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I picked up a full-sized bottle and body lotion of this on eBay France after having tried the fragrance on my visit to the manufacturer's factory in Grasse. Molinard is one of those still family-owned perfume factories that were founded in Grasse, Provence, the 'capital of perfumes' in the middle of the 19th century. These companies are considered niche worldwide but local and emblematic in the Provence region.
I love the black, golden and red Art Deco packaging directly from the twenties. The bottle was actually designed by the most renowned glass-maker and perfume bottle creator Lalique. It figures female figures in relief that dance around the tall, square bottle that's a piece of art in itself.
Top notes: neroli, bergamot, raspberry, peach
Well, I wish I got some of those notes listed! Habanita, meaning Little Havana, is certainly not bothered by any niceties to speak of. It pushes the frilly fruits aside and opens up with a sharp, screeching and bitter - green oakmoss aroma laced with tar and a puff of milky leather reminiscent of Toujours Moi from Corday (later sold by Dana), another sister fragrance from the 1920s.
At least, this is the impression I get when I spray on Habanita as I do with my usual perfumes. Big mistake! Habanita is a spray-in-the-air-and-walk-through-the-mi​st type of beast, especially when you like your fragrances subtle. In a few moments it does take itself down a notch and becomes a smoky - floral jumble - not unpleasant though sadly, not something I expected from a ladies 'fume and certainly not in the opening.
Heart notes: lilac, orris root, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, heliotrope
A few minutes later the composition does warm up a bit - a combination of white florals, rose and citruses where the sweetness - sharpness is finally balanced while the tar note has become less pun-gent and more soapy instead. The blend has a sort of 'Nivea' hand cream feel to it which doesn't come as a surprise as this accord has been around for a century and has been already popular at the time.
Habanita also develops and increasingly powdery profile thanks to the iris that softens the accord. It's a long and complex phase that never stays still. At times it's more leathery and waxy like autumn leaves then it's suddenly all about the soft and powdery iris mixed with leather reminiscent of the bottom of a lady's leather bag. That is when applied carefully, otherwise it gives the impression of cigarettes you're trying to cover up with some Nivea so do go easy on the bottle.
Base notes: leather, musk, amber, vanilla, oakmoss, cedarwood, benzoin
In about 4 - 5 hours I'm finally rewarded with an exquisite Shalimar-like smoky vanilla and cedarwood plus an alluring deep, but comforting and soft leathery-moss accord. The vanilla - cedar Shalimar edge is very prominent, more specifically its oily, turpentine-like facet rather than pencil-shavings. I love and wear Shalimar, though it can be a tad linear on me. Habanita has more depth and complexity to it as it's smokier and more leathery in the drydown.
The end of the drydown is mostly cozy and sweet powder and smoky moss that stays close to the skin and which my boyfriend usually comments on how nice I smell. I can also detect it on the bed sheets days after I wore it.
More like a leathery, smoky vanilla than a true oriental due to its oakmoss note, I find it an acquired taste and must admit it took me some time to understand where it was coming from. Oakmoss is a type of lichen that grows on oak trees and is prized for its absolute that's used as a fixative and as a note to impart a deep, musky and mossy note to perfumes.
Due to European restrictions and the fact that fragrances made today are sweeter and lighter by the day, it's mostly found in classic fragrances belonging to the 'Chypre' or 'Fougere' category (Aromatics Elixir, Dior Fahreinheit).For the uninitiated nose, it may appear as pungent and unpleasant, when used sparingly, it's bittersweet mossy aroma gives compositions a musky and mature edge.
To sum up, Habanita is a bold, avant-garde but oddly, a sexy and alluring animal if you can pull it off. Although I still don't like the harsh beginning, I appreciate its unfolding beauty, individual character and the fiery but comforting powdery drydown. If caressed the right way, that is applied sparingly, Habanita will purr like a cat in your lap and envelope you with its smoky - mossy powdery warmth on cold winter days.
It was a very fitting number for the roaring twenties - and still is - despite the obvious reformulations it remains pretty close (I have a vintage Habanita bath oil from the 50s / early 60s to back this up). I recommend it for any perfumista who like their 'fumes bold, out of the ordinary but still sexy and cozy. I'm glad Molinard is still making it.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Available at beauty concessions throughout France and from Amazon.co.uk starting from £28 / 100ml EDT
Thanks for reading.
©powered by lillybee also posted on ciao.co.uk
First introduced by Molinard in 1924 / Some drops of sensuality / Top Notes: orange blossom, raspberry, peach and bergamot / Heart Notes: lilac, orris root, jasmine, heliotrope, ylang-ylang and rose / Base Notes: leather, amber, musk, benzoin, vanilla, oakmoss and cedar