Francesca kindly sent me a preview sample of The Lover’s Tale and as we were chatting about it over email, she mentioned that at Pitti fragrance fair, the perfume proved to be quite divisive; most of the (Russian) men from Fragrantica loved it while she could see that others were clearly struggling with it.
I can see why The Lover’s Tale might divide opinion. It’s a hybrid of two very distinctive styles, namely a Cuir de Russie-type leather and a floral chypre. In Perfumes: The Guide (2018), Luca Turin noted in his introductory essay ‘The Shifting Shape of Fragrance 1918-2018’ a rise in fragrances “made from the front of one animal and the hindquarters of another”. This phenomenon was due in large part to the launch of Angel (Mugler) in 1992, which, in grafting a berrylicious fruity floral onto a masculine patchouli fougere created a new shape in the air.
The Lover’s Tale attempts something similar. Of course, as Turin points out, not every ‘smushing together’ of styles is as successful as Angel, with most examples failing to coalesce into a new and separate form. Coco Mademoiselle (Chanel) is often cited as an example where its fruity floral topnotes and Heritage-style base remain separately identifiable at all times, never emerging as a cohesive new ‘smell’.
For what it’s worth, I think The Lover’s Tale nails the Frankensteining of the two styles. At first, you smell the two styles separately and distinctly – the gamey Cuir de Russie leather first out of the gate, the floral chypre part bubbling up not far behind – but over the course of a day’s wear, something emerges that feels like its own thing: a (deep breath) animalic-leather-floral-cosmetic-powder-chypre.
I’m not making sense, so let’s roll it back to the basics. What does The Lover’s Tale smell like? If you’re hooked up to Basenotes, Fragrantica, Instagram, or Facebook, then you’ll probably have heard the hallowed names of Chanel’s Cuir de Russie and Guerlain’s Mitsouko being bandied about. Them are some mighty big boots to fill. Let me talk about each separate accord, because while I understand the attraction of having a shorthand like Mitsouko and Cuir de Russie when giving quick feedback, it rarely, if ever, holds up under inspection.
The Cuir de Russie leather note in The Lover’s Tale is almost shockingly gamey. I never thought Chanel’s Cuir de Russie smelled particularly fecal until I smelled the new eau de parfum; in this concentration, the additional ylang seems to have added a pungent, creamy-barnyardy tonality that aligns the Chanel more with modern leathers like Ombre Leather 2018 (Tom Ford) or Santal Royale (Guerlain) than with the old EDT, which was more floral and featured a harsh, aldehydic sparkle. If there’s a Cuir de Russie accord in The Lover’s Tale, then it’s the new EDP form of it rather than the parfum or the older EDT.
But even that’s a stretch. The Cuir de Russie accord in The Lover’s Tale smells far rawer and more animalic than even the current EDP. It smells like a piece of freshly tanned leather, the scent of animal flesh and fat clinging stubbornly to the underside. There’s a strain of smoky rubber tires, which makes me think of hyrax (and Hyrax by Zoologist), but even more noticeable is the dusty-wet smell of the dairy yard, where warm cowhide mingles with the scent of coagulated milk. It’s this greasy, costus-rich environment that turns my mind to Cuir d’Iris by Parfumerie Generale more than to the classic Chanel Cuir de Russie. Folks familiar with the natural evolution of Cuir d’Iris – Parfumerie Generale’s own Arabian Horse – might also recognize traces of that in The Lover’s Tale. Think pungent animal hide mixed with greasy ‘nape of the neck’ skin: that grimy secrete is the nature of the leather.
I should move on to cover the floral chypre part of the scent, but it’s tricky because when the floral chypre part emerges, it is already so smoothly intertwined with the gamey leather portion that it’s difficult to view in isolation. Let me nail my colors to the mast by saying I don’t see much connection to either the scent or texture of Guerlain’s Mitsouko. Chypre, yes: Mitsouko, not so much. Rather, I see the chypre portion of The Lover’s Tale running along two separate tracks; one line connecting to the urinous Cetalox-iris in Bianchi’s Sex and The Sea and the violet-mimosa cosmetic dusting powder of Angel’s Dust, the other running straight to a scent that many call the Italian version of Mitsouko – Acqua di Parma Profumo.
I know only the current version of this wonderful chypre, but the image that always jumps to mind when I wear it is of a single purple plum tumbling from a height into a towering pile of bone-white cosmetic powder. So, when people say ‘Mitsouko’ when talking about The Lover’s Tale, I say no, not Mitsouko, but Profumo. Profumo is equally chypre, but the story it tells is of cosmetic powder, bitter plum, and sunlit flowers, rather than the peach, woods, and floor wax incense of Mitsouko.
Interestingly, like Francesca Bianchi’s Under My Skin, The Lover’s Tale smells differently sniffed straight from the skin than when smelled at a distance. On the skin, it smells like creamy, fecal leather and the harsh, acidulated-animalic iris accord Bianchi uses in two of her other perfumes; as you draw your nose back from your skin, the velvety plum-powder chypre accord blooms. As the day wears on, the two facets melt and slide into each other, creating a seamless whole, where leather and chypre can no longer be distinguished one from the other.
The Lover’s Tale is an exceptional perfume, although I can easily see half of the people who try it absolutely hating it. With its odd but mesmerizing mix of charcoal-dust cowhide and the curdy, spilled-milk wetness of iris, an effect I’ve only really experienced before in Cuir d’Iris, it comes off as proudly confrontational. The potential to shock is quite short-lived, though, the gaminess of the leather note quickly softened by the complex floral underpinnings of the main body of the scent. It actually ends up being an easy, engaging wear (despite itself).
Where it fits on the axis of animalic fragrances is hard to define because it’s neither cuminy-hot-vagina(ish) like Salome (Papillon) nor pissy-honeyed like La Nuit (Paco Rabanne). It’s also not at all spicy-breastmilky like Under My Skin, so if that’s your line in the sand, stop right there. But I feel confident in saying that if you already love the animalic woody iris in Sex and the Sea (or what I call the ‘sexy dried-out fishing tackle smell’) and the gamey, meaty leather of Bandit or Cuir d’Iris, then The Lover’s Tale should be a no brainer for you.