Dead Letter Office: Prince Matchabelli Aviance- Superwoman of the 1970’s

There are perfumes which make it in to the Dead Letter Office because the times have just passed them by. During the early 1970’s the way perfume was marketed and bought was undergoing a significant change. I have heard Michael Edwards mention many times that prior to the mid-1970’s most perfume was purchased by men as a gift for the women in their life. As women entered the workforce earning their own income that would change as women took as much control of the fragrances they wore as they were doing with the rest of their life. During this time there was also a concerted effort to market fragrance to this new female worker. One of the mantras at this time was women who could “have it all”. What that meant was work all day take care of the home all night. It reflected the changing society that women were exhausting themselves trying to live up to this. Unsurprisingly there was a perfume which was being marketed for these superwomen of the 1970’s: Prince Matchabelli Aviance.

One thing that Prince Matchabelli knew how to do was to market their perfumes. They also were one of the earliest brands to use television extensively. If you are a Baby Boomer know the jingle to many of the Prince Matchabelli fragrances. Wind Song not only stayed on your mind but it was an earworm before that term existed. The ad campaign for Aviance also has a memorable tune. In the commercial a woman sings the lyrics “I’ve been sweet and I’ve been good/ I’ve had a full day of motherhood/ But I’m going to have an Aviance night!” As she sings she changes out of her house cleaning jeans, kerchief, and untucked shirt into something more appealing looking. As she finishes the line above a man in a suit and tie responds “Oh yeah, we’re going to have an Aviance night.”

Perfumer Betty Busse working off this idea of a perfume for the woman trying to have it all decides to make a floral aldehyde variant. It kind of mirrors that concept of streamlined green for the office, traditional florals for the housewife, and musk for the evening to come.

Ms. Busse opens Aviance up on a very green aldehydic top accord which carries a bit of muguet along with it. These early moments are reminiscent of many current green muguet scents of the present. It does try to be that safer office style of fragrance. The heart is that traditional bouquet of jasmine and rose with little surprise. The base accord is surprising because Ms. Busse really goes for a musky green effect. Vetiver and moss provide the green tint to the animalic. A smart use of tonka picks up and amplifies the sweeter facets of the musk really adding to its sensuality.

Aviance has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.

In the 1970’s there were three “working woman perfumes” only Revlon Charlie still exists today. The other two Revlon Enjoli and Aviance were sent to the Dead Letter Office because women became more savvy about everything in their lives including perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Vivienne Westwood Anglomania- Ropion on the Record

As I became more interested in all things punk during the mid 1970’s I learned there were two sort of puppet masters behind the scenes. One was Malcolm McLaren who was the impresario behind the formation of The Sex Pistols. The early look of the punk movement came from his partner Vivienne Westwood. Ms. Westwood would create the look of a movement spearheaded by the earliest purveyors of the music. 

Vivienne Westwood

This would be the beginning of a successful fashion designing career where she would always display that early punk sensibility throughout. Even the uniforms she designed for Virgin Atlantic airlines in 2014 has a bit of that with flight attendants in high collars and bright red.

Ms. Westwood has always been one of those I am intensely interested in. So, when she expanded in to fragrance in 1998 I was ready to be impressed. That first release was called Boudoir and it is a provocative kaleidoscopic floriental. Surprisingly that perfume has continued to be available since its release. The best perfume that has ever been released by the brand, Anglomania, was sent to the Dead Letter Office two short years after its release in 2004. Despite it being a dirty leathery rose which fits her aesthetic way better than Boudoir.

Dominique Ropion

Anglomania was composed by perfumer Dominique Ropion under Ms. Westwood’s creative direction. What is odd about a perfume named Anglomania is there is so little Anglo to be found inside as early on it seems more like a Japanese tea room, then a floral record store, and finally a leather jacket. None of that screams British to me but as a fragrance it sure works well.

Anglomania opens with a snappy coriander and cardamom pairing. To this M. Ropion provides a steaming cup of green tea to which he also adds nutmeg. As I said this reminds me of something Asian inspired which continues in the heart. There instead of the traditional English rose M. Ropion trots out a boisterous Bulgarian rose grabbing ahold of the spices and folding them within its petals. Then comes the vinyl accord which inserts itself into the rose. This is the smell of an old vinyl record as you opened it for the first time. It turns this into a post-modern rose as the needle drops on this fragrant record. The base is a leather jacket accord full of animalic charm and sweaty musks.

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

Anglomania was a shooting star in its short time on sale. The reason for the discontinuation is the benign neglect Ms. Westwood showed all the fragrances in her line. There has never been a very active attempt to get these perfumes out in to the public eye. A perfume like Anglomania needed some buzz to give it a jump start but it got none of that. Which is how it ended up in the Dead Letter Office.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Kenzoair- Enter Maurice

Kenzo has been one of the most interesting brands I have followed since I started paying attention to the wider world of fragrance. They go through cycles of real originality followed by consolidation and safety. There is one big problem with this kind of fluctuation it is hard to create a brand identity. I believe if a brand fails at that it adds an extra level of difficulty in breaking through to the consumer. If I had to point to a reason why Kenzo has had so much of a problem doing this, it has been because they have never been clear what they wanted to be. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when Celine Verleure was creatively directing, until 1998, and co-directors Delphine Fossoyeux & Patrick Guedj took over after she left you could almost feel like they were going to be a challenger to Comme des Garcons as an early niche leader. They were using some of the current superstars of perfumery in their early days. Names like Ropion, Kurkdjian, Morillas, Cresp, and Menardo all made interesting releases but there was no focus. In 2003 Fossoyeux and Guedj decided it was time to bring to bring in a big star perfumer; enter Maurice Roucel.

M. Roucel was one of the first perfumers who had his name brought from out of the shadows by Frederic Malle. One of the earliest successes of the original Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle was M. Roucel’s Musc Ravageur. The thought at Kenzo was likely to ride this new wave of perfumers as auteurs. They asked him to design a perfume. M. Roucel had been busy making perfume for over twenty years at this point but surprisingly he had never done a vetiver centric fragrance. Kenzoair would check that box.

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Maurice Roucel

M. Roucel would look at the trends of clean and fresh especially in masculine releases. He would choose to find a way to make a vetiver opaquer going for a cleaner version of that very common masculine note. He would keep it simple to allow the transparent vetiver the space to shine.

Kenzoair starts with angelica root in a lighter concentration than you usually run in to. Often this comes off as very earthy and musky. M. Roucel uses bergamot to lighten it up. Vetiver comes next and M. Roucel uses anise to pull that nature of vetiver. I have rarely seen this pairing used and Kenzoair is a good example of why it should be. Herbs are used to pull the herbal nature of lavender all the time. The anise has a similar effect here on the vetiver. It pushes the greener facets to the background which is how M. Roucel does transform it into something less rigid. There is a mixture of woody aromachemicals to finish this off with a similar volume.

Kenzoair has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Kenzoair would have a very short shelf life. It seems the transparency which I find so compelling was not seen the same way by consumers. So much so that Kenzoair Intense was released within two years. Both would be discontinued not too much longer after that. This is the hazard of not forming a distinct brand identity. Kenzoair did not stand for anything but adventurous perfume composition to an uninterested audience.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Calvin Klein Crave- Growing Pains

Because I’ve been so interested in the trend of perfume brands reaching out to Millennials this year I’ve been looking back to find other times fragrance was designed to specifically capture a young market. It will not surprise anyone that a good example would come from Calvin Klein. For almost 40 years now this has been a brand all about finding appeal for the young consumer. In 1994, with ckOne, they were perfectly positioned to ride the swelling wave of cleanliness in fragrance long before it turned in to a tsunami. By 2002 they were ready to do it again with Calvin Klein Crave. Except this time, it was one of the rare fragrances for this brand to end up in the Dead Letter Office.

As the brand was looking out at their target audience they were seeing the beginning of the wireless age. Nearly every young person had a pager hanging from their belt while the early cell phones were just starting to penetrate society at large. Creative director Ann Gottlieb wanted to oversee the creation of a perfume which would capture this connected generation on the bleeding edge in 2002.

calvin-klein-crave-the-new-scent-for-men-get-it-on

Ms. Gottlieb assembled a group of four perfumers in Jean-Mark Chaillan, Olivier Polge, Pascal Gaurin, and Yves Cassar. The perfumers were given the brief I think all Calvin Klein perfumers are given, “make it young, fresh, sexy, and clean”. Except with the concurrent electronics modernity in mind it drove them to think a little more outside of the box than they might normally have done. What resulted was something that seems Calvin Klein but at other moments seems like the name on the label must be incorrect.

Crave opens with some of that unusual quality right away. The perfumers use a Calone-laden “fluorescent fresh accord”. There is so much Calone here that the melon-like quality of that aromachemical is also evident. To that the perfumers add a different fruity partner; carambola, or starfruit, which has a tart smell to it but not nearly as much as a citrus note would have. That actually turns the fruitiness of the melon and the carambola into its own sort of fluorescent fruit accord. To all of this there is a strong green counterpoint. The longer this lingers on my skin the sugarier the fruit gets and just as it is about to become Kool-Aid the perfumers unleash a spate of herbs as basil, coriander, and allspice come forward. For a little while this is a like a chaotic house party as the fresh of the Calone, the fruits, and the herbs whirl madly. Again just as it threatens to become annoying the base notes try and calm things down. Crave goes all woody as sandalwood and vetiver provide the calming effect needed while the typical mixture of white musks finish this off.

Crave has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

This is a perfume which lives life on the edge of irritating. If it stays on the right side of the line, as it does with me, it is a fun fragrance. If it falls on the other side of that line this is going to be an irritant. It seems the consumers were in the latter category as three years after launch it was pulled. It is still the quickest discontinuation for the brand.

There is a bit of cautionary tale in Crave for all of those brands trying to figure out what the Millennials want. Even an all-star team can miss the mark by trying too hard to cater to a perceived taste.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: R de Capucci- Summer Chypre

When I was regularly posting on Basenotes there was one member “hirch_duckfinder” who had in his signature the following: “Wear R de Capucci”. Because I respected his posts it was a sure thing I would eventually find some. When I did, I found a summer-weight chypre that seemingly was ahead of its time in anticipating the advent of clean in perfumery. This entry in the Dead Letter Office is probably there because nobody knew what to do with a perfume that had no contemporary.

Roberto Capucci is an Italian fashion designer who was known for his “sculptural” style of couture. He eschewed the catwalks to show his clothing off in museums. Fragrance was part of the brand throughout. The first fragrance releases were in 1963: Parce Que! and Graffiti. There would be a new release every three or four years. By 1985 R De Capucci was the seventh release. It came just as Sig. Capucci had handed over the day-to-day operations in 1980. It is hard to know what the new leadership thought of how fragrance fit but they released three from 1982-1988. It is hard to know because these perfumes were not widely distributed. Which would be the major reason almost the entire line is in the Dead Letter Office.

francoise-caron

Francoise Caron

R De Capucci was composed by Francoise Caron early in her career. I think it shows Mme Caron in an experimental mood. I think her brief may have been as simple as “we would like a masculine fragrance”. What Mme Caron delivered is a hybrid of fougere on top and chypre on the bottom. Except the whole thing is cleaned up as all of the rough edges of both styles are removed. It makes for a stylistic tour de force.

R de Capucci opens on a green-hued lavender combined with sprightly citrus. It is a top accord of clean lines which will continue to elongate throughout the development. The fougere quality is striking when captured in this way. It is almost hyperfocused on the lavender and citrus as the green provides the clarity. The heart notes provide the transition to the chypre part as clove, thyme, and geranium pick up the green and connect it to the base. In the base Mme Caron leaves out the oakmoss and replaces it with a birch-based leather accord. She keeps that leather on a short leash but it supplies most of what oakmoss provides in a traditional chypre accord. The rest of the accord comes from the customary list of sandalwood, patchouli, and musk. A bit of incense skirls through the later dry down.

R de Capucci has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

The beauty of what Mme Caron has created here is a chypre which can be worn on the hottest of days. It can be worn because Mme Caron has cleaned it up so it has the sturdy lines that will overwhelm masculine perfumery within ten years. It is like a crystal ball into the future. Unfortunately, most consumers weren’t able to find it to have the opportunity to share this vision. Nowadays it is still equally difficult to find. It shows up on the auction sites for a reasonable price but that is about it for finding it. I know my bottle only has a few summers left in it.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: L’Artisan Parfumeur Verte Violette- Short-Term Goldilocks

L’Artisan Parfumeur was one of the earliest niche perfume lines. Started in 1978 by Jean-Francois Laporte it was meant to be a riposte to the larger brands’ offerings. For nearly forty years the brand has had its ups and downs but it has never stopped taking risks. If there in any legacy M. Laporte would be proud of I would imagine it is that.

Throughout the lifetime of the brand they have identified some of the best perfumers working and given them budget and freedom to realize a vision. The very best of the line are some of the masterpieces of niche perfumery. That doesn’t mean they are immune to sending some miscalculations to the Dead Letter Office. One of those miscalculations was the 2001 release Verte Violette.

Perfumer Anne Flipo had made her name with L’Artisan with her release Mimosa pour Moi. It was a greener version of mimosa tinted that color with violet leaf. If there was a consistent criticism of that perfume it was that the violet was too sharply green; closing in the mimosa. In 2001 when Mme Flipo was asked to create two more fresh florals I think she wanted to revisit a green violet. What results is a classic Goldilocks perfume where the perfumer takes the keynote and tries not to make it too green or too sweet. In the case of Verte Violette Mme Flipo would strike this balance near perfectly. While I think the Goldilocks approach was not the right tack to take with niche consumers who wanted something different it probably wasn’t the main reason for its discontinuation.

anne-flipo

Anne Flipo

That reason was probably due to its longevity. Mme Flipo designed Verte Violette as a fragile veil meant to be a close wearing skin scent. Particularly at this point in the expansion of niche a perceived lack of longevity was going to be seen as a significant drawback. Verte Violette has almost no sillage and while it does stay on my skin for a long time it requires me to bring my nose close to detect it. What I detect when I do this is a slightly sweet fresh green floral.

Verte Violette opens with a similar riff that Mme Flipo used on Mimosa pour Moi; violet leaves and raspberry. The green of the violet leaves is only slightly sweetened be the fruit. This is the typical sharp green quality of that note. A slew of ionones make up Mme Flipo’s violet accord in the heart. It is a densely layered construct meant to convey a weight between transparent and full-throated. As I mentioned Mme Flipo finds a really beautiful balance here. The violet accord grows deeper over time as rose and orris provide some strength but not too much. Cedar provides the woody frame for the florals to exist within.

Verte Violette has 8-10 hour longevity but almost zero sillage.

Verte Violette was discontinued after just ten years on the market in 2011.

I have always enjoyed Verte Violette for that Goldilocks quality Mme Flipo managed to create. I am not surprised that others did not share that feeling. The longevity and lack of sillage is something I have never cared about but I understand those who do. The combination of fleeting and just right makes Verte Violette a Short-Lived Goldilocks. At least in this case I am that Goldilocks.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café- Decaffeinated

When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.

Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.

If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.

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Jean-Claude Delville

There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.

Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.

Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.

It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Badgley Mischka- Deep Cuts

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Where does imitation begin and inspiration end? Of the many perfumes to end up in the Dead Letter Office the ones that try to mimic a popular style deservedly find their spot here. Even to this there are exceptions. Although the perfume which I think is the anomaly has also found its way into the Dead Letter Office; for maybe the same reason.

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Mark Badgley and James Mischka

In 2006 fashion designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka were riding high. They were one of the go-to designers, under their Badgley Mischka label, for the red carpet crowd. Their sleek silhouettes were made for the Hollywood elite to be seen in. Like so many other designers before them their expansion into fragrance was a fait accompli.

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Richard Herpin

They would partner with perfumer Richard Herpin on their first release, Badgley Mischka. The stated desire was to make a perfume which was glamorous and refined. Lots of perfumes want to achieve this. I was expecting the designers of clothing who seemingly effortlessly captured this aesthetic could find the same in a fragrance.

Bagley Mischka is labeled as a floral chypre in its own classification. Which is one part of the reason I think it failed. If you spray a strip of Badgley Mischka for anyone and ask them to describe it the first word out of their mouth will be “fruity”, this isn’t just fruity it is massively so. It is so strongly fruity that you have to go on a search party in the fruit bowl to find the florals. They are there and they are critical to the overall effect but they are not as prominent as floral chypre would lead you to believe.

The other reason I think Badgley Mischka faded was it was a greatest hits collection of other perfumes on the same counter. It contains a strong gourmand facet. It is a fruity floral. It is a modern chypre. The problem comes when the scions of those styles are sitting right next to the bottle on the same sales counter. Why not take the original over the mash-up?

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To extend my music analogy further, while M. Herpin was making a pastiche of popular styles what he used in Badgley Mischka were the album tracks that were not hits, the deep cuts. The fruitiness is so unrestrained it is a syrupy expansive version of that. The gourmand is that caramel confectionary accord also matched with a lactonic milkiness which reminded me of those caramels with a cream core. The chypre exists without the bite of the oakmoss but the patchouli makes up for it.

Badgley Mischka opens up on that fruity accord I have mentioned. Berries in abundance explode around me. I feel like someone who has gorged myself at a raspberry pie eating contest with the evidence all over my face. The caramel accord comes next with peach lactone providing the creaminess. This is the opposite of the other gourmands of the time, quieter; kept in check by the berries. The floral accord of jasmine, osmanthus, and peony provide an important pivot point. Each of the florals provide something different than usual. Overwhelmed by the fruit and caramel the jasmine seems more indolic, the osmanthus leatherier, and the peony more astringent. It is what is needed to transition to the chypre accord. That accord is primarily patchouli and sandalwood. Some white musks are there to provide the rest of the chypre effect.

Badgley Mischka has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I am usually dismissive of these kind of greatest hits perfumes. Except Badgley Mischka connects with me because while it is following the leader it is marching to its own beat. Clearly the perfume buying public did not share my sentiment. Badgley Mischka was sent to the Dead Letter Office a few years ago. It is not one of those highly sought after discontinued fragrances. You can find it for a modest price at the discounters and online auction sites. That is if you’re looking for a fruity gourmand chypre that reminds you of something else you own.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Guy Laroche Drakkar- Say Hi to the 70’s

Perfume can sometimes be a veritable time capsule. A creature of its time. Once that time has passed so has the perfume. In the 1970’s western society was in flux. Women were entering the workplace. Disco was king. Leisure Suits were in style. Forty years on we look back at all of that almost quaintly. Many of the fragrances marketed during this time were looking to take advantage of what they saw as new marketing opportunities. Guy Laroche wanted a masculine follow-up to 1966’s Fidji. This would lead to the release of Drakkar.

guy laroche drakkar advert

Of course Drakkar Noir is one of the great classic perfumes of all time and ever since its release in 1982 it has stood the test of time. Drakkar was less timeless. If you look at the advertisement above, they wanted you to think crashing waves. When you try Drakkar and know what the aquatic marine perfumes will smell like, two decades later, it is hard not to smile. That advertisement shows the conflict in how to design this perfume. They also wanted to be a hairy-chested, shirt unbuttoned down to your waist, gold chain wearing fragrance, too. They wanted Drakkar to be the fragrance you smelled when you were doing The Hustle. As so many of the denizens of the Dead Letter Office have shown conflicting concepts lead to problematic marketing.

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Guy Laroche

Drakkar was sold in upscale men’s department stores often right next to Guy Laroche Homme clothing. The problem was the man who was drawn to M. Laroche’s clothing was not that disco dancing player Drakkar was supposed to entice. Drakkar was largely ignored while Fidji was widely acclaimed.

Drakkar opens with very fresh lemon matched up with galbanum. At a time when green was not as in vogue in men’s fragrances Drakkar starts off with galbanum. I think this was their idea of being crashing wave fresh. This all descends into a heart of sage, rosemary, and thyme adding herbal greenness. The base is a mix of patchouli, sandalwood, and vetiver. Those three notes are where you would find that 1970’s swinger peeking out.

Drakkar has 8-10 hour longevity and way above average sillage.

If you’re looking for early insights into how Drakkar would compare to Drakkar Noir the overlap is lemon on top and the same base but in the case of Drakkar Noir the addition of oakmoss. As wrong as they got the marketing on Drakkar they completely got it right for Drakkar Noir. Plus, it is a better perfume in all respects. Drakkar is something to wear when I want to look back to my Saturday Night Fever days and say hi to the 70’s.

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

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