentle touch. I don’t feel that is the case here. In fact, to be completely honest, I think Peau d’Espagne has balance of notes issues generally; it’s simply that they are even further accentuated by a low or minimal dosage.
Making matters worse, seemingly unrestrained amounts of cloves and lavender turn up the dial on the harsher aspects of the overall bouquet to maximum volume. I actually really enjoy cloves in perfumery, but not when heavy-handed use results in a biting aroma that evokes medical and dental settings. As for the lavender, here it is something straight out of my worst nightmares as a lavenderphobe who was traumatized by the very acrid, harsh, poorest quality, somewhat camphorous, musty Lavandin variety used in the cheap, dried lavender sachets that dominated the South of France where I spent part of my childhood.
Not only was the cumulative effect in Peau d’Espagne’s opening unpleasant but it also lasted about 1.75 hours. I was not… enthused.
I keep emphasizing the dosage or scent quantity that I applied because, as you will see later when I discuss the main version of Peau d’Espagne using a larger 2-spray or 2.5-spray equivalent, it makes a difference in the degree of unpleasantness of that opening bouquet as well as in how long it lasts.
Skin chemistry seems to play a role, as always, too. After I took off 10 to 14 days to gird my loins to retest Peau d’Espagne again, I applied it on my regular testing (left) arm in larger quantity as well as to my right arm with its extremely wonky, schizophrenic skin chemistry. For reasons that I will never understand, the skin there consistently results in fragrance bouquets that are far from the norm, either for myself or from what others say that they experience. In addition, it eats through scent so voraciously that the fragrance duration is atypical and crazily abbreviated. Yet the skin on my right arm tends to either emphasize or totally erases notes or nuances in a way that my main testing arm does not, so I typically try to test a fragrance on both arms whenever possible.
I applied Peau d’Espagne on my right arm twice. Once, I used the smeared equivalent of 1-spray from a bottle; once, the equivalent of two sprays. In both instances, the opening on my right arm was moderately better with bergamot-drenched dried roses leading the race, initially no lavender, and a simple spiced, resinous, smoky leather whose only downside was a pronounced savory meat note, probably from the birch tar and further accentuated by the cloves. With a 2-spray equivalent, the dusty, fusty, dried lavender and dental cloves appeared in full force, but they were softer somehow, comparatively speaking. Also, the leather was never “stinky” in quite the way that it was on my standard testing arm.
Not a lot happens in this version of Peau d’Espagne which is a much simpler, flatter, blurrier composition. Within minutes, the bouquet turns into dried roses, bergamot, varying and fluctuating amounts of lavender, and meaty and medicinal cloves, all slathered over musky, resinous, smoky, tarry, and woody leather. 90 minutes in, Peau d’Espagne becomes a blur of clove-ish, rose-ish, smoky, woody leather with hints of dry, slightly dusty aromatics and citrus in the background. In its middle stage, the fragrance transitions into a sweet-dry, smoky, spiced, faintly creamy, softly leathered, carnation-scented woodiness with a muted rose undertone. The wood smells like smoky cedar, birch, and, above all else, sandalwood. Eventually, during the drydown and in the final hours, all that’s left is a soft, muted rosy-ish, lightly spiced, ambered, sandalwood-ish plushness.
PEAU D’ESPAGNE – LARGE DOSE VERSION ON STANDARD TESTING ARM:
With 3-4 generous, wide smears equal to roughly 2 big sprays or 2.5 sprays from a bottle and applied to my standard testing (left) forearm, Peau d’Espagne again opens with rough leather accompanied by: medicinal, dental cloves; dried, dusty lavender; potpourri dried roses; and sour, acidic citrus. However, it’s not half as unpleasant or extreme as the version which ensued on this same arm with the 1-spray equivalent!
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most unpleasant, I’d rate the 1-spray version to be a solid 8, whereas this would be a 4 to 4.5. (I reserve 10s for aromachemical toxic bombs that incapacitate me physically.) Here, the cloves aren’t quite so over-the-top in quantity or as intensely dental (or meaty) in aroma as before; the lavender isn’t as shrill, overpowering, acrid, musty, musky, camphorous, medicinal, and ghastly; the citrus note rapidly transitions from acidic lime to something more like bright, fresh bergamot; the roses don’t smell quite so antique like a grandmother’s spiced potpourri in her guest bathroom; and, most important, the styrax has only a mild fetid, meaty, “humid raw animal hides curing in the hot sun” stench and it also begins to dissipate after just 15 minutes.
The most important difference, however, is in the cumulative effect. For reasons I cannot explain, the larger scent application has ameliorated the degree of imbalance in the notes. It’s as if the ratios or proportions have suddenly changed, thereby minimizing the interaction of the various harsh, medicinal, bitter, overly dusty, musty, acrid, and stinky materials – both individually and together – so they aren’t pinging off each other to worsen the bouquet. While I’m still not crazy about the opening, everything works better together now for some reason.
Even more positive is the fact that the large scent application sharply curtails the duration of the opening. Instead of lasting 1.75 hours as it did in my first test on my main testing arm, I begin to see notable improvements gradually seeping in after just 35 minutes.
From that point forth, Peau d’Espagne began to transition into a much better balanced, smoother, more pleasant scent and then, eventually, into a really pretty one. As the first hour draws to a close, Peau d’Espagne is turning into a citrusy, spiced, floral, musky, smoky, woody leather. I still dislike the dusty, dried lavender, but at least it’s slowly being swallowed up by everything else.
Even in my first test on my main testing arm when I recoiled from Peau d’Espagne’s opening, I really enjoyed its second phase. It took two hours to kick in in the first test but only 65 to 70 minutes in this second one with the larger scent application.
The thing that wins me over: carnation. It’s a sadly under-used material in modern perfumery, in my opinion, and I think it’s fantastic when paired with spices, resins, leather, and/or sandalwood — as it is here.
When the second stage begins, Peau d’Espagne is a nicely blended bouquet of roses and fragrant, slightly peppery, bright carnations, both imbued with non-medicinal clove-ish spiciness then spritzed with smooth, fresh bergamot before being backeted on all sides by a mix of dry, soft woods and quietly musky, smoky, resinous leather.
Roughly 1.75 hours in, Peau d’Espagne shifts a little in its nuances. It grows smokier, drier, and woodier. The carnation also grows in strength. While it was initially not as strong as the rose on my skin, it rapidly becomes the dominant floral. The lavender weaves in and out of focus in addition to moving back and forth from the forefront to the background. Its aroma varies, too: Sometimes, it’s a mild, blurry note of something aromatic; at other times, it’s the full-on aroma of medicinal, slightly camphorous, dusty dried lavender sachets that makes this lavenderphobe wince. Lastly, there is a quiet chemical twang underlying the leather accord which leads me to suspect that Peau d’Espagne has isobutyl quinoline in addition to its birch tar and styrax. (Someone on Fragrantica definitely experienced it, per their review of the scent.)
Roughly 3.25 hours in, Peau d’Espagne enters into its heart stage or its 3rd phase, though it shifts in the order, prominence, and nuance of its notes multiple times therein. I suppose you can say that there are a number of micro-stages. At the 3.25 hour mark or early in the 4th hour, the fragrance is a blur of spicy, clove-ish floralcy woven around a central trio of: smoky, resinous, tarry leather; dry spicy sandalwood; and a touch of sweet amber. Thanks to the isobutyl quinoline, there are also occasional whiffs of dark, raw tobacco and a slightly woody, slightly mossy, slightly vetiver-ish tonality when I sniff my arm up close and focus hard. Thanks to the sandalwood, the bouquet is gradually taking on a supple softness in feel and texture.
Peau d’Espagne grows drier, woodier, less floral, and more ambered as time passes. About 4.5 hours in, the vetiver, tobacco, and mossy undertones of the isobutyl quinoline grow as strong as the leather of which it is a part. They are also equal to the scent’s sandalwood/woody qualities. The lavender is now a mere ghost unless I really dig my nose into my arm and sniff hard, while the carnation and rose have fused into a singled, spiced, red-skewing floral blur that hovers mostly on the sidelines.
Late in the 6th hour or about 5.75 hours in, Peau d’Espagne is predominantly a dry but plush, quietly spiced, slightly smoky woody scent layered with resinous, faintly musky leather and lesser threads of vetiver, raw tobacco, and amber. The bouquet is set against a background of wholly abstract floralcy, but it’s so muted and muffled that I have to dig my nose into my arm and sniff hard to detect it.
Peau d’Espagne’s lengthy drydown begins 8.5 hours in or in the middle of the 9th hour. Though it’s a simple bouquet, I love it because it is predominantly sandalwood amber. The sandalwood is spicy, lightly smoked, slightly resinous, and just a wee bit leathery; the amber is lightly sweetened benzoin.
As the drydown progresses, the sandalwood loses more and more of its resinous, leathery, and smoky undertones, turning more golden and warm. It’s starting to feel like soft, plump, fluffy clouds in both body and texture. In its final hours, all that’s left of Peau d’Espagne is a gentle, quietly golden, slightly creamy softness.
Peau d’Espagne generally had good longevity (except on my wonky right arm which eats through scent) and initially strong sillage that took a few hours to turn softer. With an application roughly equal to 2 or 2.5 sprays from a bottle, roughly 3-4 big smears, the scent opened with approximately 8 inches of sillage that grew to about 10-11 after 30 minutes. With a 1 spray equivalent, the opening scent trail was about 6-7 inches. On my nutty right arm, it was about 4. With the 2 to 2.5-spray equivalent in the main test on my standard arm, Peau d’Espagne’s sillage drops to about 4-5 inches at the end of the 2nd hour and start of the 3rd. About 3.25 hours in or early in the 4th hour, the scent hovers roughly 2.5 inches above my arm, maybe 3 at most. About 4.5 hours in or in the middle of the 5th hour, Peau d’Espagne hovers about an inch above the skin, then drops further at the 5.25 hour mark to about 0.5 inches. However, it’s not difficult to detect up close if I bring my nose to my arm.
Peau d’Espagne turns into a skin scent on me at the 7.5 hour mark or in the middle of the 8th hour, though it doesn’t require much effort to detect up close until roughly the start of the 10th hour. In total, the fragrance lasted just shy of 16.5 hours. With a 1-spray equivalent, Peau d’Espagne turned into a skin scent roughly 4.75 hours in or late in the 5th hour, becoming difficult to detect at the end of the 6th hour. In total, it lasted about 9.25 hours. (On my crazy right arm, it lasted about 7.75 hours with a 2-spray equivalent, not 16.5, so you can see how wildly different my skin chemistry seems to be from one arm to the next.)
I really wish I could magically remove Peau d’Espagne’s opening and just experience its later stages, mainly from the 4th hour onwards. In my opinion, the scent would be much better with certain changes: much less clove; a high-end lavender that doesn’t smell of the wretched Lavandin medicinal dried stuff; more carnation; and far less birch tar, if at all. I think using three separate leather raw materials defeats the olfactory purpose of true Peau d’Espagne or Spanish leather.
At the very least, the intense amount of birch tar muddies the water of what this sub-genre or style of leather is traditionally supposed to be or smell like, in my opinion. In The Perfume Shrine‘s excellent discussion of the historical development of Spanish leather and how it differs from the Russian style, Elena Vosnaki, too, believes that the former is supposed to smell of supple, soft chamois imbued with flowers, fruits, citrus, civet, spices, musk and/or herbs. That is not what birch tar (or a large quantity of it) achieves as a leather style or aroma; it’s a much more hard-core proposition that is clearly, predominantly tarry leathery in scent. Contrast that to the description of Spanish Leather’s aroma from one of the historians whom Ms. Vosnaki quotes; he wrote, in relevant part:
Peau d’Espagne is of all perfumes that which most nearly approaches the odor of a woman’s skin; whether it also suggests the odor of leather is not so clear”.
As for the isobutyl quinoline, while I enjoyed the vetiver, mossy, and tobacco facets it added, its inclusion in the composition creates, in my opinion, the same problem as the excessive amount birch tar does. (Plus, I know a number of people who struggle with that molecule or get headaches from it.)
I suppose I had hoped that Oriza’s Peau d’Espagne would be a better, richer, grander, and more appealing version of Santa Maria Novella‘s Peau d’Espagne. It’s a scent with some enjoyable aspects, but also some that I’m less enthused about, including too much birch tar, in my opinion, and an inordinately dusty book aspect. To be honest, I have yet to find my perfect Spanish Leather fragrance.
You can read other opinions on and experiences with Oriza’s Peau d’Espagne 1872 on Fragrantica. At the time of this review, September 1, 2022, there are 4 reviews, only one of which is positive. The other 3 single out Peau d’Espagne’s opening as the problem.
The one positive review:
framorena: This is the classic peau de spagne, but gentle and smooth. Perfectly unisex if you love the genre. No sweetness, but no arsh birch tar smell as you can find in SMNs’. It’s more stirax than birch tar. ALways an high quality/price ratio from this house
The other side of the coin:
kishka: I really didn’t like this and the opening is harsh, sour and pretty awful! I washed it off immediately……most from this house are lovely and maybe this would appeal to someone who likes a very masculine perfume.
Glyph: This is the rare Oriza L. Legrand fragrance I do not care much for. The smoky birch tar note is just overwhelmingly harsh for the first few minutes, and drowns everything else out. After some time, the floral notes and the woods come more into play, and the whole thing becomes prettier; but the birch tar and the styrax are initially just too strong.
I greatly prefer floral-leather scents where the floral notes are more dominant and the leather/birch is more recessive (as with Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, or Geo. F. Trumper’s Spanish Leather).
Callista25: I love certain types of leather: amber, floral, suede-like, etc. Then there is the mentholated, birch tar, isobutyl quinoline style leather that makes me want to run for the hills. Peau d’ Espagne is the latter.
It has an herbal aromatic opening characteristic of the house, which plays up the mentholated leather base I find so disturbing. Complex and well executed, just the worst combo for me.
If you are a devoted leather lover who decides to get a sample of Peau d’Espagne just to see how it fares on your skin, I would recommend playing with scent quantities and having some patience as the fragrance develops away from the opening.
For me, it’s a pass.