No Smoke Without a Fire – Habanita* (vintage, 1988 EdT and 2012 EdP)

When I started reading blogs and investigate fragrances beyond the mainstream selection, the first thing I was drawn to explore was the beginnings of the oriental genre.

I ordered a decant of Habanita from The Perfumed Court of the 1988 EdT version. The 1988 version truly is a 1980s perfume, it has atomic power sillage and a cloud of patchouli and clovey cigarette smoke seems to grow by the minute. At least that was my first impression, and the few millilitres used of this rather aged decant, can verify that this beast only comes out of its hiding once a year to check whether my first impression was all down to ‘beginner’s nose’. I can tolerate it much better now, but I can’t say that it’s something I wear. So you will understand: my beginning with Habanita was not a love-affair, but a case of due respect and polite distance keeping, lots of smoke, but little fire.**

image1I am not sure quite how, perhaps as a double lot, but at some point I got quite a vintage bottle of Habanita pure parfum, which because of my previous history with the Lady in question, was approached with great tentativeness. Vintage Habanita is a different thing completely to the 1988 version. Probably due to age, ingredients and/ or the parfum strength, vintage Habanita wears rather close to the skin. You’re not enveloped in a mushroom cloud, and rolled in a mountain of stale ash-tray; this is quite a ‘personal-space’-perfume.

Vintage Habanita smells like sweet honeyed tobacco, warm and rich. There is smoke too, but it is more campfire than French bar before the smoking ban. Perhaps it’s a bit of incense, and galbanum which gives that feel of nice smoke full of memories, rather than ash-tray. There’s an ambery dusty feel, surely helped by a measured dose of heliotrope, and it’s followed by a dry down of incredible warmth and embrace. Aged patchouli, perhaps a little leather and some musky animals make me fantasize that it would be the scent of leaning in on this handsome fellow.gregory peck smoking In deed it would be gorgeous on men as well as women. My feel for vintage Habanita is that this is a perfume which hasn’t yet become an icon. She’s not glamming it up, like an aging celebrity, trying to remind everybody how amazingly sexy she was is, she just ‘is’, without even trying.

I sniffed the new 2012 Habanita shortly after its release, but I sort of forgot about it again. I still had my 1988 picture of Habanita, and a quick sniff of the new thing was not enough to banish it. However, I recently received a sample of the EdP and decided to give it a go.

It has the honeyed tobacco, which is just great as a sweetener as it never feels gourmand in any way but grounded and a bit tough. The smoke comes in the shape of leather and tar, which later mingles with a bit of powdery amber, so here too we are spared the smoke cabin feel; no one will mistake you for a smoker wearing this. There’s a bit of rubber to Habanita too. She’s a tough cookie, a Marlene Dietrich, compared to the Gregory Peck of the vintage version, but not a caricature. Even if scent wise it differs from the vintage version, I feel the soul of this 2012 version is much truer to its earliest predecessor than to its immediate one (1988) in that it doesn’t try too hard but is comfortable and at ease with what it is. Habanita 2012 still wears her name and notoriety with pride, her fire still burns but she’s in no need for a smokescreen.


Have you tried Habanita in any versions?


*I didn’t start out thinking I would compare the versions I have but just write about the vintage, well, I guess I couldn’t help it.

**please note that I probably feel about cigarettes and tobacco the way tea drinkers do about coffee; they tend to love the smell of the freshly grounded beans but hate the drink, and while I love the tobacco scent, I’ll rather cross the road than have to walk behind a smoker.

10 thoughts on “No Smoke Without a Fire – Habanita* (vintage, 1988 EdT and 2012 EdP)

  1. I was so interested to read your take on Habanita, Asali. It’s the one scent I have wanted to like perhaps more than any other, but I’ve struggled. I love its whole history, image and sophisticated smoky style.

    Like you, I’ve probably come back to it every year to see if it clicks. Love the expression “beginner’s nose”! Mind you, I’ve only ever tried the current incarnation. I gave the 2012 version a sniff when it came out and still wasn’t taken but I will try the edp next time I can after reading this.

    Great collages!

    • Great to hear that you have the same experience with Habanita. You know how scent goes directly to the receptors in the brain, and so it’s almost impossible to ‘cheat’ yourself into liking something, and each time I smell the 1988 version my first reaction is rejection. Even if, like you, I so want to love it, so I have some hopes for the 2012 version now.

    • And thank you 🙂 glad you liked them

  2. Dear Asali, I got a kick out of your hilarious description of the 1988 version of Habanita. That must be the version I have, as I bought my bottle back in the early days of perfume blogging, and though I don’t wear it often, I actually do get on with it well. To my nose, it is not so much ashtray as it is a vetiver-heavy tobacco scent that then becomes very powdery on my skin. And there’s also a strawberry note in the beginning of it that Mark notices when I wear it, that he really likes a lot. All of that said, I think I’m in a small minority of perfumistas who like it, and I can see why you prefer the more golden, ambery vintage version of Habanita. It is beautiful and seamlessly blended … a very smooth tobacco! (Thank you again for sending me a sample at Christmas last year; it was a treat to smell it!)

    • Dear Suzanne, yes I did remember you liking it, and I don’t think you’re in the minority, I feel I must be the one in the minority here, which was why I thought it was ok for me to write honestly why it wasn’t for me 🙂 It has been a perfume I’ve wanted to love, but which eluded me. I can imagine that the vetiver is strong on you, I remember you getting almost a vetiver scent out of Iris Gris, so that would help quite a bit. I’m sure you rock your Habanita, and I’ll hopefully learn to too someday.

  3. Loved the illustrations!

    I think my sample came from Suzanne (so it must be 1988’s version). I have problems with honey note in most perfumes and this one wasn’t an exception – I thought it was unpleasant in the opening. But in a couple of hours it got better and I almost liked it. Not enough to go through the unpleasant phase but it was an interesting experience.

    I actually wished I liked it more since I liked the bottle 🙂

    • Thank you Undina:-) I know what you mean, only for me it wasn’t the honey, which behave well. And I actually prefer the 2012 bottle, but do I like the perfume enough to purchase? Not sure, but the bottle IS spectacular with that Lalique design

  4. I have only tried the modern version of Habanita as far as I remember and I thought it not quite ‘me’ on account of the smokiness or something I can’t quite put my finger on now. Sounds like the 1988 version would have had me running for the door, mind. Am so glad about the no-smoking rules in public places now! The oldest version you describe does sound rather beguiling, I must say…I was curious to try it because it is Michelyn Camen’s signature scent – or would be if any of us were obliged to have one.

    • Well, I’m not sure the new Habanita will ever be quite ‘me’ either, and I do think the 1988 version would have you running for the door actually. I had no idea the vintage version was Michelyn’s signature, I always thought it was Femme? I will ask her 🙂
      Anyway, that modern bottle is do die for. At some point I might give in…

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