A Huntin’ We Will Go: Guerlain Habit Rouge, Habit Rouge Vintage and Habit Rouge L’Instinct

Avid readers of my scribblings (both of you) will know that this perfume thing kind of hit me at a young age. When other teens were spending their hard-earned (or pilfered) cash on fripperies like pot or Boones Farm, I was dropping my allowance at Steigers or Filenes (or on one heady occasion, Bloomingdales) on stink. I had both men’s Halston, Dior Eau Sauvage, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Caron Royal Bain du Champagne (before those tedious French people sued and they had to change the name) and Guerlain Habit Rouge.

Habit Rouge was perhaps the dressiest of those: The Dior and Chanel were nice every day, the Halstons and the Caron were the Yin and Yang of party animals: the former two dapper disco dollies with their overtones of Studio 54 while the Caron was just the thing to wear to the Carlysle to listen to Bobby Short. My real, actual life may have been spent in a small college town in Western Massachusetts, but my olfactory one was equal parts posh and Page Six.

And then there was Habit Rouge. The name refers to the hunting coats worn in fox hunts, and all that that sort of implies: breeding and fine manners, if not the vicious cruelty aspect. I am fond of horses, but like them best grouped in hundreds and constrained by a multi-cylinder engine and coachwork with a retractable roof. Not that I had never been on a horse- I had, but my sister was the horse-obsessed one in the family.

As an aside- the last time I was on a horse was over 20 years ago in the hills above Santa Barbara while on a weekend vacation. I drew the ire of the leader of the group because I wasn’t “controlling” the horse enough on the trail. I told him that the horse had been here before and I had not, and it’s my policy never to tell a professional how to do his or her job when I don’t know how. Well the upon first meeting the group the first thing out of his mouth was to insult Los Angeles, so fugghem. I guess pointing out that he didn’t know the difference between a canter and a gallop didn’t endear me to him either. Oh well..

Sooooo, with all the talk on here about Habit Rouge (both Portia and Musette wrote about versions recently, of which there are apparently several) I thought I’d go back and explore. I got a notice from FragranceX of Habit Rouge being on sale super cheap and ordered only to find upon delivery that it was L’Instinct (who names these things? The Instinct to do what? Hunt? Wear a coat?) Needless to type I turned to good old Surrender to Chance to the actual juice and the vintage stuff, to contrast and compare.

Habit Rouge “Vrai” is the one I remember. The newer one seems to have more carnation in the opening while the vintage starts more along the lines of Imperiale with a stronget neroli and lemon. Both are quite formal, in a very good, very Guerlain kind of way. Just the thing you would spritz on your bare throat before putting on that Turnball & Asser shirt. Or on the same neck when you’re in old Gap jeans and a t-shirt but have to run errands where you might have to talk to someone. That rock-ribbed Guerlain glaze of uppercrustitude is better armor than a Birkin Bag, costs less, and won’t get you carjacked. The vintage seems to have less initial lasting power, which may be a factor of age: I remember that HR Vrai Vintage was one that needed a steady hand in application: deceptively light in the citrus but the warm vanilla and ambery drydown could be just a little much if overdone. The new one is less so, and frankly less interesting, but I think you would only know that in a side-by-side comparison. It is in the side-by-side comparison that the new one really falls down. Even aged enough that I am sure some of the accords have died off, Vrai Vintage’s Guerlinade heart is sadly missing from Vrai Nouveaux, which seems rather thin by comparison (which is weird becuase the VN is EDT and the VV is EDC) and has a touch of the screech that Musette mentions in her piece. She reviewed the extrait, and I have no idea if that’s closer to the original than the newer EDT is of if the EDP is, and to be honest I am sort of over finding out.

As for Habit Rouge L’Instinct, I am not sure that they did this one a service linking it to the original. Does it have some of the same notes? Sure, but what men’s scent doesn’t have bergamot? You may as well say it’s in the same family since it’s liquid. Portia pointed out that it has wonderful aspects of Maté and Ambergris that have zippety-dooh-dah to do with the original, so why not just call it L’Instinct and leave it at that?

As for me, I will enjoy my bottle of L’Instinct and the fact that I got it cheap. I am not going to pop for a bottle of Vrai, at least not until I have used up and forgotten the sample of Vrai Vintage. Just as I am probably a shadow physically of the teenager who spritzed the vintage, the new one just isn’t Habit Rouge. Or it is, just not mine.

Habit Rouge (Vrai) is available from various e-tailers from Guerlain itself to discounters, 100ML EDP for $145. L’Instinct can be had for as little as $40 for 50ML at places like Fragrancenet. My samples of the two Vrai came from Surrender to Chance.

Images: my iPhone, Pexels, and Wikimedia Commons

  • Portia says:

    You are hilarious Tom.
    Nice that we are all getting our Habit rouge on and yes, I think L’Instinct is far enough different that it could easily have been its own thing.
    Portia xx

  • March says:

    I am loving all this Habit Rouge chat — I absolutely had a small bottle at one point but maybe I should just give up and order a sample from StC… “That rock-ribbed Guerlain glaze of uppercrustitude is better armor than a Birkin Bag, costs less, and won’t get you carjacked.” Truth, my friend! Also loved “you may as well say it’s in the same family because it’s liquid.”

  • monkeytoe says:

    What a fun article.

    I am old enough to remember buying my bottle of Chanel Pour Monsieur (I think at Marshall Field in Chicago) when it was still Chanel for Men.

    • Tom says:

      That’s right! It was Chanel for Men- I’d forgotten about that. And Hermes Eau Vert didn’t have a name I believe- it was just “the one on the green bottle”

  • Maggiecat says:

    Tom, if you ever doubt your skills as a writer, know that Guerlain is not “my” house, I have up till this moment had no interest in Habit Rouge, and now I want to sample it, and maybe someday find my Guerlain.
    So there.

    • Tom says:

      That is such a lovely thing to say!

      Guerlain, if you’re reading I’ll take a quart of Derby and one of Sous le Vent.

      • MzCrz says:

        Guerlain! Listen up! This man needs a gallon of each and go to your vaults to get him some of the really rare things as chasers.

        P.S.-Tom, not a stalker. Simply a Rainbow Sister who is nuts for good, witty writing.

  • Dina C. says:

    What a great compare and contrast of all the Habit Rouge variations! It sounds like a great scent — bergamot, neroli and vanilla are all good in my book. Loved your story of trail riding. I took horseback riding lessons when I was nine. That was a fun summer.

    • Tom says:

      Dina- apparently there were more of them- Portia covered an “eau” version that looks gone (but looked good) StC has them to try.

  • Claudia Mitchell says:

    Was your horse experience at the Alisal? Mine started to bolt! But, I do love that place

    • Tom says:

      It may have been0 it was so long ago. My horse was an old mare who was just there to do a job. I greeted her and let her know I wasn’t going to be an a$$hole showoff, and if she wanted to dip her head and much on some grass when we were looking at the view then go ahead. She was the type that wouldn’t bolt if a rattlesnake playing the tuba jumped out at her..

  • cinnamon says:

    That was some journey. And interesting how you categorise the classical houses. I’ve been thinking along similar lines recently. I don’t ‘get’ flankers. Just name it something else. Yeah, yeah, I know familiarity breeds spending …

    • Tom says:

      I does get silly though. In the 80’s the American car brand had a model called “Cutlass” that was a bestseller. So the started naming a bunch of them that: Cutlass, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Cruiser, Cutlass Ciera. I half expected a Cutlass Crumpet or Cutlass Cola by the time the dropped it.

      • Musette says:

        ah… Cutlass..
        My adored neighbor had a Cutlass Supreme – tomato red – I adored it mostly because the sight of it signaled that he was home from college. We finally connected when he was in graduate (and I in undergrad) school – le sigh. It didn’t quite live up to expectations (okay – it was boring AF) – I should’ve kept to the fantasy, just as I keep to Habit Rouge extrait.

        • Tom says:

          We always had Oldsmobiles (Buicks too stodgy, Cadillacs too expensive) but never had a Cutlass. I also never had a graduate student. (bah-dum-pum; he’s here all week folks!) So I avoided disappointment with both.

        • Maya says:

          I could tell you some stories about an Olds Cutless Supreme. My dad had one. That is probably my favorite car ever. And fast, very fast! Coming back from Logan Airport on the Mass Pike late at night, I was wondering why all the long haul truckers were going so slow. Looked and saw I was going 130mph and it was so smooth that I had no idea.

          • Tom says:

            Our Ninety-Eights rode like that- I don’t think Dad ever got it to 13-, but he got it up to 100 more than once on 91 late at night.

            My brother had a Malibu (cousin of the Cutlass) and for such a comparatively big car it handled like a sports car.

          • Maya says:

            Those cars were all a lot of fun!

          • Tom says:

            Yes. Big poofy seats like chesterfield sofas.

  • Maya says:

    Boone’s Farm! I remember when it was many peoples’ favorite apple wine because it was so cheap. Lol.
    A lot of people seem to really love vintage Habit Rouge and only the vintage, but I can understand that. Vintage is almost always the best version, beautiful and multi-dimensional.

    • Tom says:

      I never actually tried Boones Farm (didn’t they do some strawberry thing too?) but I remember the commercials.

      Habit Rouge is good in the new version. So much so that if I didn’t have the vintage sample it would be a slam dunk. So I’ll wait until the memory of the vintage fades and try the new stuff again.

      • Maya says:

        It looks like it’s still around and has a bunch of flavors. I tried it once at a motorcycle hill climb and didn’t particularly like it.

      • Pat says:

        Do you remember Spañada? Cheap red wine mix, like soda, big in Southern Cal in the early 70’s? Drinking was still Uncool, but that one was ok.

        • Tom says:

          I don’t think we ever had that one, or if we did it wasn’t advertised on TV. Which is where I became aware of Boone’s Farm. (Massachusetts at the time sold liquor in stand-alone “package” stores, not in the supermarket like in California. And never on Sundays..)

  • MzChrz says:

    Tom…Stunning. Funny. Nostalgic. Evocative.

    As one of your (numerous) avid readers, I am going to compliment you with a slightly altered Joni Mitchell verse…”Oh, I could read a case of you and still be on my feet…”