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

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