Le Jardin Retrouvé or “the recovered garden” might well be a new discovery for many niche fragrance followers even though the house has existed since 1975. Le Jardin Retrouvé has been very quiet since the brand’s founder, perfumer Yuri Gatsatz, passed away in 2005. The brand was a sleeping beauty until Yuri’s son Michel and his wife, Clara, brought new life into the Parisian fragrance house in 2016. The couple were so determined in their work they even sold the family house to finance the project.
Yuri’s life story is a fascinating tale. Surviving tumultuous years of political revolution and world wars, the young Russian immigrant eventually settled in Paris at the age of 19. There he started a career in perfumery with Parfums Mury in 1933. In the 1950s he was employed by Roure Bertrand Fils (now Givaudan), one of Grasse’s most successful fragrance and raw material producers of its time. Roure Bertrand Fils sent Yuri to India to establish an office in Bombay and when he returned to France six years later, he noticed how much the industry had evolved. Yuri reacted against this new way of creating fragrances that was largely driven by marketing briefs and prioritisation of low ingredient costs over quality. He made his opinions known through writings and conferences. Another important milestone in Yuri’s life was his contribution to the creation of the Osmothequé, a conservatorium of fragrances in Versailles, now the world’s largest scent archive and an important safeguard that preserves the history of perfume making.
Le Jardin Retrouvé was a passion project for Yuri and when he died, his collection consisted of a few dozen fragrances. Michel and Clara chose seven of Yuri’s fragrances to be restored and relaunched. Faithful to the original formulae, Le Jardin Retrouvé is a poetic exploration of garden scenes from around the world. Some of the gardens are well known, like Florence’s Boboli gardens, which is referenced in Citron Boboli, and Tubéreuse Trianon, which references the royal gardens of Versailles.
The fragrance I like the most in the collection is Cuir de Russie. It is a name that carries great expectations since there are other well-known fragrance houses that have used this title before. Cuir de Russie, or Russian Leather, was trendy in Paris in the 1920s. Guerlain and L.T Piver created fragrances with the Cuir de Russie name. The most enduring Cuir de Russie was made for Coco Chanel by her Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux. Almost a century later, it is still a highly prized fragrance in Chanel’s Les Exclusifs collection.
Russian Leather fragrances typically smell of smoky leather. Russian Cossacks are said to have waterproofed their leather boots by coating them with smoky birch tar. Le Jardin Retrouvé has reframed the story and instead the wearer is taken to 1920s Paris, to Diaghilev’s avant-garde Ballets Russes where its star, Vaslav Nijinsky, performs. The dancer’s androgynous movements and appearance mirror this unusual fragrance, which embodies both masculine and feminine characteristics.
Like a set of Russian dolls, Le Jardin Retrouvé’s Cuir de Russie is a story within a story within a story. This 21st century fragrance is a rendition of Yuri Gutsatz’ original fragrance from 1977, which in turn referenced a style of fragrance that was highly fashionable when Yuri arrived in Art Deco Paris. This contemporary version is delightfully faithful to the theme with just a few tell tale signs that this is a 21st century formula – the violet accord is acutely modern. A weightless, green cucumber note replaces the strong petrol-like note associated with older violet fragrances.
Cuir de Russie begins with fresh, watery, green floral notes that mimic a lush bouquet of French violets. Spicy cinnamon adds texture and ylang ylang rounds out the floral bouquet with narcotic and sweet floral facets.
Because leather is a fantasy note, which perfumers recreate using various woods, resins and synthetic molecules, leather notes always vary from fragrance to fragrance. Up against 21st century leathers, Gusatz’ leather has a retro appeal. His Cuir de Russie shares a kinship with leather fragrances from the 1930s-1940s. There is a traditional barbershop soapiness in the background and a hint of Spanish cade oil adds smoke to the dry, almost chalky quinolone note. Like mid-20th century classics such as Knize Ten, Robert Piguet’s Bandit and Cabochard’s Grés, Cuir de Russie’s leather feels cool and austere like the momentary shiver cold leather creates when it touches warm skin. With patchouli and warm resins, Cuir de Russie builds complexity as the projection plateaus and dries down on skin.
Le Jardin Retrouvé’s connecting of Cuir de Russie to Nijinsky is perfect. When I was researching for this review, I read some interesting descriptions of Nijinsky’s style as a dancer, his appearance and how he embodied both female and male characteristics. Most of these descriptions were transferable to Cuir de Russie. Although the title is literal, the fragrance itself is quite abstract. When recognisable forms do come into focus, it’s a blend of radiant, feminine floral notes and dark, masculine leather and woody notes. It’s contrast, it’s yin and yang. As a result, Cuir de Russie doesn’t have a clearly assigned gender. Instead of thinking about whether this is more suited for men or women, the better question to ask would be – do you enjoy wearing classical leather fragrances? If the answer is yes, I highly recommend Le Jardin Retrouvé’s Cuir de Russie.
Perfumer: Yuri Gutsatz
Creative Direction: Yuri Gutsatz
Release Date: 2016 (1977)
Typology: Dry Woods