It’s not you, it’s me: Chanel Cuir de Russie EDT

Instead of merely writing Chanel’s Cuir de Russie off as a scrubber, and attempting to write a hilarious “Things I Hate” post, I’m going to test the theory that our sense of smell is highly influenceable.

Rachel Herz is an expert in the psychology of smell (and also writes great books) who has demonstrated that our scent perception is extraordinarily easy to manipulate: get some people in a room and tell them their smelling putrid socks and they gag. Get another group of people in a room, with the same aroma, and tell them it’s Parmesan cheese, and suddenly it’s yummy. Where’s the pizza?

So… I’m going to conduct my own little experiment, in which I try and figure out what it is I don’t like about Cuir de Russie, and see if I can’t convince my brain to come round to liking it. Maybe even loving it.

First, I’ll wear it (again) and figure out what I don’t like. Then, I’ll do some selective reading; I will read only positive, flattering reviews or comments. I’ll wear it again, and then repeat the process until… Well, until I decide that I genuinely like it, or I get bored trying, in which case I’ve got a category ready and waiting to embrace it.

Usually I avoid excessively long posts, but I think it will be best to present the whole process in one complete package. Read on, if I’ve piqued your interest…

Wednesday, 3.14.2012

What I hate about Cuir de Russie

  • Cuir de Russie is an angry, smelly bear, and it wants to eat my face. The opening notes assault me, they are two-fold: powerfully citrus and grossly animalic. It smells Yellow and Brown. Like piss poured over a fart (to borrow imagery from George R.R. Martin). Gross. Must scrub, have no more strength for this today.

Reviews read:

  1. Basenotes (just the thumbs-up reviews).
  2. Bois de Jasmin. Victoria’s star rating: 5 stars (outstanding/potential classic)
  3. Chanel website description (A rich, woody Oriental enhanced with leather notes…)

End-of-Day sniff: (Skipped for Love, Chloe)

Thursday, 3.15.2012

Spraying very liberally (10 spritzes? 12? maybe more?) this morning, already my CdR experience has improved dramatically since yesterdays Positive Review Therapy*. I’m surprised to find that not only is the offensive fecal note no longer present, but that I actually smell a rich floral blend suspended on aldehydes. I don’t love it, but my interest is piqued by the quick change of perception since yesterday before the blog-therapy.

Social Experiment

  • Today I will wear Cuir de Russie to work at the bookstore, and plenty of it, to see how the public reacts.
  • A co-worker exclaimed (startling me in the process) when I walked by, “Danielle, you always smell good, but today you smell especially great!”
  • Another co-worker, one who knows about the project, sniffed me, and eyes wide informed me “That smells really good.”
  • I am told by two people (not the two mentioned above) that I smell “powdery.”

Reviews read:

  1. Perfume Shrine
  2. Now Smell This

End-of-Day sniff: I broke the spray nozzle with my AM enthusiasm, so I have to unscrew the atomizer to get some on. Here goes: I’m noticing the aldehydes first off, and the resemblance to the Classic Chanel’s is much more apparent— how did I not see this before? I’m still experiencing olfactive dissonance, but I’m also embarrassed by what I wrote above (see “What I hate about Cuir de Russie”), however, I feel like I need to leave it unedited for posterity. This is science, after all.

Friday, 3.16.2012

Since the atomizer broke, and dabbing isn’t doing it for me, I’m using the pour-method. That’s where you take off the nozzle and dump a few mL down the front of yourself. It’s a good method. Why doesn’t this have as much sillage as I originally thought? Need more sillage. Since Wednesday, I’ve used up about 4mL of Anne-Marie’s decant.

Bending down to shelve a book, I’m surprised to suddenly discover, there is vanilla in this! New facets are opening up to me— it’s smoother and more accessible today than it has been during any previous wearing. I dump more on after my lunch break; I can’t seem to get enough on.

Reviews Read:

  1. Scent Sate
  2. Olfactoria’s Travels
  3. The Scentimentalist
  4. Pere de Pierre
End-of-Day sniff: (Abandonded in favor of Equistrius.)

Saturday, 3.17.2012

I like Cuir de Russie.

I cannot believe how easy it was to bring myself round to liking Cuir de Russie. Really liking it. I’ve used a huge amount in the past few days, and feel grateful that I still have another un-touched 5mL decant waiting in the wings. Was this a fluke? Is it just because CdR is such a good scent? The notes appeal to me theoretically, so was it just a matter of learning to overlook a weird moment in the beginning?

… Or, can I come round to liking anything I set my mind to? To answer this question, I’m going to do the experiment again, with something that I have tried many times with zero success: Fracas parfum. Look for the second installment of “It’s not You…” in the weeks to come.

*Positive Review Therapy (PRT): think exposure therapy.

50 thoughts on “It’s not you, it’s me: Chanel Cuir de Russie EDT

  1. Wow! That was a fun read, but I’m really impressed as to how your opinion could do such a 180 in a few days! It’ll be fun to read your Fracas experiment. Maybe someone should do the same with Sécrétions Magnifiques? 🙂 (Not me!)

    And talking about psychological experiments, I don’t know if Rachel Herz was involved but I remember watching on YouTube an experiment where the same scent (fecal matter) was presented to people, without telling them what it was. Those who smelled it when they were inside a public bathroom were grossed out, and those who smelled it outside (in a garden or the countryside) were finding it lovely. It’s not really surprising, but still it was interesting how strong the “it’s lovely!” reactions were.

    1. Alnysie, I honestly had no idea that it would be so easy! I too am astounded at how little effort it took— when I say that I started out disliking CdR, I was genuinely filled with revulsion. A complete and utter scrubber. As Natalie says below, it completely shakes the entire foundation of what I thought I knew about scent… It remains to be seen whether it can be repeated. I know that I hate Fracas, so if I can come round on that one too… Well. That’s food for thought!

      I have not seen that video, but I agree it’s very interesting! It showcases just how important our influence can be on other people’s perceptions. With great power comes great responsibility 😉

  2. Bravo! I applaud your dedication to olfactory science! 😉
    This happens to me too and very often, if I set my mind to it, I end up honestly appreciating, liking and maybe even loving a perfume.
    And CdR is great! It is one of the perfumes Tara made me wear. 😉

    1. You are amazing in this sense— that you willingly and often push your boundaries to appreciate every note and every genre, finding the best in categories!

      After having dedicated myself to CdR, I have an improved appreciation for what you do 🙂

  3. This is an absolutely fascinating post and like B I applaud your dedication.

    I have had a similar experience with a couple of perfumes, where sheer determination has won out.

    I look forward to this next instalment.

    1. Thank you Tommy! I am very curious to see if it can be repeated… Fracas will be a good challenge, I think, since it combines so many things I dislike, whereas at least Cuir de Russie contains notes I do like! 🙂

  4. Love the bear pictures!
    I have noticed that sometimes I recoil when I spray a new sample, but the next time I love it. For me that happens when a perfume smells very different from everything I’ve tested before, for example the first time I smelled oud.
    My brain needs time to process the new sensation I guess! Amouage Epic and Tauer Zeta are favorites that made me more or less recoil in horror the first time…

    1. Eva, perhaps that is it— the foreignness of something new is shocking to the system! The unfamiliar is funny territory in sensory perception, and I think you are on to something.

      Recoil in horror is a perfect description of my first (and second) CdR experiences, lol!

  5. My Cuir de Russie sample is presently sealed up like a bio-hazard. This is the only fragrance in the last two years of hard-core sniffing that made me want to chop my arm off…

    I don’t know… maybe some day I’ll have the gumption to open the bear trap and see if I can make friends. Not today!

    1. Amy Bella, your comment made me laugh aloud— I completely get the biohazard thing. The first two times I tested CdR, I was scrubbing my skin off within minutes!

      I still see it as a bear, but a much friendlier bear 😉

  6. This is FASCINATING! And a great argument for waiting a good long time before you give up on something. I think that in order to like a smell you have to *want* to like it, and this may be why, say, a random teenager isn’t going to like anything she sees on her grandmother’s dresser, and most perfumistas are going to be skeptical of anything mainstream, and find it very easy to dislike/dismiss.

    1. Isn’t it? I like your point about mainstream stuff being easy to dislike or dismiss— we often do that before we even smell the scent. I vote for more blind testing! Like the brown bag tests that wine and beer enthusiasts do… That would be some good blogging 🙂

  7. This is a powerful demonstration of how suggestible people are when they smell perfume (or anything else, for that matter). It’s also gives me pause, thinking about how extraordinarily powerful reviewers and bloggers are in making or breaking a newly released perfume. It’s scary to think about.

    1. Ellen, I hear you. It is frightening, especially when said reviewer could easily tank a fragrance’s success with the early adopters. It has, over the past few days, caused me to reevaluate my approach to testing— and talking about— new fragrances.

      For a small, independent niche perfumer like yourself, I can see just how scary the notion is.

      Lucky for you, Olympic Orchids perfumes are great! 🙂

  8. This is fascinating. I love Cuir de Russie, but I hate one of its contemporaries, Knize Ten, which is another leathery 1920s fragrance. I wonder if maybe I forced myself to get to know it I might change my mind. My problem, usually though is more than one direct spray of anything gives me a raging headache.

    I’m with you though on our noses’ ability to evolve in their appreciation for certain fragrances. Yet another leathery scent, Eau d’Italie’s Bois d’Ombrie, struck me as a flowery, cool, non-leather leather for more than a year…until it suddenly didn’t. Now it’s a perfect leather to me. Don’t know quite how that happened.

    1. cocktailsandcologne,

      I share your feelings. Cuir de Russie was instant and easy love for me, even though usually I like a heavier leather note in my fragrances. Whereaas Knize Ten does indeed offer more leather, but there is a petroleum note to it that turns my stomach. I tried many times to love that one, and I bought a small bottle of it based on all the great reviews I read. But no amount of retesting could win me to it. After a year of repeated trys, I gave my Knize Ten bottle away.

    2. The headache thing is a whole other phenomenon, and I don’t think I’d have the fortitude to try this type of experiment with anything that caused true physical discomfort. I do wonder though, what it might be that’s causing it?

      I had a similar evolutionary experience to your Bois d’Ombrie experience: at least a year after wearing and enjoying Chanel no. 5 Eau Premiere, I suddenly experienced it as a vanilla scent. And now, every time I wear it, i think of it as a vanilla! Our noses are pretty damned amazing. 🙂

  9. Like others, I found this post fascinating and was riveted. I’m glad you kept your first reaction in so we could see the massive evolution. Positive Review Therapy would never occur to me, what an interesting idea. I was surprised by your co-workers positive reactions. I wonder if it’s because they expect you to smell good? I wouldn’t imagine CdR would appeal to most people but then Book People are not your average people!

    I honestly didn’t expect the experiment to “work” so I was amazed at the end result, and very pleased as I love CdR. It’s animalic aspect can get to me on some days though so maybe you just tried it for the first time on a day when your tolerance for animalic notes was low. Whatever, FABULOUS post. Thank you.

    1. Tara, I was and am still embarrassed at what I wrote, but it’s true, it certainly illustrates the dramatic change!

      Like you, I was especially surprised by the reactions of my co-workers— that first one was so dramatic too, I was at first worried that it was revulsion (I had just doused myself, and was wafting some serious sillage); as soon as I walked into his area of space, he nearly shouted at me! Lol, in retrospect it’s funny, but at the time I was a little frightened.

      I think you are probably right— they know I’m into perfume, and that I usually smell good, so they expect me to smell good; but I wonder can that really account for the phenomenon? I mean, I expected to LOVE CdR before I had ever smelled it, and love it I did not! I’m not sure I could set up a good control, since asking customers to smell me might get me in trouble…


  10. Dee, this is absolutely intriguing. Honestly, I didn’t think you’d do a complete 180° on this. Now I’m wondering what would happen if I tried the same thing with CdR, this could turn into a whole social experiment on BoTO.

      1. I’ve got a 1.5ml dabber that’s mostly full. (Meant to order the 1.5ml spray from TPC, but clicked the wrong choice.) Do you think that’s enough for the experiment?

        1. Haha, not if you use my method! I used about 5mL in as many days, but I was also applying three times per day (at least) and really drenching myself in it (gotta go all-in). 😉

  11. Adding my thanks for this wonderful post. Unique, I think. I’m thrilled that the CdR decant came in handy for scientific purposes.

    I can’t smell CdR. For a few minutes I can perceive something a little leathery and a little flowery, and then it’s gone. Very weird. My daughter could smell it quite distinctly though, and liked it.

    Fracas! I have a small decant, sprayed once or twice, just so that I would know what everyone is talking about. Next week when I am alone again I will get it out for another go. T.S Eliot has this great line” ‘Do I dare eat a peach?’. So I’m now thinking: ‘Do I dare wear Fracas?’

    1. Adding: there must have been something about the very liberal application that pushed you through the pain barrier? I have been thinking about this a lot since Natalie’s experiment with this.

      1. Maybe so— one thing I noticed was that when I sprayed a little on my wrist, I was raising my wrist to nose to smell it, and it was gagariffic; however, when I was dousing, I didn’t need to sniff close, my sillage was sufficient. Perhaps proximity is the key for breaking through (further is better?). Haha, but anyway, by now I can sniff and enjoy at any distance!

    2. Haha, well, when I realized how much I had on my hands (close to 15mL, I think), I knew that I had to give it a shot!

      Wowzers! I can’t believe that you are anosmic to CdR— it’s such a potent scent! Very interesting… I wonder why/how that happens. Did your daughter perceive it the way you thought you would?

      I dare you to wear Fracas 😉
      It can be a team event!

      1. I can’t remember what she thought of it, just that she liked. I was so frustrated I pushed the whole thing to the back of my mind.

        Yep, next week will be Fracas week at my place. I’m not sure I have your skill at analysing perfumes though.

        1. Well then, I am un-officially declaring it Fracas-Week for all! (Dionne, do you have some Fracas and have any desire to jump in on this?)

          I have supreme confidence in your abilities 🙂

  12. Does this also work with men? ; – ) You know where they say you should “act out” being happy until you really become happy. They also say that about smiling. At first it is false, but then you genuinely feel smiley!

    Seriously, I should try really immersing myself and devoting myself to CdR because I have got it into my head that it is oily. I may need “appilcation therapy” in every sense of the term!

    I know when I was a kid that my father convinced me that the pistachio ice cream a waiter had brought in error was in fact lime (that I had actually ordered) – it really tasted like lime as long as the illusion persisted! – and I recently had the experience with Le Labo where I thought I was smelling Tubereuse instead of Baie Rose and I actually smelt dewy tuberose blossom for the few seconds while I was still mistaken, then a whoosh of pepper crashed in as reality dawned.

    I also felt that when Tara and I were in Harrods, listening to the SA describe each of the new Roja Dove scents in gloriously seductive terms, that we were more likely to enjoy them while being verbally reeled in in this way.

    All very thought-provoking!

    1. Vanessa, I honestly think it can work with anything… I tell Birgit that I see life through a rose-colored ski-mask over rose-colored glasses!

      Application therapy is where it’s at! At least in the experimental sense, to see if your perception changes.

      What! Pistachio and lime? LOL, that’s an awesome story! A perfect illustration of the power of suggestion! Likewise with the mixed up samples… And the SA. I’m having to rethink how I think about perfume. It’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help but feel surprised and a little bewildered. I mean, will this really work for any perfume? I should do a poll and find out what is pretty universally declared a truly Bad Perfume and run my test on that. I mean, we all know Fracas is well constructed and a masterpiece, but what about something that is clearly not? I don’t have an example, but this is definitely going to take some more experimentation!

  13. This was fascinating, Dee. Cuir de Russie seems like such a tame (and very elegantly tame) fragrance to me that I can’t imagine it being a bear for anyone, but I guess it’s true, remembering what the comments were from Mals and others when Dionne posted about leather scents recently.

    Sometimes I wonder if there are days when our hormones make us smell things in a certain way, because I think about my own experience smelling Le Labo Vanille 44, which would seem to be one of the nicest scents on the planet based on people’s reviews. But I put it on and smelled vanilla-meets-urinal-cake for at least an hour, and though my husband was at the other end of the couch saying “You smell great,” I just couldn’t stomach it and didn’t even want to try it again after that. Probably should have kept my sample and waited a week or two to try again, but as there are already enough things I love, I didn’t feel compelled to.

    1. Not just any bear, but a Face-Eating Bear! LOL, but now I see it in much different light: it truly is a refined and elegant scent. The balance of the materials, and the juxtaposition of the soft and harsh elements is truly masterful.

      Hormones! I suspect that there are a combination of elements, but no doubt hormones play a part. Lord knows I don’t crave butter pecan ice cream every day, but when I do, look out. Irrelevant, but I think you know what I mean 😉

      That is so weird that Vanilla 44 went urinal cake on you! That is the absolute worst 😦 it’s true though, there are so many things to love, why keep trying with something that turns your stomach? Normally that’s my mantra, but at the moment I just need to question the nature of reality (of my sense of smell).

  14. This is both fascinating and disturbing. What if we can truly brainwash ourselves into liking anything? (And I’m not a fan of Cuir de Russie either.) I feel like that might shake the foundations of what I thought I knew or believed about smell, which includes the belief that some fragrances are vile and I will never like them. If that’s not true, my husband and my bank account must be very afraid. 🙂

    1. Right?! I am both delighted and freaked out; pleased to have shown my sense of smell who’s boss, freaked out that I was able to consciously manipulate my experience of a scent.

      Beware bank account. Beware.


  15. I love all kinds of experiments so I utmostly enjoyed reading your report. When I first saw the title, I didn’t want to read because I was afraid it would be a story of how you still cannot tolerate one of my favorite perfumes.

    I do not think we should be too alarmed about the power of persuasion in relation to perfumes: other people do not have that power over us, it’ll work only if we want it to work and make active efforts. If you think of it, you’ll be able to remember, probabably, those cases when you read tons of very positive reviews for a new line or perfume, tried those and were completely disappointed.

    I keep running a similar experiment on myself (tuberose as a note; L’Heure Blue, Mitsouko and Shalimar as perfumes and Kilian as a perfumer 😉 ) but without much luck so far.

    1. Undina, let me know how you do…I also dislike everything on your list, although every perfumista I know swears that they are the pinnacle of perfumery.

    2. Undina, I was a little concerned about being offensive— one perfumista’s HG is another’s scrubber… but I think that the ends justified the means. I’m glad that you decided to read, even though the first half is so unflattering!

      You are probably right, although my paranoid side is still scrunching it’s forehead at me— it’s true that there have been things that I was prepared to love based on hype, then felt disappointment. Wanting to make it work must be the key, and sticking to it!

      I remember that you’ve been doing this, although with somewhat less luck, I think? Are you going back to test them periodically, or dousing for subsequent days? Perhaps there is something in immersion therapy!

      1. Dee, I wouldn’t have been offended even if you’d ended up not liking it. It’s just when you like something you instinctively want your friends to like it as well. I’m a little bit sad Natalie doesn’t like it as much as I do. But I realize that tastes differ and I’m completely fine with that. But I’m glad you’ve changed your mind about CdR!

        I haven’t tried yet the immersion therapy (as I called it yesterday in the comment on Bloody Frida’s blog, Dee-style therapy) but I might do it in future.

        1. I know exactly what you mean: it thrills me to no end when one of my blogging friends loves something that I love, since I feel like its an affirmation of my good taste 😉 On the other hand, if someone hates something I love, I begin to wonder if I’ve been roaming around smelling bad, lol.

          Immersion thapy is s mixed bag: I’ve been trying to wear Fracas and repeat the experience, but it isn’t going very well… I’ll still document it, but the hardest part about this one is actually forcing myself to put some on my skin— sort of imperative for PRT. 😉

  16. Wow – I loved this post! Like others, I found it fascinating…and timely! I recently realized that many of my favorite scents contain leather notes so I ordered a handful of leather scents this past weekend to try. CdR was one of them and I fully expect to love it… until I read your post about it smelling like Angry Bear in your face all yellow and brown (love George R.R. Martin, btw). I remain positive and fully expect to love it. It IS Chanel after all.

    I can’t wait to read what happens with Fracas. The last time I tried this was in sephora and, after reading several positive reviews, spritzed some all over my arm. After about 2 minutes, I made use of their alcohol wipes and a few lotions & scents to rid/cover/disguise that scent.

    Tuberose is another note that sends me running and screaming. It’s ok in gentle doses (vintage Oscar de la renta, for instance) but the modern version of OdlR is a screamer, and I have trouble with the FM and SL versions featuring tuberose as well and need to keep my distance lest I hurl something at them.

    Looking forward to reading more!

    1. Thank you CM! I found the experience really fascinating, and am pretty happy that I got to share it with you all. I thought it was hilariously timely that it was going on during Robin’s poll at NST asking, “How many times do you try something before you give up?”.

      I hope you’ll pop back over with some feedback as to how CdR fares on your skin; I’ll be interested to see if my “review” has any influence on your experience 😉

      Oh Tuberose, my nemesis. I’ve found a few that I like, and a few more I can tolerate, but when it’s joined by orange blossom and jasmine… I run screaming! We shall see…

  17. Wow, I am totally impressed.

    Not least because I dislike Cuir de Russie very much myself. I’ve said it before – I was expecting to like it since I usually do very well with Chanels, and I’d already fallen hard for Cuir de Lancome, but the thing was Virtual Cattle Working Pens for me, and I SWEAR I could smell fear in it. (Uh… not *my* fear. Cattle fear. Which is bad enough, I guess.)

    I’m not sure there is much value to applying Positive Review Therapy to something that isn’t a classic, that doesn’t have the quality raw materials, that isn’t worth loving, which is why I’m not going to apply PRT to, say, Chance, which I think is bottled lab error. Or, say, that Faith Hill thing that smells like toilet cleaner to me (True? Was that the name of it?). Also, there are any number of scents that no matter how I try, and no matter how they actually smell, turn my stomach. I’ve talked ad nauseam (HA! joke!) about how queasy the Estee Lauders make me when I try them on my skin, though Beautiful and Private Collection were really great on my scarves. I’m quite sure that’s a physical reaction peculiar to me and not a situation which PRT and repeated exposure could change.

    But I wonder if it would work with me for Tubereuse Criminelle. I had a bad experience with those rotten-meat topnotes, having cleaned out the fridge that week and found two raw chicken breasts that were well past their prime – but now I’m thinking that I could possibly teach myself to get past that rotten-meat part, since I don’t mind the gasoline/menthol/camphor stuff, and I liked the rest of the scent. Or Manoumalia, maybe… again, a “meat in the white florals” issue, where I usually love love love white florals.

    What would be a bigger challenge would be Opium or Youth Dew, which I hate like “pizen,” as my granny used to call any substance which could kill a person. I’ve just hated those scents for sooo long… could I retrain my nose? New plan…

    1. *blushing*
      Thanks Mals!

      Oh man, I know what scared cows smell like. As a kid, my first job was on a farm, and we occasionally round up cattle for slaughter… what a mess. CdR was all-barnyard, all the time. I remember when I wore it that first time (when I got my first decant), I think I may have actually gagged. Yet the people I know who love it didn’t seem like the sort of people who’d be drawn towards fecal-smelling ‘fumes, so it had to be a perception/chemistry thing.

      True, I probably wouldn’t bother applying PRT to the Faith Hill fragrance… but for me, I’ll have to admit it’s a snobish thing— I don’t want to work to like something that I’d only reluctantly admit to wearing. I will admit that I like to say, “It’s Chanel, Cuir de Russie… first released in 1924, inspired by CoCo’s torrid love affair with an exiled arch duke.” I’m such an elitist!!!

      Again I agree with you— if it’s actually causing headaches or physical nausea, why bother? Obviously the body is rejecting some specific ingredient, probably not the fragrance accord itself.

      I would LOVE to see you do an Opium challenge! May I suggest Fluer de Shanghai??? 😉


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