My father owned a bottle of Guerlain's Habit Rouge Eau de Cologne when I was in the fifth grade. I’d sometimes put on a drop or two of the fragrance, but I was mortified if someone noticed my scent. (I did not like attention directed at my person — especially anything to do with grooming — when I was a pre-teen; the words:“Somebody smells good!” and the accompanying sniffing sounds made me cringe, and fear I was about to be sullied by a pair of unclean nostrils aimed at my perfumed skin.) I outgrew my skittishness around the time I left home for New York City and college life; I often doused myself with Habit Rouge Eau de Cologne (a going-away gift) and welcomed every bit of attention that came my way. Ten years later, older, wiser and less concerned with my effect on others, I bought Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette for the first time (the original Eau de Cologne formulation had been phased out). Three years ago at the Venice airport, on my way home from vacation in Naples, Italy, I couldn’t resist a bottle of Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette Légère1 — a “lighter,” limited edition of Habit Rouge, now discontinued. This past winter, a friend gave me a bottle of “classic” Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette for my birthday. Habit Rouge and I — we go way back.
Habit Rouge was created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and released in 1965; the original, rather baroque, list of ingredients (lemon, bergamot, basil, pimento, cinnamon, carnation, rose, rosewood, sandalwood, patchouli, cedar, amber, vanilla, moss, leather, benzoin, labdanum, olibanum) bears little relation to the Habit Rouge you’ll smell today. The current version of Habit Rouge smells “edited” for modern tastes, but remains instantly recognizable to those of us who have worn the fragrance over the years.
Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette opens with a citrus-drenched (astringent) orange blossom aroma (think ‘fancy barbershop’) and the slightest hint of musk; subdued wood notes surround the fruit and blossoms — then vanish as lemon and orange peel aromas become active. A resin-y leather and carnation/clove accord appears mid-development and lasts a long time; this accord is followed by the scents of dry vanilla mingling with powdery and subtle incense notes. Habit Rouge dries down to piquant amber.
Vintage Habit Rouge Eau de Cologne smelled a tad foppish, “dense” — yet filigreed at the same time; I always felt much older than my years when I wore it. I don’t mourn old-style Habit Rouge; I love the new ‘clearer,’ streamlined version and find it easier to wear than earlier formulations of the fragrance (and I no longer worry that people smelling my Habit Rouge-scented self will think I’m wearing garters and monogrammed button-front boxers under my street clothes).
Habit Rouge has always been advertised with images of men in riding clothes (red jackets? de rigueur!) sitting atop (or galloping on) gleaming, beautiful horses. On the French version of the Guerlain website, Habit Rouge ad copy references: “hot” leather (saddles warmed by the rider’s bum and the overheated horse? damp riding boots? sweat-drenched/clenched reins and gloves?); scents of trampled-on ground and forest; perspiring horse skin. The aromas of exercising man and beast have never come to mind when I smell Habit Rouge; there is nothing sweaty, “hair-y,” dirty or earthy about the perfume (and its leather note smells smooth and clean).
While pondering what image to use for this review, I thought of the Tang Dynasty artist Zhang Xuan and his painting of a group of men, women and children from the Tang court having a romp on their horses; the scent of Habit Rouge brings to mind refinement, ease — a peaceful and satisfying life.
Guerlain Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette is easy to find; Habit Rouge Eau de Parfum is not sold in the U.S. (if you’ve smelled it, I envy you and do comment!)
1. Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette Légère smells more “modern” and bright than reformulated “classic” Habit Rouge Eau de Toilette (and lasts longer on skin too); Habit Rouge Légère contains harsher, drier (and less natural-smelling) citrus top notes and perhaps a touch of ozone. Habit Rouge Légère amps up the spice (cinnamon) and dries down to a “sweet-sweaty” accord on my skin. I prefer Habit Rouge to Habit Rouge Légère.
Note: top image by Zhang Xuan, Spring Outing of the Tang Court from Wikimedia Commons.