Balm (and Honey) for My Russian Soul: Eau de Russe by Crown Perfumery and Romanov by Bourbon French
There must be something very special about Russian leather to warrant not one, not two but at least six (that I know of) perfumes based on that note, and probably countless “dupes” and “types”. Chanel, Creed, Le Jardin Retrouve and L.T. Piver all came up with a scent named Cuir de Russie. Demeter and DSH both created Russian Leather... This popularity is especially strange considering that in Russia we like our leather to be imported from Italy or at the very least from Turkey. Returning to the topic of Russia-related scents, apart from leather, there also are Russian Amber (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz ), Zagorsk (Comme des Garcons, Incense Series) and Russian Caravan Tea (CB I Hate Perfume). According to wonderful and knowledgeable Now Smell This, Parfum d’Empire will launch Ambre Russe in October, incorporating all of the above notes (leather, tea, amber, incense) into one scent and adding a whopping bonus ingredient, namely vodka…I don’t know if I should laugh or cry about this. I am choosing to laugh. Stereotypes can be fun. In small doses.
And while I admire many of the notes I mentioned above, I came to think of them as of “traditionally Russian” in perfumery and quite honestly I am longing for something different. In this case, “different” does not mean startling and unique ( Chanel’s Cuir de Russie is both of these), all I want is to find a Russia-related scent that doesn’t necessarily have leather, tea, incense and especially vodka as the most prominent ingredient. Enter Romanov and Eau de Russe.
Eau de Russe by Crown Perfumery, allegedly created for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, is described as a “rich, contemporary and warm scent, to be worn with confidence,” and is for some obscure reason categorized as a masculine scent. With that description in mind, I prepared myself for a “typically Russian” scent, a traditional cologne or a leather perfume, in any case, something much heavier and headier. Note to self: let go of preconceived ideas, you are Russian yourself, you know there is more to it than cuir and a certain alcoholic beverage.
Eau de Russe starts as a citrus scent on my skin; I smell limes, which to me is a note common to many Crown perfumes, lemon and a little anise. Then the scent changes the direction completely and delightfully. Now it is a soft, delicate, almost edible …floral? floriental?… it is hard to categorize that heliotrope-vanilla-amber-musk wonderfulness. Contemporary? Certainly. Warm? Yes, the way a sunny afternoon in a lovely garden is warm. Masculine? Absolutely not. Maybe unisex. When the word “pleasant” is used in perfume reviews it is usually not a compliment but a signal that a fragrance in question is quite unremarkable. I am going to use this word here in its original sense; Eau de Russe is pleasant, because it is a pleasure to smell it and to wear it.
Another often overlooked, if not entirely obscure, gem is a perfume called Romanov by Bourbon French, a wonderful 160 years old New Orleans perfumery. Bourbon French describes the scent as “a warm background of vanilla, heliotrope, amber and musk perfectly blended into a handsome fragrance of true victorian tradition. The recipe dates back to 1870.” I don’t know how a New Orleans perfumery came to dream up this scent and name it Romanov, but I am so glad they did. This is a scent of roses and honey. The last royal family relaxing in their garden in summer sunshine, all white dresses, wide-brimmed hats, lace gloves; absolute serenity and calm of warm languorous summer days. Bees are buzzing over the roses, children are laughing and chasing each other…they have no premonition about what is to come, the sky is cloudless.
For those who saw Mikhalkov’s film Burnt by the Sun, Romanov for me is the smell of the idyllic life the characters led in their summerhouses before the darkness fell over them. Romanov is poingnantly beautiful, the scent of times and things that are now lost forever.
So what does it say about me if I love the scents that idealize my home-country? I don’t know. I believe perfumes are supposed to be pleasant. I will look for realist representation in newspapers and literature. As far as perfumes are concerned, social critique is not welcome on my skin. Give me a romaticised image of Russia (or any other country) and I will buy it. Perhaps I am becoming very émigré; next thing you know, my house is full of Matryoshkas and Khokhloma and I am devoted to the cause of reinstalling the monarchy. If that happens, someone please slap me. But leave me my Russian scents with notes of honey and roses.