In crafting Christopher Street, leather was always understood as a central, inescapable theme to the narrative. Whether discussing the many merchants selling their wares along the Hudson waterfront, or the infamous bar scene stretching from West Street to 6th Avenue, the scent of leather was present, albeit it in various forms (some more functional, while others were quite decadent). To capture the importance of this material, leather was not only incorporated into the formulation of the Christopher Street fragrance, but also into the packaging (as shown above).
Leather in Perfumery
Traditionally, leather notes have been associated more with the masculine side of fragrance than the feminine. Though, as with most gender stereotypes in perfumery, this is far from being universally true. A wide range of materials are used in perfumery to reproduce the scent of leather, mostly chosen based upon the type of leather note one is attempting to convey. These ingredients include: Castoreum, Birch Tar, Labdanum, Cistus, Styrax, Isobutyl Quinoline, and Suederal. Odor profiles can range from phenolic (tar-like), to cresylic (think Lysol), to animalic, and/or balsamic (vanilla-like). Typically, leather notes are used in construction of chypre fragrances, but again, there are many noted exceptions to be found.
Christopher Street Leather Scene
In an earlier post, I discussed the merchant roots of Christopher Street, highlighting the importance of the Christopher Street location for the arrival of any and all goods landing in New York City. Some of these products were either made of leather (i.e. jackets, gloves, saddles, bags), or else wrapped up in leather pieces to help them travel safely to their final destinations, acting as a protective skin. Leather was also shipped to the city in the raw for use in the production of new goods to be manufactured and sold. Hence, the old world side of leather on Christopher Street.
Christopher Street is also known for its many connections to the leather bar scene. This was most famously captured in the 1980 Lorimar film “Cruising” starring Al Pacino. “Cruising” was shot inside the first of three locations on Christopher Street used as leather inspiration for the fragrance story, Badlands (formerly at 388 West Street at the corner of Christopher). The other two noted locations used to help shape the story were Rockbar NYC (which use to be the DugOut) at 185 Christopher Street, another home to the bear and leather crowd, and The Leather Man at 111 Christopher Street, a retail establishment servicing all of your leather bondage needs.
Each of these spaces serve as an example of a very specific subculture that thrived on Christopher Street, synonymous with the seedier, more decadent elements from the history of the neighborhood. While Stonewall attracted a more eclectic crowd drawn to the Motown sounds spilling out from its jukebox (more of a dance haven for meeting and hanging out amongst like-minded people), spaces like Badlands were typically frequented by those looking to engage in anonymous sex with other men. Men clad in leather vests and chaps or tight denim (think Tom of Finland) were known to stand on the corner outside Badlands and taunt the people passing by. Clearly a place that the Marquis De Sade would have loved.
Wrapped in Leather
Leather is tactile and multi-functional. It is one of the oldest known materials used in fashioning clothing and other goods for people. It is also perceived to be olfactively pleasant. There is an inherent simplicity conveyed by leather, yet also a feeling of luxury. Leather ages well, sometimes lasting for generations. All of these facts, along with its direct connections to the story of Christopher Street, led to the decision to wrap the product in leather squares. Charenton Macerations sources all of its leather locally from Amish country, a subtle nod to my own Pennsylvania roots. It also means that packaging production can happen here in the US, instead of being outsourced overseas. Lastly, leather is quite literally skin, something hugely important to the world of fine fragrance. Spraying Christopher Street onto the leather square, or even on to the accompanying leather strap, gives any wearer a different way to experience (and wear) the fragrance.