The master perfumer lowered his voice as he described the days, weeks, and months spent thinking about one man, the inspiration for his new fragrance—Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Vladislav Rikunov’s new “warm, woody scent” is the result of six months of creative observation and inspiration, the Belarusian perfumer told The Daily Beast. Rekunov’s creation, “Leader Number One” eau de toilette, was designed in Belarus, made in France, and approved by Putin himself, according to the perfume’s distributors. The fragrance is on sale in only one place: in the heart of Moscow, on Red Square.
On a recent Tuesday, crowds buzzed around a brightly illuminated skating rink on Red Square, where music played and lights reflected on the ice, on colorful glass balls, and on the enormous toys hanging off the capital’s large Christmas tree. More colorful toys, huge candies, and oranges almost as big as the clock on the Kremlin’s tower, decorated the interior of the Upper Trading Rows, GUM, a historic 19th century department store known for presenting luxurious brands with “biting prices,” as some shoppers put it.
The Putin-inspired eau de toilette was presented on a stand on GUM’s ground floor. The display’s conservative design stood out: black boxes with Putin’s silver profile, which looked almost too dramatic in the colorful mishmash of the store’s overwhelming New Year’s decorations. Inside the boxes were 100 milliliter bottles of eau de toilette. In the black frame under the glass, the Russian Empire’s crown, and a crowned eagle’s head, part of the state main symbol, were seen as the background of Putin’s black and white photograph. Next to the president’s face was a list of the perfume’s fragrances: lemon, bergamot, black currants, balsam fir, cedar, musk, and tonka beans.
The perfumer said he once recognized his perfume on the street in Moscow. “I was in the underground pedestrian passage and sensed my scent—see, I deliberately made it noticeable and sustainable,” Rekunov told The Daily Beast.
Rekunov believes in aromatherapy: “Fragrance changes the human organism. By being absorbed through the blood, it changes the hormone state at the molecular level,” the perfumer insisted. Rekunov said he suggested that men wear his perfume at business and political events, and of course they should put some on for important meetings. “Not many people discover their sentimental feelings, in politics it could be seen as weakness; but this perfume, soft and round, can show a softer side of character.”
Last year, a Moscow based media holding called “Leaders” chose the Belarusian perfumer to create the “Leader Number One” perfume. To prepare his scent, Rekunov “watched videos of Putin’s interviews, his gestures, his mimics, and looks,” the perfumer recalled. “We all know that he came out of the special services, where they teach people not to unveil their real emotions, but I am very observant.”
It was not the first time that Russians could buy Putin’s smell in a bottle. Individual fragrances of politicians and other celebrities became popular over a decade ago. Putin’s former wife, Lyudmila Putina, was famous for ordering a men’s perfume from Zhanna Gladkova, a Moscow perfumer. “Zhanna and I are friends but I did not listen to her fragrance—I know only know that it had more metal, a steel scent, and mine on the contrary [is] soft, round for a man who wants to be liked by a woman,” Rekunov said.
Back at the department store, a young, tall shop assistant dressed in a black uniform jacket was enticing GUM visitors to smell Rekinov’s perfume. Not many in the overcrowded department store stopped to pay attention to the unknown fragrance. It was not cheap. The price said 6,500 rubles, which was a bit more than $88. The shop assistant told The Daily Beast that distributers had managed to sell 1,000 bottles of the perfume in just in few days, nearly a half of what they had available.
But not all shoppers were so enthusiastic. “My boyfriend might get a kick out of it but, no, too expensive,” a young shopper, Maria, told The Daily Beast. Another shopper wrinkled his nose and sniffed, “I prefer Dior.”