My bottle of Habanita by Molinard smells to me like the love child of Bandit and Shalimar. It's the current formula in EDT with stuff like coumarin and oakmoss listed on the box (at least it still has some coumarin and oakmoss in it. Who knows for how long?), so no miracle vintage juice here. Just a bottle bought from one of the discounters for less than $20. Still, Habanita is marvelous in its smoky-leather-oriental glory, and wearing it feels as natural as my own skin.
Launched in the early 1920s first as a tobacco additive, Habanita was meant to be worn in New York speakeasies as well as in Parisian salons. It was probably right at home among the Mitsouko and Shalimar wearing ladies of its time, as well as on Hollywood stars of the following decades. And why not? The powdery smell of their makeup, the whiffs of smoke, Hermes handbags, furs and the interior of limousines. It's all there, and comes alive on skin, together with soft peachy-apricoty roundness (I wonder if back in the day it also had an illicit ménage à trois with Mitsouko, but the current Molinard version is not mossy enough to point that way).
Habanita is not everyone's cup of spiked tea. I know some are put off by the sweet powder. I suspect most of them also despise Shalimar for the very same reason. Others smell a stale ashtray and would probably cry if we made them wear Bandit. It's funny, because I'm as anti-smoking as they come and hate hate hate the smell, but I adore tobacco perfumes, old and new.
Habanita walks a line between comfort and temptation. It's cozy and cuddly, but wears some wicked black lingerie under the cashmere wrap. It tells stories of its sordid past and unforgettable lovers. It has all the elements of a great femme fatale, but I have no doubt that a man who wears oriental well and love smoky-leathery perfumes would wear it beautifully without getting strange looks on the subway.
Habanita by Molinard is easily available online for half a song, at least in North America. The parfum is also around (Aedes used to have it, but I no longer see it online) and I'm seriously tempted. I bet it's even more gorgeous.
Photo of Dorothy Sebastian: The Roaring Twenties