Habanita by Molinard (Anne-Marie)

Habanita: a weird phenomenon. A survivor from 1921, it is the stand-out offering from a brand  that otherwise rarely seems to excite anyone’s interest.

What has excited my interest is the fact that this year Molinard has re-released Habanita as an EDP. The disappearance of the EDT from Molinard’s website suggests that it has been discontinued, and indeed a reviewer on Fragrantica speculates that the new EDP is an IFRA-compliant re-formulation. That is just speculation, but if you love Habanita and the word ‘IFRA’ sends shivers down your spine, go grab some of the old EDT while there is still plenty going cheap. (Beauty Encounter is showing they have some)

I have a decant of the EDT and a full bottle of the new EDP and have been comparing them over the last few weeks since my EDP arrived from Grasse. (Once upon a time such a package would be a thrill to received but postage stamps having been replaced by barcodes, it is just not the same. Sad.) My verdict: I can hardly tell the difference, in the notes, the character, the sillage or the longevity. However, my scent-brain is very far from being a note-discerning machine, so if you have had a chance to compare the new EDP with the old EDT, please jump in. And do comment if you are familiar with the older EDP (there was one) or any other version.

What I love about Habanita is the elusiveness created by the powdery notes (orris and heliotrope). For me, powder suffuses the whole thing, but it shifts constantly. Suddenly I get a sharp bite of sticky fruit. The powder takes over again, but in the next whiff it clears and I get  … oh yes, vanilla! … and so on through all the major effects: flowers, vetiver, woods, leather, and so on. For me there is no real top-middle-base structure in Habanita, just a series of fascinating and deeply alluring fragrant moments, all glimpsed through that whispy veil of powder. The contrast of sweet/soft with bitter/acrid (almost Bandit-like) notes has me utterly enthralled.

Many people get tobacco and smoke, but I don’t. I do get a smoke-like effect created by vetiver and leather. Or okay, perhaps that would be a leather-like effect created by smoke and vetiver? I can’t tell. But look, if Habanita was produced firstly as a fragrance to add to cigarettes, why would it smell of cigarettes itself? Put like that, it doesn’t make sense, does it?

What may have happened is that once Habanita became a skin perfume in 1924, the formula was tweaked to introduce the idea of smoke as a means of referencing its origins. (And who knows what other tinkering has been done since then?) Certainly the vintage ads for Habanita (the one above is from 1938) reference smoke: the figure of a woman is defined in silhouette by the aroma wafting from a bottle of Habanita. That clarity glimpsed through darkness is for me a vivid evocation of the fragrance itself.

Depending on your tastes and sensory experience, Habanita will seem absurdly old-fashioned or intriguingly niche-like and modern to you. With the release of the new EDP, Molinard is keeping Habanita very much in the eye of today’s consumer. The bottle retains the famous frieze of naked women designed by Lalique, but other than that is almost brutally simple. Habanita bottles once came with a bulb atomiser, but those days are most definitely gone.

 

Also available at:

Still, black is still the theme colour and, judging by this teaser for an ad for the new EDP, the Habanita woman is as sassy and mysterious as ever she was.  Check it out:

20 Comments

  1. I’m enjoying your observations on this, Anne-Marie, as well as that stunning vintage ad.

    I bought some middle-aged EDT while I was reading The Perfume Lover. Habanita played an important role in both the author’s life and the development of Seville a l’aube. But I haven’t spent a lot of time with it yet, so I’d rather not even think about the existence of a new version just yet. 🙂

    I must say that in the photos at least, the new bottle looks amazing. I didn’t care at all for the update of the Shalimar bottle, so I’m impressed that Molinard came up with a worthy update of the beautiful Habanita bottle.

    • Thanks, Nozknoz. Yes, Molinard put in a fair effort on the bottle, and on the juice too, I’d say. But I am interested to hear what long-term wearers think.

      I hope you middle-aged Habanita has aged okay, I bought some vintage-ish Habanita a few months ago but although it had a box and had hardly been used, the top notes have turned so badly that it is pretty much unwearable.

  2. Thanks for the review, I’ll have to give the edp a sniff when I get the chance! I got too much smoke from the original for my taste, but then my favorite of their’s has always been Molinard de Molinard. Love the bottle already!

    • Thanks, the bottle is more masculine than it used to be and, given the smoky facets of Habanita, I’m wondering if Molinard is hoping to reach part of the masculine fragrance market? Molinard may have an eye to the trend in the niche market towards unisex scents.

      I really want to try Molinard de Molinard. It is about the only other Molinard that piques my interest.

  3. I have a large (15ml) decant of Habanita that I have worn a handfull of times. I haven’t worn it in quite some time and do remember liking it. After poking around, it is fairly cheap but I will have to dig out my decant to refresh my memory.

    • 15 mls of Habanita will last you a while: it probably isn’t a fragrance to be worn every day, by any means. Hope you enjoy getting re-aquainted with it!

  4. I like Habanita but I am fond of powdery scents. I don’t get any actual smokiness from it, more a feeling of smoke like you said. I agree that it’s probably not a typical everyday fragrance but I do wear it for a few days in a row at times. I can see how some people would think it old fashioned. It seems a lot of older scents which had that powdery quality get that bad rap. It lasts for hours on me which is wonderful although I’m sure with some reformulating they will eventually screw that part up. It seems that the goal of reformulating is to take wonderful multi-faceted perfumes which unfold and develop over the course of time into pale, weak body sprays which give you a blast of top notes and disappear in a little while. I hope that doesn’t happen to Habanita but there are so many scents that aren’t what they used to be. I’m glad they kept true to the bottle concept. Love the black bottle.

    • If Habanita was released tomorrow by some uber-cool niche house I wonder if people would think it old fashioned? Is that we KNOW that it is a 1920s release that influences our thinking? This is why Chandler Burr’s experiment with OpenSky to strip back the packaging and names and avertising to just sell the juice is so interesting.

      You are right about modern mainstream trends – people want ‘clean and fresh’. And of course there are so many fragrances on the market that those few minutes at the fragrance counter are crucial. The top notes are the ones that entice money out of people wallets and no-one seems to care what happens after that. Fortunately, Habanita seems to be safe. Like you, I find it lasts hours.

  5. Habanit has been on my too-sniff list for ages and, having just read this review, I really need to get some and try it out! Two of my greatest favourites, Shalimar and Emeraude, are ’20’s scents as is L’air du Temps (which in its vintage form is wonderful) so I am hopeful. I think something about that era just works for me – though sadly not flapper fashion as I have a curvy 40’s/50’s build and decidedly NOT a straight, boyish flapper body! Ah, well – I’ve never met a pencil skirt and twinset I didn’t like! Though come to think of it, Shalimar and Emeraude seem equally at home and evocative of those decades – the mark of a truly great scent perhaps?

    • Scents that transcend their times – a sign of greatness indeed. I often wonder how curvy women in the 1920s coped with the new fashions. Occasionally you see photos of them and they look quite odd! Hope you enjoy Habanita!

  6. I have a little scrab of vintage Habanita and LOVE IT! I am always so surprised at it’s va-va-voomish ways.

    xo :Devil:

    • I was stunned when I first smelled it, just amazed at how powerful and complex it is. ‘Don’t mess with me, pal.’

  7. Thank you for your review and observations, Anne Marie. I really enjoyed it. I haven’t try the new Habanita yet, but I’m so glad to hear that it hasn’t been completely defaced. So many reissues retain only the name of the original. I loved the old Habanita, and now I look forward to smelling it in a new iteration.

    P.S. I love the vintage ad!

    • Thanks Victoria. Yes, the ad says it all really. Hope you get a chance to try the new Habanita. (I’m wondering now how widely it will be distributed.)

  8. I bought a full bottle of Habanita a few years ago, just based on reading about it. It’s an amazing fragrance, and I was wearing it only last evening. Anne-Marie, you are so right about the changing aspects of this scent as you wear it. I don’t really find it old-fashioned (some frags from the 80’s fit that description better). I’ll be on the lookout for the EDP, but you have inspired me to stock up on the EDT just in case……

    • Glad you love it! It is such an interesting thing – how perfumes seem to feel old fashioned or not. You are right about scents of the 80s, and I say that about the ones I really love, like EL’s Beautiful and Chanel’s Coco. They seem to express a much more traditional type of femininity compared to Habanita.

  9. A dear friend sent me a spray vial of the EDT of this, along with a ton of other things, and I fear it got overlooked in the happy deluge. I’m going to give it a try the next coolish evening we have. Happy to hear that new juice is pretty close to the original.

  10. Yes, I don’t wear Habanita in really warm weather. Hope you enjoy it!

    • A-ha! Couldn’t put my hands on the EDT spray but found a partial vial of what I think is parfum or maybe EDP (smudged label) someone sent me years ago. Just put it on and wow — it’s got personality-plus!!

      • Oh well done – lucky you for getting your hands on some vintage!

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