Some months ago I received a sample of Leiber EDP as a freebie in a swap. Now as anyone who engages in perfume swaps will know, 90% of the unsolicited freebies that are included in swaps are dross, some quite distressingly so - Demeter New Zealand, I am looking at you! Others you never actually get round to trying, so sure are you that they will also be dross. Which is perhaps shortsighted, but scents called "Melissa" and "Moonstone" don't exactly inspire me with confidence.
I umm-ed and aah-ed about trying this Leiber EDP for some time before I finally sampled it. I had never heard of the perfume or the individual, Judith Leiber, after whom the fragrance was named - I have since found out that she's a luxury bag designer - and was nervous of courting a scrubber. Then one day I took the plunge...
And to be honest, it isn't great. There is a peculiar vinyl note going in. It is very much in the same vein as David Yurman and Ralph Lauren's wickedly overpriced Love. The similarity with David Yurman is interesting, as he is a high end designer of rather ostentatious jewellery, while Judith Leiber's uniquely flamboyant handbags LOOK like jewellery, as does the bottle for her eponymous scent.
Leiber is an oriental floral, created in 2007 by Karine Dubreuil, who isn't one of my favourite noses, and whose claims to fame include Lanvin Eclat d'Arpege, Gianfranco Ferre Rose Princesse, Gucci Envy Me and Celine Dion Paris Nights(!).
Here are the notes, stripping away the rather purple padding I found on Fragrantica ("voluptuous pineapple", "shy vanilla").
Top notes: Italian bergamot, mandarin leaves, osmanthus, pineapple
Heart notes: Turkish rose, white gardenia, jasmine, cyclamen, magnolia, pimento leaves
Base notes: vanilla, musk, ambergris, patchouli, cedar
And here are the notes for DAVID YURMAN:
"Mandarin, fresh green petals, cassis, peony, water lily, natural rose otto, patchouli, exotic woods and soft musk."
And for RL LOVE:
"Champagne accord, goji berry, cool green water accord, rose, magnolia, amber, iris, sandalwood, vanilla and patchouli."
So whilst the notes are by no means identical, the vibe is similar, for they all feature sundry fruits and rose, patchouli and some combo of vanilla, woods, amber and musk. They are all heavy and sweet to wear, in a blurry, borderline furry, kind of way that is doubtless due to the patchouli and/or the musk.
I mind Leiber a lot less after the plastic top note has blown off, plus it becomes lighter and less sweet as it gets going, which I know may sound like the argument for stopping hitting your head against a brick wall, but I mean that I would rather be wearing the latter stages of Leiber than no perfume at all.
Why I am delighted to have received this scent in a swap has little to do with the fragrance per se, and everything to do with Judith Leiber herself and her fantastical bags.
Born Judith Peto in Hungary in 1921, she was the first woman to join the handbag-makers' guild in Budapest. She sought refuge in a safe house in Switzerland during the war, and emigrated to the US with her American husband in 1948. After initially making handbags for other companies, she founded her own business in 1963. And what extraordinary creations, nay confections, they are! Witness the cupcake bag, famously featured in Sex and The City. And thanks to Judith Leiber, I have learnt the term "minaudière":
"a woman's small handbag, often decorated with costly material, used for formal wear."
Well, let me tell you that "decorated with costly material" is something of an understatement. For here is one of her so-called classic range:
Leiber bags are so exclusive that there are only a handful of boutiques in the world - well, all in the US, actually - unsurprisingly in the blingier cities like LA and Las Vegas(!).
I was pleased to note that certain models have ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York and our own Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which is accolade indeed. For whilst some of these bags are without question unashamedly and rampantly kitsch, others are gloriously whimsical works of art, such as this bird bag:
I am also beginning to wonder if this was where Damien Hirst got his inspiration for that notorious £50m skull...