New Perfume Review Le Labo Tabac 28- The Cuban-Haitian Congruency

My childhood in the mid to late 1960’s in S. Florida was wonderful. The best part of that statement is I recognized it at the time. Living in Miami as it was absorbing two sets of refugees from Cuba and Haiti was a treasure of new experiences depending on which part of town I steered my bicycle. If I headed to Little Havana, I could go play dominos while the adult men puffed on their cigars. I always enjoyed the smell of those cigars but never more than when they were unlit. You’ve seen the caricature of a cigar lover running an unlit cigar under their nose and breathing deeply, that’s the way I felt for real. I would learn every family that made cigars had a secret blend handed down through generations. My nose wasn’t attuned well enough to pick up those nuances.

When I headed into Little Haiti it was always about the food and the music; mostly the food. When I would sit with the newly arrived Haitians I would have them tell me stories of their island. When I spoke to the older men, they were always sipping this viscous brown liquid. When I asked what it was, they always laughed and told me to come back when I was older. That was because the liquid was rum from Haiti. When I did become old enough one of my Haitian friends introduced me to Barbancourt Rum. This is not your typical rum it is a gorgeous liquor you sip and roll around in your mouth as it reveals its flavors. In the aged versions there is an opulent caramel-like flavor as if the sugar cane was on its way to molasses and stopped for a minute or two. It is one of my favorite things to do at a dinner party to end it with the 15-year aged reserve just to see the way people react to it.

Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi

Which means if you ask me for a single scent to represent the Cuban community in Miami, I would pick a fine cigar. It the same question was added for the Haitians it would be dark Barbancourt Rum. Not that creative directors Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi would have asked me what they should consider for their Miami City Exclusive, Le Labo Tabac 28, it turns out they asked perfumer Frank Voelkl to make a perfume which combines the cigar and rum in one exemplary avatar of Miami.

Frank Voelkl

Tabac 28 takes a fine cigar out of its case and holds it under my nose. Mr. Voelkl makes an inspired choice by using the sticky green version of cardamom. If there was a nuance of freshly rolled cigars it was of the slightly green leaf used as the wrapper. This green cardamom adds that grace note to the rich tobacco. The same inspiration happens with the rum. This is that dark slightly caramel-like rum I remember. Mr. Voelkl adds a subtle veil of smoke via a judicious use of oud. It is as if that cigar has been lit and as you reach for your glass of rum it passes through the smoke on the way to your lips. All of this is spectacularly balanced. The only bad part is it ends up on an all too typical cedar based woody accord which hardly lives up to the rest of the perfume.

Tabac 28 has 12-14 hour longevity; with over half of it firmly in the rum and tobacco piece of development, to go with average sillage.

I had not considered how these two distinct scents of my youth would find a place of congruency where it brings Cuban and Haitian worlds together. It is what makes Tabac 28 more emotional for me than others. Removing the emotion if you are looking for a perfume which fuses rich tobacco and gourmand-like boozy rum Tabac 28 should be on your list of “to try” perfumes.

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

Mark Behnke