Thursday, February 17, 2011

Three Faces of Habanita

On Valentine's, Josephine over at Notes from Josephine posted an ode to Habanita.  It went:

Wood Stain
Just Lit Cigarette
ATV Exhaust
Root Beer with Dry Ice
Board Meeting
Fresh Laundry

It's getting complicated with these older perfumes.  There are now several versions out there.  Sometimes several means many.  I own three versions of Habanita--and each smells quite different.  They're clearly the same fragrance.  I wouldn't say by any stretch that Habanita has been vandalized beyond recognition.  But the earliest version I own is a slightly different conversation than the latest.  So when I read Josephine's ode, I wondered which she was talking about.

One of the easiest ways to make distinctions between versions is to describe the packaging.  In the event the packaging hasn't changed (I don't believe Habanita's has--much, if at all), the list of ingredients is instructive.  My earliest bottle of Habanita lists only aqua, parfum, and alcohol.  Let's call that Version 1.  Version 2 has a longer list, and that list includes oakmoss.  I take this to be a more recent version, but not maybe as recent as the parfum formulation Molinard released a few years ago.  That's Version 3.

 Version 1 is the richest of the lot. I guess this would be the musks, but it seems more than that, too.  There's a density and a clarity to this one that the other two lack.  It's a great deal spicier.  In fact, Versions 2 and 3 don't feel spicy at all to me.  Of the three, Versions 1 and 2 are both leathery, but Version 1 feels more like old leather, very worn, soft and supple.  It's a leather that smells not just of curing but of the hands and places that have passed it along.  Smelling Version 1 is the closest I've come to understanding what a cigarette scented with Habanita must have been like.  That isn't to say the other versions don't have any qualities resembling tobacco.  But something in the first version feels smokier, not just sweet but slightly rustic and woody.  You get a sense of the ambiance, as opposed to merely the cigarette itself.

When I read on Fragrantica that a reader thought Habanita had, on first spritz, the "strongest blast of baby powder, EVER," I felt pretty sure she was referring to Version 2.  No mistake, Version 1 is powdered as well, but not to the same degree.  I would argue there's a lot more going on in Version 1, but the nose approaching Version 2 could easily mistake bombast for complexity.  I like Version 2 a lot, and it smells very rich.  It's also incredibly powdered.  I say that in a good way.  Almost without fail, when someone talks about powder overload and Habanita I feel sure they're referring to Version 2.  Version 1 is thick, too, but you feel its layers.  Version 2 is a sort of wall of scent; equal parts tobacco, vanilla, and oakmoss.  Fragrantica lists raspberry, peach, orange flower, Lilac, Ylang-Ylang, rose, bergamot.  I'd be lying if I told you I get anything remotely floral, and not getting any closer to the truth if I led you to believe this is because the fragrance is so "well-blended".  I believe that Version 2 is a much cruder facsimile of Version 1, and that many people take this crudeness to be the source of its infamous reputation.  Again, I love this version.  I happen to like crude and bombastic.  But Version 2 resembles some of my favorite cheapo drugstore fragrances (Toujours Moi comes to mind) and relates to Version 1 the way they relate to their earlier formulations.  Many people get root beer or cola from this version.  I never really have.

Version 3 is my least favorite, and the most expensive.  What disappoints me about the pure parfum version of Habanita is the sense that when cleaning up the fragrance Molinard took Version 2 as its starting point, rather than Version 1.  Consequently, what's being "clarified" is somewhat muddy at the bottom.  The primary contrast and chemistry in Version 3 involves vanilla and vetiver.  The sense of spice is long gone by now.  The herbal bitterness of oakmoss is gone, as well.  The vetiver has a very clean, streamlined quality, causing me to wonder what kind of opportunities were missed.  I can't smell Version 3 without wondering how fantastic a little more grunge and grass might have been in the mix, giving some of that original spike back to the affair.  Ultimately, Version 3 smells and feels more like a cologne than a parfum to me.  When I spray Version 1 on my skin, it's the color of something soaked in cigarettes.  Version 3 is lighter and cleaner, and a lot less interesting.  Of the three, it has the poorest longevity, or maybe I just stop listening to what it's saying a lot sooner.  Version 3 is also the least powdered.  I wonder if that was the overriding objective in the reformulation, given "too powdery" often seemed to be the biggest criticism.

I'm really curious to hear other people's experiences with Habanita.  Do you know which version you tried?  Have you tried a version even older than mine?  And what's so impossibly bad about a powdery fragrance, by the way?


queen_cupcake said...

You've got me curious to re-try opening my really old bottle of Habanita parfum that I won on auction. Only trouble is, the stopper is stuck. I didn't mind so much because I like looking at the bottle. Now I want to smell the contents. I promise to let you know if I succeed.

And what IS a powdery smell? I know, I know--everyone says "like baby powder". Which to some people means benzoin. I avoid using the term powdery because so many people seem to use it pejoratively. (Like they used to talk about rose notes, before everyone decided they adorerose fragrances.) :-D

Elisa said...

The baby powder connection comes from violet, vanilla (or tonka bean, etc) and musk, I think (I've also heard orange blossom and/or heliotropin can trigger it), but I don't know what makes some perfumes actually FEEL powdery, like they make you want to cough...

For me "powdery" is neutral -- could be good, could be bad depending on how it's handled. A lot of people think Flower by Kenzo smells like straight up baby powder, but I love it.

Brian said...

I've heard this about heliotrope too, and heliotrope is listed in Habanita's pyramid, though I think current Habanita is probably so synthetic that the pyramid is pure fantasy.

I'm probably too harsh on the parfum version. I'm smelling it now and it's perfectly lovely, but I prefer the density and thickness of the first two. I just don't feel Habanita is something that should be lightened.

Fruitdiet, one of our readers, was complaining recently about people who say everything smells like powder. What they're basically saying is, that doesn't smell light and fruity and I don't like it. It's one of the comments that annoys me most. You smell like baby powder. Really? I literally smell like baby powder?

Very few fragrances smell truly powdery to me.

Elisa said...

Personally I think heliotrope can smell like envelope adhesive or Play-Doh, but hey, who's to say there's not a place for that in perfumery?

Brian said...

Right, because there's the whole thing about People of the Labyrinth smelling like play-doh, right? And you often hear that about heliotrope frags.

FruitDiet said...

Ugh, IT HAPPENED AGAIN. I was wearing Habanita (I believe mine is version 2) and marveling at how it smells nothing like baby powder and a male friend came over, we started cuddling, and he said, "You smell like baby powder," which significantly turned me off for about three minutes. "No I don't," I bristled. "I smell like HABANITA." It's SO annoying. This happened the first time I wore Habanita (to work) as well. I was walking to work, enjoying this new fragrance, thinking what a bad girl perfume it was as it smelled basically like a Waffle House with a smoking section in its entirety- in addition to its nicotine stain quality it has an OILINESS about it, a GREASINESS, which is my favorite thing about it- and that day EVERY SINGLE PERSON said "Ooh what are you wearing, you smell like BABY POWDER," some of them complimenting it, some of them commenting derisively that it's a "soft, girly smell." I struggled to maintain my poise and corrected them- "No, this is for BAD GIRLS and was used to scent CIGARETTES. It smells of CIGARETTES." I suppose I should have more of a sense of humor about the baby powder thing, but since I get it ALL THE TIME from fragrances that smell NOTHING REMOTELY LIKE BABY POWDER (Giorgio? Youth-Dew? Opium? Femme? KNOWING?) that I get to the point where I sort of stridently correct the people who are saying it. Why is it that people feel it's totally acceptable to comment on your perfume (and its perceived baby powder or "old lady" qualities) but know better than to walk up to you and say, "Oh, that outfit is totally OLD LADY. It totally reminds me of my GRANDMA. It also reminds me of a product slapped on baby's asses after they're wiped." I don't want to KNOW what others think unless they think I smell good, thanks.

Olfacta said...

Not sure how old mine are, but I have a big bottle of EDT (Lalique-like black pressed glass, goldtone top, red lettering) which sounds like # 2 -- it's very powdery, with a bitter edge. Also have a strange, squatty gilded glass bottle, with a paper label and plastic cork, of the parfum. I haven't seen another like it. It's richer, darker and less powdery than the EDT, and is perfect for wearing with a leather jacket.

Katy Josephine said...

Brian, thanks for the reference to my ode. I suspect my Habanita is version #2, according to your description. It's powdery but pleasantly so and the lasting power is superb.

Thanks for making the clear distinction between the three - very helpful!

Anonymous said...

I have not gone back to Habanita for a while, since while I enjoy the original, it is not one of my top favorites. Plus, the confusion of different launches and different reorchestrations.
I have heard powdery being used to describe Pleasures, of all fragrances!!

Angela Cox said...

I think I might have version two . The thing that stands out for me is powder ( like inside Mum's handbag as it's a bit leathery , a bit spilled face powder).Then I get tobacco but nothing like cigarettes ,that rich sweet cigar smell. I am no expert on tobacco types but presume the Cuban's make cigars because the tobacco is a certain type ? As it's "Woman of Havana" that would make sense.I think smelling powdery is a thick smell, a little clogging but soft and pure .

Elisa said...

Wow, I really love FruitDiet.

Brian said...

Don't we all, Elisa. Don't we all.

Brian said...

Ok, Fruit, you know what? Today I went to a coffee shop at 8:30, wearing Habanita, and the woman behind the counter, as I was turning to leave, called out in front of everyone, Are you wearing baby lotion?!

No, I said, but I just changed my diaper.

It was kind of hostile because she called it out in front of everyone and of course she knew I wasn't wearing lotion so what she was really saying, or announcing, was, why would anyone wear something that would be mistaken for baby powder/lotion? So right around the time you were leaving that comment I was experiencing the Habanita effect in action.

Elisa said...

That is so rude! Where's the customer service?

Brian said...

Yeah, I sat there drinking my coffee trying to decide whether that level of "familiarity" was acceptable to me. I was groggy and couldn't make my mind up. But it did seem kind of forward, and even confrontational, like I said. And they wonder why people migrate to Starbucks.

Brian said...

Hey Josephine. I tried posting a comment to your post originally but after composing it the computer ate it and I figured, oh, I'll just answer on the blog.

FruitDiet said...

Add Chinatown to the baby powder list, I got that yesterday! I'm sure in time I'll wear goddamn YATAGAN and someone will say "Ohhh it smells like BABY POWDER!"

At least Aromatics Elixir is powder-proof. With that one I only get the classic, "Did they spray for bugs in here?" which people ask without a hint of irony. They honestly think someone sprayed for bugs in there. The last time I heard it was from a guy who was wearing those athletic shoes with individual toes.

OK, here's the breakdown of all of perfumery in the mind of the average non-perfume person (my friend Monica and I originally drew this as a flow chart on the table at Macaroni Grill while drunk)

100% (all perfume) is "Overpowering", which is divided into the subcategories:

97% "Old Lady/Grandma", which is further divided into 82% "Baby Powder" and 18% "Bug Spray"


3%, which is comprised of 1% Light Blue, 1% anything Burberry, .5% Aquolina Pink Sugar, and .5% Bath and Body Works (some of which overlap into "Old Lady/Grandma" if they're too "overpowering")