Dead Letter Office: Nina Ricci Signoricci 2- Twin Sons of Different Mothers

One of the easier to explain reasons for a perfume ending up in the Dead Letter Office is a brand which fools with the names of their perfumes. There are many enduring lessons where the moral of the story is not to confuse the consumer. This month’s entry Nina Ricci Signoricci 2 is one of those tales.

If I was asked to make the case for a post-War perfume brand which has been lost in the shuffle of the Grand Maisons I could make a compelling case for Nina Ricci. L’Air du Temps is one of the great early perfumes to arise after World War 2 ended. If you judge this on the modern formulation I hope you have an opportunity to try an earlier version where the floral heart is among one of the most beautiful in all of perfume. The fragrance side of the brand was overseen by Robert Ricci for forty years which saw a signature style of sophisticated fragrances released. Many are also in the Dead Letter Office and the survivors have been reformulated into ghosts of themselves.

Robert and Nina Ricci

Most of the fragrances from this period were marketed to women. It wouldn’t be until 1966 that they entered the masculine market with Signoricci. It was primarily a citrus with a bitter green core which even for someone who enjoys green found it distracting in its intensity. Ten years later the sequel would arrive, Signoricci 2.

Signoricci 2 was composed by perfumer Raymond Chaillan. The first thing he seemingly chose to do was to retain the citrus style but to excise the overt green. M. Chaillan’s vision was to produce a sophisticated citrus with a much more understated green component.

Raymond Chaillan

The opening is a sharper version of lemon with petitgrain providing a more focused effect. The floral heart of carnation and jasmine is lifted by a set of expansive aldehydes. This creates space for a thinner green thread to snake through the perfume. Basil, vetiver, and moss take care of this. It becomes very warm as amber, patchouli, and tonka form a comfy base accord.

Signoricci 2 has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Signoricci 2 fell square into the mid 1970’s powerhouse men’s perfume style. I have treasured my bottle because I think it is one of the best “formal” citrus perfumes I own. It always seemed to me that Signoricci 2 should have had the opportunity to be reformulated to death as the rest of the brand had been.

Except they decided to choose to confuse their consumer. Soon after Signoricci 2 was released they decided to discontinue Signoricci. At the same time, they then decided to drop the “2” from Signoricci 2. Imagine how this worked over the next few years. Someone who finished a bottle of Signoricci who loved the intense green nature goes to the mall and sprays “Signoricci” on a strip sees the green is gone and walks away. The person who bought Signoricci 2 and enjoyed it, as I did, finishes their bottle. Goes to the mall to replace it only to find “Signoricci” minus the “2”. Walking away they wonder what happened to their sophisticated citrus. I have never understood these kinds of decisions because it leads right to the Dead Letter Office.

There is a part of me that would like to see the two descendents of both of the creatives; grandson Romano Ricci and son Jean-Marc Chaillan collaborate on Signoricci 3. Until then Signoricci 2 will do.

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