In the embassy’s Grand Salon, the brand owner, Clara Molloy, and perfumer, Aliénor Massenet, sat on yellow silk upholstered armchairs near the marble fireplace, forming part of an intimate clutch of armchairs encircling a coffee table. The scent of coffee drifted from a table near one wall. We also smelled, of course, a trace of delicious perfume.
Molloy was open and cheerful, with Snow White pale skin and dark hair. I immediately wanted to be her friend. As I already wrote, she led us on a tour of that wing of the embassy (I'm still trying to figure out how I can incorporate the dreamy lagoon-like colors of the library into my own house) before settling again in the Grand Salon. With French beauty editors.
Yes, French beauty editors. My fingers tremble even typing those words. What could be more terrifying to a frizzy headed American in a secondhand dress and flaking mascara than a French beauty editor? Here’s the thing: they were really nice! On hearing I was from Now Smell This, one even rose from her chair to come tell me how useful she finds the site’s Noses and Perfume Houses listings. (Quick French beauty editor sketch: of a “certain age”; thin; unobtrusively made up; expensive but simple haircuts; slim-cut pants in basic colors; simple, spare jewelry; one spectacular Napoleon-style longish jacket with embossed brass buttons artfully tarnished.)
Malloy talked about her inspiration for Italian Leather, the second in Memo’s Cuir Nomade series (the first one was Irish Leather, and a floral leather is supposed to be next). She said she wanted something “fresh and gourmand.” She envisioned an Italian road trip with the wind in her hair and no agenda. Also, her husband proposed to her in Venice, adding an extra emotional punch to her memories of the Italy.
Massenet (looking much like a French beauty editor, but in autumnal colors in a more bohemian cut) said the fragrance’s three key notes are green tomato leaf, vanilla and leather. (Other notes include pink pepper, petitgrain, cassis, ciste, galbanum, clary sage, green tomato leaf, iris, vanilla absolute, sandalwood, tolu, opoponax, myrrh, benzoin, leather and musk.) The tomato leaf is an accord she constructed, and the sandalwood is from Australia but is the same species as Mysore sandalwood. In the Q&A in the press packet, Massenet calls Italian Leather “un cuir vegetal oriental.”
One of the editors (smiling, open — I’m telling you, these French beauty editors were darlings) asked Massenet if she included coffee as a note. Good question, I thought. Espresso is so important in Italy. No, Massenet said. She said coffee is too “vertical” a note, meaning that it would bleed all the way through the fragrance’s development, from its top through its dry down.
After wearing Italian Leather, I’d say if it has any vertical note, it’s vanilla. But it’s vanilla wrapped in glove leather and grounded in all the earthy tricks of a modern oriental perfume. I do smell a bright, herbal aroma right after spraying Italian Leather — must be the green tomato leaf accord — but it’s soon overcome by a velvety wash of vanilla, leather, sweet wood, motor oil (maybe leather plus myrrh?), and loam mixed with crushed dandelion stems. To me, Italian Leather’s “freshness” is far outweighed by its oriental body. The fragrance’s slight acid edge doesn’t really leaven Italian Leather, but gives its weight interest.
But that's all right. Italian Leather wears warm and cozy, like putting on a thick cashmere shawl that’s been stored in a leather valise with vanilla beans and a bundle of wormwood. If you like your perfume dainty and sheer, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you're auditioning fragrances to stand up to woolen tights and double-knit sweaters, give Italian Leather a try. A few sprays will last you all day, and to me the fragrance is perfectly unisex.
We left the embassy with chocolate brown bags filled with press materials and a decant of Italian Leather. I can tell I’m going to use the decant up quickly, especially as winter comes on. I may not be a French beauty editor, but I sure smell good.
Memo Italian Leather is 160€ for 75 ml Eau de Parfum. To purchase it, see Memo under Perfume Houses.