Molinard Habanita fragrance review

Molinard Habanita perfume

Molinard introduced Habanita in 1921, not as a personal fragrance but as a product to scent cigarettes. It was available in scented sachets to slide into a pack of cigarettes, or in liquid form: "A glass rod dipped in this fragrance and drawn along a lighted cigarette will perfume the smoke with a delicious, lasting aroma" (quoted in The Book of Perfume, page 76).

Whether women experimented with sliding that glass rod along their arms I cannot say, but by 1924 Molinard had launched Habanita as a perfume for women, housed in a Lalique bottle decorated with water nymphs. It was reformulated in the late 1980s, and no doubt has been reworked since then (hasn't everything?); the notes include bergamot, peach, orange blossom, galbanum, oakmoss, jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, heliotrope, patchouli, amber, leather, vetiver, cedar, sandalwood, benzoin and vanilla.

Habanita opens with dry, bitter green and a whisper of jammy fruits (lovers of modern fruity florals will hardly notice the fruits, trust me). It quickly moves into woods (still very dry) and earthy notes, and for a brief time the flowers stand out quite distinctly, each on their own, before the whole devolves into a smoky, powdery, dusky-oriental blend, heavy on the amber and leather, and only lightly sweetened by vanilla. If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you'll get the general idea.

Susan Irvine's Perfume Guide describes Habanita as the "corrupt, sweet flesh of a sinner", and perhaps it is so (and I'm willing to bet it was more so in its original formulation). Habanita is mischievous, and sexy, certainly, but it has a kind of playfulness about it; it does not strike me as nearly so willfully perverse as say, Robert Piguet Bandit, and it has a kind of youthful air that renders it somewhat less forbidding than Caron's Tabac Blond (another fragrance developed for female smokers).

That is not to say that it smells modern — to my nose, it smells resolutely old-fashioned, and I do mean that in the best possible sense. It carries the romance of the flapper era, captured aptly enough in the scent of cigarettes and leather. That the early 21st century can apparently be summed up neatly by the scent of strawberry-lychee candy is more of a mystery to me, but that appears to be where we are at the moment.

Molinard Habanita is available in Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and Parfum, or in perfume solid (concreta). The Eau de Toilette can be found quite cheaply online, if you shop around, you can find the 100 ml bottle for less than $25. The bottle shown above is from the Molinard 1849 Collection, which features seven of Molinard's best known scents in reproductions of a Lalique-designed bottle, and is sold in 100 ml Eau de Parfum for $295. For buying information, see the listing for Molinard under Perfume Houses. Update: the other scents in the Molinard 1849 Collection are all Eau de Parfum, but Habanita is in Parfum concentration. Thanks to Lilybp for the correction!

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48 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    One of my favorites! But definitely powdery. I'm surprised you reviewed this one, I would have guessed you wouldn't like it.
    I've noticed that some of the Molinards have been re-issued in parfum in Lalique bottles and marketed at chi chi places like Barney's. Did the company get bought up by someone else, I wonder?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I'm so glad you reviewed Habanita. It's one of my favorite scents. My experience, however, is quite different. To me it smells elegant rather than youthful and warm rather than powdery. I use the extrait. To use anything less is to cheat oneself of the heart of the fragrance.

    I've been wondering if anyone out there in the fragrance blog community had ever tried Habanita. I'm thrilled you did–so thrilled, in fact, that I felt compelled finally to register so I could comment. I've been lurking for a while.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Robin, that was really interesting history! I didn't know. Habanita is one of those fragrances I have a little vial of, and I'm not sure how I feel. I think I need to get a vintage sample. Your description was perfect.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Well, you have me pegged — it certainly isn't something I wear all the time. But as with Bandit, I have a great respect for it, and I like to try it on for size every so often. Perhaps I'll grow into “true love” as opposed to just respect eventually.

    No, they didn't get bought up. The Molinard 1849 Collection came out a couple of years ago, and I assume is just to appeal to the luxury market.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Despite the fact that they are far from smell-alikes, I lump Habanita in with Bandit & Tabac Blond, and of the 3, I peg TB as the sophisticated, elegant one of the group, but all of that is splitting hairs — Habanita can certainly qualify as elegant, and it is certainly warm. I understand the parfum is less powdery, but have only tried the EdT and EdP. I'm sure the vintage parfum is fabulous, but would be afraid to try it :-)

  6. Anonymous says:

    March, you should at least try the extrait version of Habanita. As soon as I master the art of decanting (following Robin's recent very careful instructions), a sample could be arranged.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As I said above, I'd be afraid to try the vintage. Sort of. I enjoy trying vintage things when people are kind enough to share them, but at the same time, it is depressing because everything used to smell so much better than it does now, and I am too cheap to buy everything in vintage myself. Ah well!

    And would LOVE to know more about using scent on cigarettes — was it common, were there lots of brands, when did this practice die out, assuming it was ever widespread. But have seen virtually nothing about it other than what I've read in connection with Habanita.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Robin, I tried the EdP recently, and found it quite different from the extrait. It was powdery, which the extrait is not. I'm not a fan of powderiness either. :-P

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ah, then maybe the extrait is closer to the “willfully perverse” atmosphere of Bandit, what do you think? Or is it softer than that?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I'm ashamed to admit I've never tried Bandit. Now I know I must!

    I don't think the current extrait of Habanita is at all the smell of sinful skin, though, so maybe it has changed. I knew it had a certain reputation before I tried it, but I've never felt it to be justified. Maybe it only applies to the vintage, which I've never sampled and, like you, would be reluctant to try for fear of heartache.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Bandit is “rougher” than Habanita, and probably closer to sinful — so certainly wouldn't assume you'd love it, but it is well worth trying. I haven't smelled it in vintage either but it is said to be a very respectful reformulation.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I wore Habanita exclusively for over 10 years, after having discovered in at Saks 5th avenue in the early 80s. It's so fraught with memories I can't wear it now at all — it's not a discreet scent, is it? I've never thought of its link to Bandit. To me it was closer in vibe to Tabu. Rich, honeyed, powdered bad girl scents with a Hispanic accent. I even became Habanita herself — hence the Carmen Canada — as it seeped deeper into my soul: stuck a carnation behind my ear, wore 30s flirty flowered dresses, painted a beauty mark under my eye and stuck a cigarillo between my lips. Oh, and I wielded a mean fan too. The formulation was changed some time in the 80s, as you noted. It's just not as beautiful… But Robin, I totally understand your reticence in indulging vintage formulations: it's the road to heartbreak, isn't it? I still hang on to the few perfume drops I own, for the time-travelling jolt. But Habanita is part of another movie now…

  13. Anonymous says:

    I only smoke one cigarette every few months or so, if that, but next time I do, I am absolutely going to try scenting it w/ Habanita. I adore this scent, but wore it when we lived in a city I'm not wildly fond of and it's now permanently tainted by that association. Actually, I don't think it could even be called a city – more like a huge suburb or, as one friend called it, an extended redneck parking lot. A very unlikely association for such a great scent. I should have gone perfumeless while we lived there. I really do want to try the parfum, though, and am definitely going to start looking on ebay for the vintage – maybe it will be just different enough that I can lose the association w/ that place.

  14. Anonymous says:

    R,
    You don't love it though, do you? You can't possibly love this one! For some reason it strikes me as something un-you :-) But you surprised me many times before.

  15. Anonymous says:

    “If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you'll get the general idea.”

    NOW I get the general idea, that was a very clever way to describe the fragrance! Chandler-Burr-ish but effective and certainly more fun than the usual Mr. Burr Images.

    Pleasure to read as always.

    Happy Holidays Robin!

  16. Anonymous says:

    The link to Bandit and Tabac Blond is all in my head: I just think of them as sort of “bad girl” fragrances of one degree or another. I can see the Tabu link too. How nice that you still have a few drops of the original left though!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Oh, you are brave: I would not want to ingest today's aroma chemicals any more directly than I already do, LOL! Also not at all sure how close Habanita is to the original for cigarettes, which is described as being mostly vetiver & vanilla. Have a feeling it was a simpler scent in that format, maybe? Have been trying to image smoking vetiver & vanilla and just can't — wish there was some way to get a reformulation of the original.

  18. Anonymous says:

    It is hard to explain — there are scents that I know are fabulous but don't really speak to me (Mitsouko) and scents that are fabulous and do speak to me, but don't really suit me — and that is Habanita (and Bandit, Tabac Blond). Mitsouko I like to pull out every so often to see if I've grown into it, Habanita I like to pull out every so often because it is such a cool scent. But you're right, I don't love it unreservedly.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, and happy holidays to you :-)

  20. Anonymous says:

    Habanita EDT was one of the first scents I fell in love with when I discovered the world of fragrance (and became a 'fume junky!). I learned a lot from this experience in that I purchased the pure parfum unsniffed, thinking that if I had loved the EDT, I 'd be crazy MAD for the parfum. I was so disappointed!! I had paid so much more to get the parfum, but there was something missing! The EDT has a slight sharpness, a dry grassiness (makes me think of vetiver) that contrasts so perfectly with the scent's sweet and powdery nature, and gives the scent its sillage. A few years have passed, and now I love the pure parfum just as well. It has a lovely smooth coolness that I crave at times. It's elegant, and it plays much closer to the skin than the EDT.

  21. Anonymous says:

    So glad you reviewed this one. Not as willfully perverse as Bandit, as you say, but still utterly hypnotizing. It always smells like a pin-up bombshell sitting in a biker bar to me – lots of foofy glamor, and just a hint of danger, too. I think the only thing that keeps me from donning it on a regular basis is that smack of powder in the heart. Still have to keep a bottle of it around to sniff at, though :)

  22. Anonymous says:

    You are brave to order parfum unsniffed! But sounds like I need to try it eventually, especially if it is less powdery than the EdT/EdP.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hey K, nice to see you & hope your back is better! “Pin-up bombshell sitting in a biker bar” is perfect. I wish it had a wee bit less powder too, but do see the comments above — apparently the parfum is much less powdery, so we all need a bottle :-)

  24. Anonymous says:

    Although Aedes lists the 1849 version as EdP, it is, in fact parfum (that's the reason it's so much more expensive than the others in the line). This was confirmed by the Molinard representative (perfumer, I think) who was there when I was; also the bottle says “parfum.” The Molinard man said that this was the original formulation, painstakingly recreated. BTW, as you probably can guess, I love it.:)

  25. Anonymous says:

    Habanita. One of the few scents that is truly awful on me, to the point of making me feel sick. Very unfortunate.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm — just checked the website of the US distributor, and you are absolutely right, thanks! Well, since I've tested that version, I take back what I said — I have tried the parfum, apparently, but odd that the descriptions of the “regular, non-1849 collection” parfum seem so different from what I'm smelling!

  27. Anonymous says:

    Maria, just wanted to point out that it turns out that the Habanita I'm trying is in fact the Parfum (see the correction in the article above), although quite possibly a newer formulation of it.

  28. Anonymous says:

    LOL — but I always think it fortunate to find something else I don't need!

  29. Anonymous says:

    I tried this one on a couple days ago when I was having a mad sniffing party (compliments of my Aedes samples) with my grandma, and this is what ended up on my knee- of all places. Much better on skin than out of the bottle, but I didn't end up loving it. Very, very powdery, although I did pick up slightly on the leather and something else that smelled kind of familiar, but I didn't recognize- or at least couldn't name. Probably not something I would wear, which grieves me after that gorgeous review you gave it :), but it's certainly interesting. Lol.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hey, it isn't something I spray on every morning either — but I appreciate and respect it :-)

  31. Anonymous says:

    Lol…You have to be a very special person to have the nerve to spray this on every morning. :) I appreciate it to, but it's just coming to grips with the fact that I won't adore every perfume I try.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Ah, but save your sample and try it again every six months or so. You might surprise yourself eventually!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Robin- feel like you are mind reading my perfume collection, lol. Habanita edt is one of my loves, best in cooler weather IMHO, and i spray it on my pashminas with abandon. if one of my daughters happens to grab one they bury their face in it- they find it warm and most definately comforting, as i do. a special scent that sent me on the path to tobacco loving. however, Bandit makes me ILL, rubber & gasoline, as much as i wanted to love it :(

    oh, and my credit card thanks you for the Habanita extrait lemming……wondering if you have tried the solid “concreta” version in the lovely gold compact…

  34. Anonymous says:

    I have not tried the solid, but would love to! I don't buy as many solids as I'd like, but Fracas in solid is one of my favorites.

  35. Anonymous says:

    This is a scent I've recently fallen completely in love with, in spite of myself. I bought a bottle blind because I just had to have that black glass thing, and I'll admit at first sniff I was like — BABY POWDER! — but then one very hot day (I know, weird as I think it's definitely a warm scent best suited for a cold day) I spritzed myself and some kind of magic happened… I got beyond the powder and smelled something unique and completely delicious. Spicy, smoky, liquor-ish, rich — absolutely wonderful. It lasts forever and the ultimate drydown is like bourbon vanilla. I like it as a before-bed scent as it's essential character, to me, is comfort. My baby daughter seems to love the smell of it, too. I know I will always have a bottle of this.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Glad it grew on you — that was a daring unsniffed purchase! — and how lovely that your baby daughter likes it too!

  37. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, she snuggles up to me and nibbles my arm when I'm wearing it. It's adorable. Mind you, I'm not one of those people who thinks perfume is bad for babies.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Hey, how cute is that?!? A budding perfumista.

  39. Lollipop says:

    I tried this today and was surprised that I really liked it. A lot. Another for my sample box.

  40. Daisykitsch says:

    Mmmm,,,wearing this fragrance is like visiting old eccentric aunts. I wear it when I’m bored. The changes in the notes on my oily skin keep me amused all day long and well into the night.

  41. AnonymousBlonde says:

    Many years ago, I bought a tiny bottle, loved it, and used it all. I lost track of it. I found my little beautiful black bottle and ordered the EDT from one of the discount perfume stores on line. I adore it.. Where do I find the stronger ones…EDP, perfume, etc,? I could wear it every day and feel totally comfortable and happy.

  42. AnonymousBlonde says:

    Thank you, Robin. I have been having a wonderful time wishing for all those wonderful Habanita products.

  43. bluegardenia says:

    ‘That the early 21st century can apparently be summed up neatly by the scent of strawberry-lychee candy is more of a mystery to me, but that appears to be where we are at the moment.’
    SERIOUSLY! What is up with this.

  44. emmalkerry says:

    My bottle of Habanita EDT was bought on the hearty recommendation of its Bizet-ian charms in ‘The Perfume Lover’. It is a stonking old warhorse of a perfume! It reminds me, in its powdery old-biddyishness, of a richer, smokier, more dissipated Hove Parfumeur’s ‘Kiss in the Dark’, a cheerful reminder, as I don’t get to Nola nearly as much as I’d like. The EDT is most rich and robust; how does this compare to the EDP or the solid? It’s a warm buttered-rum of a scent. And all this for under $30 for 100ml – woohoo!

  45. jkbeardsley says:

    I was in Grasse, France and discovered Habanita this year. I absolutely love the way this smells on me. It does have a grassy beginning, that moves into a very complex smell with lots of deep notes. Baby powder? Mmmm, a bit more complex than that.

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