Leather Boots, Leather Scents

One of my vivid childhood memories is going with my father on Saturday mornings to “the shoeshine store.”  It was a repair shop near a military base, so the shelves held row upon row of combat boots, and behind the counter was a gruff giant of a man in a dark green canvas apron. He worked in silence, handing over my dad’s polished brogues and small change without a word. Of course there was the smell – a primal scent-memory I can conjure up effortlessly, shoe polish and leather and repair glues, I’d guess. I found it as exotic as if you’d dropped me in a Moroccan bazaar. Maybe that’s where my love of leather boots was born.

It’s fall here now — boot season, aka the most wonderful time of the year.  The summer sandals are tucked away (my feet only know two seasons: sandals and boots) and I’ve been to the shoe repair shop multiple times recently. Our local guy’s named Vince, and while the shop itself has moved from where it used to be back in the day, it feels very much the same.  In addition to shoes and boots, and bottles of polish and leather conditioner and laces for sale, there’s a rack of red chile powder from a local vendor. I love this; you find bags of red chile for sale everywhere here, from corner bodegas and gas stations to this place. It’s as if we’re all preparing for some sort of red chile emergency.

My Lucchese boots, 30 years old and going strong.

My high-heel phase, such as it was, was short-lived; I had arch issues and small kids underfoot, and a sturdy shoe (or boot) was needed to get the job done. My downtown work life had its share of ballet flats and loafers that lived under my desk at the office, but I don’t wear them here; why would I, when there are so many fabulous boots to be worn? I love them all – western, moto, grunge, granny, as long as they’re low- or flat-heeled and reasonably sturdy.

Some favorites, at random: these fancy Lucchese boots in their iconic black cherry, which I had absolutely no business buying 30 years ago when I first lived in Santa Fe. (Random hilarity: I thought the boot brand was “Lou Casey” until I saw it written out.) I kept them after we moved back to DC, a souvenir of my former life; now they’re on my feet often enough they needed new heel caps and a spa day. I still wear the Nocona shoe-boots I saw in an issue of Vogue in the 1980s and tracked down pre-internet – they have a vibram heel and are spectacularly comfortable. I have the Fiorentini + Baker moto boots all the young Hollywood starlets were wearing bare-legged a few years ago, roaming the mean streets of Beverly Hills while clutching a latte. I found mine on eBay; they appear for re-sale pretty regularly, probably because they’re a pain in the ass to put on and take off, and I don’t care, I rock mine with tights or leggings and feel fierce.

The boot-shelf in my bedroom.

I’m short on closet space and storage in my casita, so I have a repurposed bookshelf (a boot-shelf?) for a dozen pairs and the rest are lined up in various places, including by the front door. It makes those last-minute decisions about which to pull on a lot easier.

If all these boots were to inspire a leather scent, which would it be?  I think it would be more classic but also in your face: Bandit, Tabac Blond, and Knize Ten spring to mind. If I myself were wearing a leather fragrance, I’d probably pick something a little softer like non-vintage Cuir de Russie. I love to smell those intense leather frags, but they’re generally not something I wear; big leathers make me feel like I’ve put on someone else’s magnificent coat that’s not quite right on me.

Are you into leather – handbags, shoes, fragrances, etc.? Is the smell part of the leather-goods experience for you? I have some fantastic-smelling leather handbags! And I gave our wonderful leather wing-back chair and ottoman to the Maine crew, my favorite thing about it was its rich leather smell when I sat in it … hmmm, I think I need a “leather” candle, not leather and amber or cognac or fir or woodsmoke … I want pure, old fashioned leather.

  • Musette says:

    Well! You know I LOVE your boot collection, especially those Baker-Fiorentini gorgeousnesses.

    I love the living snot out of leather scents – but a bit softer – usually. I rock the daylights out of vintage CdR (Chanel)but it requires a very precise temperature. Right now I’m marinating in Uncle Serge’s Daim Blond. GAH! I love it so.

    Glad you kept the Luccheses! They are still phenomenal, 30 years strong!


    • March says:

      I bet you smell fantastic! It’s that time of year, innit it? And you have some excellent boots, you work that combat + leggings look so well.

  • SpringPansy says:

    Love boots! Think I only have 4 (well-loved) pairs: my everyday black Blundstones, my dressy Stuart Weitzmans, my Pendleton National Park rain boots and my sherpa fleece-lined snow boots. Like Cinnamon, I am always looking for a great pair of Chelsea boots. And most leather perfumes don’t work for me, but I do love Cuir de Russie, as March mentioned, Dzing! And Cartier L’Heure Fougueuse IV. And I like the idea of a great candle with leather notes.

    • March says:

      I had a pair of Blundstones until my hippie-farm kid stole them (which was fine!) I keep seeing them here and wondering if I need another pair … I have a pair of chelseas I love the look of but can’t quite seem to break them in so they’re comfortable.

  • Maggiecat says:

    I also love boots, and since moving to Texas from South Florida sixteen years and change ago, I actually get to WEAR them fairly often. Sadly, major ankle and back surgeries make boots tricky to get on, and like many here, low/no heels are a MUST. But I’m putting together a nice collection nonetheless.
    Oddly, while I love the smell of leather, I’m not drawn to leather-y
    perfumes. Maybe I just haven’t found the right one? Or it simply falls into the category of “love the smell but don’t want to smell like it”? Like bacon, maybe. ?

    • March says:

      Yeah, I’m thinking maybe that’s it — I don’t want to smell like strong leather (a little is fine.) Oof, I figure if I get to a point with major foot/ankle issues, that’s the end of my boot-wearing unless they have zippers.

  • Alison Miller says:

    Of course I’m into leather! I had a horse and lived in a barn most of my childhood so . . . leather. I still buy jeans and sweaters on eBay and splurge on leather bags, belts, and yes boots! I even own a pair of Luccheses that look a lot like yours March!

  • ElizaC says:

    I love boots but they don’t love my high arch and puffy ankle. However, I’ve found my leather obsession in purses. Cambridge Satchel Daisy bag or Bowls bag in burgundy or dark green! Beautiful, simple and well made.
    As for perfume, I just adore Knize Ten!

    • March says:

      I love a simple, beautiful, well made purse. I had a rainbow of colors for awhile there but I’ve slimmed the collection down. Knize Ten is fabulous.

  • Dina C. says:

    My grandfather was a leather salesman representing tanneries in New England, going into the garment district of NYC and even flying to Paris back in the day, so the smell of leather is in my DNA. He had rolls of sample skins in all colors and weights, suede, patent, calfskin, lambskin, in his home office. I like Cuir de Russie, Jolie Madame, Bottega Veneta, Cuir d’Ange. You’ve got a great collection of boots, March! My oldest pair is a pair of white Frye cowboy boots I got 40 years ago. I pulled them out recently and started wearing them this fall since cowboy boots are in right now. I’m a fan of leather furniture, too. It holds up really well in my experience. But I’m biased because of my Grandpa.

    • March says:

      Ha, another person with decades-old boots! Honestly, if you take care of them they will last and last… had no idea cowboy boots were in! Of course here they’re always in, more or less. I love the story about your grandfather. Another vote for Bottega Veneta, can’t believe I completely forgot about it for this post!

  • Neva says:

    I really like your boot shelf, March! I’m also the “sandal – boot” type of person with a special love for cowboy boots. The real ones are hard to find in Europe so on each of my very few US trips I bought a pair. Ordering online is a bit tricky for shoes, especially from the US with all the customs duties. I’m not taking risks there.
    The smell of leather is familiar to me because my Grandfather used to make the upper shoe parts for a small shop and he had a tiny workplace in the house. I’ve spent there many years helping him when I was a kid. Such a smell I’ve never encountered again although it would be nice to bring back the memories.
    In perfume I’m more into soft suede leather scents like Bottega Veneta, Galop d’Hermes, Cuir d’Ange…

    • March says:

      What a wonderful story about your grandfather! I think that would have been absolutely magical to me as a kid. It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about cowboy boots being so American (duh) and difficult to find outside the US. Your leather scents are perfect.

  • alityke says:

    Ahhhh… boots, would be my specialist subject on Mastermind. From thigh high invisible platforms to Victorian style lace ups with a loo pan heel, my love knows no boundaries!
    Of course, the combined back & joint problems mean heels & I are no longer intimate, but I keep them around for old times sake. My weirdest pair are handmade from patches of purple & white floral leather & fashioned into the shape of Dutch clogs at the front & leather laces at the back. For some reason my brain hits the Scandinavian pixie/troll button. Totally mad & I love them.
    Leather perfumes? Yes please! As already mentioned, BV & its autumnal flanker Velours, Daim Blond, older Cuir de Russie, Cuir de Lancôme, Knize 10, older EL Azuree all have a place in my heart & most in my collection.

    If I could choose my ideal leather it would smell like a tack room. Hay, horses, saddle soap, hoof oil & well worn saddlery. Just so relaxing

    • March says:

      I think I know exactly what you’re talking about with those Dutch clogs! Shortie boot height? I swear I’ve seen them … I would 100% buy a pair like that. Scandinavian pixie works for me. My most absurd pair of boots are those over-the-knee stretch Stuart Weitzmans which I stalked relentlessly on secondhand websites until I got them. I love your list of leather frags.

      • alityke says:

        The purple pixies are sort of mid calf. I bought them in the Canary Islands & they were handmade there by an artisan shoe maker. No two pairs are the same. The soles are similar to the moulded rubber soles on Reikers. I don’t know how to post a photo on here.
        You just reminded me, I have a couple of pairs of heeled wooden clog boots lurking somewhere. Must dig them out!

  • cinnamon says:

    So much to unpack (thank you, March). The high heeled shoes I divested in the fog after childbirth which should still be in my closet even if I don’t wear them. Sigh. I have all low boots at this point: granny tie ups, knee highs, weird warm low side zips. I’m still on the lookout for the perfect Chelseas (maybe the lined DMs next year…). And leather bags, but at this point they are all from UK brand Matt Fothergill (red lady-like handbag, black big over the shoulder, brown small cross body, black rucksack purchased decades ago when he was still working in an arch in East London). Still jonesing Kilian Dark Lord and think I’m just going to have to haunt eBay till I find a decent sample. Leather candles. I have a meh one but looks like Cire Trudon and Diptyque do proper ones, and there’s a company called The Vampire’s Wife which might do something …

    • March says:

      I hope you find your perfect Chelseas, I remember your search … I’ve divested a lot of my handbags because they were larger tote-style for commuting on the subway and I really don’t need a bag that size to lug around now. Yeah, leather candle, my next search. I love The Vampire’s Wife clothing and you’re right, they have a Bonfire candle.

  • Tom says:

    I love leather scents like the ones you mentioned. I don’t wear boots- I’m sure I have a pair somewhere but I tend to default to loafers or topsides or anything that can be put on or kicked off in about two minutes. I stopped wearing boots when I moved to the land where winter is only seen as snow on the far-away mountains when we’ve had a rainstorm that clears the smog out..

    • March says:

      I can’t imagine you in boots — you have that East Coast prep thing going on (which I’m very fond of tbh, so classic). And yeah, if I lived where you do, I dunno … I used to laugh looking at those starlets in moto boots in Hollywood. I’d think, isn’t it like 80 degrees there right now? Aren’t your feet sweating?

  • Kathleen says:

    I love boots so much! From western style leather and suede, ankle boots with heels, to my warm dog walking boots for winter weather. Leather fragrances are not for me though, somehow they can smell wonderful on others but not me. Have you been to Back at the Ranch on Marcy St? They make the most magnificent and unique boots ever, worth a stop in and see. I bought a pair many years ago, and my current dog when a puppy chose them to chew on. Puppy had good taste, LOL!

    • March says:

      Yes indeed, I’ve been to Back at the Ranch! It’s near my woo-woo Chinese medicine practitioner lol. I like to stick my nose in there and fantasize about what I’d buy. Oh lord, having those chewed on by a dog would be tragic.

  • Pam says:

    I love boots and bags, but especially boots. I have a pair of black cherry Lucchese that look identical to yours. Love ‘em. And my many boots are on shelves in my small house. My husband says they’re taking over. For leather scent I have Bandit and EL Azuree.

    • March says:

      Those boots, laughing that you have the same pair! The first time I saw them I thought, welp, gotta have them. There were two other almost identical pairs at the repair shop… Vince and I talked about Lucchese for probably 20 minutes, he says they still make that same boot.

  • Tara C says:

    I love boots – and leather shoes, handbags and perfumes. Sadly in SoCal the boot season is short to nonexistent, but I get more opportunities in Canada, although many of those months are only suitable for seriously insulated and waterproofed versions. Alas my opportunities to wear stylish boots are fewer than I would like, not to mention storage space. So I make up for it with a Bottega Veneta handbag and matching perfume, weather permitting. Top leather scents are Cuir Cannage, Cuir Mauresque, Cuir Velours, Cuir Ottoman, Daim Blond, and of course BV.

    • March says:

      Yeah, “weather boots” feel like their own category. I had a lot of waterproof ones in DC, obviously, since it’s rainy and I commuted on foot, but they don’t get anywhere near as much wear here. I can’t believe I forgot BV fragrance, a favorite of mine. I also have that iconic BV intrecciato slouch bag which doesn’t get as much use here as it did back East.