Russian leather has long been considered one of the most luxurious leathers in the world. It is usually made from calfskin, though the hides of adult cows and goats are also sometimes used. Its distinctive smell is caused by the birch oil which is impregnated into the leather after it has dried. Its reddish colour is achieved through dying the skin with sandalwood, and sometimes cochineal.
As a fluent German speaker, it is highly possible that Angela Carter was familiar with the work of Heinrich Heine, who in 1842 wrote, “The future smells of Russian leather, of blood, of godlessness and of much whipping”. This warning certainly evokes Milord’s evil tendencies, as well as his wealth; throughout the story, our narrator refers to the scent of the leather almost as a signature of her husband.
Cuir de Russie is a well known fragrance by Coco Chanel, and was originally created in 1927.