Discount Diamonds: Maurer & Wirtz Tabac- My Barbershop

Rites of passage are such that they are common experiences shared by almost everyone. Trips to the barbershop as a child is one. Like many young children the trip to get my crew cut every month was as welcome as early bedtime to me at that age. In the beginning it was because I didn’t like the feel of the clippers on my head. Bribed with lollipops I would eventually get over that. The next thing I had to get over was the way the barbershop smelled. There was this heavy cloud of aftershave the barber applied to each adult he gave a straight razor shave to. When I was five I detested this scent. I refused to hug my father until he had taken a shower and washed it off. Then, just like the clippers, I got over it. The smell became a part of my monthly routine. It was the scent of my barbershop.

tabac edc

It would be many years later until I made that fragrance’s acquaintance again. When I first started acquiring perfume bottles the discount shops like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s were a fun treasure hunt looking for something good. One denizen of these bins was a heavy solid white bottle with 1950’s font printed on its side. For $8 it was worth a blind buy. When I got home, opened the box, and gave it a spritz, this was no stranger to my nose. The perfume, Maurer & Wirtz Tabac, was that smell of my childhood barbershop. As an adult it was like embracing a long lost friend. As part of the early expansion of my perfumed horizons I was surprised at how well constructed it was.

Tabac was released in 1959 in three concentrations; Eau de Cologne, Eau de Toilette, and Aftershave. All three were composed by perfumer Arturo Jordi-Pey. They all have real differences but the base accord is the real overlap between all three concentrations. It is also the part which means barbershop to me.

The top accord is a mixture of bergamot, petitgrain, black pepper, and aldehydes. For a perfume marketed to men these aldehydes are the ones associated with Aqua-Net hairspray. That quality is cleverly covered up with the other notes. In the more intense concentrations there are some added herbal notes. The heart is a classic lavender. Sr. Jordi-Pey plays around with the other florals he uses in the heart with the different concentrations. It is this part of the fragrance which allows me to identify which version is which. A pure lavender is the aftershave. A lavender supported by jasmine and rose is the Eau de Cologne. The lavender turned woody with cedar is the eau de toilette. All versions converge on a base accord of vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss, and musks. It is this accord which is truly that barbershop smell I remember.

Tabac has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Tabac is still a regular in the discount bins. I just checked this past weekend and I could have bought all three concentrations for $22 total. It might be the most economical fragrance wardrobe for a man out there. I have gone and also bought the shaving cream as well. That allows me to have my own personal barbershop days where I shave with it, follow it up with the aftershave. Apply the Eau de Toilette for work and finish with the Eau de Cologne for the evening. On those days the young child with the crew cut has grown older but not up.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Guerlain Ambre Eternel- Nice

While I think there are some amazing perfumes being produced, the brands I categorize as the Grand Maisons are not where I currently find them. These brands have entered an era of safety first. In most of the cases there are perfumers who I admire seemingly working while wrapped up in cotton. I can only conjecture that the extremely large enterprises that back these brands must prize profits over artistry. The latest example of this is Guerlain Ambre Eternel.

Amber Eternel is the second release within the Les Absolus D’Orient collection following up last year’s Santal Royal. When I reviewed that I considered it akin to “perfume by numbers”. Ambre Eternel seems less cynically constructed. Except there are moments where I was hoping for more. Wishing perfumer Thierry Wasser would get off the straight and narrow, leaving convention behind. I think that time has not arrived early in 2016.

ThierryWasser

Thierry Wasser

Ambre Eternel is a nice piece of two versions of the title note. The familiar ambergris in the top accord with the warmer slightly spicy amber accord in the base. The ingredients used are nice. The effect is nice. Overall the perfume is nice. I’ve used nice five times in this paragraph but that’s what playing it safe gets you.

If there was anything I was hopeful for it was when I saw in the note list the top accord consisted of ambergris, cinnamon, and coriander. I was hoping for M. Wasser to maybe use the heat of cinnamon on top of the salty aspect of ambergris tinted green with coriander. Within seconds of putting this on I am instead greeted with a nice ambergris only slightly altered by the presence of faint tendrils of cinnamon and coriander. If everything had been pitched at something approaching equality of presence this could have been really great, instead of nice. The “perfume by numbers” approach is back with a crushingly pedestrian fruity floral heart; orange blossom and plum the most recognizable. The more traditional amber base note found in Orientals thankfully sweeps that away. But again M. Wasser uses very tame applications of a leather accord and woods. I really would have liked more leather. It still would have been safe but not quit so mannered; and nice.

Ambre Eternel has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ambre Eternel is like that friend of a much more interesting friend. You see where they are connected but this person is just not as interesting. In the end Ambre Eternel is just nice. I leave it up to you whether you think that is good enough.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Guerlain.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540- Crystalline Brilliance

Limited editions are the bane of my existence. As a blogger I can often get a small sample of even the most expensive perfumes. On a visit to the Baccarat shop in New York City, in the Fall of 2014, I was able to get a small sample of the perfume designed for the 250th anniversary called Rouge 540. I would later learn it was composed by Francis Kurkdjian. When I spoke with the person in the boutique I was informed there were only 250 pieces made and there were only a few not already spoken for. I felt it was a tragedy because I kept sniffing the spot on my forearm where I sprayed some. I took care of my sample in hopes that M. Kurkdjian might return to the themes on display. Right after the New Year I got a very pleasant surprise as I received a sample of Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540. I immediately located my sample from before and happily found them to be identical.

francis kurkdjian 2

Francis Kurkdjian

The name comes from the temperature necessary to achieve red colored Baccarat crystal. While I admire the connection Baccarat Rouge 540 is not a perfume of heat. It is instead something more akin to the finished product; sparkling and depthless. What I liked when I first tried it was the use of some extremely well-chosen raw materials to create that effect.

M. Kurkdjian uses blood orange to open Baccarat Rouge 540. This is all of the blood orange: pulp, pith, and rind. It falls somewhere between the bitterness of bergamot and the juiciness of regular orange. Neither of those would have been the right choice, blood orange is. M. Kurkdjian next uses a bridging note of saffron. This more than any note used in Baccarat Rouge 540 imparts the luxuriousness of its inspiration. Saffron in all of its exotic dusty floral quality is the perfect lead in for the duet of lavender and sage in the heart. Lavender and sage are classic partners found in many colognes. The presence of the saffron changes it enough that I never get a cologne vibe. It comes to rest on a mix of woods, ambergris, and oakmoss. It is the ambergris which provides a marine-like foundation which the woods and oakmoss push against.

Baccarat Rouge 540 has 14-16 hour longevity and very little sillage wearing as a skin scent on me.

M. Kurkdjian is at his best when he is giving his interpretation of something modern. Baccarat Rouge 540 feels like a perfume less interested in 250 years of history than making a mark on the present day. Baccarat Rouge 540 is one of my favorite Maison Francis Kurkdjian releases.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.

Mark Behnke

Perfume 101: M. Micallef- Five to Get You Started

There are perfume brands which wear their country of origin on their sleeve. One of the brands which carries its French origins in an impeccably sophisticated style is M. Micallef. Since their first release in 2002 owners and creative directors Martine Micallef and her husband Geoffrey Nejman have worked exclusively with perfumer Jean-Claude Astier. Together over greater than 65 releases they have fashioned a particularly elegant brand which is full of amazing fragrances. If you’ve never tried the brand here are the five I would suggest you start with.

martine-micallef-and-geoffrey-nejman

Martine Micallef and Geoffrey Nejman

If you want an example of what I mean by a very French brand all you need to do is to try 2004’s Aoud which has been now renamed Homme. M. Astier takes the classic rose-oud combo and stuffs it with spices. Cinnamon, saffron, and clove primarily. They fill a gap between the spicy core of the rose and the resinous core of the oud. Together they sing La Marseillaise in three-part harmony. Patchouli and sandalwood provide the bass line.

The first M. Micallef perfume I ever tried was 2005’s Gaiac. After a lilting floral opening of jasmine suffused with clove it transitions into one of the best uses of gaiac wood in a fragrance. M. Astier brackets the gaiac with vetiver to bring out the greenish cedar-like quality and vanilla to enhance the underlying sweet quality. The gaiac sits perched atop those two notes precisely balanced. One of the best light woody perfumes I own.

2009’s Mon Parfum is most likely the crown jewel of the entire collection. In other brands I would hesitate to recommend what I consider to be the best because those usually carry some unique aspects not ideal for discovering something new. Mon Parfum is not that kind of masterpiece. It is the essence of being French and wearing perfume. Equal parts sophistication, glamor, and passion. M. Astier starts with a citrus top accord into a passionfruit and vanilla heart accord. The base is patchouli, musk and a bit of caramel. Mon Parfum moves confidently through its paces like a Parisienne. Just sit back and admire its haughty walk.

jean-claude-astier

Jean-Claude Astier

2012’s Ylang is another treatise on how to take a particular floral focal point and drape it in the French flag. M. Astier uses a couple of herbal notes in rosemary and sage to spice up the citrus. This leads into a heart of ylang-ylang surrounded by geranium, muguet, magnolia, and rose. The first two pick out the green parts of ylang-ylang. Magnolia the slightly woody nature. Rose provides complimentary floralcy. Amidst all of this is a tiny bit of mint to capture and allow the bit of camphoraceous quality to be noticed. This heads into a base of sandalwood, moss, musk, and vanilla. A classic soliflore.

I finish with Note Vanillee which was discontinued until the past year when it was brought back. On the shelf where the perfumes I wear instead of taking Prozac or having a drink; Note Vanillee sits right in front. It is one of my favorite comfort scents because M. Astier has composed one of the warmest vanilla perfumes I own. Opening on a citrus accord which has a bit of jasmine added in. The heart is a softly glowing honey accord which provides a burnished sweetness to compliment the vanilla to come. The vanilla arrives on a wave of sandalwood enhanced with just a bit of licorice. It is that licorice which adds yet another version of sweet as you experience the honey-vanilla-licorice triptych. This is vanilla perfume as good as it gets.

I think M. Micallef is one of the great underrated brands on the market. Give these five a try and see if you want to dive deeper.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles of all five that I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Profvmvm Meringa- Ile Flottante

Perfume brands can sometimes become known for a particular style of perfume. The Italian brand Profvmvm is one of those. Overseen by the Durante family, Profvmvm has produced some of my favorite gourmand fragrances. All of the releases hew to a simplistic construction of three to five notes. They are chosen most of the time to deliver a singular effect which doesn’t evolve once all the notes come together. I have likened this to perfume making in the era of Twitter. Communicating an olfactory idea in a few well-chosen characters.

Because of this past I was very interested when Osswald NYC informed me they were getting an exclusive for the store. It is called Meringa and is based on the equally simple baked good, meringue. Meringues are as easy as beating egg whites and sugar together until they stiffen enough to be shaped by a couple of spoons of a pastry bag. They are very commonly flavored with light flavors of citrus or almonds. My favorite use of meringue comes from a French dessert called Ile Flottante. Ile Flottante translates to floating island. It is visually exactly that as an island, or islands, of meringue float on top of crème anglaise. In one tropical French restaurant their variation was to use orange blossom water. When I first smelled Meringa that is exactly what sprung to mind.

iles flottante

Ile Flottante

Meringa opens with a breezy orange blossom. It is also given a bit more power with a bit of jasmine in a supporting role. This is the lightly sweet meringue. The crème anglaise comes from a basic combination of vanilla and tonka bean. The tonka bean imparts a bit of a toasty sweetness but this is really a vanilla foundation. That’s it. Just like the dessert I am reminded of the orange blossom as it floats atop the vanilla.

Meringa has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

What I found very enjoyable about Meringa was that as a gourmand representing something very sweet over two days of wearing it I never felt like it became cloying. It is something I have problems with many times as a sweet gourmand just becomes treacly and irritating towards the end of the day. Meringa is constructed with such a light hand it does float with presence without annoyance. It is another gourmand triumph from a brand which seems to know how to do this style of perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Osswald NYC.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Zoologist Perfumes Bat- Cave of Creativity

When corresponding with Victor Wong owner and creative director of Zoologist Perfumes on the making of the latest release, Bat; there was a very telling phrase in the words he sent me. He said, “I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume it should take some risks.” I think throughout the five releases to date Mr. Wong and the perfumers he has worked with have not shied away from taking some risks. In the partnership with Dr. Ellen Covey, as the perfumer on Bat, I think this is the furthest the envelope has been pushed so far. It results in a fascinating perfume that captures the animal on the label.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

Dr. Covey has studied bats as part of her scholarly work at the University of Washington. As a result, she had spent time in the caves they live in during the day. It was her desire to see a bat perfume that caused her to approach Mr. Wong. Together their long-distance back and forth has produced a fragrance that captures not only the creature but its environment. Throughout wearing Bat I felt as if I was searching for a cavern where they were sleeping the day away.

Ellen-Covey


Ellen Covey

My journey begins by finding some assorted tropical fruit half-eaten outside a large limestone cave. Dr. Covey uses a variety of fruit notes on top of a really great moist soil accord. It is as if I reach down to pick up the fruit to observe it as I inhale. The entire top accord is refreshingly different with the mixture of soil and fruit. The next steps are deeper into the cave. Dr. Covey has an array of mineralic notes forming a cave accord. This cave is also covered with vines and roots so she has also added a deep vegetation accord. The fruit has receded but not disappeared as they still litter the cave floor. As the light dims we hear the leathery flutter above our heads and the musky smell of living things comes to the fore. Dr. Covey constructs a fabulous accord which feels furry and alive. It also is modulated by a truly inspired set of notes like myrrh, sandalwood, and leather. These notes impart a depth. Mr. Wong mentioned he wanted darker and Dr. Covey delivered.

Bat has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Bat is an unusual fragrance. In a world where everything converges on the trends it is pleasing to see two people eschew that thinking and head off to their own Bat cave of creativity. Definitely one of the standout new fragrances of 2016.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample provided by Zoologist Perfumes.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Coconut Grove Arts Festival

I am back in South Florida this weekend for an event within my family by choice. Going back to where I spent the first 21 years of my life is always interesting. To see what has changed versus what has amazingly remained the same. To see my friends, and I, change but also remain the same. Then there are those things which remain but evolve. One of those South Florida traditions I have watched from their earliest days to now be the Coconut Grove Art Festival (CGAF).

CGAF had its first edition in 1963. I became aware of it in the way a child discovers many things. I grew up only about a mile from the Coconut Grove section of Miami. This was part of my territory which I covered on my bicycle. One Saturday morning I got up bright and early and headed out determined to go down to Peacock Park in the Grove. Except when I arrived in the area the roads were all blocked off and there were people walking about in the road. Hanging big paintings on racks. I got off my bike and began to walk through the artists setting up their booths. Only in hindsight can I appreciate that this was the beginning of my appreciation of art. As much as I was intrigued by the artwork the artists also drew my attention. I sort of viewed this as a version of the circus coming to town and the artists all seemed like exotic gypsies. This is also one of my earliest memories of an adult speaking to me not as a child.

2015-CGAF-Poster

I, in my nascent appreciation of the visual form, was attracted to this oil painting which was an abstract splash of colors. The artist observed that I was clearly drawn into his swirls and points of color on a dark background. He came out and asked me what it was I saw. I replied, “It looks like what outer space might look like.” This was the dreamer speaking not the eventual scientist. I was imagining a place where all of the colors of the rainbow existed somewhere beyond our planet. He broke into a big smile and said with no hint of condescension, “I’ve never seen my work that way. Thank you for letting me see it for the first time, again.” Of course the seven year-old was amazed at the compliment. For me it was the very likely the first time my opinion was asked for in any serious way. It could even be said that it was the first step which lead to the writing I do now.

Back in those days the artists took up a few streets. This weekend they take up the entire Coconut Grove area as the CGAF has become one of the finest outdoor art festivals in the world. I hope to get chance to sneak away for a little bit of time this weekend. To remind myself of the power of art to convert me into a wide-eyed dreamer on the streets of Coconut Grove.

Mark Behnke

The Empire Strikes Back?

Blogging about anything falls into a funny grey area when it comes to the big corporations we are writing about. These megaliths are used to having their way when it comes to presenting their products for the best possible outcome for the company. Then there is the community of passionate supporters who eat away at this perfect corporate world.

Those of us who write about perfume not as a job but out of a sense of love and passion got a look recently at what happens when one of the big corporations wants to use their resources against us. About a week ago I woke up to find my social media blowing up because the parent corporate entity which owns Guerlain, LVMH, had the blogger Monsieur Guerlain removed from Facebook and Instagram. In response Monsieur Guerlain took down his blog and removed all other social media accounts. The short version is Monsieur Guerlain linked to another website’s story on some future Guerlain releases for 2016. LVMH decided this was beyond what could be tolerated and took the action that it did. (If you want the complete story along with the legal implications please check out this link from Kafkaesque which covers it all thoroughly).

darth force choke

I Find Your Lack of Compliance….Disturbing.

What is chilling being this action was taken against a blog that for ten years has been one of the greatest resources for all things Guerlain. The man behind the blog truly loves everything Guerlain. That passion reverberates on every syllable on that website. That LVMH has made the decision to obliterate that resource with their strong-arm tactics is worrisome.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Death Star that is LVMH has also been busy looking out for their other brands. Earlier this year Fragrantica published an early piece on the upcoming Dior Poison Girl. They were fairly quickly asked to remove it which they did. That is the biggest perfume blog in the world with the most readers. Still LVMH decided there was no need to have any advance word about their product to that passionate community.

There is one commonality to both of these cases. The linked story that Monsieur Guerlain posted carried a bit of criticism of the upcoming releases. The Fragrantica Dior Poison Girl article was done in a neutral tone but the commenters were critical, almost harshly so. Which leaves the open question was it the early knowledge or the implied criticism of the direction of these venerable brands which caused the heavy handed response? We will get no satisfactory answer but it seems safe to say the perfumed blogosphere will take this as a warning that our little rebel forces are no longer being tolerated by the Empire that is LVMH.

The good news is after a coordinated effort from a number of bloggers, lead by the aforementioned Kafkaesque, over the removal of Monsieur Guerlain; the Facebook page was restored. It will be interesting to see if Guerlain was able to exert pressure to get the Empire to stand down.

Mark Behnke

When Victor Met Ellen- How Zoologist Bat Took Flight

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One of the more interesting independent brands to spring up has been Zoologist Perfumes. Owner and Creative Director Victor Wong evolved from perfume lover into perfume creator. One thing I have remarked upon is in all of the releases Mr. Wong has been choosing some of the best independent perfumers to work with. I was considering this had to be a unique relationship as most of these perfumers are used to working on their own. How different was it for them when taking input from a creative director? I had the opportunity to explore this with Mr. Wong and the independent perfumer Dr. Ellen Covey on their collaboration for the fifth Zoologist release, Bat.

Victor Wong

Victor Wong

The story begins in April 2015 when Dr. Covey approached Mr. Wong to ask if he was interested in pursuing a “Bat” perfume. Dr. Covey is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington. Mr. Wong had not included bat on his list of animals for Zoologist. Dr. Covey’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the animal convinced him to add it in. Then they went to work.

Ellen-Covey

Ellen Covey

Dr. Covey told me, “First off, I would like to say that Victor has been a joy to work with from start to finish. He gave me free rein to initially develop the basic direction of the fragrance as I would have for my own line, with modifications thereafter, in collaboration. He did not give me a budget, so I was able to use the materials I needed, like real sandalwood.”

Mr. Wong was thinking about the concept in general, “But what should Bat smell like? Metallic notes of "blood" and gothic roses came into my mind. Dr. Covey disagreed, "What I envision for Bat is not a 'bright and cheery' fruit salad, but rather a dark musky fruity note that's like the bats' own odor (which is pleasant to humans) along with damp, earthy-mineral limestone caves and tropical vegetation scents. There might also be just a hint of the ganja smoke that I associate with observing bats in Jamaica.  I'm not into doing yet another American pop mythology goth-girl perfume. There have been more than enough of those.”

As Dr. Covey would recall the distance between Washington and Toronto became an issue, “The biggest difference in working with a creative director in another city was the long lag time as each round of mods were shipped and slowly made their way through customs before I could get his feedback. When I’m working on my own, this feedback process happens immediately and almost unconsciously.”

 zoologist bat bottle

Upon receiving the first trials Mr. Wong relates, “I received my first "mods", or perfume mockups in little 5ml sprayer bottles. I think there were 5 or 6 of them; while they all smelled interesting, none of them struck me as I was smelling a "Bat" perfume. Well, except mod #5. When I first sniffed it, I literally laughed out loud, because it smelled exactly like a cave. The olfactive association was so startling that I almost lost it: a scary hollow cave that's earthy, vegetal, moist and full of minerals. Wow. I told Ellen I really loved #5, but I worried that no one would want to wear it. My friends who also had smelled it thought it was interesting but no one would want it. But I trusted my gut instinct that I had something really unprecedented and unique that was worth developing further. (I might add that Zoologist is such a small indie perfume house it should take some risks.)”

Focusing on Mod # 5 the ebb and flow of ideas continued. Dr. Covey was open to showing Mr. Wong what effect some suggested changes could have, “I’m sure Victor won’t mind my saying this, but a few of his suggestions resulted in my sending “caricature” mods to show what would happen if I implemented them in a literal way, thus subtly nudging him in the direction that I thought things should go. He did have many excellent suggestions, all of which I happily implemented.”

One of these ideas from Mr. Wong was to make it darker which would be the final suggestion which pulled Bat together, “At one point I told Ellen that the revisions lacked "darkness", and the vetiver in the base was the last scent to go away and it smelled very fresh, which I thought was not very bat-like. We had some discussions of what ingredients could be added to make it smell "darker". At the end, we added myrrh, which complemented the earthiness of the perfume, some leather and furry musk to make it more animalic, and suddenly the scent came alive.”

Of course coming to a decision that you are done is always difficult and both Dr. Covey, “By the time we got to the last set of mods, I felt like any further suggestions would lead to muddying of the fragrance at worst, and diminishing returns at best. In formulating any fragrance, the trick is to know when to declare it finished. I’m glad we could both agree on when that point had been reached.” And Mr. Wong, “I will be honest with you, deciding which revision is the final product is the hardest thing to do. It is particularly hard when Bat is nothing like anything out there. The decision finally came easy when I told Ellen that I found a particular mod "addictive". I just couldn't stop sniffing it. We both agreed, and I launched that scent on New Year's Eve of 2016.”

The final word on this collaboration comes from Dr. Covey as in a few words she answers the question I posed at the beginning of this, “In the end, I was pleased with the result, and I think Victor was, too. It’s hard to say how different the fragrance would have been if I had done it on my own, because now I can’t envision it any other way. I had fun working on Bat and feel as if I’ve gotten to know Victor as a friend even though I’ve never met him in person.”

My thanks to Victor Wong and Dr. Ellen Covey for being so gracious in allowing me a look behind the curtain at the work it took to create Zoologist Perfumes Bat.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Balenciaga Ho Hang- Powerhouse Alternative

If there was one thing about the 1970’s and men’s perfume it was that subtlety was not celebrated. If you were wearing a fragrance to go with your shirt unbuttoned down to your waistband, gold chains on neck and wrist, while wearing your platform shoes; yeah subtlety would get lost. Those days were the polar opposite of today as the powerhouses ruled the clubs of the day. The Dead Letter Office is loaded with really great perfumes which tried to buck the trend. One which actually staked out a decent enough market share while not feeling oppressively garish was 1971’s Balenciaga Ho Hang.

Ho Hang was a return for Balenciaga as a fragrance brand of sorts. From the 1950’s through the 1960’s it was Le Dix and Quadrille which kept the Balenciaga name on perfume shelves. It was interesting to find that a brand which had made two dynamic feminine fragrances which helped define what it meant to be a Balenciaga fragrance decided to make their comeback on a men’s release. That they then doubled down and further committed to making an alternative to the prevailing perfume trend was even more intriguing.

The perfumers responsible for Ho Hang were Raymond Chaillan and Jacques Jantzen. Most of these men’s powerhouses were fougeres. The perfumers also wanted Ho Hang to be a fougere. Their approach was to keep it cleaner in a 1970’s kind of way not a 2000’s kind of way.

ho hang advert

The perfume may be subtle but the ads were not

Ho Hang opens with the traditional fougere opening of bergamot, lavender, and basil. The citrus-floral -herbal accord is a classic. Because the perfumers wanted to keep this tilted away from taking over the room they added in coriander and geranium to tint this greener without upping the overall strength profile. The clean part of Ho Hang comes with the use of cedar and rosewood in the heart. The clean defined lines of cedar given a little less definition by the rosewood is a nicely sophisticated riff on the presence of woods in men’s perfumes. Patchouli and sandalwood bring Ho Hang a little more in line with the other perfumes sharing counter space with it. I have a feeling the perfumers just couldn’t allow themselves to have Ho Hang take that much risk. The sandalwood is sweetened with tonka and vanilla for a very temperate final accord.

Ho Hang has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Ho Hang hung in there staying on shelves for over thirty years. While Balenciaga drifted in creativity they managed to keep many of their best available. This would all come to an end when Coty acquired the license. Despite one of the strongest perfume heritages of any brand Coty decided the past was meant to be discontinued while they released new Balenciaga perfumes for the 2000’s.

Because Ho Hang was around for so long it isn’t ridiculously hard to find a bottle. I have noticed over the last year that the price has steadily risen to over $100 US. One caveat there is also a Balenciaga flanker called Ho Hang Club. Do not buy that as it is nothing like Ho Hang.

Balenciaga was smart enough to present an alternative to the powerhouses and allow it to always be there for many years.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke