Last week I was reading an article about the definition of "niche" in the ever-changing fragrance market, and I started thinking back to some of the first "niche" perfumes lines I ever encountered — L'Artisan Parfumeur and Annick Goutal, in particular. There were others I never had the chance to try, and some of them are now discontinued (Gobin Daudé!), but once in a while an early niche line makes a re-appearance. Le Jardin Retrouvé, for example, describes itself as "the first ever niche Maison de Parfum, created in 1975 by the renowned perfumer Yuri Gutsatz." In 2016, Gutsatz's son and daughter-and-law re-launched the brand with reformulations of seven of its original fragrances.
I've had a small stack of Le Jardin Retrouvé's boxed sample vials on my desk for the past few weeks, and I've been shuffling them around like a deck of cards, enjoying their dreamy collage-like visuals. So far I've tried Verveine d'Eté (a refreshing lemon verbena) and Rose Trocadéro (a natural-smelling, ambrette-tinged rose), but Cuir de Russie ("Russian Leather") is the one that has captured my imagination. Its text reads:
1920. The opera hall is packed. Diaghilev is presenting his Ballets Russes. You are seated with a group of flamboyant Parisians in the front row. Wide-eyed, you watch Nijinsky and his soft leather boots. He leaps, he spins, he fills the stage with the bewitching scent of ylang-ylang, violet, and cinnamon enveloping a harmony of cade wood and styrax. You wish that this moment could last forever.
The mentions of impresario Sergei Diaghilev and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky caught my eye, as did the list of notes. Cuir de Russie is a "floral leather" fragrance featuring ylang ylang, violet, patchouli, cinnamon, cade wood and styrax. Like Nijinsky, it's sensual and androgynous; however, it's less flamboyant than the legendary performer. It's a smooth and skin-friendly blend of the violet and the ylang ylang, a soft leather accord, and some very subtle spice. The floral notes show up first but never fully dissipate, and the violet flower is complemented by some green, sharp-ish violet leaf. There's an almost airy "pause" in the composition's heart, as though Cuir de Russie were taking a breath before introducing its deeper notes. The leather in the base is supple and faintly smoky.
Cuir de Russie combines several notes that I really enjoy, but unlike Lush Tuca Tuca (a more raucous party of violet, ylang and vanilla) it sits easily on my skin; it has a "vintage" feel, without the mustiness of a flea-market bottle of Balmain Jolie Madame. True to its inspiration, it does offer an imagined memory of a night at an avant-garde dance performance: the scent of flowers and face powder worn by the women in the audience, whiffs of the dancers' sweat and the warmed leather of their shoes wafting across the footlights.1
My single complaint about Cuir de Russie: I wish it had better staying power, because I want it to last more than a few hours. That issue aside, however, this fragrance has the qualities that first made me fall in love with niche perfumery all those years ago: evocative storytelling, an unusual but wearable composition, quality ingredients, and the allure of something slightly hard-to-find. In fact, Le Jardin Retrouvé is currently only available through its brand website; do give it a visit if you're curious.
Le Jardin Retrouvé Cuir de Russie is available as a set called "Le Nécessaire," which includes 125 ml of Eau de Parfum in an aluminum bottle as well as two empty glass bottles (50 ml and 15 ml capacity) to be filled with the fragrance; the cost of the set is €14o. A refill bottle of the Eau de Parfum (also 125 ml) can be purchased separately for €115.
Note: top image via Le Jardin Retrouvé at Facebook.
1. The only thing "off" here is the date: 1920 is long after Ninjinsky's heyday with the Ballets Russes. In fact, he retired from the stage in 1919. A date of 1910 or 1912 would have made more sense.